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Court dismisses libel suit by Obasanjo's mistress Chief (Mrs) Lamide Adegbenro-Island News:

June 1, 2009

Image removed.The High Court of Lagos State, Igbosere, Lagos Island yesterday dismissed a N1 billion libel suit instituted against Island News and its publisher George Noah, by Chief (Mrs) Lamide Adegbenro, a woman friend of former president Olusegun Obasanjo. In dismissing the suit, the court awarded N50,000 cost against Adegbenro. Preliminary hearing in the suit commenced at the court on Wednesday January 31, 2007. In the writ of summons, the Claimant Adegbenro, a Dolphin Estate, Ikoyi resident sought N1 billion as damages for alleged libel contained in an article headed ’Lamide Adegbenro – Islander caught in the Obasanjo-Atiku Crossfire’ printed and  published by the defendants in the September 18, 2006 issue of the publication. In a statement of defence filed by the law chambers of Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the publication denied all the allegations of libel as alleged by the Claimant. At the high court yesterday the publisher of Island News  said the judgement is a resounding victory for journalism in Nigeria. ‘’Adegbenro’s action was nothing more than gold digging. It was misconceived and vexatious. It lacked merit  and I am not surprised that the case is now dead and buried’’ Noah said.

 On October 3, 2006,  Ikoyi based law firm of Banwo & Ighodalo acting on behalf of  Adegbenro initiated the first of the proceedings seeking an unreserved apology for their client. ‘’ We act on behalf of our client, Chief (Mrs) Lamide Adegbenro, a private, law abiding citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We write on her instructions with respect of the article appearing on page 3 of the September 18, 2006 issue of the Island News newspaper under the title, ‘’Lamide Adegbenro – Islander caught in the Obasanjo – Atiku Crossfire’’ and showing our client's face super imposed on the body of another person. This article and the distorted image of our client which purports to be a true story and true image of our client, is in fact a malicious and unjustifiable attack on her person. The facts are totally inaccurate and the purported image, absolutely ridiculous. This article as a whole is highly defamatory. Our client felt deep pain and gross violation of her person when the said article with the distorted image of her was drawn to her attention by family members, colleagues and friends. The said image and the article in its entirety falsely impugned the character of our client and portrayed her as fraudulent, corrupt, irresponsible and immoral’’.   

 The letter went further ‘’Our client requires that you publish in the next issue of your Newspaper, a full and complete withdrawal and apology, in as prominent a position as the article complained of. The said withdrawal and apology is to include explanations and or contradictions of the said offending article in the following terms: (a) President Olusegun obasanjo did not purchase, cause or instruct any person to purchase a N7 million Peugeot 607 or any car for our client. (b) Cash for the purchase of a surprise gift of a Peugeot 607, to celebrate the conferment of a chieftaincy title on our client was given to our client’s brother, Chief Odunayo Oduke by Otunba Fasawe. (c) The surprise gift of a Peugeot 607 was purchased on 8th May 2001 from ASD Motors, Plot 1375, Borno Street, Off Moshood Abiola Way, Area 10 Garki, Abuja at the cost of N4,989,600. Our client’s brother made full payment for the said car and took delivery of same. Give your written assurance and undertaking that you will desist from further publishing this or any similar defamatory and or untrue story concerning our client. These allegations are completely unfounded and are of so serious a nature that our client intends to do all that is lawful to protect her good name and her earned reputation’’.   

 Adegbenro's demands were not fulfilled as the publication felt no breach was committed. Consequently, on October 25, 2006, a writ of summons was issued by The High Court of Lagos State, Igbosere, Lagos Island. The court demanded a response within forty-two days after the service of the writ. The writ stated that Adegbenro’s claim is for  the  sum of N1 billion as damages for libel and a perpetual injunction restraining Island news from further publishing or causing to be published the said or similar words of the alleged defamation.  In addition the claimant is seeking exemplary damages. The claimant's list of witnesses include (1) Chief (Mrs) Lamide Adegbenro of No. 15, Ibeju Lekki Street, Dolphin Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos.(2) Mrs Bukola Adeniran a pharmacist of No. 6. Bolanle Street, Off  Allen Avenue, Ikeja.  In her statement on oath, Adegbenro claimed that the alleged defamatory words were understood to mean, and she stated thus  ‘’(a) I am a corrupt individual who benefited by way of receiving a Peugeot 607 purchased for me by President Olusegun Obasanjo from corruption monies traced to a controversial MOFAS account. (b) I am a co-conspirator, and a thief involved in the looting of Nigeria’s wealth. (c) I am a saboteur of the Nigerian economy. (d) As a result of guilt and shame occasioned by the revelation, I took refuge in Europe on the pretext of having my annual vacation.    Her statement went further ‘’The underlying innuendo in the said words is the fact that; the MOFAS account is a subject matter of counter allegation of corruption between President Obasanjo and his deputy, Vice President Atiku Abubakar. I confirm that by reason of the publication of these words which are completely false, I have been brought into public scandal, odium and contempt. I categorically state further that these falsehood about me were published maliciously’’. Adegbenro further stated that ‘’by reason of the publication of this falsehood, I have been lowered in the estimation of the right thinking persons in the society who read the publication…I testify that since the publication of these words, I have been inundated with phone calls i.e. mails and visits from relations, friends and acquaintances seeking the truth regardless these malicious, defamatory and vexatious statements. I further testify that since the publication of the said words my attention has been diverted from my normal private, professional and business lives as I have been passing through hard times vindicating myself of the unwholesome publication. I therefore want the court to ward damages in my favour in the sum of N1 billion against the defendants for libel’’.   

