Libel: Ambassador Loses Case


Nigeria’s Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Ambassador Godson Echegele, has lost a case he filed against Tempo, the defunct sister publication of TheNEWS and P.M.NEWS in which he alleged defamation against the tabloid.
Justice Ojikutu Oshode of the Ikeja High Court also awarded N50, 000 in favour of the defendant.
Echegele had sought the sum of N100 million from the owners of the publication and had urged the court for an injunction against the trio of Bayo Onanuga, Seye Kehinde and Tempo from publishing anything about him.
The suit was instituted in March, 1994, when Tempo ran a story which it titled ‘Squandermania’ which reported details of how former stalwarts of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Chief Tony Anenih, and Sule Lamido, illegally withdrew money from the party’s account and transferred same into their accounts.
The duo allegedly presented different cheques belonging to the party at the Abuja branch of Commercial Trust Bank and while Lamido, who is now the Jigawa State Governor, presented a cheque of N2 million, Anenih presented one of N3 million.
The two of them, according to the report, then instructed the bank to convert the cheques to drafts in their names which were then paid into their bank accounts.
Anenih paid his into the account of Nova Finance, a company owned by him and Lamido paid his own into his Commercial Trust Bank account in Kano.
The report added that they were struck by fear when the late Sanni Abacha took over government seven days after they withdrew the money and as a result they connived with Echegele, their friend who was the General Manager of the bank at that period and was at the corporate headquarters of the bank.
The three of them reportedly strategised, went into the bank vault and removed the cheques and changed them, but unknown to them, the cheques were already in the computer system of the bank, which they could not delete and this was how people got to know about it.
When the story was published, an angry Echegele went to court to declare that he was defamed, but during cross-examination, he admitted that the story was not centred on him, adding that he was only mentioned.
He also admitted that the payments were ordered by General Maigeshi.
According to Benjamin Umudjoro, the defence counsel, ìWith the Managing Director of tempo, we tendered documents to show that Echegele had no image to protect. One of such documents was that at his resignation from the bank, he said he owned 20 per cent shares in the bank whereas at that time, an individual could not own more than 10 per cent.
ìWe also showed that he was once indicted by one of the bank staff named Ify Okeke, who wrote a memo about his indictment about one foreign transaction.
ìThere was also an audit report which indicted him. We showed that this man asking for a pound of flesh was not even worth one pound of bones.î
The court yesterday held that the claimant was not the main target of the story as he had confirmed during cross-examination. It therefore dismissed the action of the claimant.
By Eromosele Ebhomele

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