SaharaReporters fights back, moves to upturn judgment awarding N4billion to Senate President Saraki
Justice Sikiru Adeyinka Oyinloye gave the judgment against the news platform and its founder, Omoyele Sowore, on June 28. SaharaReporters has described the judgment as fraudulent and dodgy.
The news website has now mounted a strong challenge to the court decision, which it said “contains a plethora of curiosities”.
In the suit (No. KWS/23/2017), Mr. Saraki had claimed that he was defamed in several reports and opinion articles published on SaharaReporters between September and December 2015.
In a motion on notice filed by SaharaReporters’ lawyers, Falana & Falana Chambers, the website and its founder are seeking an order extending the time within which they may apply to set aside the entire proceedings in the suit and the court judgment. They are also seeking an order setting aside the entire proceedings in the suit as well as another setting aside Justice Oyinloye’s judgement.
SaharaReporters is contending that the court lacked the jurisdiction to have entertained the suit, stating that neither it nor its publisher was served the originating processes in the suit.
It also contends that the signatures on the originating processes, apart from the writ of summons, are not ascribable to any of the lawyers whose names later appeared.
In addition, the lawyers affirmed that the website cannot be sued as it is not a legal entity known to law. SaharaReporters, the lawyers added, is an organization incorporated in the United States and without any known address in Nigeria.
Yet another ground of the lawyer’s strong challenge is the endorsement in the Writ of Summons, which was found to be incurably defective, as it failed to indicate the period within which SaharaReporters and Mr. Sowore may enter appearance, in line with the provisions of the Sheriff and Civil Process Act.
SaharaReporters’ lawyers also found holes in Mr. Saraki’s motion on notice for final judgment and the written address in support.
Dated June 12, it was found incompetent as the signatures it bore could not be ascribed to any of the lawyers whose names appeared.
The lawyers also pointed out that the motion on notice for final judgment was for a different suit as shown in Suit No. KWS/371/2015 as opposed to Suit No: KWS/23/2017 contained in the instant suit.
In addition, SaharaReporters’ lawyers cited the affidavit in support of the motion on notice for final judgment as being deposed to by one Mr A.D. Ahmed, a lawyer with Tunde Olomu & Co., the Senate President’s lawyers, but that the law firm on record for Mr. Saraki is Paul Erokoro & Co. They also stated that there is no where in the
proceedings that the court allowed a switching of counsel from Paul Erokoro & Co. to Tunde Olomu & Co.
The motion on notice filed by SaharaReporters described Babatunde Olomu as the principal in Tunde Olomu & Co. and not an employee in Paul Erokoro & Co. as he was deliberately presented to the court.
A lawyer from Tunde Olomu & Co. argued Mr. Saraki’s motion on notice on in court even when there had been no change of counsel.
SaharaReporters is also pointing that the court and Mr. Saraki failed to follow due process in the proceedings leading to the judgment. The website and its publisher assert they were not aware of the suit and
the hearing of the motion on notice for final judgment as they were not served with all the processes.
Also, the motion on notice for final judgment does not have a date for hearing endorsed on it, and neither was a hearing notice for it served on the website and its publisher, who only became aware on the day the motion was heard and granted by the court.
SaharaReporters’ lawyers pointed out that the only proceeding at which the court ordered a hearing notice was on March 7, 2017 and that was to be served on Mr. Saraki through his counsel.
Both parties were absent from court that day.
Also pointed out is the fact that Mr. Saraki did not prove publication of the defaming items, as he failed to tender the publication in line with the Evidence Act. Despite that, the court admitted the libelous publication in evidence.
The website’s lawyers stated that Mr. Sowore, the second defendant in the suit, is resident in in the United States of America, a fact known to Mr. Saraki. This was shown in the address for service on Mr. Sowore and
SaharaReporters as endorsed on the originating processes filed by the Senate President.
They stated that Mr. Sowore has never lived or carried on business at No. 46B Adekunle Fajuyi Way, G.R.A., Ikeja, or No 13A Isaac John Street, G.R.A, Ikeja, Lagos.
After Justice Oyinloye’s controversial judgment, SaharaReporters lawyers, via a letter dated 3 July, applied for certified true copies of the orders of the court made on February 27 , March 7, June 13 and June 28
respectively, but was unable to get any of them from the court.
However, according to SaharaReporters, the same court made available to Mr. Saraki certified true copies of all the originating processes and the motion on notice dated June 12.
On account of the delay in getting from the court the orders applied for, SaharaReporters applied via another letter dated July 11, requesting certified true copies of the entire record of proceedings in the suit. The Chief Judge of Kwara State was copied in the letter.
In the affidavit in support of the motion on notice deposed to by James Ogini of Falana & Falana Chambers, SaharaReporters’ lawyers stated that on March 7, 2017, counsel to both parties were absent in court and the matter was adjourned to 27 April.
However, the court ordered hearing notice to be issued and served only on Mr. Saraki’s counsel.
The affidavit also stated that on April 27, the court adjourned the hearing of the motion to June 28 without ordering hearing notices to be served on the defendants, who had been absent from all the proceedings despite being entitled to be served with all the processes, including the Writ of Summons, the statement of claim, list
of witnesses, list of documents to be relied on and witness statement on oath.
SaharaReporters’ lawyers explained that the delay in challenging the judgment of the Kwara State High Court was because the defendants only became aware of the judgment and the pendency of the suit after the judgment was reported in the media.
They added that despite being immediately briefed by the defendants, they could not take immediate action because of the challenges encountered in obtaining the record of proceedings and processes in the suit.