***The action of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in sealing-off the premises of the Sun Publishing Limited, publishers of The Sun newspaper titles, last Saturday, had jolted many Nigerians from their weekend relaxations.
A statement issued by management of the media company, after recovering from the inevitable shock from the sudden action, narrated how it happened:
“They arrived the corporate headquarters of The Sun Publishing Limited at 2, Coscharis Street, Kirikiri Industrial Layout, Apapa, Lagos and put up a notice for the staff and the general public to keep off the premises.
“The EFCC officials, who came in a white Toyota bus with registration number, ABUJA BWR-644GA, wrote on The Sun’s fence, “EFCC, keep off.”
“They also advised our staff to collect their personal belongings from the office as they will come back to seal the premises completely”.
The EFCC’s action, to be sure, was ostensibly intended to give effect to a court ruling which was given on Thursday, December 5 against the former governor of Abia State and presumed owner of the Sun Publishing Limited, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu.
Delivering the judgment in a criminal trial that had lasted 12 years, Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court Lagos who said Chief Kalu was guilty of N7.56 billion fraud sentenced him to 12 years imprisonment
The prosecution had earlier told the court that the former governor used his company, Slok Nigeria Limited, to defraud Abia State in what was also considered an abuse of his public office. The court therefore ruled that the company, Slok Nigeria Limited, be forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
We believe the pronouncement of the court was very clear and unambiguous -that Slok Nigeria Limited be forfeited to the Federal Government because it was the company that served as a conduit for the fraud. Hence, the question being asked by discerning members of the public is this: did the court ever directed the EFCC to attach every property of Chief Kalu, no matter how remotely connected the property might be to the former Governor?
If not, and no one has yet to prove that the judge did, it is therefore understandable that some analysts felt scandalized that the EFCC would attach the Sun Publishing Limited to the judgement. We are worried that the action will not only lead to a devastating disruption of the company’s business operations but have a debilitating negative impact on nuclei and extended families who depended on the company for their livelihoods.
We commend the management of the media organization for the maturity they had displayed in seeking redress through the official channels and constitutional processes. Sending a petitioned to the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice is a step in the right direction.
The Sun Management in its petition said, “It is on record that there is a pending appeal at the Supreme Court with Suit No: SC/546/2018 wherein The Sun Publishing Limited appealed against the Judgment delivered by the Court of Appeal on the interim forfeiture order made against it by a Federal High Court in 2007 based on ex parte proceeding.
“The Notice of Appeal and Motion for Stay of Execution were duly served on EFCC by the bailiffs of the Court. It is also pertinent to state that EFCC vide a letter written by Counsel to The Sun Publishing Limited, dated May 22, 2018 and duly received by one Caleb Peter on behalf of Rotimi Jacobs & Co. was further put on notice of the pending appeal at the Supreme Court.
“It was also advised to stay action in the matter pending the hearing of the Motion for Stay of execution and the appeal,” the statement said.
In concluding, the management of the Sun Publishing Limited reiterated that the Sun Publishing Limited is not part of Slok Nigeria Limited and asked that the EFCC take its eyes away from the publishing outfit.
“It is instructive to state that The Sun Publishing Limited is not a party to the case of EFCC vs. Orji Uzor Kalu & 2 Others. So, we do not see why the Judgment in that case should lead to attempt to seal The Sun Publishing Limited premises.”
Following this, and subject to a satisfactory outcome from the Attorney General’s office, we urge the media company not hesitate to further seek judicial interpretation of the judgement in order to enforce her rights to unfettered business operations. This right cannot, and must not, be taken away without a recourse to the law.
Whatever the EFCC does in this case involving the Sun newspaper, and, indeed, in cases involving all citizens, will always be in the public eye. Hence, we urge the agency to always show respect for the same laws that guarantees its own survival.
As we are unequivocally in total support of all efforts aimed at fighting corruption in Nigeria, the anti-corruption war, we insist, must be ruthless and transparent without regards for sentiments. We are, indeed, eager to see corruption stamped out of our national life to enable the masses enjoy the fruits of our common wealth. But in the prosecution of the war against corruption, no one, no matter highly placed, should be above the law, and no one, no matter how lowly placed, should be below it. The rule of law must reign supreme at all times.