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Rights group condemns detention of publisher

Vanguard for the Protection of Journalists in Africa (VAPOJA), a Human and Peoples Rights group, has condemned the arraignment and detention of Mr. Fidelis Anosike, Chairman of Folio Communications Limited and Publisher of Daily Times of Nigeria by a Magistrate Court in Mpape, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory.

In a press statement after an emergency meeting in its Garki office, Abuja on Thursday, the group described as height of illegality, impunity and judicial rascality the negative audacity of a Magistrate to assume jurisdiction on a matter that has earlier been decided and dismissed by a Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal, even when the attention of the Magistrate was drawn to those facts.

According to the statement signed by Mr. Pope Nnabuenyi and El- Habib Wakili, National President and National Secretary of the group respectively, VAPOJA said it has all the documents relating to the several cases instituted in different High Court as well as petitions by one former Senator Ikechukwu Obiora on the same matter.

The statement reads: “We wish to recall that an Ikeja High Court on Monday 7th May, 2012 dismissed a similar case with details as CR NO: 204/2011 instituted by this same Ikechukwu Obiora against the Anosike brothers on the sale of Daily Times of Nigeria (DTN) which their company Folio Communications Limited bought in the privatisation exercise. Justice Habeeb Abiru in striking out the case said it was unfair for the prosecution to be delaying the case at the detriment of the accused persons who may suffer unjustly as a result of the delays. “If your home is not tidy, why should the people outside suffer?” the judged had asked the prosecution.

‘’After that particular was case was dismissed, Obiora had again gone through the back yard to bring a fresh criminal proceeding against the same Fidelis Anosike and his brother Noel, a Director in the Company which dragged up to the Court of Appeal where judgement was entered in favour of the Anosikes as the authentic owners of Daily Times. Apart from these two significant cases, Obiora has dragged them to several High Courts in Lagos and Abuja with all the judgements against him. Still in desperation, Obiroa had at a time written petitions to the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General of the Federation in which they both resolved that the case was pure civil without any ingredient of criminality and therefore should be treated as a such

“It is therefore be in the light of his inability of influence their well respected Lordships of both Federal and State High Courts that Ikechukwu Obiora must have identified this Magistrate Azubuike Ukagu, as the right man to do his illegal bidding of dragging the Nigerian judiciary to the mud by influencing the Magistrate to assume jurisdiction in a case that most High Court have dismissed as an abuse of judicial process,” the statement said.

Continuing, VAPOJA expressed shock at the way in which the two Daily Times top management Officers were clamped upon, arrested in a Gestapo manner by the Nigerian Police which denied them bail in and went on to horridly arraign them the following day at a Magistrate Court located at the remotest part of Abuja which hurriedly denied them bail.

“We are in shock over what happened on Monday 15th January, 2015 when the Police went to Daily Times office, arrested Noel Anosike, ransacked the entire office and went away with several documents belonging to the organisation. Fidelis Anosike hearing of the arrest of his brother had on his own gone to the station to know why and to effect his release. But on getting there, the Police also arrested him and detained both of them on flimsy excuse that a petition was written against them by Ikechukwu Obiora, a petition that contained same allegations that have been dismissed by several high courts as well as the Court of Appeal.

“Not done, the Police had bundled them the following day to the Magistrate Court who first stood the case, went into his chambers to confer with Ikechukwu Obiora before returning to the court room to rule against their bail for allegations bothering on offences that are even bail-able.

“We cannot believe that any Nigerian citizen can still be treated this way in this 21st century. We wonder what is the fate of other citizens of this country, if a high standing professional, the publisher of Nigeria’s heritage newspaper like Fidelis Anosike and his brother can be treated like this?” the group stated.

“Let us recall also that Folio Communications Limited on 30th July 2004 paid the sum of N1.25billion to acquire 233,754,840 shares of DTN which gave it 96.05% of the Company. This was after Folio had gone through all the due processes of privatisation as provided in the Privatisation Act and emerging as the preferred bidder. Before Folio bought DTN, the company was completely dead, having been run down by successive government appointed management teams. When DTN was being sold, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) said it spent N820million on settlement of liabilities because one of the conditions of the sale was that new owners would take over without encumbrances. When Folio took over DTN, they were said to have been confronted with 150 different liability claims totalling N1.1billion which they have been battling since then to settle. This was even in view of the claim by BPE that DTN’s total assets were worth N1.9billion. To make matter worse, a valuation report on DTN found in the course of the research for this write up reveals that the company was valued at N730,o64,520 by the time it was sold. The report stated that all of DTN machines were obsolete. The valuation was “based on net value of DTN, level of shareholding of the new investors and other points raised.” Judging from the report of that valuation therefore, Folio paid the sum of N1.25billion on DTN which is N500million premium over its worth, in addition to the huge liabilities it inherited.

“We are aware that in spite of all these contradictions and obvious challenges on its way, Folio as a company managed by young and enterprising Nigerians who wanted to showcase their ingenuity, faced the daunting task head on; and within a short period was able to put the four DTN publications back on the newsstand. Thus Nigerians were again reading their darling Daily Times, Weekend Times, Business Times and Lagos Weekend. But what obviously seems like a conspiracy of like minds between some businessmen and others in government have become a clog in the wheel of DTN progress. Folio said recently in a media statement that it has spent over N500million on court cases alone.

“Folio while paying for DTN had borrowed some money from a company called DSV owned by Ikechukwu Obiora and Chief Ben Okoye. Folio had subsequently divested a minority interest of DTN to DSV but at some point in their relationship, there was a disagreement between Folio Communications and DSV which saw the two companies in court. In 2007, a Senate ad- hoc Committee initiated moves to probe privatisation exercise carried out during the regime of former president Olusegun Obasanjo. By this time, Ikechukwu Obiora was a member of the Senate. It was alleged that his disagreement with Folio Communications on DTN was one of the reasons why the Senate probe was even initiated and that Senator Obiorah used his position to influence his colleagues in the Committee to make damning recommendations on the sale of DTN to Folio Communications. The Committee even went as far as recommending that DTN be handed over to Senator Ikechukwu Obiora’s company.

“But the BPE has at every opportunity continued to say that Folio legitimately bought DTN. In a letter written by BPE dated April 13, 2010 and signed by Ms. Bolanle Onagorowa to the Commissioner of Police (Special Fraud Unit Annex), BPE stated in clear terms that “BPE sold 233,754,840 ordinary shares of Fifty Kobo (No.50) of Daily Times to Nigeria Plc to Folio Communications Limited. This represents 96.05% of the issued and fully paid up share capital at the price of N5,34k per share. The balance of 3.95%of the issued and paid-up shares of the Company representing 9,600,000 ordinary shares of No.50 each are held over by 16,862 other shareholders. The BPE also handed over to Folio Communications Limited some equipment as contained in the valuation Report by our Advisers.”

“In efforts to boost the fortunes of DTN, Folio in January 2010 raised money through their assets in DTN and imported four modern and best quality printing machines but Senator Ikechukwu Obiora again used his connections to obtain court order against the equipments. Up till now, the machines are stranded at the Ports for over two years, held by court order “While heavy amount accrues against Folio on demurrage. The above is in addition to the sale of some London assets of DTN by the duo of Senator Obiorah and Ben Okoye. Folio had put the assets in their care to manage being minority interest holders in DTN. The two have been dragged to court by Folio for selling DTN assets.”

“In conclusion, we hereby condemn in all ramifications this judicial rascality and unacceptable impunity meted on these highly respectable gentlemen by both the Nigerian Police and the conniving Magistrate and Mpape,” the statement said.

 


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.