There was palpable tension at the Kwara State High Court, Ilorin, on Thursday following a clash between supporters of Senate President Bukola Saraki and Omoyele Sowore, publisher of the online newspaper, Sahara Reporters.
Supporters of the two parties had thronged the court premises for the resumed hearing of the case involving Mr. Saraki and Sahara Reporters, alongside its publisher, Mr. Sowore.
Earlier, in a Suit No. KWS / 23 / 2017, the court had awarded N4 billion against Mr. Sowore and Sahara Reporters, who were the defendants/respondents in cases of libel brought before it.
Consequently, a judge, Adeyinka Oyinloye, had issued an order to the United Bank for Africa, UBA and Guaranty Trust Bank, GTB, bankers of Mr. Sowore and Sahara Reporters, instructing them to immediately seize all funds held in a string of accounts associated with the defendants.
The development was condemned by media rights advocates, who warned judicial officers to exercise restraint in pronouncing judgements in libel cases.
The judge also said Sahara Reporters and Mr. Sowore must pay 10 per cent (N400 million) interest on the N4 billion monthly until both the principal damages and accrued interests are finally cleared.
Mr. Saraki instituted the case in Ilorin, accusing Sahara Reporters of publishing defamatory content against his personality.
Mr. Sowore later approached the high court presided over by Mr. Oyinloye through Falana and Falana Chambers to set aside its judgement.
At the resumed hearing on Thursday, PREMIUM TIMES gathered that supporters of both parties who could not gain entrance into the court stayed outside the court premises, singing solidarity songs in support of the gladiators. This, sources said, later led to a pandemonium.
Our correspondent learnt that journalists who came to cover the proceedings were also attacked by the crowd.
Meanwhile, as the fracas continued, many people were wounded including a middle-aged woman identified as Funmi Ajayi who was reportedly stripped bare by Mr. Saraki’s supporters.
In a video posted online by Sahara Reporters, Ms. Ajayi’s clothes were torn by some unidentified group of people, believed to be Mr. Saraki’s supporters. The woman reportedly travelled to Ilorin from Lagos to support Mr. Sowore.
Meanwhile, the Police said some suspects indicted in the violence had been arrested, about eight among them Mr. Sowore’s supporters.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that they were taken away by the police on the allegations that they came to the court to disturb proceedings.
The Kwara State Commissioner of Police, Lawan Addo, has confirmed the arrest of five suspects on the premises of the Kwara State High Complex in Ilorin for alleged disturbances during the court proceedings.
Meanwhile, our correspondent gathered that the suit could not proceed because Mr. Saraki’s lawyer was unable to serve Mr. Sowore’s lawyer with the court processes.
The development made the judge adjourn the suit till October 26 for further hearing.
On Thursday, Inibehe Effiong, activist and one of the lawyers in Mr. Sowore’s team, confirmed the skirmishes in a Facebook post.
“I can confirm that activists and reporters who came to observe proceedings were attacked and molested. Some of them are presently in police custody,” he wrote.
“I cannot understand why the Temple of Justice will be visited with thuggery. What my eyes saw today is very shameful and upsetting. We cannot continue like this as a nation.”