Senate President Bukola Saraki has reacted to criticisms by a coalition of media and civil society organisations, CSOs, over a court order which blocked bank accounts linked to an online media platform, Sahara Reporters, about four months ago.
The group, Coalition for Press Freedom and Whistleblower Protection (CPFWP) in a joint statement signed by 15 of its members on Wednesday accused Mr. Saraki of abusing the judicial process through the freezing of the bank accounts of Sahara Reporters Media Foundation — ”a completely different legal entity” from Sahara Reporters against whom Mr. Saraki secured a N4 billion judgment from a Kwara State high court in a defamation suit.
It also condemned delays in the judicial process to reverse the order.
In his response in a statement signed by Yusuph Olaniyonu, his spokesperson, Mr. Saraki asked signatories of the coalition to ”get more acquainted with judicial proceedings over the matter before taking a position as their current position was not hinged on verifiable facts.”
“We would like to believe that the signatories do not have the full information surrounding the libel suit,” Mr. Olaniyonu said.
Mr. Saraki said he had more evidence to show that both Sahara Reporters and Sahara Reporters Media Foundation operated interchangeably as one entity in various transactions.
“Sahara Reporters and the Sahara Reporters Media Foundation are one and the same. It is a known fact that advert payments for Sahara Reporters have on occasion been paid into the bank accounts of the foundation on the instructions of the publisher, Omoyele Sowore.
“We have records that show that Sowore has used the two accounts interchangeably over time, particularly for nefarious purposes. We urge the coalition to ascertain the true position from Sowore, even as we stand ready to disprove any denials on his part with evidence”, the statement read.
Mr. Saraki also denied stalling the judicial process, blaming Sahara Reporters instead for the delay.
“To reiterate, if there is any delay in this particular case, it was caused by Sahara Reporters and its lawyers. If they were not avoiding service, they were busy raising technicalities or requesting unnecessary adjournments.
“Saraki has diligently pursued this case, because his interest is for its expeditious determination, so that he can access the N4 billion judgement debt in order to use it for the purposes earlier announced. It is therefore not in Dr. Saraki’s interest for the matter to be delayed.
“As to the alleged harassment and molestation of Sahara Reporters’ supporters on court premises, the evidence indicates the contrary. It is on record, from news reports published by mediums edited by some of the signatories to the Coalition Statement, that Sowore imported cultists and unsavoury elements from other states to disturb the peace and create chaos on the court premises, all in a desperate bid to show that he has support. The Police merely came in to prevent a breakdown of law and order. We had no hand in the Police decision to intervene or the manner of its execution.
“Furthermore, the freezing of the Sahara Reporters Media Foundation account was a decision of the court. We must also point out that it is now part of an ongoing appeal process and therefore sub-judice. We question whether the coalition statement does not also amount to interference in the judicial process, given that the case is ongoing. We are of the opinion that all parties concerned should allow the law to take its course.”