Lagos State House of Assembly Speaker Mudashiru Obasa is set to launch N1billion suit against an online medium for maligning him in a series of false reports, even as his colleagues have risen in his defence. JOSEPH JIBUEZE, OZIEGBE OKOEKI AND ROBERT EGBE report.
Laws set out clear and enforceable rules for assessing whether a politician’s behaviour breaks a legal standard.
A law court can make a judicial determination about whether or not a politician’s behaviour has broken a law.
Lagos State House of Assembly Speaker Mudashiru Obasa, against whom such a judicial determination had never been made, may need the courts to clear his name.
That is, if his demands for a retraction and an apology are not met.
The lawmaker, who has been in the House since 2003 as part of the fifth, sixth and seventh assemblies, finds himself in the middle of allegations by Sahara Reporters.
Obasa, a lawyer, has dared his detractors to provide evidence or face a lawsuit.
He is determined to protect his hard-earned reputation built right from his days as a councillor from 1999 to 2003.
His colleagues have risen in his defence over what they termed “false”, “malicious” and “unsubstantiated” reports against him by the notorious online medium.
They challenged Sahara Reporters to provide evidence of the allegations
The Speaker, through his lawyer Mr Lawal Pedro (SAN), has demanded a retraction.
Pedro said the medium published a “vile” and “denigrating” report with the headline: “Exposed: Speaker of Lagos Assembly, Obasa, awards contracts to self through company registered in son’s name”.
The report claims that Obasa used a company known as De Kingrun Multipurpose Nigeria Limited to secure contracts from the House and ministries for himself to launder public funds.
The medium also claims that to avoid the company being directly linked to him, Obasa used the names of his father, wife and children to register the company.
Sahara Reporters further claims that Obasa owns several other companies (listed in the publication) which he used to receive contracts from the House.
The medium subsequently published other reports against Obasa, with the headlines: “Exclusive: Tinubu, GAC back Lagos Assembly Speaker, Obasa, over the suspension of Lawmakers, corruption”; and “Lagos Speaker, Obasa, gives thugs N50m to burn down Sahara Reporters, Civic Media Lab”.
Pedro, in a demand letter to Sahara Reporters publisher Omoyele Sowore, said the unsubstantiated claims repeated in the reports confirmed Obasa’s suspicion “that you and your organisation for reasons best known to you are pre-occupied with personal resentment and hatred neither warranted, necessary, proper nor justified against him”.
The SAN, in the April 30 letter, adds: “We were able to confirm that the House of Assembly has never at any time engaged or awarded any contract to any of the listed companies in the publication.
“Therefore, we find the publication utterly absurd, abusive, malicious and amount to irresponsible journalism to deliberately tarnish the image of the Speaker (our client).
“Our client has been greatly injured in his credit, character and reputation and his office and has been brought to unwarranted hatred, ridicule, public scandal, odium and contempt before his friends, associates, Constituents, the State, the country and the world as a whole.
“No responsible media organisation will hide under media freedom or freedom of expression to deliberately peddle false and malicious statement to injure any citizen’s reputation and credit.
“In the circumstance, it is our client’s instruction and we hereby demand of you, within seven days of receipt of this letter a retraction of the said false, malicious and defamatory publication against our client through your online publication, social media platforms and three national newspapers circulating in Nigeria. You are also to tender a written unreserved apology to our client for the publication.
“Take notice that, if you fail, refuse or neglect to meet our client’s humble request within the stipulated number of days, we have his further instruction to commence legal action against you and your organisation for the malicious defamatory publication and to claim N1billion damages,” Pedro writes.
A lawyer, John Jacobs-Adeniyi, urged Obasa and the House to pursue the matter to the logical legal conclusion if the medium does not retract or substantiate the reports.
He said: “Journalism should be practised responsibly. The report by an online medium maligning the person of Speaker Obasa is an abuse of the platform, with those behind it out only to achieve selfish rather than a public good.
“How can a person high up in a position of Speaker give such a huge amount as N50million to thugs to burn down an online news reporting platform’s office, without the medium providing evidence to back it up? Is money now so cheap to come by in the country?
“Could it be that such an incredulous accusation was sponsored? Why would a responsible platform risk the publication of such spurious accusations? The truth is that the Speaker should pursue this blackmail to its logical legal conclusion.”
During plenary last Monday, the House denied that it spends N17 million monthly to maintain Obasa’s residence and guest house.
The Clerk of the House, Mr Azeez Sanni, said the report was aimed at portraying them in a bad light.
He clarified that the sum covers various expenditure for the maintenance of the Office of the Chief of Staff, special advisers, office of the Chief Press Secretary, Special Assistant (Protocol), Special Assistant (Research and Development), Special Assistant (Women Affairs), and 15 Special Assistants engaged to attend to the growing demands and speciality of the House.
Sanni added: “I must also state that these expenditures have been in existence prior the emergence of Speaker Obasa.
“It dates back to as far as 2012 when it was N27 million monthly and I have the document here to show that the expenditure had been in existence since 2012.”
