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My case against SaharaReporters

By Emeka Ugwuonye on 17/04/2013

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Many people who are just hearing about my case against SaharaReporters may not understand what it is all about. Even some of those who have heard about it in the past still may not understand the controversy. Even though such things as 1.5 million dollars of Embassy money may have been mentioned several times, that has little to do with my case against SaharaReporters.

Also, let me make it clear to all, my case and my struggle are against the Nigerian Government. My enemy is the Nigerian Government. My opponents are the following people: Ambassador Adebowale Adefuye, Mrs. Farida Waziri, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Attorney-General Mohammed Adoke. These are my enemies. The only connection or involvement of SaharaReporters occurred as a coincidence.

In 2008, a dispute arose between me and SaharaReporters because the publisher, Mr. Omoyele Sowore, was blackmailing a client of mine, demanding money from him and threatening to publish more false stories about him unless a ransom was paid to him. As a lawyer, fear is one thing I have not known. Even though I had, by 2008, become aware of the dangerous ways Sowore was operating with his SaharaReporters, there was no way I could not confront him for blackmailing my client. I sent him a warning in December of 2008. I promised severe consequences if he were to continue. And this was how the coincidence came about.

It happened that around the same time, trouble was brewing in the relationship between me and the new leadership of the Nigerian Embassy in Washington. The embassy and the Nigerian Government owed me money and refused to pay unless we bribed them. They finally signed a retainer that authorised us to keep 1.5 dollars, which was only a part of what they had owed us in 8 years of work. Even out of that 1.5 million, they came for their “cut”. But I refused to give them a dime. That was how the storm blew off.

In February of 2009, Sowore became aware of this trouble because the Ambassador then, General Rotimi, had tried to use SaharaReporters to attack the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe. The Ambassador’s target was not me. He merely wanted to spread the story that Ojo Maduekwe was involved in some phantom real estate fraud and that they paid the lawyer (me) 1.5 million dollars. When Sowore got this story, he saw an opportunity to focus on me rather than the person he was hired to attack. That was the coincidence. SaharaReporters published in March of 2009 that Emeka Ugwuonye committed fraud. It was a preemptive strike at me and my law firm. It was also a message to my client that I could not protect him from SaharaReporters. I had to fight back with a lawsuit for defamation. That is the case Okey Ndibe and other employees of SaharaReporters are talking about.

What really happened in my client’s case? In October and November of 2008, there was a prominent political figure in Port Harcourt. Sowore, working with Terry Waya, conspired to attack that politician in order to extort money from him. They accused him of paying money to avoid corruption investigation. The man was planning to run for the governorship of his state and such story was devastating to him. He didn’t know what to do. He wanted to sue SaharaReporters. For that, he needed an American lawyer. I happened to be in Nigeria in December of 2008 and someone who knew me arranged for the man to meet and brief me. I flew to Port Harcourt where I met with the man. He was so pained and so bitter about the lies SaharaReporters had published against him. He also revealed to me that Sowore had threatened to publish more damaging falsehoods about him and his sick wife unless he paid Sowore, I believe, two hundred thousand dollars in ransom. I was shocked. I saw text messages of demands for the payment.

I warned the man of the difficulties of trying to sue Sowore in the US because it would be difficult for him to sustain such a suit because he was based in Nigeria and would be busy campaigning for his elections. I suggested to him to take the matter to the police. But we agreed it would be useless since Sowore was not in Nigeria. We agreed that I should nevertheless warn Sowore of the consequences of his behaviour and let him know that a lawsuit was imminent. That, I did.

One thing is clear and we all know it now. Never before in the history of Nigeria did we have a situation like Sowore and SaharaReporters. Few factors make this development unique. First, you have in Sowore a man with a totally depraved conscience and near inability to appreciate the degree of harm he caused his victims. Second, this was an online medium, which made it possible for him to reach thousands of audience with minimum effort. The online capability was a dangerous weapon if left in the hands of a man without conscience or sense of accountability. And Sowore is such man. This is a person that hates humanity. He hates the society. His early life and upbringing filled him with so much hate and bitterness that he feels that successful people robbed him his own happiness. He is a man out on a vengeance mission. Not having ever studied journalism or being part of any journalistic body, he does not appreciate the ethics of that profession at all.

As a lawyer and a professional, I had ample opportunity to observe Sowore and his methods. Also, I had the opportunity of sitting down with him and cross-examining him for six good hours. I had a deep penetration into his mind and soul. While preparing for the case against Sowore, I received many complaints from people, including people he robbed while a student in UNILAG, cases of rape involving him, and all other dangerous criminal activities he was part of before coming to the United States. (I was not surprised to see similar allegations in the story “Okiro laments negative campaign by SaharaReporters, says Publisher not clean (No, I’m clean —Sowore)” published on April 13, 2013 by News Express.

