Bara Ogidi, a Nigerian ‘journalist’ and publisher of the blog Tracknews, is enmeshed in a blackmail scandal.
Mr Ogidi’s name came up in a U.S. court in a libel suit filed by the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Content Development & Monitoring Board, Simbi Wabote, against Jackson Ude, the publisher of Pointblanknews.
Mr Ude, a Nigerian, is a naturalised American citizen who lives and transacts business in Pennsylvania, U.S.
Mr Wabote, in a document filed in the U.S.court, said Mr Ogidi tried to use a story written against him in Pointblanknews to blackmail him.
The Pointblanknews story, which accused Mr Wabote of bribery and corruption in the Bonny NLNG contract, is the subject of the libel suit in the U.S.
Mr Wabote provided as evidence in the court text messages sent to his phone line by Mr Ogidi asking for money so that the bribery allegation story against him (Mr Wabote) could be pulled down from the website of some news platforms, including Saharareporters.
Mr Ogidi, in one of the text messages, appeared to have implicated the publisher of Pointblanknews, Mr Ude, and a former deputy national publicity secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Timi Frank.
“Good day Sir, I am the publisher of Tracknews online,” Mr Ogidi introduced himself to Mr Wabote in a text message on October 11.
He went on to say, “Jackson (Ude) and Timi Frank called me for some publications against you but as a Bayelsan I wanted to talk to you so I ask Amb. Igali to send me ur number.”
The next day, October 12, Mr Ogidi sent another text message to Mr Wabote.
“Boss, is there any little thing, I can talk to Saharareporters and the other platforms to drop it,” he said in the message, apparently referring to the bribery allegation story.
Mr Ogidi, still on October 12, sent another message to Mr Wabote, informing him that he had spoken with Saharareporters and three other platforms that “published” the bribery allegation story and that they “agreed” to take down the story in return for “something.
“They have agreed to take it down and I promised to send them something for appropriation tomorrow,” he said in the message.
Mr Ogidi told the executive secretary that the story was bad for his image locally and internationally.
“Well if they like they should not pull it down it is part of the evidence in court,” Mr Wabote said in a response to Mr Ogidi’s request.
Mr Ogidi, unrelenting, continued to push for money from Mr Wabote, at least for his own blog.
“I told my editor that u will send us something to appreciate us,” he said in a text message on October 13.
He sent his Stanbic IBTC account number to Mr Wabote.
Two days later, things took a different turn as indicated by another text message sent on October 13 by Mr Ogidi to Mr Wabote.
“Good day Boss. Sorry to disturb you,” the message began.
“Chief Timi Frank called me and upset with me greatly that 2 persons called him that u told them that I called u and informed u is Timi Frank and Jackson that is fighting him. He just called me from Dubai,” said Mr Ogidi in the message.
“Is he denying that he did not ask you?” Mr Wabote responded.
“He said as a journalist I should have hide such identities,” Mr Ogidi said to Mr Wabote.
Mr Wabote’s inclusion of Mr Ogidi’s text messages to him in his evidence before the U.S. court is to strengthen his libel suit against Mr Ude, apparently.
He also provided the U.S.court with a 2018 judgement by a Nigerian court against Mr Ude in a libel suit filed by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former finance minister in Nigeria and the current Director-General of the World Trade Organisation.
The Pointblanknews story had accused Mr Okonjo-Iweala of purchasing N1.2 BILLION house at Maitama, Abuja, while Nigerians “were suffering under an administration she was a key player”.
For Okonjo-Iweala’s suit, the Nigerian court – a High Court in Abuja – awarded N200 million against Pointblanknews, its publisher, Mr Ude and Churchhill Umoren.
Mr Wabote, through his lawyer, Joshua Macel, told the court that the bribery allegation story against him in Pointblanknews was false.
He asked the court to order the publisher of Pointblanknews to remove the story from their website and pay him $10,000,000 as damages, as well as restrain him from making further publication against him.
