May 9, 2024

Alleged $30bn loot report: First News apologises to Gbajabiamila as abducted editor resigns



By Henry Ojelu

The management of First News online newspaper has tendered an apology to the Chief of Staff to President Bola Tinubu, Femi Gbajabiamila, over a news story titled “How Gbajabiamila attempted to corner $30bn, 66 houses traced to Sabiu,” published on its platform.

This is coming as the platform’s Managing Editor, Segun Olatunji who wrote the story and was subsequently abducted by officials of Defence Intelligence Agency, DIA, yesterday, tendered his resignation.

The medium in a statement yesterday said it was misled by a source to publish the report which contained falsehoods and fabrications.

In its apology letter to Gbajabiamila, First News management said it discovered that the said story contained “falsehoods and fabricated stories handed out to us as facts by a misleading source which was highly negligent on our part and for which we deeply tender an unreserved apology to the Chief of Staff to the President.

“As a responsible media organisation, we wish to state very categorically that we have no malicious intent towards the person of the Chief of Staff to the President or his office. Hence, our decision to tender an unreserved apology and the need to publish a retraction of the said story.”

Truth’ll come out—Olatunji

In his resignation letter addressed to the management of First News, Olatunji said it has become imperative for him to resign his appointment for his personal and family safety.

In the letter, Olatunji insisted that in no distant time, the truth of the matter will come out.

He wrote: “In view of the latest development regarding the Gbajabiamila story and the stance of the company’s Management, I hereby tender my resignation as the General Editor of First News.

”It has become imperative for me to resign my appointment for the safety of my person and my family. However, I want to state that in no distant time, the truth will come out and then it’ll be my word against theirs.

”I hope the Management of First Media Network Limited, publishers of First News newspaper, will be magnanimous enough to fully settle the one-year outstanding salaries I am being owed, in no time.

”I thank the company’s management for giving me the opportunity to contribute my quota to its operations in the past four years.”

Olatunji was abducted in his home in the Iyana Odo, Abule Egba area of Lagos State in March, eliciting wild condemnation from Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE; Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ; Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, NPAN; International Press Institute, IPI, and Civil Society Organisations, CSOs.

The military initially denied knowledge of his abduction but later yielded to pressure from the media and CSOs and admitted that Olatunji was in their custody over terrorism allegations.

He was eventually released on March 28 after 14 days of detention in the underground cell of DIA.Narrating his harrowing experience, Olatunji stated that he was cuffed, blindfolded and kept in a dark underground cell where he was regularly interrogated and hounded to disclose the source of his report.

At one point, one of the officers came and tightened the cuffs on my right hand and leg. I was there groaning in pain, and it was that way for three days. When they released it all, the right side of my body felt numb. As I’m talking to you, I can still feel the numbness in my right hand and leg,

Olatunji also disclosed that his life and that of his family members were under serious threat.Following a meeting between media bodies and the military, the matter was referred to the media Ombudsman for mediation.

“While the matter was still pending before the Ombudsman, an online news platform quoting a military report, revealed that Olatunji while in detention had admitted being paid to write the report and also tendered a written apology to Gbajabiamila.”

Olatunji denied the allegation, saying everything he said while in detention was under duress.