Zinox threatens legal action against Premium Times

The Management of Zinox Technologies Ltd. has given a seven-day deadline to the publishers of Premium Times, an Abuja-based online daily, to retract what it described as a series of defamatory publications against the company and its officials or face legal action. The publications, Zinox said, consistently accused the company of having cheated the Federal Government and a certain Mr. Benjamin Joseph and his company, Citadel Oracle Concepts, with whom Zinox has never done any business.

Speaking in Lagos on what he called the continued fabrication of lies against Zinox with questionable intent, Gideon Ayogu, the company’s Head of Corporate Communications, disclosed that the Zinox Chairman, Leo Stan Ekeh, has never met Mr. Benjamin Joseph, the Managing Director of Citadel Oracle Concepts, and that neither Ekeh nor any other official of Zinox has had any form of business transaction with the said company. According to him, “This raises questions on the motive behind Premium Times’ continued campaign of calumny against Ekeh which appears a cheap attempt at extortion.”

Challenging Premium Times to publish any proof of transactions between Citadel Oracle Concepts Ltd. and Zinox or proof of any criminal charge against Ekeh, Zinox or any officials of the company in relation to the said stories, Ayogu further disclosed that there is no evidence of an indictment by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), the Nigerian Police or any law enforcement agency against Ekeh or Zinox Technologies.

Ayogu stated that Premium Times had enjoyed a holiday-of-sorts in their on-going smear campaign against Ekeh chiefly because Joseph’s prosecution is pending before a competent court of law and as a law-abiding corporate citizen, the Management of Zinox wishes the law to have its course and does not intend to interfere with the course of justice. He also cited “Ekeh’s well-known soft spot for the media as a pioneer of digital publishing in West Africa with his first company, Task Systems, which Premium Times seems to have mistaken for weakness.” Zinox, Ayogu said, would rather focus on its mission of digital innovation than be distracted by blackmail.

He said: “Upon reading the first story written by Premium Times, the Management of Zinox wanted to sue the medium and Citadel Oracle Concepts but the Chairman cautioned that there was hunger in the land and that his checks on Mr. Joseph showed a man desperate to make ends meet.  Hence, we were advised not to waste our time. Every other media organisation in Nigeria whom Joseph approached had investigated his claims and found no iota of truth in them and as a result, had refused to publish except Premium Times, a medium that is apparently in partnership with him possibly for a destructive intent.

“I personally called the writer, Bassey Udo, on two occasions and requested him to verify his clams at the EFCC or Police Headquarters Abuja, or the Police Special Fraud Unit (SFU) Ikoyi, but he was not interested and instead chose to keep putting out one defamatory article after another based on fabricated stories handed down to him by Mr. Joseph. I made it clear to him that Ekeh will never part with a kobo so he should stop wasting his time and degrading his publication. As a civilised corporate citizen, we have taken this as a final responsible step for Premium Times to make public any agreement, transaction or link between Citadel Computers and Zinox Computers or any staff of Zinox computers since Zinox was launched in 2010. For instance, in their first publication, Premium Times claimed that they saw bank documents which ‘showed transfers of monies between FIRS account at CBN and the fake account as well as approvals by top officials of Zinox Technologies for disbursements from the account to Zinox bank account and those of the suspects.’

“We want to make it clear that Zinox did not receive any such amount in any of its accounts, and hereby challenge Premium Times to produce such document showing or bearing the name of Zinox or the Zinox account.

“The on-going case for which Joseph is currently being prosecuted is between Citadel Oracle Concepts and another company which our Chairman has shares in. That company is Technology Distributions (TD), the biggest ICT products distributor in Sub-Saharan African representing major IT brands like HP, Lenovo, Dell, Microsoft and many others. TD is a totally different company from Zinox with different directors, shareholders, management team and a different line of business and Zinox was not in any way involved in the transaction.

“It is important to note that in the entire transaction leading up to this case, in all the above investigations and reports, Zinox Technologies Ltd. was not in any way involved. The transaction only involved Technology Distributions Ltd. and its staff. Also, Leo Stan Ekeh was not involved in the said transaction and the investigations. It was only in the last petition to the EFCC that he was asked to come because Benjamin Joseph mischievously mentioned his name in the petition to the Vice President. But in all his subsequent sponsored publications in the media (print and online), Benjamin Joseph targeted only Zinox and Ekeh. Why? The answer is clear.

“Following from the foregoing, it is clear that the purpose and objective of Joseph and Citadel Oracle Concepts Ltd. is to attempt to persecute, harass and blackmail us into agreeing with their unfounded claims, relying on the false information that the Board Resolution was forged. This intention is proved by the robust publicity they have given this case and castigating the person of our Chairman, Leo Stan Ekeh, OFR.

