A High Court sitting in Benin City, yesterday, awarded N25m damages for a libelous publication in favour of Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State against Dockland Communications Limited, publishers of News of the People magazine.
In suit no B/556/2011 Justice Efe Ikponmwonba ruled that Dockland Communications failed to prove the veracity of the libelous publication of the magazine in 2011, which was carried on the front page and at page 19, with the headline, “Oshiomhole’s sex power exposed: Impregnates young girl six months after death of wife”.
The Governor had taken Dockland Communications Limited, publishers of News of the People to court after failing to retract the said story and meet the conditions of apologizing to him as contained in a letter to them by his lawyers, Ken Mozia and Associates.
Oshiomhole who asked the court to award him N250 million in damages maintained that the defendant, among other things, falsely wrote that he bought a jeep for the said girl whom he was alleged to have impregnated and that he was interfering in the academic activities of Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, on behalf of the girl; that he used sexual performance enhancement drugs and that he had performed traditional marriage rites precedent to a marriage between him and the said girl.
During trial, the Governor had under cross-examination said “I am a public officer, and as you have rightly pointed out as a Governor, what I do or fail to do is important. My character is important and people’s opinion of my personal life is important. My children are still in agony. The magazine published this just a few months after my wife passed away and this publication coincided with my daughter’s wedding. A Governor whom I invited for the wedding asked me if I was the one going to wed or my daughter. Your image as a public officer is very important.
He said: “after this publication, I had very serious family crisis because my children were still in grief over the death of their mother.”
He told the Court after the defendant’s counsel asked him to show how his character was damaged that his conclusion and that of many people who called him after reading the story was that he uses drugs.
Reacting to the judgment, Counsel to Governor Oshiomhole, Barrister Femi Owootori of Ken Mozia and Associates Chambers said “we as solicitors to the governor wrote a letter to the company asking for a retraction of the publication. But the newspaper stuck to its gun and refused to retract the publication. So we gave the necessary notice and took legal action to sue for libel and the case has been on. We closed our case rather than come in for defence, the defendants said they were resting their case on the claimants case which is a strategy suggesting that the claimant had made no case. But unfortunately for them when the judgment was being delivered it was exhaustively analysed.
“Even though our claim was for N250 million, considering the status of the person against whom the publication was made, the court awarded N25million and N10,000 cost because the court found as a fact the publication was a tissue of lies”
He urged journalists to cross-check their facts before publication.