By CHRIS IWARAH
Former Governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Kalu and The Sun Publishing Limited have asked a Federal High Court in Lagos to restrain the Nigeria Police and agents of Abia State government from harassing and threatening them.
In a fundamental rights enforcement application filed by their lawyer, Chief Charles Enwelunta on September 10, the applicants also prayed the court to award N500 million general damages against the respondents for allegedly violating their rights to freedom of expression as enshrined in Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Articles 9 and 10 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Enforcement and Ratification) Act.
Listed as respondents in the suit were the Attorney General of Abia State (1st Respondent), the Inspector General of Police (2nd Respondent), Commissioner of Police, Abia State (3rd Respondent) and the son of Abia State Governor, Chief Theodore Orji, Chinedu Orji (4th Respondent).
In an affidavit in support of the Motion on Notice deposed to by Frances Okonkwo of the Legal Department of the 1st Applicant, The Sun Publishing Limited, the applicants alleged that Governor Orji and the respondents were persecuting and harassing them for lawfully expressing their views on the affairs of the government of Abia State.
On April 28, this year, the applicants said, agents of the respondents led by Chinedu Orji invaded the offices of The Sun Publishing Limited at 76B, St. Michaels Road, Aba, Abia State with thugs traced to the state government and beat up the company’s staff and vendors.
The invaders, who allegedly acted on the promptings of Governor Orji, were also said to have destroyed thousands of newspapers of the 1st Applicant, carted others away and took “all the available cash in the office, thus preventing the applicants from circulating their newspapers and experiencing monumental losses.”
The attackers, they added, boasted that they had the authority and protection of the state governor and the respondents, threatening that on their next visit they would burn down the offices of the applicants outright. To show their seriousness, the applicants alleged, agents of the government and respondents had been sighted hovering around the applicants’ offices in Aba, Umuahia and Lagos State.
The affidavit also claimed that on three occasions, the respondents and Abia State government had mopped up the applicants’ newspapers in Aba and Umuahia to deprive members of the public access to the news items published by the applicants.
According to the affidavit, the respondents acted on “an undisclosed alleged adverse report against Abia State and Governor T. A. Orji by the applicants.”
Among other prayers, the applicants asked the court for the following reliefs: “A declaration that the 1st Applicant, being a registered newspaper publishing company in law, has the constitutional right to publish news, news items, opinions, commentaries and/ or editorials to the reading public and within the confines of the law and as such cannot be unlawfully harassed, intimidated or persecuted by the respondents or their agents or the government of Abia State presently led by Chief T. A. Orji.
“A declaration that the 2nd Applicant, being a publisher and columnist with the 1st Applicant, has the constitutional right to freely express his opinion on diverse international, national and economic and socio-political issues as guaranteed under the federal constitution of Nigeria and at its s. 39, through his regular weekly column in the Saturday Sun called ‘Kalu Leadership Series’ once same is within the confines of the law and should not be unlawfully harassed, intimidated or persecuted by the respondents or their agents or the government of Abia State as led by Chief T. A. Orji.
“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents, their agents, privies or officers, cronies or anybody howsoever named from further harassment, intimidation, threatening the applicants in the exercise of their constitutional rights to practise journalism and disseminate information as permitted by law and further order of injunction restraining the respondents, their agents, privies and cronies from further acts of invasion, interference and seizure of the applicants’ newspapers or any of its products or invading the applicants’ premises.
“An order directing the respondents jointly and severally to pay the applicants the sum of N500,000,000.00 as general damages for breach of the applicants’ rights.”
By CHRIS IWARAH