Between Buratai And Rotimi Williams

Between Buratai And Rotimi Williams

Friday, January 20, 2017 9:39 am


Richard Akinnola

Richard Akinnola



By Richard Akinnola

We all know what happened on Thursday 19 January 2017, when the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai rolled his tanks, not to Banjul, The Gambia but to the premises of Premium Times, through the police, to arrest the publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi and one of his reporters. The army had accused the newspaper of “defamatory” stories. And instead of suing them to court, the army Chief resorted to the old tricks of military dictatorship – get the journalists arrested through the police.

Some of us had previously applauded the feats of Buratai in the war against Boko Haram but l can assure him that this war with the press is a war that he would be brutally bruised. He cannot win this war. He should ask Babangida and Abacha.

Dapo Olorunyomi

Dapo Olorunyomi

As Head of State in 1976, General Murtala Muhammed did the unusual. A magazine owned by Obarogie Ohanbamu had published a scathing article, alleging corruption against the Head of State. Instead of getting Ohanbamu arrested as the norm was under a military government, Murtala rather sued him to court for defamation, insisting on appearing in the witness box to defend himself. Ohanbamu eventually realised his mistake and apologised. And Murtala’s conduct won many peoples admiration. One would have expected the Army Chief to have done similar thing but he resorted to the old tactics that never worked. He should have done a background check on Dapo Olorunyomi to know that this is a patriot who had fought many journalistic battles, particularly during the time of guerrilla journalism under Abacha. See the photograph below:

Journalism patriots , from court to Ikoyi Prison during the military era. L-R: Dapo Olorunyomi, Akin Adesokan, Seye Kehinde and Bayo Onanuga

Journalism patriots , from court to Ikoyi Prison during the military era. L-R: Dapo Olorunyomi, Akin Adesokan, Seye Kehinde and Bayo Onanuga

After bowing to public pressure, the two journalists were released but asked to report to the police this morning, ostensibly to charge them to court. And that would be the greatest mistake of the army Chief, because instead of Premium Times being on trial, Buratai would be the one on trial. Why do l say so? This is a man who has not been able to explain the source of his wealth to enable him purchase two houses in Dubai – one before he assumed office and the second one after assumption of office as army Chief. I guess during the trial, the defendant would bring this issue up, like Gani Fawehinmi did in 1986.

When The Guardian started in 1983, it came up with a house style of calling everyone simply as “Mr”, irrespective of your title, just like the Premium Times does. I happened to be the reporter of The Guardian covering the Decree 4 trial of The Guardian, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson by the Buhari junta in 1984. Chief Rotimi Williams was the counsel to The Guardian. But in my reports, l usually wrote Mr Williams instead of Chief Williams. But in the newspaper next day, l would see Chief Williams instead of Mr Williams. I complained to my superiors but was asked to face my job. So, subsequently, l started writing Chief Williams.

Lt General Tukur Buratai: Chief of Army Staff

Lt General Tukur Buratai: Chief of Army Staff

After the trial, Newswatch did an article with the title – “The death of simply Mr”.The Newswatch story alluded that Chief Williams gave a condition to The Guardian that if he was not addressed as “Chief”, he would not defend it.

Chief Williams, therefore sued Newswatch for defamation, claiming that the magazine imputed that he attached conditions other than professional before accepting the brief.

As soon as Dele Giwa, Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch received Williams letter, he immediately contacted Gani Fawehinmi, Newswatch lawyer. The moment Gani received the letter, he screamed in elation, dancing in his Chambers, saying that he had been waiting for that opportunity to deal with Chief Williams. Both of them were professional enemies.

Pronto, Gani fired a letter to Williams, daring him to go to court, that he would plead justification. Williams took up the challenge and sued Newswstch.

In a preliminary point of defence, Gani said Williams had no reputation to protect. And to buttress this point, Gani dug into the archives and excavated some things that were not palatable to Williams. It was a criminal case involving Williams in 1949, when he was barely six months old at the bar, when he was accused of stealing his client’s money.

In the case, No. M3550 decided on June 6, 1949 by Justice Charles Abbot, Williams was accused of stealing his client’s money. He was alleged to have stolen 2,700 pounds being the money entrusted to him by one of his clients.

Some of us had previously applauded the feats of Buratai in the war against Boko Haram but l can assure him that this war with the press is a war that he would be brutally bruised. He cannot win this war. He should ask Babangida and Abacha.

In his judgment, Justice Abbot said inter alia:”I will not express any opinion as to whether or not the business methods of accused 1 amounted to professional misconduct….but it is my intention to impound the bank statements (exhibits 43 and 45) and forward them, together with a copy of the relevant extracts from the evidence of accused 1 to His honour, the Chief Justice.

“Balogun paid him 100 pounds for professional fees which he never performed and made no offer to return. I will not say more than that the conduct of accused 1 in this regard savours of rapacity wholly unbecoming of a member of the profession to which he belongs”.

After the murder of Giwa, Gani withdrew as counsel to Newswatch and the magazine and Williams eventually settled out of court.

But can General Buratai afford to go to the witness box to explain where he got the money to buy his Dubai properties? If Premium Times people are charged to court today, it would be Buratai that would be on trial and not Dapo Olorunyomi.

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