Ex-minister closes case in libel suit against former Nigerian envoy, Onoh

Geoffrey Onyeama

Geoffrey Onyeama

By Taiye Agbaje

A former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, has closed his case against Ms Lilian Onoh, a former Nigerian ambassador to Jamaica and Namibia, over allegations bordering on defamation.

Onyeama closed his case after a cross examination on Friday before Justice Keziah Ogbonnaya of a Federal Capital Territory High Court at Zuba in Abuja on allegations of financial misappropriation at Nigerian embassies in Jamaica and Namibia.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the ex-minister, who served during the Muhammadu Buhari-led government, had sued Onoh after the latter accused him of condoning grand corruption at Nigerian foreign missions.

Onyeama alleged that Onoh, who was his sister-in-law, “sponsored” newspaper articles that were critical of him on issues of sleaze while he was the foreign minister.

Onoh had raised the alarm that the sum of $2.8 million was being frittered away out of the $5 million donations by the Red Cross in Nigeria to victims of the deadly 2010 Haiti earthquake by Nigerian diplomats in Jamaica.

The Nigerian mission in Jamaica was saddled with the responsibility of applying the $5 million donations to the humanitarian disaster occasioned by the earthquake in the Caribbean country.

In Namibia prior to her arrival as Nigeria’s High Commissioner, she had said about $600,000 was embezzled by officials including shortchanging the Namibian government in VAT remittances.

While being cross examined by Onoh’s lawyer, Monday Ejeh, on whether he probed allegations of fraudulent financial transactions raised against Nigerian diplomats by his client, Onyeama said he took action on every complaint received.

“I took action on them by referring such issues to the permanent secretary ( Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and directing that investigation be conducted,” Onyeama said.

In his response to the issues in Jamaica and Namibia, he said, “With regards to two major complaints in respect of Jamaica and Namibia, I was informed that the cases had been passed on to the EFCC.”

He explained further that the permanent secretary was “charged with dealing with financial transactions and irregularities.”

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He said the two matters Onoh brought to his attention were about her predecessor and some people in Namibia defrauding the Namibian government.

“In Jamaica, it was about misappropriation of funds meant to assist Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake,” said.
He told the court that he took interest in those two incidents because of their impacts on Nigeria’s bilateral relationship with Jamaica and Namibia.

“I went to the office of the Auditor-General (of the Federation), and requested for a comprehensive audit of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” he said.

When Ejeh asked about the outcome of investigations into the malfeasance, Onyeama’s lawyer, Agada Elachi, SAN, raised an objection.

Determined to get a response, Ejeh pressed further asking if the allegations were true or false, Elachi objected to the question.

“These questions are immaterial as they have nothing to do with the issues at hand,” the lawyer said while objecting to several other questions bordering on his client’s roles as foreign minister.

The objections were sustained by the judge.

Onyeama informed the court that Onoh “forwarded several media articles to his phone number.”

The minister disclosed that many people advised her to “desist from those libellous emanating from the social media,” but that she would not listen.

“She wrote to me, indicating that I was trying to prevent certain media houses from publishing her defamatory articles,” Onyeama said in his reply to Ejeh’s enquiry as to how Onoh sponsored media houses to defame him.

After the cross-examination exercise, the ex-minister informed the court that he had concluded his suit against the defendant.

Subsequently, the judge adjourned the case until 12 February for Onoh to commence her defence in the suit.

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