An Appeal Court in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, has nullified the N4bn fine a Kwara State High Court awarded against Sahara Reporters and its founder, Omoyele Sowore, in a case of alleged defamation of character filed against them by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki.
The high court awarded the fine in June 2017.
The Court of Appeal in Kwara State presided over by two judges, Ibrahim Salauwa and Chidi Uwa, faulted the controversial high court ruling and nullified it in its entirety.
The appellate court ruled that parties in the matter should return to the lower court for a proper hearing of the issues contained in Saraki’s suit.
The appeal court’s decision followed a request by lawyers from Falana and Falana’s Chambers challenging the lower court’s decision.Saraki had in 2015 filed the libel suit in Kwara State over news and opinion publications by Sahara Reporters on his then trial for alleged false asset declaration. Saraki alleged that the platform and its founder, Mr Sowore, defamed his character. He demanded N1bn as compensation for damages against his person and also asked the court to prevent Sahara Reporters from making further publications against him.
Adeyinka Oyinloye, who presided over the case at the lower court, ordered the bank accounts of Sahara Reporters domiciled with the United Bank for Africa (UBA) and Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) to be frozen, while all funds held in a string of accounts associated with the defendants were seized.
Oyinloye also said Sahara Reporters and Sowore must pay 10 per cent (N400m) interest on the N4 billion monthly until both the principal fine and accrued interests are cleared.
Following the June 2017 order, Saraki’s lawyers obtained a directive to freeze the accounts of Sahara Reporters Media Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, despite the fact that the foundation was not included in the charge against the media house.
The subsequent directive, also called garnishee order, was obtained in July 2017, on the basis that Sahara Reporters was “owing” Saraki’s legal team.
A garnishee order is a directive given where it has been established that there is a debtor and creditor. The order is usually requested to compel compliance for the payment of a debt by a debtor through an action against a third party, usually linked with the debtor.
After the court ordered Sahara Reporters to pay a fine of N4 billion, Mr Saraki requested and obtyained the garnishee order.
The lower court gave the judgement without hearing from the defendants who alleged Saraki’s lawyers “fraudulently” prevented them from getting court documents before the date of the June 2017 judgement.