by Efosa Ehigie
The Internet, recently, was abuzz and/or trending with the story; “EFCC Arraign Evbodaghe For N229M Fraud” with colourful pictures strategically taken of Chief Sunday Evbodaghe in the company of a stern looking EFCC official, in order to add some iota of credibility to the storied headline that was widely reported by so many bloggers on the internet.
We have observed the worrisome trend of using the new media; such as the online platforms, to publish stories of investigation activities, arraignment of accused persons with screaming headlines insinuating their guilt before trial and in some cases, even a blow by blow account of what transpired in the course of interrogation of arrested persons, which somehow finds their way into the new media either print or electronic.
This development portends a grave danger to our Constitutional democracy and the presumption of innocence afforded citizens under the Constitution.
In the case of Chief Evbodaghe, those who chose to sponsor the report of his arraignment with headlines and pictorials that pointed to the guilt of an alleged crime yet to be tried by a court, forgot to make available to their hirelings and the various bloggers that carried the story of his arraignment, the on-going battle involving a business transaction that had gone away between Chief Evbodaghe’s Company charged along with him and other individuals and banks, which matter is already a subject of a civil action at the Lagos High Court before the Honourable Justice O.A. Williams in Suit No. LD/ADR/288/2015.
It is pertinent to state that whilst the traducers of Chief Evbodaghe are bent on tarnishing his reputation using the advantage of State powers, they conveniently forgot to mention to the reading public that there is in existence an order granted by the Honourable Justice O.A. Williams on the 25th day of February 2016 in Suit No. LD/ADR/288/2015 directing UBA Plc to refund the sum of N229million illegally debited from the account of Chief Evbodaghe’s Company to a third party, which is the same money that is the subject of the criminal charge against Chief Evbodaghe that was widely reported on the Internet.
The entire purpose of the institution of the criminal charge against Chief Evbodaghe by the EFCC, was merely to criminalise a civil matter- already the subject of a suit before a Court of Competent jurisdiction, on the strength of a frivolous petition orchestrated by UA Plc’, through a third party; The Lagos Free trade Zone Company, to the EFCC, which alleged that Chief Evbodaghe defrauded the Lagos Free trade Zone Company of the sum of N229million, as against the recourse the Company ought to have had, by applying to join the suit instituted by Chief Evbodaghe against UBA Plc., as a party interested in the suit in which the Court had already ordered UBA Plc, to refund monies illegally debited from the Company account of Chief Evbodaghe.
It is clear to all those involved and knowledgeable of the events prior to the Charge filed against Chief Evbodaghe by the EFCC, that it was to avoid obeying the order of Justice O.A. Williams, which directed UBA Plc., to refund the monies it illegally debited from the account of Chief Evbodaghe, that the plan to use EFCC to humiliate, embarrass and denigrate the person of Chief Evbodaghe, was hatched, perfected and duly executed culminating in the frivolous allegations in the Charge now filed against him, which was the subject of the news report that was widely circulated on social media platforms, that Chief Evbodaghe had been charged with an attempt to defraud Lagos Free Trade Zone Company of the sum of N229million, a matter already- the subject of a civil suit before the Lagos High Court which Court would ultimately determine who as between Chief Evbodaghe, the Lagos Free trade Zone or even UBA Plc was entitled to the funds.
The misuse of State powers to satisfy the whims of a privileged few and the danger inherent in the use of the new media to propagate falsehood, create innuendoes in effect tarnish the reputation of citizens under the guise of reporting matters brought to court against citizens, is a worrisome trend that needs to be nipped in the bud by all well meaning citizens no matter the personal opinion held on this development by each and every one of us, when viewed against the background that when the cases are dismissed for being frivolous by the courts, they do not receive the required and adequate commensurate publicity to disabuse the minds of the reading public, the same way the initial damage of slant and biased reporting was done.
As a people, we must begin to raise eyebrows and question the penchant for undue and negative publicity against citizens alleged to have run foul of the law, for in keeping quiet and glorifying the actions as necessary to root out corruption in our society, we are all collectively setting the stage for an acceptable norm that may turn around to hurt each and every one of us tomorrow, just as in the instant of Chief Evbodaghe; where in order to avoid obeying a court order to return monies illegally debited from the account of a citizen, the instrumentality of State powers is being used to silence the right and/or compel him to forgo his right to pursue redress, by subjecting him to the rigours of a criminal trial and public ridicule.
Facts are sacred, truth can only remain hidden for a time but not for all time, it is time to eschew sensationalism in the reportage of criminal allegations against citizens, as such untruths once published like spoken words, become difficult to erase from the minds of those who have heard or read of it.
Chief Evbodaghe deserves his day in court, without the additional responsibility of having to fight for the restoration and repair of any damage to his reputation as a result of deliberate elevation of falsehood through the use o f new media by those saddled with the onerous responsibility of ensuring the preservation of law, order and the protection of the rights of citizens.