Posted by News Express | 14 April 2018 | 1,752 times
The Federal Government has failed in its bid to stop a defamation lawsuit filed against it by international human rights lawyer Emmanuel Ogebe arising from escaped Chibok school girls whom he sponsored to school in the United States of America.
The suit, which experienced numerous delays since it was filed over a year ago, stems from a press conference held by Nigeria’s Minister for Women Affairs Aisha Alhassan in which she claimed that Barrister Ogebe took the girls to US under the guise of taking them to school but didn’t so but rather used them for money.
In January 2017, Mr Ogebe sued Ms. Alhassan and the Federal Government of Nigeria for $2 million damages for injury to his reputation and an additional $5 million for aggravated damages.
Hearing of the case finally started on Tuesday at High Court 27 Jabi in the Nigerian capital city of Abuja, presided over by His Lordship Hon. Justice A. B. Mohammed.
The plaintiff, who was present in court from the US, was led in evidence by his counsel, Barrister David Ogebe of Ogebe, Ogebe Legal Practitioners Lagos, appearing with Godwin Abarike Esq of 247 Law Chambers Abuja. The Nigerian Government was represented by counsel from the Attorney General’s office while neither Aisha Alhassan nor the Ministry of Women’s Affairs were present or represented in court.
Human Rights Lawyer Emmanuel Ogebe began by identifying himself and tendering documents referenced in his witness statement. These included the following online media reports of the news conference of the 2nd and 3rd Defendants:
(a) TheCable online report of 09 September, 2016;
(b) Premium Times online news story as published on allafrica.com website also of 09 September, 2016;
(c) Anadolu Agency online publication of 09 September, 2016 as published on the aa.com news website.
(d) 247Ureports online report published on 18 September, 2016
The plaintiff also tendered a copy of his response to the defamatory publications and identified a photograph of a Nigerian diplomat with the Chibok girls at the school in which he placed them. The picture was discovered on a gofundme.com website.
Mr Ogebe closed his testimony by praying the court “to clear his good name which had been brutalised by the reckless and irresponsible abuse of office by Aisha Alhassan, Minister for Women Affairs.”
Counsel for the Attorney General declined to cross examine the plaintiff and presented no defence in the case. The presiding judge adjourned the case till May 30, 2018 for further hearing.
News Express reports that Aisha Alhassan had previously asked the court to dismiss the libel lawsuit, claiming protection by the Public Officers Protection Act. However, on March 1, the court dismissed her preliminary objection, with the judge stating:
“In the instant case, the Plaintiff has pleaded malice, lack of fair hearing, bad faith and continuing damage or injury all of which are exceptions to Section 2(a) of the Public Officers Protection Act relied upon by the 2nd and 3rd Defendants in this preliminary objection. [See the cases of OFFOBOCHE v OGOJA L.G. (2001) 16 NWLR (Pt. 739) 458 at 485, paras. A - D; HEAD OF FEDERAL MILITARY GOVT. v PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION & ANOR EX PARTE MACLEAN OKORO KUBEINJE (1974) 11 SC 79 at 125; and A-G RIVERS STATE v A-G BAYELSA STATE (supra)]. This being the case, I must, in line with the trite legal position stated in A-G of RIVERS STATE v. A-G BAYELSA STATE & ANOR. (supra): OKITO v OBIORU (supra):
“MUHAMMED v A.B.U. ZARIA (2014) 7 NWLR (PT. 1407) 500 at 534; and AGBAI v UKPABI (supra) 16 NWLR (PT 1434) 538, hold that the 2nd and 3rd Defendants cannot at this preliminary stage of the proceedings be entitled to the protection provided under Section 2(a) of the Public Officers Protection Act, since the Court must take evidence to determine whether or not any of the allegations of malice, lack of fair hearing, bad faith or continuing damage or injury constitute exceptions to the provision of Section 2(a) of the Act relied upon in this objection.
“It is in the light of the above that I hereby discountenance the preliminary objection on ground of Section 2(a) of the Public Officers Protection Act raised by the 2nd and 3rd Defendant and hold that in view of the pleadings of malice, lack of fair hearing and continuing damage or injury contained in the Plaintiff's Statement of Claim, the objection should be embodied by the 2nd and 3rd Defendants in their pleadings to be determined at trial along with the substantive suit.”
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