Stories by Vivian Okejeme Abuja
A Federal Capital Territory High Court, Apo Abuja, has dismissed a N100billion libel suit instituted by former Chief of Army Staff , Lt. General Azubuike Ihejirika (Rtd) against an Australian, Stephen Davies, Editor- in-Chief of Arise News, Chief Nduka Obaigbena and his fi rm, Leaders and Company Ltd for lacking in merit.
Trial Judge, Justice Valentine Ashi, held that the plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case against the defendants. Ihejirika, in 2014, instituted the suit against Davies for accusing him (Ihejirika) of sponsoring the Boko Haram insurgent group, and asked the court to grant him N100 billion as damages for defamation.
Th e plaintiff ’s lawyers had argued that their client “has suff ered grievous wrong and he has been exposed to scandal, odium, ridicule, humiliation while his character, credit and reputation were brought into disrepute, both in Nigeria and abroad”. Ihejirika also sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining Davies or his agents from further making defamatory comments about him.
He equally sought an order compelling the defendant to publish “a full and unqualifi ed retraction and apology conspicuously in the front page of a newspaper to assuage the plaintiff for the said false, malicious and libelous publication”.
Delivering judgment on the matter, Justice Ashi agreed with the counsel of the 2nd and 3rd defendants that the 2nd defendant, being an agent of a disclosed principal cannot be held liable for the act of the 3rd defendant. While stating that he could not fi nd where the 2nd defendant was charged with liability, the judge held that he was wrongly joined in the suit and thereby struck out the name of the 2nd defendant as a party in the suit. Similarly, Justice Ashi held that the plaintiff failed to comply with section 84 of the evidence Act as regards computer generated evidence and as such Exhibit A was wrongly admitted in evidence.
Exhibit A was an LG/DVD player from which the said interview of Davies on Arise Television was replayed in the court. Following the rejection of Exhibit A as evidence, the court then discharged the 1st defendant of liability. On the issue of qualifi ed privilege pleaded by the defendants, the judge also held that the plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case against the defendants.
Justice Ashi noted that the defence, though not denying the said publication, was able to show that it acted in the interest of the general public and not out of malice against the plaintiff . He held that public interest or convenience is paramount to private interest or convenience and since the 3rd defendant was acting in the general interest of the public, it is immune from liability.
“All the forgoing facts show that there was absence of malice in their publications. Th e case is hereby dismissed due to the failure of the plaintiff to establish a prima facie case against the defendants”, the judge held.