By Chima Osuji
The judgment of the Bwari division of the Abuja High Court on the Fatoyinbo scandal is one never to be forgotten in a hurry. This is due largely to the status of the litigants, the nature of the subject matter (rape), and the way and manner the court dealt with the case brought before it.
The claimant, Mrs Busola Dakolo, is not just a celebrity photographer but spouse of the international music sensation artiste, Timi Dakolo.
The defendant, on the other hand, Pastor Fatoyinbo, is the dashing looking and sophisticated senior pastor of the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA).
Therefore, it is practically impossible to have a man in the stature of Fatoyinbo accused of rape by an equally, if not more popular, influential person in the mould of Mrs Dakolo, go unnoticed without being mention by the Nigerian media.
Mrs Dakolo alleged that while she was a member of the COZA church, Pastor Fayinbo, raped her at two different occasions in a week.
Mrs Dakolo first opened up on the allegation without any legal action in June 2019 via a YouTube interview that threw the social media into haywire.
According to her, the pastor raped her for the first time at her parent’s home and at another time in a secluded road path. She said the incidents occurred before she turned 18 (she was about 16 years old). Also, she added that she was deflowered by the pastor.
She decided to bring an action against Pastor Fatoyinbo on 6th September 2019 (sixteen years after the incident) via a Writ of Summons.
What the Court Said
The court dismissed the action of the claimant (Mrs Dakolo) on the ground that it had exceeded the legally prescribed timeframe within which such an action can be brought to court for redress, and that the claimant was unable to prove to the satisfaction of the court that new facts have emerged warranting a revival of the claimant’s cause of action.
Accordingly, the trial court granted the prayers of the defendant (Fatoyinbo) by dismissing the suit and slammed a cost of one million naira personally on Mrs Dakolo’s lawyer, Omega Emmanuel Esq., for abuse of court process, and having undertaking to pay damages upon the finding of the court that the matter is frivolous and a flagrant abuse of court process.
In his considered view, the trial judge, Hon. Justice Oathman Musa, said that the fine imposed on Mrs Dakolo’s lawyer would have been ten times the one million naira award but decided not to take such a decision in order not to discourage women who have cases that are not dormant, from coming forward to seek redress in the law court.
In his words: “I would have awarded ten times that amount, but in the interest of women who have cases that are not dormant this court shall always encourage them to come forward.”
How the Nigerian Media Reported the Sanction
The Punch was the first media to break the news of the Court’s decision in the Dakolo case.
In its report titled, “Busola vs Fatoyinbo: What the Court Papers Say,” ( https://www.google.com/amp/s/punchng.com/busola-vs-fatoyinbo-what-the-court-papers-say/amp/ ), it tendered an apology for erroneously stating that the said cost was slammed against Mrs Dakolo personally instead of her lawyer.
From the report, it appears the Punch had requested for a certified true copy of the court judgment in order to confirm whether an award was actually given in the first instance, in order to fact-check the claimant’s lawyer’s claim who had debunked the information while stating that no cost was awarded.
Unfortunately, other top media houses in Nigeria had already borrowed a leaf from the original error and inevitably reported the same information in error. However, The Punch can be commended for doing the needful as a responsible media powerhouse in Nigeria by tendering an apology to its readers over the said error.
Court dismisses Busola’s case against COZA pastor ( https://www.google.com/amp/s/guardian-ng/news/court-dismisses-busolas-case-against-coza-pastor/amp )
The relevant portion of the above stated report by the Guardian reads as follows:
“Consequently, the court awarded N1 million cost against the plaintiff and held that it would have been 10 times more, but for the sake of women with legitimate sexual assault claims who might approach the court for justice…”
Obviously, the report accurately stated the reason for the court’s reluctance to impose a more severe award.
However, it misreported the portion which deals with the party against whom the cost was awarded.
Similarly, reputable media like the Guardian ought to be well abreast of current trends in legal proceedings and court processes.
The noun “plaintiff” is now anachronistic; rather, the current word used to address a party who brings a civil action to court is “claimant”.
Rape Allegations: Court Throws Out Busola Dakolo’s Case, Fines Her N1m ( https://www.channelstv.com/2019/11/14/rape-allegation-court-throws-out-busola-dakolos-case-fines-her-n1m/amp/
Now, this is really heartbreaking. We are talking about the “Television Station of the Decade” here.
The lead of the story reads: “A Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court sitting in Bwari has dismissed the suit filed by photographer, Busola Dakolo, against the Senior Pastor of the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly, Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo…The court also ordered Busola to pay N1 million for wasting the Court’s time.”
There is everything wrong with the latter part of the above report. Again, the cost was awarded against Dakolo’s lawyer, not Dakolo herself.
