RUPIAH Banda has threatened to commence contempt proceedings against the chairman of Nigeria’s Civil Society Network Against Corruption chairman Olanrewaju Suraju after he recently declared that Nigerians would demand their oil money from Zambia.
And Banda’s lawyers attempted to ‘capture’ Suraju and Nigerian journalist Benjamin Ezeamalu during a preliminary hearing in the Mutembo Nchito tribunal at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre on Tuesday morning, but the two were nowhere to be found.
According to a letter from Makebi Zulu Advocates dated April 20 and addressed to Suraju, Banda’s contempt threat arises from a news article published in The Post on April 16 where Suraju said Nigerians would demand repayment of their oil money from the Zambian government.
“The mood in Nigeria is serious over the fight against corruption and we are going to mount pressure on the new President Muhammadu Buhari to demand repayment of money realised from the concession oil deal with Zambia,” Suraju said in his address on how to fight corruption.
“That oil was sold to Zambia at a concessionary rate such that they did not need to buy at the international market rate. They can buy at a concessionary rate and the difference can also assist Zambians to either reduce the cost of fuel here or the difference can be used into other development projects. But it was so shocking to hear that the proceeds of that oil actually went into private pockets. So the mood [in Nigeria] is so serious and by the time the story gets into the public domain than it is now, there is going to be more pressure on the current President because the new leadership that we are having in Nigeria is expected to be tough on corruption. As a matter of fact, one of the things we gonna do is to demand the repayment of that money either to Nigeria or especially to a special account in Zambia where it can be monitored.”
But Banda’s lawyers say the article was contemptuous.
“We act for His Excellency Mr Rupiah Banda hence note our interest. On the 16th day of April, 2015 you issued and caused to be published an article in The Post Newspaper entitled
‘Nigerians to follow their oil money in Zambia’,” the letter read in part.
“The article is contemptuous and meant to undermine court proceedings as there is a matter currently going on before court relating to the said article. We have since received instructions to commence contempt proceedings against you should you not retract within 48 hours, failing which process will follow for your arrest and trial for contempt of court. You may wish to know that, in this country the integrity of the court and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty are paramount and sacrosanct. Kindly oblige to avoid the rigmarole of court process.” And two lawyers from Makebi Zulu Advocates on Tuesday went to Mulungushi International Conference Centre carrying a photocopied Post newspaper cutting bearing a picture of Suraju, which they used to inquire on the whereabouts of the Nigerians.
The lawyers were seen asking Zambian Voice executive director Chilufya Tayali if he could help identify the Nigerians among the people who attended the tribunal. Tayali was later seen shaking his head and pointing at a group of journalists.
The journalists were also unable to help Banda’s lawyers to find Suraju and his colleague.