A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on Monday ordered that hearing in the N1 billion libel suit against former presidential aide, Mrs. Lauretta Onochie, should proceed with or without her defence.
Onochie who was the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, has since been nominated for the position of National Commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The suit was filed against her by the Senator representing Delta North senatorial district in the Senate, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, who claimed that Onochie defamed his deputation with a post on her Facebook where she called him a thief as well as an embezzled of funds by collecting contracts from the Niger Delta Development Commission(NDDC) without executing them.
Besides, Nwaoboshi, who is the Chairman, Senate House Committee on Niger Delta, said the alleged defamatory statements complained against were made on June 8 through an article she posted/published on her Facebook page (Lauretta Onochie) the Senator captioned “NDDC- THE CHICKEN COMES HOME TO ROOST”.
But in the suit before the FCT High Court, the claimant through his counsel, Dr. Daniel Bwala is urging the court to declare that Onochie’s post/ publication amounts to libel.
At the resumed hearing of the case on Monday, counsel to the claimant, Andrew Abogede who represented his principal, Dr. Bwala, informed the court of the absence of the defendant (Onochie) in court.
The counsel said this was despite the fact that the order for substituted service issued by the court against her had been complied with and hearing notices dully served on her.
Abogede consequently prayed the court to allow the claimant to proceed with the case.
In his short ruling, Justice Yusuf Halilu held that there was clear evidence before the court that the defendant was dully served with the originating processes and hearing date.
He held that, “the defendant has a choice of attending court and cannot be forced to be in court. Once service is effected on a defendant, such a defendant has a choice whether to attend court or not. However, a defendant is bound by the decision of the court once there is evidence of service on him.
” I have seen that the defendant has been served and we can’t continue to wait for her. The defendant shall be put on notice on the next hearing date.”
The judge thereafter ordered the claimant to serve hearing notice on the defendant through substituted means and adjourned the case to October 18 for hearing.
In the suit, Senator Nwaoboshi chronicled the alleged offensive statements as follows:
I was at an event in his home town when he spoke in our Anioma language, declaring himself a thief. I am an Ada Anioma. I was raised in Anioma land. We do not take what belongs to others, let alone pride ourselves in being thieves.
‘The question Senator Nwaoboshi has refused to answer is to tell Niger Delta citizens and Nigerians his role in the award of contracts for the provision of 4,800 plastic desks and chairs for primary/secondary schools in nine (9) states of the Niger Delta in 2016 with an award of contract letters dated 22nd September 2016.
‘The contract sum was for N3.6 Billion Naira. The revelations in the award of the said contract are mind-boggling, disturbing and appalling, using eleven different companies and business names which were awarded the contract are owned by or traceable to one and the same person being Sen. Peter Nwaoboshi.
The said companies/business names are: Noan Integrated Services; De Towers Constructions & Allied Services Ltd; Franstine Nigeria Enterprises; Edrihide Company; Isumabe U.K. Global; Benchmark Construction at Allied Services.
‘Millstone Allied Builders Ltd.; Nelpat Nigeria Company; Agh-Rown Ventures; Edendoma Star International; and Antlers Construction and Allied Works Ltd.
‘The inventory records show that these items were supplied and received on Senator Nwaoboshi’s business premises and warehouse, not to the beneficiaries. Meanwhile, the contracts were awarded to him.
‘However, some of the items supplied to Nwaoboshi’s warehouse through his cronies, were later resold to the Delta state government, while the others were sold to other states through contracts awarded to him.
‘All supply agreements were signed by one and the same person being Mr Agbamuche Nelson, traceable to Senator Nwaoboshi. This is in flagrant contravention of section 58(4) (a) and (d) of the Public Procurement Act.
‘No wonder Senator Nwaoboshi and his cohorts are jittery about the ongoing Forensic Audit exercise in the NDDC and are doing everything possible to derail it.’
But the claimant is urging the court to declare that ‘the defendant’s post/publication of June 8, 2020, posted/published on her Facebook page Lauretta Onochie captioned: “NDDC: The Chicken Comes Home To Roost”, amounts to libel.
‘An order of this Honourable Court awarding the sum of N1,000,000,000.00 (One Billion Naira) only, to the claimant as general damages against the defendant.
‘An order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendant, her agents, servants, privies and any other person howsoever described, acting for and on her behalf, from further publishing/posting any other false and damaging publication in respect of the claimant.
‘Nwaoboshi believes that this publication/post about him is meant to be understood and was understood by reasonable and right-thinking members of the public that he is: a thief as you called him in your Facebook post, Corrupt and a criminal; Abusing his office and not fit to represent the good people of Delta North senatorial district, Committing atrocities as Chairman Senate Committee on Niger Delta and not a man of integrity.
‘That this publication was made/posted by you mischievously and maliciously. To say the least, the said libellous post is calculated to undermine him knowing that the Senate is carrying out a probe of the NDDC.
‘That it is our client’s belief that for you to call him a thief without being convicted by a court of law has not only maligned his image but also has ridiculed his integrity.
‘That it is only a competent court of law that can pronounce someone a thief when the person is found guilty of a crime.
‘That there is no doubt that your Facebook posts/publications enjoy wide readership throughout Nigeria and globally as Special Assistant to Nigeria’s President on social media.
‘To have maligned disparaged and tarnished his reputation. integrity and image both in his official and personal capacity is not only condemnable but punishable.’