An Ado Ekiti High Court has awarded the sum of N750 million damages against The Nation newspapers and an Akure, Ondo State based lawyer and activist, Morakinyo Ogele for libel and defamation published against Mr Segun Ilori, a lawyer, journalist and former Chief of staff to former Ekiti State Governor, Chief Segun Oni.
The defendants are also to publish an apology in three national newspapers for the defamatory publication in The Nation of Wednesday, May 12, 2010 headlined: “Lawyer petitions NJC over bribery allegation Against Election Tribunal Judges.”
In the judgement delivered on Friday, May 17, 2013, Justice Adewale .K. Fowe, held that the Claimant, Ilori had proved his case having led evidence unchallenged by defendants.
He said claimant’s evidence and those of his witnesses: Messrs Eric Teniola, Lekan Omoboye and the exhibits submitted showed that the publication was false, malicious, defamatory and injured his reputation.
The court held that although defendants filed conditional appearance and defence, they ignored several opportunities for cross examination and defence. He cited several cases of requests for adjournments and non attendance at proceedings without excuse and other antics by the defendants.
Relying on the case of NEPA v Alli & 1 OR(1992 )8 NWLR, per Nnaemeka Agu the court stated : “at the trial, the plaintiffs gave and called evidence in support of their Pleading, the defendant called no evidence. In the circumstances, the court approached the case from the standpoint that in-spite of the traverse or denial in the pleading, the defendant having failed to put anything on his own side of the-imaginary balance, is deemed to have accepted the facts adduced by and on behalf of the plaintiffs.
“On that basis, therefore,the court proceeded to consider whether the plaintiff discharged legal burden of proof incumbent on them, which in that case would be discharged on a minimal proof. I hold that the claimant has a minimal burden of proof in this case which he has discharged creditably by giving evidence and tendering Exhibits P1,P2&P3.
“In exhibit P3, the defendants falsely and maliciously wrote, printed and published or caused to be written and published of and concerning the claimant amongst others (see page 4 of The Nation Newspapers of 12 May, 2010 volume no 1392).
“The gist of the publication is that a petition has been written to the NJC over allegation of bribery against some members of Ekiti state election petition Tribunal.The publication went to name Chief of Staff, Mr Segun Ilori, the Plaintiff among others were involved in the bribe of N3 billion of the judges of Ekiti state Election petition tribunal.
“The claimant denied it and that the publication reffered to him,which maliciously injured his credibility,occupation and reputation. He has been brought into public ridicule, scandal,odium,and contempt and lowered in the estimation of right thinking members of the society.
“The 1st and 3rd witnesses were called and gave evidence that they read the publication which has diminished the reputation of the claimant in their estimation of him.”
The court therefore held that the “Publication made by the defendants in The Nation of 12th May 2010 at page 4 thereof is false, malicious and defamatory of the claimant.
“An order is made directing the defendants jointly and severally to retract the said publication and render a public apology to the claimant in three national newspapers as widely circulated as The NATION.
“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants jointly and severally by themselves, servants or privies and whomsoever, described from further publishing of the said defamatory words or any word to the like effect about the claimant”.
The court held that the defendants were not remorseful and that even when the plaintiff called them to complain, they were defiant and unremorseful, and these were considered in the award of damages. However while the Claimant asked for N3 billion as damages, the court awarded N750 Million as general damages for libel and defamation of character of the claimant.
Prior to the delivery of the judgement, there was mild drama in court as Counsel to Ogele and The Nation made frantic attempt to “arrest” the judgement by filing a motion and moved for an adjournment to file a reply to a counter-affidavit by Ilori’s counsel Obafemi Adewale esq.
When asked to move the motion, the defendant’s counsel, Messrs A. Tijani and O Balogun said they were not ready and needed 7days adjournment which the court refused.
Speaking after the judgement, Ilori also a lawyer and journalist, thanked God, for putting fiction journalism and falsehood to shame, saying; “it is a vindication of my integrity and name.
“More than the Money, it is my good name that has been restored.
“Fake activists who are on the prowl using unwary media houses to batter the image of innocent people have to be thought a bitter lesson.That was my motivation for this 3 year struggle before the court despite several antics, frivolous adjournments to stall and frustrate the case.Justice has been done” he stated.