“This is why in the online publications, the photographs of Ekeh and no other person is displayed and Zinox is used as the caption, even when the company has no bearing with the story. This is blackmail. There is no other explanation for this other than blackmail.

“Citadel Oracle Concept Limited was one of the many IT resellers awarded a contract to supply HP laptops at FIRS in 2012 but had no funds to execute it and like few others, had approached TD who are authorised HP distributors in Nigeria with the help of his consultant Princess Kama whose Uncle, Chief Onny Igbokwe has been a long term reseller of TD to assist in supplying the laptops at a pre-agreed invoice value. Our investigations showed that his representative, Princess Kama had previously executed several other bids on his behalf. We also have a copy of a Letter of Authority which Joseph issued to FIRS with copies of his international passport accepting the contract and appointing Princess Kama as his authorised representative to handle the transaction. This is verifiable at FIRS.

“In view of previous bad experience and in order to avoid exposing the business to bad loans, TD had nominated its staff – Mr. Chris Eze Ozims and Mrs. Shade Oyebode – to be signatories to an account opened for the purpose of disbursement of funds as regards the contract, solely as security for the laptops supplied on credit.  Upon payment of the sum for the contract, TD had gone ahead to deduct the invoiced sum of the supplied laptops and had its staff resigned as signatories to the account.”

Continuing, Ayogu disclosed that “after a disagreement between Joseph and his representative, Princess Kama, over the sharing of the proceeds, Mr. Joseph reported to Chief Afe Babalola Chambers that his company was used to defraud the FIRS by Princess Kama and her allies and that the laptops were not supplied. When the lady narrated the true story with documentary proof including a letter of authority signed by him, he withdrew from Afe Babalola Chambers and petitioned the EFCC, Lagos, which investigated and saw no merit in his complaint. He then lodged another complaint with Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the Nigerian Police, Ikoyi and told same lies, alleging that his signature on the board resolution to open the account at Access Bank was forged.”

Narrating what happened thereafter, Ayogu said: “The SFU launched an investigation at FIRS offices and confirmed that the laptops were supplied with serial numbers intact. However, since the crux of the matter was the denial by Joseph of not signing the Board Resolution to open the account with which the FIRS remitted payment for the supplied HP laptops, of which Mr. Ozims and Mrs. Oyebode were signatories on behalf of TD, the Police sent the documents for forensic analysis to determine its veracity. The evidence proved that the documents were not forged, and were actually signed by him. Hence, the warrants of arrest the Police had issued against Mr. Ozims (a First Class lawyer and Company Secretary of TD) and Mrs. Oyebode (a Chartered Accountant and Executive Director of TD) based on Joseph’s complaints were made on misleading information and ought not to have been issued.

“After a few months, he wrote the office of the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) laying same claims against Princess Kama and TD without informing the DIG that he had earlier reported to the EFCC and SFU, Lagos. The Police again launched a nationwide investigation which confirmed all items supplied with serial numbers. When the Police Headquarters discovered that Joseph has wasted their time and limited resources on a false claim, the Inspector General of Police arraigned him for deceit and false petitioning at an Abuja court under Charge Number CR/216/16 at the FCT High Court.

“Upon inauguration of the new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, Joseph again wrote the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) that his company was used to defraud the Federal Government of over N200m, and that no laptops were supplied to the FIRS. The VP minuted to the EFCC Chairman. The Procurement Fraud Unit of the EFCC again investigated and found every item supplied and FIRS showed all products supplied with serial numbers nationwide. It was at this point that he partnered with Premium Times to launch a media blackmail against our Chairman, Ekeh, and Zinox which had no links to the matter on ground, probably with an intent at extortion.

“What we found funny while this prolonged attempt at extortion was going on were several calls by faceless numbers to our Chairman requesting him to try and resolve this issue with huge sums of money to save his hard-earned name and that of Zinox. These calls only ceased after he warned the callers that he will track and unearth their identity with digital satellites and report them to the appropriate authorities.

“In conclusion, why is Premium Times which is headquartered in Abuja not able to walk into the offices of the EFCC, Police Headquarters, Abuja, the FIRS and Attorney General’s Office and confirm the claim of their partner, Joseph. We have received several appeals from some industry practitioners to discontinue the criminal prosecution of Joseph at an Abuja court under Charge Number CR/216/16, we wish to inform them that we did not sue Mr. Joseph as it was the Police that charged him for misleading them, and we would not wish to waste our resources on a man that we do not know. It is for the court to determine if he is innocent or not, and not for Premium Times to embark on a media trial of the case.”


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