The second witness, Mrs Adeniran in her statement said thus ‘’On Wednesday 20th September 2006 at about 1 O'clock PM as I was driving along Falomo (Ikoyi, Lagos), I saw a vendor displaying a copy of the said Island News newspaper and I was given a copy of same. As I was flipping through the pages my attention caught a heading at page 3 of the said newspaper which reads: ‘’ ‘’Lamide Adegbenro – Islander caught in the Obasanjo – Atiku Crossfire’’….After reading the story, I was very shocked that the claimant could have done or involved herself with all that has been said in the newspaper as my understanding of the story are that; (a) Claimant is a corrupt individual who benefited by way of receiving a Peugeot 607 purchased for by President Olusegun Obasanjo from corruption monies traced to a controversial MOFAS account.(b) Claimant is a co-conspirator, and a thief involved in the looting of Nigeria’s wealth. (c) As a result of guilt and shame occasioned by the revelation, the Claimant took refuge in Europe on the pretext of having her annual vacation. Consequently, I started to have doubt regarding Claimant's propriety and I was certain in my mind that except Claimant can satisfactorily clear herself of these allegations, I will definitely have to put and end to my relationship with her.’’

In the statement of defence made on behalf of Island News, on January 15th 2007, Gani Fawehinmi Chambers stated that the facts on which the defendants relied  in support of the contention are; (a) A brand new Peugeot 607 given to the claimant was a gift. (b) The claimant did not purchase same with her money. (c) Otunba Fasawe is a mutual friend of President Olusegun Obasanjo and his Vice, Atiku Abubakar. (d) MOFAS Shipping account is a dedicated account run by Otunba Fasawe at TIB but made available to President Olusegun Obasanjo. (e) The alleged gift of Peugeot 607 car was paid for from MOFAS Shipping account by Otunba Fasawe on behalf of the President. (f) Otunba Fasawe had been under intensive investigation with respect to his operation of MOFAS Shipping account and sundry others by law enforcement agency in Nigeria. (g) MOFAS Shipping account with Trans International Bank was being promoted and or serviced by a public fund, PTDF lodged with Trans International Bank. The defendants will rely on the Guardian Newspaper publication of Thursday September 14, 2006 pages 1 and 2, and the Punch Newspaper publication of Thursday, September 14, 2006 at the trial of this suit’’.   

 The defence lawyers stated further ‘’It is curious that Adegbenro failed to institute any action against the Punch or Guardian newspapers or the Atiku Campaign Organisation who spilled the shady transactions in the first instance. The publication complained of is privileged, being a fair information on a matter of public interest bothering on fiscal management and corruption on a public fund, PTDF. The publication was made in good faith and without malice towards the claimant’’.     In addition the defence lawyers averred that “(a)The words complained of were published in discharge of a public duty pursuant to Section 39 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. (b) Operation of a public fund, PTDF by the President and his Vice are matters which provoke or invite comment or challenge public opinion. (c) Affairs of the Presidency are matters of public interest and therefore within the legitimate concern of the defendants to comment on. (d) The words complained of were based upon true facts in existence when the comments were made. (e) The defendants were under legal  moral and/ or socials duties to comment on the operation of a public fund (PTDF) by public officers, nay the Presidency. (f) The defendants contend at the trial of this action that what the claimants benefactors President Olusegun Obasanjo and Otunba Fasawe, did by the purchase of Peugeot 607 car bought for the claimant through the MOFAS account with the aid of a public fund, PTDF amounted to a violation of Section 15(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 which provides that the State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power. We relied  on the constitutional responsibility imposed on our client by Section 22 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 which provides as follows: The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government of the people. It is in consonance with the foregoing provision of the Constitution that the defendants published the words complained of’’. 

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