A popular social media influencer, Japhet Omojuwa, has refuted a claim by a former education minister, Obiageli Ezekwesili, that she was listed as a director of his PR firm, Alpha Reach Limited, ”without her knowledge”.
But he has yet to provide the full records of the firm from inception as demanded by the former minister.
A foreign media platform, BuzzFeed, had reported that employees of the PR company got paid to promote a social media campaign for the release of a Columbian, Alex Saab, who was detained in Cape Verde over pending charges against him in the U.S.
Mr Omojuwa had, in an April 9, 2021 statement reacting to the controversy generated by the BuzzFeed report, stated that “Alpha Reach, as an organisation, was not involved in the campaign making the rounds.”
Mrs Ezekwezili, in reaction to the situation, had threatened to sue the social media influencer for an unauthorised use of her name as a director of the company ”without her consent”.
The former minister had, through Femi Falana’s law firm, written to Mr Omojuwa, claiming that she was shocked to learn of her status as a director of the company when contacted by BuzzFeed.
She denied her involvement in the company, although PREMIUM TIMES’ check with NG-Check.com, a platform that provides information on Nigerian companies, listed her alongside the Governor of Kaduna, Nasir El-Rufai, as company directors.
On that basis, Mrs Ezekwesili demanded, through her lawyers, an apology and full disclosure of the records of Alpha Reach, from Mr Omojuwa.
Many Nigerians had bid the then hot controversy farewell until Wednesday when Mr Omojuwa shared, via his Twitter handle, his reply to Mrs Ezekwesili ‘s lawyers insisting that she was made a director of the firm ”with her consent”.
Mr Omojuwa was in his first reaction to the matter in his April 9, 2021 statement, silent on the former minister’s status as a ‘director’ of the company, as he then merely stated that she was at no time “a part-owner of Alpha Reach” and that “she is not a member of the Alpha Reach board.” He did not directly address Mrs Ezekwesili’s anger at being listed as a ‘director’ in the firm.
However, in his latest reply to Mrs Ezekwesili’s demand for an apology and full disclosure of the records of the firm, Mr Omojuwa, through the law firm of Babalakin and Co, stated emphatically that the former minister was made a ‘director’ of Alpha Reach with her consent.
He said he had a close relationship with the former minister for about 10 years, and it was thus “reasonable” that he wanted to “leverage her reputation to advance the company he promoted.”
In what he said demonstrates as “the extent and strength of their relationship in the period leading to and after the registration of the company”, Mr Omojuwa said through his lawyers, that on April 6, 2012, at 21:23, Mrs Ezekwesili sent him a message asking him to “pull in your brother(s), Chine and Chuba (her biological sons) into what you do from now”.
He said she made similar comments on October 6, 2012.
“The company was indeed registered in 2012; our client, however, unequivocally denies your allegations that consent of your client was not sought before she was listed as a Director. Our client sought and obtained your client’s consent before listing her as a director of the company, based on their close relationship, which you curiously omitted to mention in your letter,” the reply read in part.
‘Ezekwesili meant to be Buhari’s minister’
Adding a new twist to the controversy, Mr Omojuwa, stated in the four-page letter dated April 14, 2021 that Mrs Ezekwesili was only removed as a director of the company in 2015 while it was being anticipated that she would be appointed a minister by then President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari.
He added that Mr El-Rufai was similarly removed as a director of the firm at about the same time when it was certain he was going to be Kaduna State governor.
“Clearly, your client is a successful public figure with whom our client had a close relationship. It is reasonable that our client wanted to leverage her reputation to advance the company he promoted. It was not until 2015 when it was certain that HE Mallam El-Rufai.was going to become the Governor of Kaduna State and the likelihood that your client could be appointed a Minister by the then President-elect Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, that they both were removed as Directors of the company.
“You might recall that your client honoured the ruling party’s invitation to deliver a keynote speech at a public forum in Abuja in 2014, and there was a general expectation that she would play a role in President Buhari’s government, Indeed, your client leaned on our client to publish and distribute her speech at the APC forum,” Mr Omojuwa’s lawyers had written.
Mr Omojuwa did not indicate if Mrs Ezekwesili signed any document to be listed as a director of the company.
He, however, spoke on their ”past mutually beneficial relationship”, which his lawyers wrote as the “basis upon which our client sought and obtained your client’s consent.”
Mr Omojuwa, through his lawyers’ letter recalled the “10-year relationship” between him and the former minister dating back to 2011 when he had just completed the mandatory national youth service.
He stated that Mrs Ezekwesili “took him under her wings and even assisted in paying part of his rent in Abuja in 2012.”
He recalled how Mr Omojuwa, at some point, took the former minister as “his most trusted person and confidant”.
He also recalled that he had been of benefit to her by helping her to fight “proxy wars” on social media on her request.
Mr Omojuwa’s legal team also chronicled how the relationship between the duo went sour as a result of the alleged refusal of the latter to play by his former benefactor’s ”playbook on and off social media”.
“The relationship between your client and our client deteriorated because our client is no longer the impressionable boy who had just completed his NYSC in 2011.
“He is a man who has earned his stripes and is no longer willing to fight proxy wars or be used to fight perceived enemies by a benefactor. He is tired of your client’s constant efforts to control his public views and tweets.”
‘Full disclosure will be granted with undertaking’
Responding to Mrs Ezekwesili’s request for a full disclosure of the records of Alpha Reach, Mr Omojuwa stated that he would only release it with an undertaking by the former minister not to release them to the public.
“Our client is very much willing to disclose documents relating to the period between September 2012 and April 2015, when your client was a director of the company. However, given how your client and her family shared the letter under reference on social media (in clear demonstration of bad faith) after our client had already acknowledged receiving it, your client and her family could not be trusted not to disclose the company’s sensitive corporate information if it is made available to her. Our client would only make those documents available to your client upon a written undertaking that the documents would be treated with utmost confidentiality.”
Mr Omojuwa disclosed that he had evidence of information and opinions which the former minister had privately shared with him in the course of their relationship.
In what appears to be a threat to spill this ‘information’ in the public space, Mr Omojuwa’s letter ended by stating, “while he remains grateful for your client’s past contributions to his growth and development and is sad about the recent turn of events, our client is ready to use every piece of information at his disposal to defend himself and his future against your client’s ungodly allegations.”
Process of registration
This reporter scanned through the requirements laid down by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) for company registration in Nigeria and realised that there is the need for means of identification of directors, subscribers and even stakeholders for inspection by the commission.
Mr Omojuwa did not state in his letter if Mrs Ezekwesili provided any of these or signed to be listed as a director.
PREMIUM TIMES’ attempts to hear from Mr Omojuwa and ask him about the company’s incorporation documents were futile as he declined to answer the questions on the registration of the controversial PR firm “for legal reasons.”
“It is a legal issue and I don’t think my lawyer would advise I grant any interview on this subject,” Mr Omojuwa said before cutting off this reporter.
He ignored this reporter’s call after picking the first call.
Several calls made to Mrs Ezekwesili popular phone line did not connect.
She has not responded to a message sent to her by this reporter on the subject as of the time of filing this report.