Monday, January 30, 2017 2:21 pm
Omoyele Sowore, Saharareporters publisher, visited TheNEWS headquarters recently. He spoke about his encounter with the Lagos State police command, his brush with university and government authorities over the years
Q: You were arrested by the Police in Lagos, narrate what led to that…
With regards to this particular incident, it started because Saharareporters did an investigation in January 2016 of how former Nigerian Minister and ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s Campaign Publicity Director, Femi Fani-Kayode, started drawing down on the funds of the National Security Adviser that was meant to fight Boko Haram.
Fani-Kayode began fraudulently taking funds using a variety of fronts of which, Lekan Fatodu, who runs Leeman Communications, was an accomplice. Their first scam netted N12 million from the NSA funds.
But to hide that money wasn’t going to Femi Fani-Kayode, they routed the money through a female. Femi Fani-Kayode submitted the account of a female to Lekan and Lekan transferred that money to that female.
Did you have proof?
The former NSA wired the payment through an account, FGNS062014. Our investigation found that as soon as Leeman Communications Ltd received the funds, Mr. Fani-Kayode then sent text messages to Fatodu to release his portion of the payment through a female front, Olushola Grace Obaze, through her account number, 001-542-8962, at Diamond Bank. Lekan got a cut from it, so there was no implementation whatsoever of the contract. So we wrote the story, and when Saharareporters was investigating it, I called Lekan to find out if he was involved and he immediately admitted to me that he was involved. In short, he was the one that provided the screenshot of how he transferred the money to Femi Fani-Kayode.
However, he immediately started invoking friendship claiming that because I was the one who helped to get him admitted to the University of Lagos. I am just giving you a little bit of background, so when I heard this, going back to January 2016, I said this is despicable, this is not the kind of mentoring that I thought I was doing for you to become a thief and he said, please don’t mention my name, just mention Fani Kayode’s name. On the day our report went live, his company’s name was published by the FGN as one of the companies that took money from the NSA.
Narrate the attack drama…
On the day he attacked me at GRA Ikeja, we were just driving from a restaurant with three persons in a car when Lekan Fatodu and his friend driving a red SUV blocked us and Lekan jumped out of the car and knocked my window. I lowered the window thinking this is a familiar face. As soon as I lowered the window, he grabbed me by my collar in a chokehold, trying to drag me out of the car.
Of course my colleague on the other side was very worried and said this is unusual, this is guy has never been this aggressive before and before I could say anything, he opened my door and dragged me out and the guy who was with him brought his phone and started filming the attack. So at that point construction workers and bystanders within the area came out en mass. When he saw the resistance from the public he ran away abandoning his colleague who was filming the attack. That fellow too wanted to escape in their car, they didn’t let him go but I made sure they were not touched, but the enraged public deflated their tyres.
So we drove into the premises, locked up the gate and my colleague tried to call somebody that he knew but apparently because of the way the commotion happened, people around there had also called the police thinking this was daylight robbery or kidnapping attempt.
Soon a police team, led by a DSP knocked the gate where we were, parked and said: “We are Police, come out.” When I heard police, I felt a bit comfortable, I came out and this Lekan leapt towards me again in front of policemen, and I said to the policemen this is weird, how do you go and resolve crime and the person who is accused of assault has this freedom, effrontery to be acting like this in front of you? The cop got upset, and he said Oh you have to come to the police; he dragged me and got me sandwiched between two policemen and Lekan kept assaulting and insulting me all the way to the Area ‘F’ police station in Ikeja, and I kept complaining, that this is wrong, you just don’t do this.
We got to the police station, he continued inside Area ‘F’, so we even filmed one of the encounters on my phone, he continued to attack us right inside the police station. There was so much confusion and collusion at the police station.
We got summoned by the Area Commander, a lady, and he started his story saying this is the saharareporters guy, he is the one who did the story about the IG of police sleeping with someone in his office, and all the officers were coming out and asking are you the one and I said Yes. I am the one, I hope you read it! So the Area commander said can you people tell me your stories? Of course Lekan changed his story that I had jumped red light and that in an attempt to apprehend the person, they found out that it was me and because he had a grudge against me he wanted to quickly settle it there but you know I mobilized people and they chased him away. So she said ok, DCO go and take their statement and the DCO came , gave us paper, everybody wrote his/her statement.
As we were about finishing the statements, everybody started rushing in. They said the Commissioner of Police had ordered that we should be brought before him, so we barely signed our statements and they collected them back, they asked us to enter the car and I said No, am not sitting in the same car with him. The Area Coommander began pleading claiming she just discovered I was not an ‘ordinary person’ but I insisted I wanted to be treated like an ordinary person.
What caused the conflict between you and the CP there?
As soon as we sat down, he walked back into the counte room, and so he came back with a bunch of papers and dropped it on his table, and he started speaking, and then he said to Lekan: Why did you go and take laws into your hands by attacking him? Lekan said, you know this guy had done something about me, but I am so sorry. The CP said ok don’t worry and he looked at me and said Mr. Man, what’s your name again?
