14th November, 2014
An Appeal Court in Lagos, Southwest Nigeria has dismissed an appeal filed by Enugu state governor, Sullivan Chime challenging the judgment against him by a Lagos High Court. Chime had instituted a N1.5 billion libel suit against his opponent in the 2007 gubernatorial election, Chief Okechukwu Ezea and The Guardian Newspapers Limited.
The Presiding Judge, Kazeem Alogba at the Lagos High Court dismissed the suit and awarded a cost of N100, 000 in favour of the two defendants.
Dissatisfied with the judgment, the governor through his counsel, Dr. Gbolahan Elias, SAN, appealed the decision of the lower court.
The Appeal Court in its lead judgment delivered by Justice Rita Pemu held that the appeal lacked merit and cannot be sustained, consequently, 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 made.
The court upheld the argument of Ezea’s counsel, Dr. Joseph Nwobike, SAN, who urged the court to dismiss the appeal and accordingly dismissed the appeal.
The court affirmed the lower court’s decision that the appellant failed to prove that the Ezea (first respondent) uttered the defamatory statements.
Besides, the court held that Chime is not even the person who ought to have instituted the suit since the alleged text massage was not sent to his phone.
Justice Pemu further held that the appellant attached no weight to 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.
Consequently, the court awarded cost of N30, 000 against the appellant. 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 stated that the lower court erred when it held that the words published in The Guardian newspaper were incapable of defaming Governor chime.
However, 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 contended that the lower court was right when it held that the appellant failed to prove that the first respondent actually uttered the words complained about at the press conference.
He further argued that the appellant did not adduce credible evidence at the lower court to support or 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 integrity of the governor in the estimation of the minds of right thinking members of the society or disparage him, his office or political standing.
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 occasions to testify in the suit he filed before the Lagos High Court.
Under cross-examination by Dr. Joseph Nwobike (SAN), 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 but 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.
Consequently, 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 on two occasion.
He alleged further that when the claimant visited his house at about 9:00 p.m., the governor allegedly threatened to send him to prison and deal with him if he failed to withdraw his petition within seven days.
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.