National Betrayal

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Patrick Oke served his country faithfully for more than two decades. Then its justice system was used to bring him down. Solomon Elusoji writes

On November 22, 2017, Patrick Oke was in Abuja when he received a message informing him that his house on 13, Cooper Road, Ikoyi, was set to be taken over. Some 14 years ago, he had leased the property from Daily Times of Nigeria (DTN) and transformed the piece of real estate into a sort of mini El dorado, adding a modern studio, cultivating gardens, and re-designing and retrofitting old buildings. “I built it to my taste,” Oke, who is one of the few surviving broadcasters of the Nigerian Television Authority’s golden age in the 70s and 80s, says.

Quickly, on realising the imminent tragedy that was about to occur, he informed his lawyers and started to make preparations to return home, in a bid to halt the process. But it was too late.

The next day, on November 23, officials from a local Magistrate Court and police officers bombarded Oke’s premises, brandishing a court notice directing Daily Times to cede the property to one obscure company, WIPRAQUET. One of Oke’s lawyers was already on ground, notifying the court officials that the current occupant of 13, Cooper Road was not Daily Times, but Mr. Patrick Oke, thus nullifying the veracity of the court order. The lawyer was brushed aside and the men proceeded to throw out Oke’s properties on the streets while hauling valuables into several vans commandeered from thin air.

But the pillage was only the beginning. The following weeks after November 23 saw the downfall of every building structure on 13, Cooper Road, including a five room Boys-Quarters, one Office Complex housing 10 offices and a Radio Audio Studio, two Rotundas, one large ultra-modern television studio, one ultra-modern Guest House, one main building housing nine bedrooms and a well furnished terrace, and an ultra-modern chapel. Everything was reduced to rubble and dust. The questions on the lips of neighbours who witnessed the demolition over several weeks must have been ‘Why?’

An unfriendly visit

One day last June, a onetime Nigerian Senator, Ikechukwu Obiorah visited Patrick Oke at 13, Cooper Road. “It was actually a friendly visit,” Oke says: his wife is quite friendly with a sister of Obiorah’s. However, during the meeting, Obiorah requested that Oke vacate the premises since he was the rightful owner. Nonplussed, Oke responded by reminding him that he was actually a legal occupant who had gotten a lease from Daily Times, which owned the property, some 14 years ago. The ex-senator did not pursue the matter further.

Around the same time, Oke’s lease on the property was coming to an end, but after dialoguing with the apparent owners of Daily Times, Folio Communications, which is headed by Mr. Fidelis Anosike, a 10-year renewal was on the table. Then, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) stepped in and directed Oke to withhold payment due to an ongoing investigation into the rightful owner of Daily Times. The government agency even visited 13, Cooper Road and painted walls as a deterrent to trespassers. The message was clear.

Obiorah’s claim to 13, Cooper Road is tied to his claim as the rightful owner of Daily Times of Nigeria, a federal government asset which was auctioned off by the Bureau of Public Enterprises in 2004 and acquired by Folio Communications. However, sources who spoke to THISDAY say although Obiorah had bought some shares, his claim to be the company’s largest shareholder, and thus the rightful owner, was built on sinking sand.

As 2017 wound down, Oke’s lawyers got wind of an impending order at a Magistrate Court in Ikoyi to evict Patrick Oke. A suit between an obscure company, WIPRAQUET Limited, and Daily Times of Nigeria was manufactured. Obiorah, of course, had interests in both companies, but they squared off against each other in court as independent, legal entities. The suit, which was brought by WIPRAQUET against DTN, ended up with the latter relinquishing 13, Cooper Road, a property sitting on one of the most sought after real estates in Nigeria, as a settlement for a N3 million debt owed to the former. The judgement was delivered by one Magistrate M. Olubi.

Still, before the court order took effect, Oke’s lawyers filed a stay of execution, to delay the process and allow his client defend his position. But the court allegedly ignored the document. When the demolition began, Patrick Oke and his lawyers tried severally to get the attention of the Magistrate, but they were led down a rabbit hole as the Magistrate refused to show up in court. Finally, in January, when their case was heard, the Magistrate said the court did not have “jurisdiction” to hear the issue.

“This man (Obiorah) has finished the judicial system,” Patrick Oke, a tall man with a deep, booming voice, tells THISDAY. “This is a country where people think money can buy anything, including justice.”

Weeks after the demolition, Oke remains in a kind of suspended shock. “I did not lose my stuff in that demolition,” he says, “I lost my entire life. My entire life was thrown out.”

A legal whirlwind

Earlier this month, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, ordered the arrest of Ikechukwu Obiorah. On February 1, policemen stormed Obiorah’s Abuja residence, but the ex-senator had disappeared into thin air.

The Police boss began to seek Obiorah after the latter had secured the arrest of the Publisher of Daily Times, Fidelis Anosike and the newspaper’s Group Managing Director, Noel Anosike.