On the allegation that the company handling the project was registered in 2015, the same year Obasa emerged as Speaker, the Clerk wondered how a company supposedly registered in 2015 would be engaged in 2018 if it is truly in the Speaker’s interest.
The lawmaker representing Somolu Constituency 1 and Chairman House Committee on Finance, Rotimi Olowo, said the online medium was known for publishing misleading reports.
“I believe if it is truly investigative journalism that the medium is practising, it should get the other side of the issue before they rush to publish lies.
“The medium is known to publish lies as they published recently that former House of Representatives Speaker was dead. But this is one that you can see that the medium was telling lies because we have a procurement law and there are procedures stated by the law.
“If a contractor makes an overture to the House for contract bidding, it is not just what he came with but what the House eventually agree.
“I remember in 2012, I was a member of this House and I remember the amount that was budgeted was N27milliom monthly but when Obasa emerged as Speaker he reduced it to N17 million.
“I think the medium needs to be cautioned as it has shown that whatever that is giving them is published without crosschecking.
“Mr Speaker, this House has the power to sue because the lies by this medium are getting too much.”
The lawmaker representing Ifako Ijaiye 2, Temitope Adewale, who corroborated Olowo, stated that online medium’s publisher was a presidential election loser who was accused of mismanaging his party’s campaign funds.
“We don’t need to waste our time over his publication. We can explore the legal means by suing the medium,” said Adewale.
The lawmaker representing Eti Osa 2, Gbolahon Yishawu, emphasised that the medium was trying to incite the public against the Speaker and the House and that an attack on Obasa was an attack on the entire members.
Chairman, House Committee on Information, Strategy and Security, Tunde Braimoh, added that the medium did not reach out to the House to get their side of the story, adding that the report was malicious.
Obasa clarified that the expenditure existed as far back as 2012, long before he became Speaker.
“It shows the medium and its co-travellers would not get anywhere and we are not ready to join issues with it. I agree with you that we don’t have to waste our time on it. We remain resolute,” Obasa said.
During a plenary in March, Obasa had also slammed the online medium over the contract award reports.
Clerk of the House had raised the matter, stating that the lawmakers did not award any contract to the companies.
“As the Clerk of the House and Head of Administration, I want to say categorically to the public that this House has not had any business dealings with the mentioned companies,” Sanni said.
Obasa, who denied the allegation of awarding contracts to himself, described the online medium outfit as “Sahara Liars”. He dared the medium to prove the allegations.
According to him, there was no relationship between De Kingrun Multipurpose Nigeria Ltd and the House. He challenged the medium to publish the contract date, location, amount and agreement.
“Let me also join you to emphasise that what was published by ‘Sahara Liars’ has nothing to do with me. The fact remains that De Kingrun has no relationship with the Lagos State House of Assembly.
“I am challenging ‘Sahara Liars and Failures’ to publish if there is any. At least, they have alleged and they must be able to prove by giving out the name of such contracts, the amount, the location, the date and the contractual agreement.
“But, I am saying emphatically that there is no relationship between De Kingdrun and Lagos State House of Assembly. So, Sahara Liars and Failure, you can prove me wrong,” Obasa said.
The Speaker is aware that the seat he occupies is one that is bound to attract public attention.
He once said in an interview: “The only person I have is Almighty Allah because whatever you have or you don’t have is through Him.
“So, as long as you believe that you are doing the right thing, you don’t need to bother yourself. I don’t need to fear that if they remove me, what would I do? I don’t need to bother myself about that.”
The Speaker is not a stranger to false allegations, even when he was in the Nigerian Law School.
He said: “I was in the United States of America and I received a phone call from the Law School that a petition was written against me that I should not be allowed to graduate due to certain reasons.
“When I came back, I went there and they showed me the petition. I went there with all the necessary documents, but the petitioners did not show up.
“What is so special about Obasa? I was not disturbed because it was because I showed interest in the position of the Speaker of the House. It is in the imagination of the people.”
A socio-political group, the Southwest Progressive Youth and People’s Movement, lashed Sahara Reporters for publishing what it terms falsehood against Obasa
In a statement by the its National Coordinator, Taiwo Ajayi, the group said the Speaker “is a compassionate gentleman, a team player, and politician with an impeccable record of integrity.”
It added: “Sahara Reporters is fast becoming known for fallacious, malicious and mendacious allegations against perceived political enemies or those opposed to its owners infantile political ideologies.
“But for open minded members of the public who might be blackmailed into believing the falsehoods it regularly propagate about the Speaker, we found it expedient to address the issues as nothing but conjectures found only in the figment of Sahara Reporters imagination.”
Ajayi said the group also gathered that some people who are enemies of progress of the state were formulating all sorts of lies to discredit Obasa’s outstanding achievements since 1999.
“It is an open fact that Obasa’s works are speaking for him. He is well loved and revered by his constituents and colleagues in the House, a sign that he is sensitive to his primary duties of providing dividends of democracy through robust lawmaking,” Taiwo said.