Libel: Court Slams N4 Billion On Sahara Reporters

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By Steve Oni, Ilorin

An Ilorin High Court presided over by Justice Adeyinka Oyinloye has slammed a N4 billion judgment against the publisher of the popular online newspaper, Sahara Reporters, Mr. Omoyele Sowore, over series of stories alleged to have been published by the medium against Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki.

The judgment affected stories published by the online medium against Saraki between September and December 2015.

The Senate President had, through his lawyer, Babatunde Olomu, asked for the intervention of the court following the publication of series of libellous stories against him by Sahara Reporters. Both Sowore and Sahara Reporters were joined as defendants in the suit marked as KWS/23/2017.

Delivering the judgment, the court agreed with Olomo and granted all the reliefs sought by the claimant in the case.

The reliefs granted are as follows:  “the sum of N1 billion as general and aggravated damages for libelous words falsely, maliciously and recklessly published  by the defendants of and concerning the claimant in the online issue of Sahara Reporters of October 5, 2015 under the caption “Nigeria at 55: Bukola Saraki and 83 Inmates Are Running the Asylum”

“The sum of N1 billion as general and aggravated damages for libelous words falsely, maliciously and recklessly published by the defendants of and concerning the claimant in the online issue of Shahara Reporters of Shahara Reporters of September 20, 2015 under the caption: “A polished Name for political immorality, Time for Saraki to Go!”

“The sum of N1 billion as general and aggravated damages for libelous words falsely, maliciously and recklessly published by the defendants of and concerning the claimant in the online issue of Shahara Reporters of Shahara Reporters of November 09, 2015 under the caption: “Bukola Saraki On a shopping Spree to Buy Judges…Stop Being a Clown And A Coward Man Up, face The Music”

“The sum of N1 billion as general and aggravated damages for libelous words falsely, maliciously and recklessly published by the defendants of and concerning the claimant in the online issue of Shahara Reporters of Shahara Reporters of December 1, 2015 under the caption: “Arms Contract Scandal: Senator Saraki Blackmailed CBN Officials To Pay N250 Million Hush Funds”.

“An order for injunction restraining the defendants from further writing, printing or causing to be written, printed or circulated or otherwise published of the claimant the said, or similar libel.

“An order directing the defendants to remove the offending publications from its website on the internet within three days from the date of judgment and an order directing the defendants to publish an apology to the claimant on its online newspaper and in three other daily newspapers”

Olomu told newsmen that the defendants had refused to defend the case despite the service of the summons on them.

He said the first series of service involved an arrangement between the office of the Nigerian ministry of Justice and their counterpart in New York, the operational base of the medium.

When that failed, the counsel said the claimant thereafter seized the opportunities of a visit to Nigeria by Sowore to serve him at his two properties in Ikeja area of Lagos state.

He added: “There had been series of publications by the online media house called Sahara Reporters against the person of Dr Bukola Saraki, the Senate President. And the publications had been such that portend him in bad light. So, in order to redress the situation, the Senate President went to Court sometime in 2016.

“We tried to get Sahara Reporters served with the court processes. We couldn’t because from the website of Sahara Reporters, the address is in New York. And according to our rules, if you want to serve any process emanating from any court in Nigeria, for instance from the High Court of Kwara State, the process is very long.

“You have to write a letter to the Solicitor General of the Federation, telling them that you have a process to be served in a particular country. The Solicitor General of the Federation will now write the Attorney General of that country that we have a process for a particular person in your country. We tried that, it didn’t work. We came back to the court and said my lord, since Sahara Reporters is an online news outfit, let us publish this writ of summon in the Newspaper, because the essence of service of court process, is to bring the existence of that writ to the notice of the person you sued usually called defendant.

“Early this year, we saw it on the television; we read that (Omoyele) Sowore was in Nigeria. We got his address in Ikeja, Lagos. When we got the address, we got the court approval to go and paste the writ of summons on a conspicuous part of the building of his two houses. So, we did the pasting. In effect, he was properly served in law.

“Dr Bukola Saraki had sued this man for defamation, defaming his character that he stole money, he did this and that without any substance. At least, we expect them to come and say yes, we did it, this is our proof. If you can say that, yes, the Court will say yes you did not lie against him, you have good reason. But they didn’t put up any defence; we served them on May 12, 2017. They didn’t come up with any defence. The Court was left with no other option than to give judgement against Sahara Reporters and Omoyele Sowore for defamation. So, that is the situation we are. The judgement is for about total sum of N4billion. Because for each of the relief claimed by Senator Bukola Saraki, asked for damages. They have not come up to say no, we are wrong, this is our defence. They didn’t do that. The implication of the judgement portrayed Sahara Reporters as having disregard for constituted authority.