Alleged $4.6 Million Theft: Bayelsa Gov’t Writes 3 Online Publishers, Heads To Court
The Bayelsa State government on Tuesday, September 6, 2016 read the ‘riot act’ to three online news websites – Naij.com, Pulse.ng, and SaharaReporters – demanding a retraction of the report that the government house chief accountant, Ritchie Etonye had absconded with $4.6 million belonging to Governor Henry Seriake Dickson.
The solicitor-general of Bayelsa State, Preye Agedah (Esq), in a letter to the online publishers, dated September 6 2016 obtained by The Trent in Yenagoa, warned that “any failure, neglect or refusal to comply with this demand will leave us with no option than to take out criminal and civil process to seek appropriate redress.”
The letter is reproduced below:
RE: BAYELSA GOVERNMENT HOUSE ACCOUNTANT’S HOME RAIDED BY SARS, ALLEGATIONS HE ABSCONDED WITH $4.6 MILLION DOLLARS- DEMAND FOR RETRACTION AND APOLOGY
Our attention has been drawn to the news item in your online publication alleging that the Chief Accountant, Government House (Mr. Ritchie Etonye) had absconded with the sum of Four Million, Six Hundred Thousand Dollars ($4.6m) belonging to His Excellency Governor Henry Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State. Mr. RitchieEtonye is a civil servant in the Civil Service of BayelsaState whose current posting is Government House,Yenagoa.
It is necessary to reiterate that in the said publication, it was alleged that Mr. Etonye had absconded with the sum of $4.6 million kept in his custody by His Excellency the Governor. According to your publication, theBayelsa State Governor gave the money to his first cousin shortly before travelling to Akure, the Ondo state capital to supervise the PDP governorship primary which held on Monday, 22nd August, 2016. You reported that on the Governor’s return from Ondo State, the accountant was nowhere to be found and his lines wereswitched off. Your report went on to conclude that theGovernor ordered that Mr. Etonye’s private residence be searched by the police to ascertain whether he kept the money there and that they are looking for Mr. Etonyebecause he has evacuated his family from the official quarters in Government House.
As you are now already aware, there is and there was never any truth whatsoever in the said publication. In this regard, we wish to draw your attention to the following facts:
That the Government of Bayelsa State never lost the sum of $4.6 million or any such sum as alleged as no such money is missing from the coffers of the State. There was therefore no reason for any report to the Police and none was made either by the Governor or the Government ofBayelsa State for the alleged sum of $4.6 million or any other sum.
That at the time your publication alleged that Mr.Etonye had absconded, the said Mr. Etonye was with His Excellency the Governor in Ondo State and subsequently in Port Harcourt where His Excellency had gone on a condolence visit to Mr.Ritchie Etonye’s father whose son Barr.Tamarakuro Etonye (Ritchie’s elder brother) had passed away a few days earlier.
That the police search of Mr. Ritchie Etonye’sprivate residence in Yenagoa was orchestrated by mischief makers on a false tip that arms were stockpiled therein. The purpose of this false tip was to implicate not only Mr. Etonye but His Excellency the Governor who was the ultimate target of the false and malicious information to the Police. It will interest you to note that the Police have since discovered that they were dispatched on a wild goose chase by the instigators of that search wherein valuable time and effort required to fight crime was dissipated on a mere hoax.
That contrary to your report, the Governor never ordered the search of Mr. Ritchie Etonye’sresidence, thus making your report completely false and baseless.
Mr. Ritchie Etonye is a civil servant whose current posting is as Chief Accountant, Government House carrying out his legitimate duties with diligence and has never been faulted under any guise by the Accountant General of the State to whom he reports directly or any other Government official. We are sure that you are aware that Mr. Etonye who (according to your report) had absconded, is even now in his office in Yenagoa carrying out his official duties.
That the search of Mr. Ritchie Etonye’s private residence was carried out not by Police in BayelsaState but by Police officers from Force Headquarters, Abuja on the false tip that weapons were stockpiled therein. There was therefore no allegation of $4.6 million dollars or any other sum whatsoever in connection with that search. Your publication was therefore a figment of your fertileimagination designed to bring the Government ofBayelsa State and its officials to disrepute and incite public unrest.
It is perhaps necessary to note that your publication was clearly made without any investigation whatsoever. As a respected online publication, we believe that even a superficial investigation could have revealed the falsity of the publication. Unfortunately, contrary to all established tenets of the practice of journalism, you proceeded to make a publication that is obviously defamatory of the Government and Government officials. While we believe that free speech is essential in a Constitutional democracy, the exercise of that right ought to be accompanied with the utmost sense of responsibility and due conformity with extant laws.
Besides the issue of defamation (which has both criminal and civil implications) your publication also constitutes an incitement against public order. As you are well aware, the Nigerian economy is experiencing one of its worst downturns in recent times and to publish that a princely sum of $4.6 million had been stolen from the common patrimony of the people of Bayelsa State, is (to put it mildly) misinformation with capacity to incite public unrest. Any form of responsible and decorous journalism ought to know this. Unfortunately, your publication never adverted to this as you appeared to be in a hurry to put out a false, fabricated and malicious publication in the public domain.
We hold it in your favour that while the bandwagon effect of the false and malicious misdirection of the Police may have led to your publication, the responsibility to ascertain the veracity of your publication still rests with you. As you already know, officials of the Government of Bayelsa State are available at all times to respond to your inquiries. Unfortunately, you never thought it necessary to utilise this rudimentary practice before making your publication. This is more so when the said publication has capacity to do incalculable damage and has indeed done unquantifiable damage to the Government of Bayelsa State and its officials who are endued with public trust; a public trust that they cherish and exercise with the highest sense of responsibility.
It is on the above premises, we hereby demand that you retract your false and defamatory publication and tender an apology to the Government of Bayelsa State and its officials who have been defamed by your publication.
TAKE NOTICE that any failure, neglect or refusal to comply with this demand will leave us with no option than to take out criminal and civil process to seek appropriate redress.
We believe you will handle this with the utmost sense of responsibility it deserves and promptly make the required amends.
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