On January 16, a Chief Magistrate’s Court in Abuja remanded the two brothers in prison for allegedly impersonating ownership of Daily Times based on a suit brought by Obiorah. He accused the brothers of opening bank accounts with which they allegedly used to receive billions of naira when they held an event in commemoration of the paper’s 91st anniversary, according to court filings seen by online news site, Premium Times. Obiorah also accused the brothers of receiving N100 million from him for a non-existing printing house in Abuja. The brothers denied the allegations, but the Magistrate Azubuike Ukagu, rejected their pleas and remanded them in prison for seven days.

Out of prison, Fidelis Anosike, writing under Folio Communications, forwarded a letter petitioning President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene in the issue.

In the letter, Anosike accused Obiorah of bribing judges at the Magistrate Court and senior police officials to subvert the course of justice. He also reiterated that Obiorah had no claim to Daily Times, as it was fully owned by Folio Communications.

In the wake of the latter’s release, the IGP’s attention was drawn to the case and, on February 2, withdrew all criminal cases against the Anosikes at the kangaroo Magistrate Court in Abuja that had been used to imprison them for seven days.

“Ikechukwu Obiora is only making a mockery of the judiciary while at the same time influencing the police to commit impunity,” Anosike has said. “But he cannot take Daily Times. It is not and will never be his property. When we bought Daily Times through our company Folio Communications Limited, there was nobody called Senator Ikechukwu Obiora anywhere in the picture. He was neither a director nor a staff of the company that bought minority shares in Daily Times.”

However, the story soon took a new twist when, on February 14, several media outlets started to report that the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) had taken over the assets of Daily Times.

The source of the news was a statement signed by an AMCON Spokesman, Jude Nwauzor.

The statement said Folio Communications Limited, owned by the Anosikes, had tendered a bid confirmed by the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) in 2004. The BPE sold to Folio at the cost of N1.25 billion.

“However, since the 2004 privatisation exercise, Folio Communications has been embattled with court cases following a loan of N750 million from Hallmark Bank Plc, which it secured to enable it pay the federal government for the newspaper company,” the statement read.

AMCON went on to note that “according to reports, Folio also got DSV Limited promoted by Senator Ikechukwu Obiorah to invest the sum of N500 million in the purchase of the shares with the understanding that upon concluding the transaction, DSV would be entitled to 40 per cent of the shareholding of the media empire.

“A year after the sale, 2005 to be precise, Hallmark Bank Plc (now defunct), Folio Communications Limited, promoted by the Anosike brothers/Daily Times of Nigeria Plc and DSV Limited, promoted by Senator Ikechukwu Obiorah commenced several legal battles over the real ownership of the newspaper.”

Still searching for justice

Patrick Oke is a national icon. He joined NTA in 1977 and, at some point, travelled round Nigeria reporting for Newsline. “For Newsline, we were travelling weekly, Oke says. “There is no village in Nigeria I don’t know.”

“He was a very tall gentleman with a gentle demeanour who was very indepth and thorough in his reportage,” a Broadcast Professor at the University of Benin, Wilfred Oyegun, tells THISDAY. “In the 70s and 80s, he was one of those who defined broadcast journalism, added flavour and brought to it a new, modern, youthful dimension; viewers and listeners were glued.”

In 1990, he left NTA and started his own production company while working, for a while, at Channels Television, pioneering legacy programmes such as Sunrise Daily.

But his years of national service have failed to protect him against the venom of a broken justice system. Now, Oke, together with his wife and children, are homeless, dispossessed of all he has worked for in more than four decades. “If this can happen to someone like Patrick Oke,” a renowned public affairs commentator and lawyer, Sonnie Ekwowusi, says, “then it can happen to anybody.”

When this reporter met with Oke mid-February, he was incensed with how the country’s institutions had treated him. While the demolition was ongoing, he had gone to the EFCC who had told him to take a passive stand in the tussle for Daily Times, since his lease was not in dispute. But the agency refused to take any action until the demolition was complete. It was the same story with the police and the courts.

But Oke’s hottest vitriol was reserved for Obiorah, the man who masterminded the entire plot.

“Being a former senator, I thought he was a decent man…,” Oke says, when discussing Obiorah’s January visit to 13, Cooper Road.

What Oke could not understand was why Obiorah had chosen to demolish the structures on the property. The court had given him, suspiciously of course, a right to occupy, but not to demolish. Throughout the hour-length interview with this reporter, Oke constantly wondered aloud how a man could be so destructive.

“Immediately he entered the place, the first thing he started to destroy was my studio, a modern edifice which can house a 100 people,” Oke recounts. “I don’t understand that. Then he moved to my office complex, including my radio studio. Is that a human being? How can you just destroy another man’s properties, throw out his belongings and his wife and children to the streets. My wife was sitting on the few things they could pack on the streets. Senator Obiora should not be working the streets of Nigeria free.”

Obiora’s overarching goal appears to be the total annihilation of Oke’s emotional fortitude. If he had left the structures intact, Oke might have been able to move back in after the IGP personally waded into the issue. A graduate of Law from Obafemi Awolowo University, he understood the essence of timing in legal strategy. Sources who spoke to THISDAY say the ex-senator plans to sell off the property to offset some personal debt.

But Oke has no plans of giving up his fight for justice. “His plan is that when I sue for damages, I will be frustrated by the slow-grinding wheel of justice,” he says. The retired broadcaster, however, says he is ready for war.