A High Court in Owerri, southeast Nigeria, on October 8, 2003 ordered the Imo Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) and the Chairman of Imo Concorde Hotel, Otuekere Njaka, to pay Ezekiel Izuogu, who was Imo State governorship candidate in the 2003 elections, the sum of N60 million (approximately $472,440) as “general and special damages for the libel contained in a television broadcast and published for general reception by the defendants on or about January 1, 1999 and other dates.”
The defendants are also to pay for costs amounting to N10,000, and to tender a public apology to Izuogu, the plaintiff.
According to Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)-Nigeria, the court presided over by Justice Ngozi Opara held that Otuekere Njaka had impugned the integrity of Izuogu, in an IBC programme, “Encounter”, aired on or about January 1,1999.
The MFWA is worried about the exorbitant damages and costs being imposed on journalists and media organizations by the courts in Nigeria. In June this year, the First Bank of Nigeria sued the City People, one of Nigeria’s soft-sell magazines, claiming one billion niara (approximately $7,748,934.52) in “exemplary damages” for a story, which appeared in the June 11, 2003 edition of the magazine.
A State senator, Iyiola Omisore, is also claiming N1 billion (US$7, 874,015) as damages for a charge of libel filed at the Ibadan High Court against the News magazine and its editor for a publication in the magazine’s August 18, 2003 edition.
We suggest that whilst damages for injury to reputation may have a deterrent value, the motive, or effect, of such claims should not be so punitive as to jeopardize the very existence or viability of the media against which damages are awarded.