…Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Adebanjo, Evah, others speak
By Anayo Okoli, Dapo Akinrefon, Olasunkanmi Akoni, Olayinka Ajayi &Tony Nwankwo
Mixed reactions Saturday greeted the sealing of the corporate headquarters of Sun Newspapers by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFFC.
The commission had said its action was done to avoid the dissipation of the property but eminent Nigerians said the act was done in bad faith.
They told Vanguard that EFCC’s action amounted to an attack on the media, adding that there is no court order authorising what the commission did.
Meanwhile, the management of Sun Newspapers said there is no legal basis for EFCC’s action, saying there is a pending appeal at the Supreme Court on the matter.
The Sun management in a statement said the commission was notified of the pending appeal at the Supreme Court and advised to stay action pending hearing of the Motion for Stay of execution and the appeal.
The statement reads: “Three officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) with four heavily armed policemen on Saturday, December 15, 2019, at about 10.00 arrived at the corporate headquarters of The Sun Publishing Limited at 2, Coscharis Street, Kirikiri Industrial Layout, Apapa, Lagos and put up a notice for staff and the public to keep off the premises.
“The EFCC officials, who came in a white Toyota bus with registration number, ABUJA BWR-644GA, wrote on The Sun’s fence, “EFCC, keep off.” They also advised our staff to collect their personal belongings from the office as they will come back to seal the premises completely.
“We do not understand the legal basis for this EFCC action. It is on record that there is a pending appeal at the Supreme Court with Suit No: SC/546/2018 wherein The Sun Publishing Limited appealed against the judgement delivered by the Court of Appeal on the interim forfeiture order made against it by a Federal High Court in 2007 based on ex parte proceeding. The Notice of Appeal and Motion for Stay of Execution were duly served on EFCC by the bailiffs of the Court.
“It is also pertinent to state that EFCC vide a letter written by Counsel to The Sun Publishing Limited, dated 22nd May 2018 and duly received by one Caleb Peter on behalf of Rotimi Jacobs & Co. was further put on notice of the pending appeal at the Supreme Court and advised to stay action in the matter pending the hearing of the Motion for Stay of execution and the appeal.
“Again, it is instructive to state that The Sun Publishing Limited was not a party to the case of EFCC vs. Orji Uzor Kalu & 2 Others, so we do not see why the judgement in that case, should lead to attempt to seal The Sun Publishing Limited premises.
“Furthermore, we are aware that both Senator Orji Uzor Kalu and Slok Nig Limited have since appealed the judgement delivered by Justice Mohammed Idris and a hearing date given.
“We wish to reiterate that The Sun Publishing Limited is an ongoing corporate limited liability company and its shares are owned by various individuals distinct from Senator Orji Uzor Kalu. Therefore, the recent judgement against Senator Orji Uzor Kalu should not be used to disturb the operations of the company and the proprietary rights of its innocent shareholders until the matters are dispensed with at the Supreme Court.
“In view of the foregoing, we call and appeal to the Attorney General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice to urgently intervene and advise EFCC appropriately on the legal consequences of its actions.”
Our action is legal, says EFCC
Defending its action, EFCC Spokesperson, Mr. Wilson Uwujeren, said the move followed an order by the Federal High Court in Lagos to wound up assets belonging to Kalu’s company, Slok Nigeria Limited.
Kalu, a senator representing Abia North Senatorial District, was last week sentenced to 12 years in prison for an N7.65 billion fraud by the same court.
The statement partly reads: “The marking is to ensure that the properties are not dissipated, following the December 5, 2019 order of Justice Muhammed Idris sitting at the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos that Kalu’s company, Slok Nigeria Limited, be wound up and all assets forfeited to the Federal Government.’’
Irked by the development eminent Nigerians urged the media to resist any attempt at muzzling press freedom.
Without court order, EFCC is overstepping its boundaries – Adeniran
Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, CACOL, Comrade Debo Adeniran, said the anti-graft agency is overstepping its boundaries.
He said: “Whatever the Chairman of Slok group of companies and Publisher of Sun Newspapers did should be separated from the company because the different companies have different lives and different board of directors. It is only when the Board of Directors commits a crime against the state or if it is on the approval of the board of Directors that illicit money was injected into the company that they can hold the company responsible. No individual or agency like the EFCC has the right to shut down a company without a valid court order. So if there is no court order, they are overstepping their boundaries and it would amount to muzzling the press. ”
EFCC should have considered pending suit—-Afenifere
Speaking on the matter, Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said: “It is a continuation of EFCC’s lawlessness in the country. They have been acting on whims and caprices, not on the basis of law. The EFCC should have considered the case in court before taking such an action. The EFCC can only do that if there is an order by the court urging it to do so.
The court only gave an order against Slok, not Sun Newspapers. The EFCC should reopen the place immediately. It may be that the EFCC has extended the judgement in the spirit of lawlessness that governs the country at the moment. The whimsical and capricious spirit with which these people operate create worries for Nigerians who believe that a civil administration should be guided by democratic ethos.’’
They should be allowed to operate – Okorie
Also, National Chairman of United Progressive Party, UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie, said: “ EFCC should be mindful because their action would affect not just employees but also their families. It is going to create a very wrong impression on matters that concern the people.
“This is not the time to put people on the streets. They should be allowed to operate even if they decide to change ownership because Sun is rated among the top national papers in the country.”
We’re in a police state —– Ohanaeze
President of Ohananaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo, condemned the action, saying SUN was not joined in the suit.
He said: “EFCC must make a distinction between private liability and corporate liability. Sun Newspapers was not mentioned in the court judgement against Orji Kalu. The sealing of Sun newspapers must be explained otherwise we are descending into a police state.”
Media must stand up for the masses — Adebanjo
Elder statesman, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, said:”It is a bad omen to the country and the media industry. All these happenings are indications that we are back to military regime. Tyranny is what is going on.
“That is why they are trying to make the Hate Speech Bill. The media should not keep quiet this time. It is high time the media stood up for the truth and defend the masses. It is another clarion call.”
Former President of Aka Ikenga, Dr. Sylvan Ebigwei, said: “The Sun Newspapers has been a reliable national news media that has produced balanced information, irrespective of politics. It is not clear the reason EFCC decided to act. They can only act is they have sufficient evidence to prove that Sun Newspapers funding is from the proceeds of crime. But EFCC must do their investigations and convince the people on how they came to their conclusion.”
Action is condemnable—Evah
Chairman of Ijaw Monitoring Group, Comrade Joseph Evah, said: ”
We condemn the action of the EFCC because the court did not say anything about the Sun Newspapers. The court did not order the sealing of the Sun as the judgement did not include the paper. We need to condemn the action of the EFCC and the government should apologise to Sun Newspapers for this intimidation.”
Former Chief of Staff in Anambra State, Mr. Chuks Iloegbunam, said: “The Sun Newspaper is an instrument of information that has stood the test of time. If the information is correct, then the EFCC must explain to the people so that people will not say the government is trying to muzzle the press. Unless the Sun Newspaper is part of the Slok Group which the judge gave judgement against, the EFCC will have no defence to seal the newspaper.”