First Bank of Nigeria Plc has sued City People, one of Nigeria’s soft-sell magazines, demanding one billion naira (approximately $7,748,934.52) in “exemplary damages” for allegedly bringing the bank’s reputation to ridicule and scorn.
Also joined in the suit are the editor, Seye Kehinde, and the publishers of the magazine, Media Techniques Nigeria Ltd. The bank claims that the June 11, 2003 edition of the magazine carried a story that libelled the bank and its directors.
In a story captioned “Contract scandal rocks First Bank”, the magazine alleged that the directors of the bank had inflated the contract sum, quoted as N115million, “for civil and electrification repairs for the 12th floor” of the bank’s headquarters in Lagos.
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) acknowledges that claims to pecuniary compensations are a legitimate option for institutions and persons whose name and image may be sullied by libellous publications. However, MFWA believes that such claims ought not to be so punitive as to have the possible effect of liquidating the media or killing their zeal to pursue and report matters of public interest.
While not purporting to question the prerogative of the court, MFWA appeals to the judiciary in Nigeria and West Africa not to encourage actions that could amount to censorship of the media and a muzzling of freedom of expression.