Lagos state lawmakers have thrown their weight behind the speaker, Mudashiru Obasa, against fraud allegations leveled against him by Sahara Reporters.
They said the allegations are false, malicious and unsubstantiated and challenged the online medium to provide evidence of the allegations. This is as the Speaker, through his counsel. Mr. Lawal Pedro (SAN) has demanded a retraction and threatened to file N1billion libel suit against the company.
Pedro said the medium published a vile and denigrating report with the headline: “Exposed: Speaker of Lagos Assembly, Obasa, awards contracts to self through a company registered in son’s name”.
The report claims that Obasa used a company known as De Kingrun Multipurpose Nigeria Limited to secure for himself contracts from the state assembly and ministries to launder public funds.
The medium also claims that to avoid the company is directly linked to him, Obasa used the names of his father, wife and children to register it.
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 of the Lagos State House of Assembly (Our Client).
“Our client has been greatly injured in his credit, character and reputation and in 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.”
According to Pedro, 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.
He said: “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.”
John Jacobs-Adeniyi, a lawyer urged Obasa and the House to pursue the matter to the logical conclusion if the medium does not retract or substantiate the reports.
He said: “Journalism should be practised responsibly. The report by Sahara Reporters maligning the person of Speaker Obasa is an abuse of the platform, with those behind it out only to achieve selfish rather than the 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?”
During the plenary session, the House denied that it spends N17 million monthly to maintain Obasa’s personal 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 specialty of the House.
Sanni added: “I must also state that these expenditures have been in existence prior the emergence of Speaker Obasa. In fact it is dated 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.”
The lawmaker representing Somolu Constituency 1 and Chairman House Committee on Finance, Rotimi Olowo, said Sahara Reporters 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 really see that the medium was telling lies because we have a procurement law and there are procedures stated by the law.
The lawmaker representing Ifako Ijaiye 2, Temitope Adewale, who corroborated Olowo, stated that Sahara Reporters publisher was a presidential loser who was accused of mismanaging his party’s campaign fund.
“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 Sahara Reporters 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 own side of the story, adding that the report was malicious.
But Obasa had clarified that the expenditure existed as far back as 2012, long before he became Speaker. During an earlier plenary in March, Obasa had also slammed Sahara Reporters over the contract award reports.
Clerk of the House had raised the matter during plenary, stating that the lawmakers did not award any contract to the companies.