The Chairman of the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), Mr Olanrewaju Suraju has demanded that a former presidential aide, Reuben Abati should retract a libellous article written against him and his organisation.
Alongside the retraction of the publication, Suraju also requested a public apology from the columnist and vowed to take legal action against him if he fails to meet the demands.
This was contained in a press statement issued by the group and its boss, which was obtained by SaharaReporters on Tuesday.
In a letter referred to Abati and dated October 4 and signed by Oluwaseye Afolabi from M. A. Banire & Associates, HEDA and Suraju through their solicitors said statements made in the publication were not only utterly false but also “inimical to the reputation and integrity of our Clients and quite damaging to their integrity”.
Abati on Tuesday, September 21, 2021, wrote a column titled: ‘CSOs, NGOs and their discontents,’ exploring developments around the OPL 245 scandal to critique civil society organisations in Nigeria, especially HEDA and its chairman, Suraju.
However, the letter to Abati read in part: “We are solicitors to Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju and HEDA Resource Centre (hereinafter referred to as ‘our Clients’), and it is on their instruction that we write you this letter.
“As you are already aware, our Clients are an anti-corruption campaigner and civil society organisation which core mandates are promoting transparency in governance, demanding government and societal accountability as well as fighting corruption in all its forms. Our clients are globally known for their carefully built high moral standing, vibrancy, integrity and transparency with several accomplishments both locally and internationally."
The letter also revealed the genesis of what led to the demands made by the lawyers on behalf of their clients.
It said, "Our clients informed us and we believe them that some libellous statements were credited to you in which the character and reputation of our clients, amongst other things, were questioned.
"On Tuesday, the 21st day of September, 2021, particularly at paragraph 10 of an opinion credited to you via an online platform which can be assessed with the address: ‘https://www.reubenabati.com.ng/index.php/component/k2/item/36027-opinion-csos-ngos-and-their-discontents-reuben-abati’, you emphatically described our clients as follows: ‘To worsen matters, we are told that Olanrewaju Suraj’s Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) is an unregistered organisation.’
"Similarly, at paragraph 11, you stated against our clients as follows: ‘As for HEDA and Suraj, Mohammed Bello Adoke was maligned. His reputation was dragged in the mud of social media. Although the Italian Court threw out the entire Malabu/ENI trial, Bello Adoke, who was not on trial in Italy, was continuously maligned by HEDA, trying to influence the Nigerian Courts. Our people believe the worst about anyone who ever served in government. NGOs are supposed to be change agents not tools for untruths and blackmail.’
"The above statements were not only utterly false but were also inimical to the reputation and integrity of our Clients and quite damaging to their integrity;
"Our Clients became aware of your publication through a barrage of calls and messages from partners, friends, well-wishers and others who called in to verify the veracity of your publication;
"All efforts to convince the populace that nothing could be farther from the truth achieved little;
"Upon visiting your website, our clients saw your false publication that the organisation, which was registered since 2004, is an unregistered organisation and that Mr. Suraj maligned Adoke when in fact, you knew these assertions were false;
"Your publication has caused immeasurable damage to our clients’ reputation, now that their international and local partners are questioning the integrity of the organisation and its anti-corruption work;
"Your untrue and fabricated publication is, undoubtedly, calculated to cause severe damage to our clients’ hard-earned reputation in the eyes of the right-thinking members of society by dragging their carefully nurtured good name in the mud;
"Upon becoming aware of your libellous publication, some of our clients’ colleagues and partners in the war against corruption and the civil society space did not mince words in informing them that they would no longer associate with them in view of the fact that your publication claimed that HEDA is not a registered organisation;
"Your publication has exposed our clients to undeserved public opprobrium, and many that have read your publication have expressed their shock that they could engage in such acts; many more have questioned them as to why they would shamelessly bring the trust and high esteem reposed in them to disrepute; and
"Some of them expressed their disappointment that they, particularly Mr. Olanrewaju Suraj, known as a person of sterling and enviable qualities, would descend to the abyss heinous conducts that as you stated in your publication.”
The solicitors noted further: “Sir, you will agree with us that your statement paints our Clients as an organisation and person who lack integrity and have conducted themselves beneath the standard expected of members of the civil society. There is no doubt in the fact that your publication casts a direct aspersion on our Clients. To right-thinking members of society, your publication has gravely presented our Client as a person and an organisation lacking integrity and good reputation.”