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NIGERIA: Appeal Court Dismisses Chime’s N1.5bn Libel Suit Against The Guardian

The Lagos Division Court of the Appeal on Frriday dismissed an appeal filed by the Governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime, challenging the judgment of Justice Kazeem Alogba of a Lagos High Court.

Chime had instituted N1.5 billion libel suit against his opponent in the 2007 gubernatorial election, Chief Okechukwu Ezea and The Guardian Newspapers Limited.

But Justice Alogba dismissed the suit and awarded a cost of N100,000 in favour of the two defendants.

Dissatisfied, the governor through his counsel, Dr. Gbolahan Elias, SAN, appealed against the decision of the lower court.

The appellate court in its lead judgment delivered by Justice Rita Pemu, held that the appeal lacked merit and could not be sustained.
In a unanimous decision, the appellate court held that the appellant (Chime) ought to have called witnesses that attended the press conference where the defamatory statements were allegedly uttered.

The first respondent counsel Dr. Joseph Nwobike, SAN urged the court to dismiss the appeal and uphold the judgement of the lower court.

Besides, the court held that Chime was not even the person who ought to institute the suit since the alleged text massage was not sent to his phone.

The court affirmed the lower court’s decision that the appellant failed to prove that Ezea (first respondent) uttered the defamatory statements.

Consequently, the court awarded cost of N30,000 against the appellant.

Justice Pemu held the appellant attached no weight to both the Vanguard Newspaper publication on the grounds that Vanguard unlike The Guardian Newspapers Limited was not sued as the printer and publisher of the defamatory statements.

The governor had in his appeal submitted that the lower court judge erred in law when he held that the appellant failed to prove that the Ezea (first respondent) uttered the defamatory statements complained of at the Abuja Press Conference on August 7, 2007.

He further submitted that the lower court erred when it held that the words published in The Guardian newspaper were incapable of defaming the appellant.

But, in his argument, first respondent counsel Dr. Joseph Nwobike, SAN urged the court to dismiss the appeal and uphold the judgement of the lower court.

Nwobike submitted that the lower court was right when it held that the appellant failed to prove that the first respondent actually uttered the words complained of at that Press Conference.

He further submitted that the appellant did not adduce evidence at the lower court to support/ substantiate his allegation.

He further argued that the lower court found as fact that the words complained of even if interpretable to be defamatory did not actually lower the appellant’s estimation in the minds of right thinking members of the society or disparage him in his office or political standing.

He urged the court on the strength of the arguments canvassed to resolve all the issues in favour of the first respondent and dismiss the appeal.

Chime had instituted N1.5 billion libel suit against his opponent in the 2007 gubernatorial election, Chief Okechukwu Ezea and The Guardian Newspapers Limited.

In his statement of claim, Chime accused Ezea of addressing a press conference on or about August 11, 2007, attended by numerous representatives of the press in Abuja, where he allegedly accused Chime of wanting to kill him.

The governor averred that his personal and leadership reputation had been seriously damaged, adding that he had suffered considerable distress and embarrassment.

He therefore demanded N1billion as damages from Ezea and N500, 000 from The Guardian, being damages for alleged libel contained on page seven of the newspaper dated August 14, 2007.

The governor had to travel to Lagos on two different occasions to testify in the suit he filed before the Lagos High Court.

Under cross- examination by Nwobike, lawyer to Ezea, Chime informed the court that the hostility between him and Ezea was not because the defendant challenged his election as governor of Enugu State.

The governor stated that Ezea ceased to be his friend the moment he addressed the alleged press conference, adding that he had also deleted his telephone number from his telephone.

However, Ezea, through Nwobike, contended that the alleged publications referred to by the claimant were not injurious, adding that the governor deliberately sponsored them.

He denied the allegations contained in the statement of claim, arguing that he did not utter or publish any defamatory material against the governor and that if at all the claimant was defamed, he caused defamatory material to be published against himself to score cheap political popularity.

The defendant described the suit as frivolous and an abuse of court process and urged the court to dismiss it with substantial cost.
Ezea in his statement of defence contended that the press conference was called to intimate the press about the developments at the Enugu Election Petitions Tribunal and other matters connected to it.

He added that he merely explained to the reporters the events which occurred between July and early August 2008, between the claimant and himself.

Ezea revealed that between July and August 6, 2007, Governor Chime allegedly visited his residence at 4, Iyienu Street, Independence Layout, Enugu, in company of several persons twice.

He further alleged that when the claimant visited his house at about 9p.m., the claimant allegedly threatened to send him to prison and deal with him if he failed to withdraw his petition within seven days.

He denied the averments contained in paragraphs eight and nine of the statement of claim and insisted on their strictest proof thereof.

He also denied sending the alleged text messages, as he does not own the alleged GSM telephone number that was used and that he sent no such text messages to any person.

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