Nigeria ALERT: Magazine, editors face US $7.2 million suit

The Independent Communications Networks Limited, publishers of the “The News” magazine and four of the magazine’s staff, namely, Bayo Onanuga, editor-in-chief, Babafemi Ojodu, managing editor, Bamidele Johnson, deputy editor and Timothy Igandan, reporter, have been dragged to court on a N1 billion (about $US7,246,376) libel suit.

The suit was filed at the Abuja High Court by Dr Amos Adamu, Executive Director of the Organizing Committee (COJA) of the 8th All-Africa Games, “Abuja 2003”.

According to Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)-Nigeria, Dr. Adamu is claiming the sum of N1 billion as damages for two articles entitled, “The Scandals of COJA” and “Obasanjo’s Family, Atiku and Adamu in N30 Billion Scandal”, published respectively, in the October 27 and November 24, 2003 editions of the magazine. He is also seeking “perpetual injunction restraining the defendants by themselves, their servants and agents from further publication of the said defamatory word or words of the like” against him.

The suit, number FCT/HC/CV/220/2003, filed by Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, counsel, for Dr. Adamu, complained that the two publications ridiculed and disparaged his reputation by portraying him as corrupt and devious in the management of government resources and public funds.

The MFWA is dismayed by the ever-increasing tendency of officials and individuals close to the Obasanjo government, to apply to the law courts, claiming damages for alleged defamation, in sums which, if granted, could have the effect of jeopardizing the very survival of the publications in question.

Barely a fortnight ago, on November 17, Mrs. Stella Obasanjo, wife of President Olusegun Obasanjo, filed a suit at an Abuja High Court seeking a similar sum of N1 billion in “general and exemplary damages” against the same publication. In the suit filed by Dr B. O. Babalakin, Mrs Obasanjo complained that portions of the said publication, which alleged that she got a contract from COJA officials for furnishing of the games village was “based entirely on speculation, unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations.”

That case was adjourned to December 17, 2003.

Obviously, if both reliefs by Mrs Obasanjo and Dr Adamu were granted, they could effectively bankrupt the Independent Communication Network Limited and result in the incarceration of the co-defendants for default. MFWA requests you to, kindly, protest the deteriorating state of media rights and freedom of expression in Nigeria; and in particular, the prohibitive damage claims being sought against the “The News” magazine staff and publishers.

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