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Lawyer Peels Back Lid on Nigerian Press

BROOKLYN (NY) - A Brooklyn lawyer says a Nigerian bank hired people to threaten his life after he tried to expose its coerced "corporate prostitution" of female employees. And he claims that a national newspaper in Nigeria, The Nation, took payoffs to hush up the bank's crimes.

Patrick O'Keke of the Brooklyn-based firm O'Keke & Associates says he paid for a "full page advertorial" in The Nation - which is not related to the U.S. publication of the same name.

O'Keke's ad condemned Skye Bank's practice of making its female employees "sell their bodies" to solicit new investors, according to the federal complaint.

The ad was slated to run on Nov. 2, but O'Keke says The Nation pulled it after a Skye representative gave the paper "monetary incentive" to drop it.

When O'Keke called the paper to ask why his ad did not run, a representative "bluntly told" him that "everything in this country was based on who had the money," according to the complaint.

O'Keke says the bank hired unidentified callers to tell him he would be killed if he pursued the story, and that his ad would never be published because they would pay off "literally every newspaper, tabloid and soft cell publication" in the country.

He says the callers also told him that Skye could afford to pay off Nigeria's courts and law enforcement agents, and O'Keke "must immediately leave Nigeria if he wanted to stay alive."

O'Keke says he visited Nigeria in October this year, and was briefed on the case of a female Skye employee whose civil rights case was pending in the country's high court.

In that lawsuit, the woman claimed that her employers did not give her a desk, but provided hotel rooms where she was expected "to sleep with deep pocket men." Skye told her to wear short skirts and lots of perfume to work, forbid her from talking about her job with her husband and told her that "Skye was her new family," according to O'Keke's complaint.

After she sued Skye, the bank ran attack ads against her and her family in at least two publications, claiming that they were involved in organized crime, O'Keke says.

O'Keke says the ad he tried to publish was meant as a rejoinder to the company's "propaganda," but The Nation never let him publish it.

O'Keke seeks a jury trial in Brooklyn Federal Court against the bank, the newspaper and the anonymous callers. He alleges breach of contract, tortious interference, harassment and threat to life.

He wants $10 million in damages, and is represented by Chidi Eze, who works in his firm.

Nigeria ranks 135th in Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Index 2009.

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