Another factor that enables Sowore and SaharaReporters was that for the first time ever, you had a situation where someone could publish damaging falsehood from a location that is beyond the reach of the courts of the place where the victim is located. The fact is that it is impossible for a person based in Nigeria to sue Sowore in America. It is nearly impossible. Sowore knew that his victims could not reach him and he felt safe doing whatever he liked to them. And with that power, he turned it into big money from blackmails and shakedowns. Further, when people realised that they had no way to hold Sowore responsible for his actions, they had two choices: either to pay money for Sowore to leave them alone or to quietly bear the indignities and abuse. That made Sowore and his SaharaReporters seemingly invincible, enough to blackmail even the President and his family. All the Governors fear him just because he could blackmail anybody, and many of them are paying him ransom money.

In addition to this, there is yet another factor that helped Sowore and SaharaReporters. Nigeria is a society so terribly misruled that there has been a deep-rooted distrust for people in power. It is so easy to believe that a public official did something wrong. And it is so easy to exaggerate their wrongdoing. So, the ordinary people in Nigeria are hungry for negative stories about their oppressive leaders. And Nigerian leadership foolishly encourage this factor by continuing to run government business and affairs in secrecy and non-transparent manner. Because government business is shrouded in secrecy, Sowore knew that the people would not be able to verify the truth in the first place. So, he would just guess and write anything he likes, as there is nothing with which to contradict him.

Another factor has to do with the general and widespread gullibility of the average Nigerian. It doesn’t matter how silly a story is, the average Nigerian is likely to believe it. And you don’t blame them. The government had been responsible for the decline in the quality of education in the country. I recall in 1988, as a student of UNIBEN, I participated in protests over some phantom story supposedly in the Ebony Magazine, which alleged that General Ibrahim Babangida owned the biggest watch-making company in Switzerland. I had to mention this incident because it was a classic example of mass ignorance and folly. Not only was there no such story in the Ebony, that was also not the sort of things that magazine focused on. And furthermore, owning a watch-making company would not be a smart way for a corrupt dictator to hide money stolen from his country. It was a dummy story and yet we protested over it and lost the lives of a few students over it. Nigeria hasn’t changed much even 20 years after.

One final factor that made the phenomenal lies of SaharaReporters possible was the acrimonious and vicious nature of Nigerians when dealing with one another. Someone is always out there to bring his or her neighbour down. And SaharaReporters had become a suitable weapon for such vendetta. So, the wife of one minister who is envious of the wife of another minister would sponsor falsehood against her enemy through SaharaReporters. And Sowore would charge for such service. When a vendetta is sponsored by an insider, it always comes with some tissue of truth, which is then exaggerated by SaharaReporters to make it sound authentic, all for a fee. Example: The minister’s child is sick indeed and has gone to the hospital. With that truth about the minister’s family, Sowore could now approach the minister and threaten to publish a story that his child is suffering from epilepsy or HIV/AIDS. And once SaharaReporters could establish that there was a visit to the hospital, he tends to believe that everything else in the story would be credible. Faced with such a situation, the minister would rather pay money to Sowore and SaharaReporters to avoid such false story being published about his family. But what Sowore does is criminal. He gets away with it because his victims are in Nigeria. The Nigerian police cannot reach him and the American police are not interested where the victim could not reach them. It is a perfect crime scenario for Sowore.

Through, Sowore and SaharaReporters became so powerful that even powerful people feared them. Take for instance the Okiro story in News Express to which I earlier referred. You can see a former IG of Police literally crying that SaharaReporters is out to destroy him. That’s power, an evil power, to harm others. Can you believe that even Farida Waziri during her days as the EFCC boss was afraid of SaharaReporter’s ability to lie against her such that she was willing to please Sowore? For instance, EFCC agreed to supply Sowore with any information he wanted about me provided he would refrain from ever publishing any negative story about the EFCC or Mrs. Farida Waziri. Sowore kept to his part of this deal. For instance, between January 2010 and January 2011, SaharaReporters ran over six negative stories about the EFCC Chairman. I was arrested by EFCC in February of 2011. And between February 2011 and January 2012, SaharaReporters did not run even one single negative story against the EFCC. Even when the Human Rights Watch filed a damning report against the EFCC, SaharaReporters said nothing. Even when Mrs. Farida Waziri was found to have forged her certificates or lied about her qualifications, SaharaReporters did not publish a word of it. And even when Mrs. Waziri was fired for corruption, SaharaReporters said nothing. It was all because there was a deal on my head.

Also, Sowore blackmailed the EFCC into sabotaging my case in order to detain me in Nigeria long enough for the case I filed against him in American to be dismissed. That’s how dangerous the little man Sowore had become simply because of the combination of the above factors.

THE NEW REALITY: The fact is that so much has changed since 2009. From defamation suit to an involvement in torture and illegal detention, Sowore is not going to leave the courts for the next 10 years. Those of his friends who are celebrating what they call victory have no idea what awaits him in the future as far as the law courts are concerned.

Also, a lot about Sowore and SaharaReporters has come to light. He is not what people thought he was. He is a plain criminal and more will be revealed about his methods and operations. Besides, Sowore doesn’t have monopoly anymore over online communications. He will come under more and more pressure to give up his criminal methods and embrace genuine journalism. The only problem with that is that he lacks the talent to compete in the market for legitimate journalism. So, it is fair to say that the days of SaharaReporters are numbered.

•Ugwuonye, whose photo appears alongside this piece, is a US-based lawyer and businessman.

Source News Express

Posted 17/04/2013 11:27:02 AM


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