Mr Ude, in his counterclaim, denied that the story published against Mr Wabote was false. He challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the case.
Ogidi’s arrest, reaction to blackmail allegation
The publisher of Tracknews, Mr Ogidi, was arrested last month in Bayelsa State, Nigeria’s South-south, by operatives of the country’s secret police, SSS.
The former official of APC, Mr Frank, had condemned Mr Ogidi’s arrest and called for his immediate release.
A few hours after his release, Mr Ogidi in a video clip he posted on Facebook thanked Mr Frank whom he described as his boss, for “standing by” him.
In the clip, he assured the media community and his “political associates” that the arrest has strengthened him to “do more both in politics and in media”.
Mr Ogidi told PREMIUM TIMES that his arrest was in connection with Mr Wabote’s libel suit in the U.S. He did not give details of why he was arrested.
He, however, admitted to this newspaper that he had requested money from Mr Wabote, but said he did it based on his “relationship” with Mr Wabote.
“I don’t think that I sent him (a) text message that I have the power over other platforms that he should give me money to give them to take them (the story) down,” he added.
Mr Ogidi said he and Mr Wabote are from Bayelsa State and that they have been mutual friends.
The publisher of Saharareporters, Omoyele Sowore, told PREMIUM TIMES that the news site does not take down stories once they are published. He said Saharareporters does not have any relationship with Mr Ogidi.
The publisher of Pointblanknews, Mr Ode, denied working with Mr Ogidi.
“We don’t take money to drop stories,” he said.
“I didn’t even know anything about Tracknews until my lawyer sent me something that Simbi Wabote was tendering in court. I don’t know who’s Tracknews. I’ve never met him, I’ve never spoken with him before.”
“Probably, what the Tracknews guy was doing was trying to use our story to go and negotiate his own business dealing with Mr Wabote, not on my behalf.
“A lot of people do that when you publish a story. What they do is if they have a relationship with whoever the story is about they use it to go and do deals. I’ve had to make (a) disclaimer on this before, many times,” he said.
Mr Ude forwarded to PREMIUM TIMES an apology letter Mr Ogidi sent to him.
In the apology letter, which Mr Ude is likely going to tender as exhibit to defend himself in the U.S. court, Mr Ogidi praised Pointblanknews as being a “trusted and dependable news site” and Mr Ude as a “thoroughbred professional whom I look up to”, while he accused Mr Wabote of being corrupt.
Mr Ogidi, in the apology letter, said the former official of APC, Mr Frank, did not ask him to publish negative reports against Mr Wabote, obviously contradicting what he (Ogidi) said in a message he sent to Mr Wabote.
‘I don’t fight a fly’
Mr Frank denied having any relationship with Mr Ogidi, apart from sending him press statements “the same way I send to other journalists”.
“He’s a Bayelsan that respects me as a leader and a stakeholder of Bayelsa. I don’t have any one on one dealings with him, I have never asked him to discuss anything on my behalf or on behalf of Mr Jackson (Ude),” he added.
Mr Frank also spoke on Mr Wabote.
“For the fact that Mr Wabote is a Bayelsan and I am a Bayelsan, Mr Wabote believes because Mr Ude is my friend that I am the one fighting him.
“So far I am concerned, Mr Wabote is like a fly for me to fight. I fight his employer, I don’t fight a fly.
“I have never fought a small battle. If I wanted Mr Wabote I would go all out for him, he’s like a fly before me. I have said clearly that I have no hand in this case between Mr Wabote and Mr Ude. I’ve fought many corrupt people. If Mr Wabote is corrupt I will fight him,” he said.
Mr Wabote did not respond to calls and a text message seeking comment from him.
Naboth Onyesoh, manager, corporate communications, Nigerian Content Development & Monitoring Board, did not also respond to calls.
Mr Ogidi’s blackmail scandal is coming a few months after a Nigerian journalist and the publisher of Peoples Gazette, Samuel Ogundipe, was accused of blackmailing the Chairman of Air Peace airlines, Allen Onyema.
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