I said Sowore Omoyele. He was standing, and he said right here we have a petition against you for criminal libel, blackmail, and a threat to life.
At that point, it made sense to me that this was all pre-planned. I said excuse me Mr Commissioner, you mean if someone submits a petition to you, you allow the person who wrote the petition to go roaming the streets with a club or machete or gun to kill?
He flared up and said look at the way you are talking to me, I have heard so much about you, being a rude person, I am a police commissioner, you can do it to the junior policemen on the streets. And I said to him, what is the problem? One of the men came to the front to sit, when he saw his behavior and was calming him down and I started looking at him with scorn because of my disappointment and disgust at him.
We exchanged cold stares and then he barked: “Drop your phone, look at the way you are looking at me, sizing me up! There is no remorse.” He was thinking I’d be scared of him.
He immediately ordered that I should be driven to the state CID at Panti that even upon arriving there we met Frank Mba, former PPRO of the Nigerian Police. He already had the so-called petition in front of him and he said honestly, this petition just got here 15 minutes ago, minuted by the CP. He added: “The procedure for treating a petition is that we get it days before, the original copy and one gets a chance to call in the complainant and investigate”. But this time, the petition arrived in a different car before you people arrived here. He said to me; you know this is strange.
At that point, I knew that they had completely changed the story. There was no mention of the attack anymore, now it is now the petition. So he took all of us before the DCP Panti who when he introduced himself to us said he had been at the EFCC for eight years before he came to Panti and he was their admin officer.
The first thing he said was by the way I want you to know that every day before I got to the office, I first of all log into Saharareporters, read it before I will start my day. The CP called him, while we were there, maybe after the social media went agog with the story, there was a lot of pressure on him, I suspected it was the CP who was just saying look, let’s do this by way of reconciliation, let’s just keep pushing the story that it was a misunderstanding between two friends so that nobody had to ask what happened.
We were assigned to an IPO and when we finished writing our statement, they took us back to the DCP again. He ordered our release after asking that the police wanted an amicable settlement. I was alarmed.
But then they said for you to walk out of this place you have to sign a bail bond, I said ok, you may have to detain me because you have to explain to me the offence I committed first, you have to book me into the system before you can bail me out, there is no basis for signing a bail bond. They said, it is late in the night, just sign it, it is for documentation purposes; I said no, am not signing any bail bond. This was about 10 pm, I said you can detain me here, tomorrow we continue, the man said no, your own is too much, let us go and see Frank Mba again, and when we met Frank Mba, he wrote on the top of the bail bond, “Self Recognizance,” saying: “Sowore, you are an important man, look we are letting you go, I said don’t play that game with me. I want to know the offence you are bailing me out of, it is as simple as that. He said Ok, go and see the DCP.
The IPO walked me into the DCP’s office, and the DCP asked the IPO, what is the problem? He said, this man will not sign the bail bond. He said Mr. Sowore why won’t you sign the bail bond? I said my offense had not been established. The DCP then asked IPO, so what are you investigating?
The man said, Oga I don’t know. They just assigned me to this thing, on a second thought, he said it was “Two Fighting”. The man dropped his hand on the table, so you mean you brought two fighting from Area F to Panti? He said Mr. Sowore you can go. That’s how I left the place. At that point a vibrant young lawyer, Inibefe Effiong and a freelance journalist, Femi Owolabi had joined me at Panti.
How did this people know that you were in Lagos to the extent of sending thugs to attack you at Ikeja GRA?
When I was coming into the country, the DSS stopped me at Murtala Muhammed International Airport, so my hunch was probably there was some kind of communication between these agencies to show that this guy has arrived. I was stalked and probably trailed for days before I was attacked
Kindly tell us about your encounters with the security agents at the point of entry
I have had four encounters with the DSS guys, prior to the Buhari government coming to power. For eight years before Buhari, I wasn’t passing through Nigerian airports. I devised my own airport to come into Nigeria and left but when this new government came into power, I decided that I was tired of sneaking around, whatever will happen I wanted to damn it, I knew all along that my name has been in the airport.
Talk about your trips through the back door, especially it was during one of such that you interviewed Gbenga Obasanjo…
I had been doing several of those trips throughout the West African corridor. Yes, during one of the trips, I met Gbenga Obasanjo and had this interview that changed the political landscape. I have been doing that rounds through different routes for a long time until 2015.
What is the implication of all this on the media?
Well, I believe they are testing a new strategy to adopt for renewed clampdown on the media.
Tell us about your various encounters with the authorities over time…
From Lagos to Yola! I was detained at the same Area “F” when it used to be known as “Area Finish,” it was most notorious police station in Lagos then and I bet now and when I finished my studies, my results were held on almost a year and half. I should have graduated in 1993, they didn’t let me go until 1995 and I was sent to Yola Adamawa state to do NYSC. When I finished my NYSC I was arrested, detained at the Nigerian Airforce facility in Yola and when I was let go, they never gave me my NYSC certificate till this day.