Busola Dakolo appeal case after court throws out suit against Fatoyinbo, fines her N1m ( http://saharareporters.com/2019/11/14/busola-dakolo-appeal-case-after-court-throws-out-suit-against-fatoyinbo-fines-her-n1m )
The relevant portion reads: “Justice Oathman Musa had on Thursday dismissed the suit filed by the celebrity photographer and asked her to pay N1m for wasting the Court’s time.”
Alleged Rape: Court acquits COZA pastor, Fatoyinbo ( https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2019/11/14/alleged-rape-court-acquits-coza-pastor-fatoyinbo/amp/ )
It reads: “However, Justice Musa in his judgment, dismissed the case for lacking substance and awarded a cost of N1,000,000 against the plaintiff (sic).”
“Justice Musa while awarding costs of N1,000,000 against Busola Dakolo, held that it would have been 10 times more but resisted it because, according to him, there are women with legitimate claims who may approach the court for justice…”
Alleged Rape: Judge dismisses case against Fatoyinbo, fines Busola Dakolo N1m for wasting Court’s time ( https://www.google.com/amp/s/tribuneonlineng.com/alleged-rape-judge-dismisses-case-against-fatoyinbo-fines-busola-dakolo-n1m-for-wasting-courts-time/amp/
It says: “…The court also ordered Busola Dakolo to pay the sum of N1 million, as the judge held that the fine should have been 10 times more because the Court’s time was wasted.”
The information in the above quoted report by the Nigerian Tribune is misleading.
BREAKING: Court dismisses Busola Dakolo’s Case against COZA pastor ( https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.vanguardngr.com/2019/11/breaking-court-dismisses-busola-dakolos-case-against-coza-pastor/amp/ )
It states: “…The Court also awarded costs of N1,000,000 against Busola Dakolo and held that the fine should have been 10 times more because the Court’s time was wasted.”
This is yet another blunder.
COZA rape case: Busola vows to drag Fatoyinbo to Appeal Court ( https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.sunnewsonline.com/coza-rape-case-busola-vows-to-drag-fatoyinbo-to-appeal-court/amp/ )
It reports: “…The Court also awarded costs of N1 million against Busola Dakolo and held that the fine should have been 10 times more because the Court’s time was wasted.”
The above information is also misleading.
Fatoyinbo vs Busola Dakolo: CAN reacts as COZA pastor wins in court (https://www.google.com/amp/s/dailypost.ng/2019/11/15/fatoyinbo-vs-busola-dakolo-can-reacts-as-coza-pastor-wins-in-court/amp/
It points out that: “…The Court also awarded costs of N1m against Busola Dakolo and held that the fine should have been 10 times more because the Court’s time was wasted.”
Aside from the fact that the above quoted portion of the report lacks creativity, it is also misleading.
Despite the widespread misreporting of the Court’s decision to award the said cost, the fact was fairly captured by some online media in Nigeria.
BREAKING: COZA rape scandal: Court dismisses Dakolo’s Case against Fatoyinbo (https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/362884-breaking-coza-rape-scandalcourt-dismisses-dakolos-case-against-fatoyinbo.html )
The information was captured this way: “…The judge subsequently dismissed Ms Fatoyinbo’s (sic) case as waste and abuse of judicial process designed to punish Mr Fatoyinbo rather than obtain justice against his alleged wrongdoing.
“Mr Musa also awarded a N1 million in damages to Mr. Fatoyinbo, saying that it should have been more than that considering the time of the court wasted in entertaining the case.”
Looking closely at the above quoted report, PT decided to play safe by stating that the cost was awarded in favour of the defendant, leaving no room for uncertainty as to who the cost was awarded against. However, on the actual reason given by the Court for showing restraint in awarding cost, it said, would have been ten times more, PT failed to reproduce or paraphrase the actual wordings used by the judge. It was not just about time wasting, but for the sake of women who have legitimate cases of sexual assault that are not dormant, to seek justice in court.
In its Celebrity Gist beat, TheCable, apparently had read the Court’s decision before stating that: “Court document reveals N1m fine was for Busola Dakolo’s lawyer…”
Perhaps, the accuracy in the above-quoted report may have been a product of the follow-up story done by The Punch in which it corrected the error it had previously published on the issue of cost.
In the final analysis, it is true that the media are peopled by humans who are bound to make mistakes.
However, where such mistakes occur, the ethics of the journalism profession requires that such erring media should take responsibility by acknowledging the mistake and apologise for it.
That’s what a responsible news agency does.
In view of this, the Nigerian media must continuously strive to ensure thoroughness and accuracy in their reportage.
They have been doing well and remain forces to reckon with across Africa and Asia.
Perhaps, the just concluded gubernatorial elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states might have been responsible for such costly omission.
Nevertheless, the media should be reminded that their audience are circumspect and critical, they must act above-board, always.