© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
How Sanwo – Olu’s aide jumped bail in cocaine trafficking case, fingered in intellectual property theft
OLUFUNKE Philips, social media influencer and digital manager of Lagos State Governor-elect, Babajide Sanwo – Olu’s media campaign team for the 2019 gubernatorial elections, is currently embroiled in a running battle to clear her name after a Germany-based Nigerian journalist, Ruona Meyer accused her of stealing her intellectual property, including having a proven criminal record for trafficking cocaine.
In the run-up to the 2019 gubernatorial election in Lagos, Phillips was an active campaigner for Sanwo-Olu on social media and was also visible at some of the governor-elect campaign programmes.
The allegations which stretch back to 2007 came to the spotlight on Friday when Meyer in a series of posts on Facebook and Twitter asked Philips to pull down her website “The Beverage Room” which she claims was built on her ideas.
Meyer had teamed up with Philips in 2015 to establish a business venture called “The Beverage Space” a website that would focus on alcohol consumption from a female’s perspective.
According to Meyer, she brought Phillips on the project because she needed a face for the brand considering she wasn’t based in Nigeria at the time, also stating that she single-handedly funded the project.
In a Facebook post, she explained her role in the partnership, “I handled the blog, edited written copy, and tapped my contacts in Corporate Communications, PR & media in general, to boost our networks. Funke Phillips had no money, so I handled practically all costs…including domain hosting, calls to contacts, sending proposals for sponsored events planning hangouts, generating content ideas and even doing interviews from Germany with my Nigerian contacts.
“Soon, we were about to get into signing partnerships, when my manager in Germany reminded me to do a character check on Funke Phillips. I remembered I’d heard some absurd rumours and went online to check,” she said in the Facebook post.
The background checks on Philips (full name: Philip Esther Olufunke) revealed her tainted past she had with the law which involved been charged by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) with illegal possession of 3.14 kilograms of cocaine in 2007.
She was arraigned before Justice P.I Ajoku of the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court on charges bordering on unlawful possession of hard drugs which contravenes Section 19 of NDLEA Act, Cap N30 Law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 2004.
According to Meyer, she terminated their brief partnership after the background checks also showed that Phillips was a fugitive, alongside 25 others who had absconded from the trial after been granted bail by the presiding judge.
However, barely a year later Phillips started her own website which she called “The Beverage Room” reflecting Meyer’s ideas.
The website which currently boasts of over 82,000 followers on social media is currently been run by Philips and her business partner, Ifeanyi Abraham, described on the website as a Public Relations, digital and influencer marketing expert who joined the team in 2017.
In a Facebook post on March 15, Meyer clarified that she was making a public disclaimer to fully detach herself from any business connections she had with Phillips in 2015 and 2016, also threatening her with court action.
“I terminated our business dealings in 2016 after I found out @FunkePhillips is facing cocaine smuggling charges (with a 2009 court case); and on 4 July 2011, @ndlea_nigeria listed her as skipping bail.
“I operate under a different set of personal and locational principles. On that note, Funke Phillips should you still refuse to do the needful, and pull down TBR, I will see you in court. Please, try to show up this time,” Meyer’s Facebook post reads.
Is freedom the cost of skipping bail?
Philips who allegedly failed to appear in court after absconding from trial in 2011, according to documented evidence presented by Meyer did not cause her to go into hiding rather she has flaunted her opinions as a political cum social commentator, floated businesses on the social media landscape and orchestrated the 2019 media campaign team of Sanwo – Olu, Governor-elect of Lagos State.
The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, speaks in clear terms on person’s who skip bail, as the sureties are held liable for their actions and those who jumped bail will continue to face the pending criminal charges.
In a phone interview with The ICIR, Lookman Alawaye, a lawyer and senior partner at Alawaye & Co, a law firm based in Maitama, Abuja, explained the reasons for fixing bail bonds and its implications.
“The bond you are entering into is not presented to the court, it is in the event the person jumps bail and the court confirms that the defendant had jumped bail then you are now compelled to pay that amount or the surety will pay it,” he stated.
Obtaining, data on the number of people who had jumped bail in the country for the past ten years from the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics, NBS, Abuja office by The ICIR was futile. An official who refused to disclose his name to the reporter said, “I don’t think we have that data because we collect data received from government agencies, if they don’t release that data to us then we are handicapped.”
Efforts made by The ICIR, to contact Jonah Achema, NDLEA spokesperson, to enquire from the agency why Philips who had escaped trial for over seven years despite the pending criminal charges against her, and to request the names of the sureties who provided the bail bond, proved unsuccessful as he neither answered his phone nor responded to text messages.
Silence on both fronts
Phillips’ social media handles that described her as a “Digital Strategist/Social & Political Commentator|Social/Digital Manager, Babajide Sanwo-Olu Campaign, had been pulled down since the scandal broke.
Efforts by The ICIR to get Phillips to state her own side of the story have been unsuccessful as phone calls and text messages to her have been unanswered. Also, The ICIR sought to know from Meyer why she waited for three years before she made a public disclaimer dissociating herself from Phillips business but messages sent to her were unanswered.
Phillips ordeal may take a different twist if Meyer decides to take the case of intellectual property theft to the courts as she promised in her posts on social media.
The Nigerian Copyright Act speaks in clear terms on the theft of intellectual property, though it does not clearly distinguish between the rights of publicity that protects the use of one’s own name or likeness for commercial purposes and trade secrets which protects confidential information that belongs to a business or gives it a competitive advantage.
However, Section 20, (a) of the Nigerian Copyright Act does not specify the term of imprisonment or a fine which gives the court liberty to mete out justice as it deems fit to serve as a deterrent to persons who breach the provisions of the law.