19th February, 2015
Online news portal, SaharaReporters, has challenged former Minister of State for Defence and ministerial nominee, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, to go ahead with his threat to sue it for exposing the audio tape of the meeting he had with a military officer and others to rig the 21 June, 2014 governorship election in Ekiti State.
SaharaReporters, through its publisher, Omoyele Sowore, in a phone chat with P.M.NEWS on Thursday, challenged Obanikoro to go to court.
Obanikoro, who, in his desperate move to get his ministerial nomination approved by the National Assembly, has reportedly confessed to some senators that he was in Ekiti State on the eve of the election and was at the meeting at the behest of President Goodluck Jonathan and that he has asked his U.S. lawyers to sue SaharaReporters.
Sowore said he would be delighted to see Obanikoro in New York where he expects the former minister would thoroughly mess himself up because his libel suit would lack merit and he won’t be able to bribe any judge to pervert the course of justice in his favour.
He said Obanikoro would suffer the same fate as three other Nigerians who tried to sue SaharaReporters for libel in New York but ended up losing their cases.
According to Sowore, Paul Orhii, the Director-General of NAFDAC; Emeka Ugwonye, a Nigerian lawyer who helped the Nigerian government to sell properties in U.S., and another Nigerian lawyer, Eric Abakporo, at various times, sued him and SaharaReporters for libel but lost.
He said the case of Abakporo, a pastor, was even more pathetic as he ended up being jailed for seven years as a fraudulent estate agent who also duped an old woman in U.S.
Sowore said the ultimate defence against libel is the truth, adding that a U.S. company has authenticated the voices in the audio tape and there was no way Obanikoro could controvert or deny it.
He said that in a decent society, Obanikoro ought to be arrested, tried and jailed for his role in the Ekiti rigging.
“It is a shame he is being rewarded with a ministerial appointment,” Sowore said.
Obanikoro had earlier denied his involvement in the Ekiti meeting, only to turn around to confess to several senators in Abuja that he did participate in an election-eve meeting in Ekiti in June 2014 in which a group of politicians and government ministers met with a Nigerian army general to rig the governorship election in favour of Ayodele Fayose, the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP.
The meeting, which is now known as “Ekitigate”, was secretly taped by an Army Captain, Sagir Koli, who was subsequently forced to flee for his life.
Obanikoro’s story is that he was simply making “peace” between the army and Ayo Fayose at the meeting, claiming that he was not party to any conversation about rigging.
On the contrary, Obanikoro, who was at the time junior Minister for Defence, is overheard clearly on the tape bragging about the authority granted him by President Jonathan.
He was heard in the audio tape telling the Army General, Brig.Gen Momoh, that his promotion depended on whether he was ready to ‘play ball’.
According to SaharaReporters, prior to admitting his involvement to the Senators, the former minister met with President Jonathan to discuss the tape and his role.
A presidency source said Obanikoro told President Jonathan he was present at the meeting but that a part of the audio-recording was “doctored”.
The source said President Jonathan had called Obanikoro to the meeting to discuss how to mitigate the damage caused by the leaked tape.
Obanikoro told the Senators categorically that it was Jonathan himself who had sent him to Ekiti to help Fayose win the election.
On the tape, Obanikoro says, at least twice, that he is on a “mission” for the President.
He also reportedly told President Jonathan at their meeting that he had asked his US-based lawyers to do a separate voice analysis of the tape and that the lawyers came back with “proof” that certain aspects of the tape had been doctored by SaharaReporters to make the administration look bad. Counting on that assurance, President Jonathan told a team of reporters from the Wall Street Journal during an interview that the tapes were not real and that he would not investigate the incident.