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FACT CHECK: Did ‘international community’ threaten supreme court justices over Imo?

FACT CHECK: Did ‘international community’ threaten supreme court justices over Imo?
February 19
07:54 2020
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A video (length: 54 minutes 43 seconds) with the title “International Community Gets Tough on the Supreme Court of Nigeria” has in the past week been making the rounds on the social media.

A national newspaper even published a story on 14 February based on the video, which it titled: “Ihedioha: National Press Club Proposes Visa Ban on Supreme Court Justices.”

According to the said newspaper: “The National Press Club has proposed a list of punitive measures against the justices of the Supreme Court over its decision on the Imo State governorship appeal that removed Hon. Emeka Ihedioha as the tate (sic).  The club, which is the world’s largest professional organisation for journalists, berated the apex court for delivering what they described as a flagrant fraudulent judgment. It warned that the judgment if not reversed could lead to more sanction against the judiciary, which is supposed to be the last hope of Nigeria.”

What are the facts?

The National Press Club of America, listed an event for 5 February 2020, by a group which described itself as the “US Council on Nigeria” as a “news conference” on “The Nigerian Judiciary and the Imo State Election Crisis Symposium on the Collapse of Democracy.”

“US Council on Nigeria”

An online search for this group yielded no result. The nearest group in name to this is the US-Nigeria Council for Food Security, Trade and Investment (USNC), described as “the premier organisation dedicated to strengthening commercial and business ties between the United States and Nigeria… The Council’s work actively supports Nigeria’s national strategy for economic prosperity and US commercial diplomacy.” Its founding members – and membership is by invitation-only — include Flour Mills of Nigeria, OANDO, Dangote Group, Seplat, Access Bank and the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority. Others are Exchange, Chevron, Yinka Folawiyo Group, McLarty Associates, Ventures Platform and Zenith Bank.

Mira Mehta, whose company, Tomato Jos, recently broke ground in Kaduna State, for a tomato paste processing factory, attests: “A USNC executive dinner gave me the platform to promote Tomato Jos amongst the leaders of both the Nigerian and American private sector, which led to direct investment in my company from a USNC member.” Andela, which has a Nigerian co-founder, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, states: “The US-Nigeria Council is focused on tangible results. They help forge valuable connections,and have already begun solving real business problems for us through their impressive network.”

The National Press Club

One hundred and twelve years ago this month, a reporter for the old Washington Times, named Graham Nichol, walked across a street in Washington, DC, on crutches – because he had only one leg – to meet a colleague named James Hay. Nichol reportedly told Hay: “I’m getting tired of having to hunt a stuffy, ill-ventilated little hall room in a cheap boarding house every time I want to play a game of poker. Hells bells, why don’t we get up a press club? A place where the fellows can take a drink or turn a card when they feel like it.”

That was the foundation of The National Press Club, which is now being housed in its fourth location – since 12 March 1908, when 32 newspaper journalists pooled together US$300 “to create a private club for reporters to socialise and talk shop” – in The National Press Building at 529 14th Street, Washington, DC.

The Club “offers 10 unique and historic event spaces (all on the same floor) that can accommodate professional or social events for up to 1,500 guests at full capacity (entire club).”

It was in one of the spaces – the Zinger Room – that the event on the Imo state governorship election was held.

The National Press Club stated clearly on the Event Schedule thus: This event is not sponsored or endorsed by The National Press Club. Inquiries should be directed to the contact above.

Zoobee Chukwurah

Chukwurah

This is one of the two Nigerians listed on the schedule as the Media Contact with the phone number (240) 308-5097. This name and the number match that of one “mortgage consultant” (in picture) based in the State of Maryland in the United States of America. Appearing on Facebook as Hon. Zoobee R Chukwurah, he had promoted the event on 2 February on his wall as “Breaking News”  “designed to draw global attention to the crisis in Nigeria’s judiciary sparked by a contentious judgement of the Supreme Court mid January that resulted in the sacking of Mr. Emeka Ihedioha, an elected governor of Imo State, in the South-East of the country.” The post attracted only one comment by someone who sought permission to share. On 31 January, he also posted the Event Schedule as it appears on the website of The National Press Club (press.org). He was the moderator of the event at The National Press Club.

Lloyd Ukwu

Ukwu

This is the other person listed on the Event Schedule as Media Contact. He is the one reported by TheCable in April 2019 as the one described in a letter to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar by Bruce Fein of the lobbying firm, Fein & DelValle PLLC, as the former’s “trusted confident” who would assist in the Situation Room the firm was creating in its offices to secure the US endorsement of Atiku’s efforts to defeat what it called “flagrant violence and irregularities orchestrated” by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Buhari to compromise the presidential election.” In the said video, he is the one in light brown suit and light blue shirt and tie donning a fur felt hat. As it were, Bruce Fein and his partner, W Bruce DelValle, are the other two persons listed in the Event Schedule.

At the event, Ukwu described Fein as the keynote speaker. The other speakers, apart from Ukwu, were DelValle and two other Nigerians based in the US: Steve Onye and Edward Oparaoji.

Fein, an attorney, is a known friend of the Nnamdi Kanu-led Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and has levelled accusations of genocide against the Buhari administration in the past.

Fein, a US lawyer, is a strong supporter of Biafra

There are seven different videos of varying durations of the event posted to YouTube by one Joachim Ugwu on 13 February 2020. In the one dubbed “Segment #1” Ugwu states what the event was all about: “To amplify and elucidate and explain basically what is happening in Nigeria in respect of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria which on 14 January annulled the election of Hon Emeka Ikedioha as governor of Imo State (and) bring (it) to the attention of the international community.”

Fein advanced the possibility of the US Government invoking the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2016 “which allows the U.S. government to sanction foreign government officials implicated in human rights abuses anywhere in the world.” According to him the Nigerian supreme court justices who gave the judgment and even the “compromised” entire institution of the apex court should be the target of such sanctions. Another speaker, in another video, suggested the inclusion of the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Nigeria’s ruling party.

In the video dubbed Segment #4, Chukwurah summed up what the organisers believed the event would achieve: “The gentlemen that have spoken, they have spoken so loud, so well, and because I know where they come from and what they stand for here in America and that they stand with Nigeria at all times, I know (and) can tell you one thing: that someone out there is listening and listening fast. And based on what I have heard, there is nothing like letting the sleeping dog lie; because the sleeping dog has been lying. It is time to wake up the sleeping dog. Certain flagrant mistakes have been made, in fact and in law.Based on what I have heard from these legal luminaries…I know that some people will eventually take their steps back and begin to do the right thing….”

And as Fein states (in the main video): “The more that is written about this,the more it rises to the surface….Justice is won by persistence….We shouldn’t under-estimate the voice of the United States.”

In short, Fein and DelValle are simply doing what “they know how to do best” — to quote Chukwurah: lobbying.

Verdict: It is all hype

Neither did The National Press Club (of America) “propose” any visa ban on supreme court justices nor did the “international community get tough on the Nigerian Supreme Court”.

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