By Our Correspondent
A group has decried the false report by some online media platforms that a US Court has Subpoenaed president Muhammadu Buhari alongside other prominent members of his government over Engr. Simbi Wabote, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) with respect to ongoing defamation case brought by the NCDMB executive secretary against one Jackson Ude, publisher of pointblanknews.com in a US Court.
The group, Nigerian Oil and Gas Indigenous Operators Association (NOGIOA) through its Chairman, Galadima Auwal said that the resort to blackmail and false claims are a cheap tactic by the online publisher to blackmail everyone on sight in his quest to escape the strong arm of the US legal system.
In a statement issued today in Abuja, the group noted that it has been drawn to their attention yet another publication by some online platforms, notably Sahara reporters, Eagleonline.com, and others purporting that a US Court has issued a subpoena on President Buhari, his Secretary to the government and Engr. Simbi Wabote, Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), and other senior Nigerian government officials to testify in the defamation suit filed by Engr. Wabote against Mr. Jackson Ude of Pointblanknews.
The group noted that the said publication tended to create the impression that “… the table has turned against Mr. Wabote, the plaintiff”. It said “nothing can be farther from the truth.
“Since the lawsuit was filed and start of the hearing, Ude and his cohorts have continued to issue misleading and vexatious publications, neglecting the principle of sub judice, which forbid parties to a lawsuit from resorting to media trial once issues are joined and hearing begins. This is a well-known legal doctrine in Nigeria, even in the US and all Common Law countries. But Ude and his co-travelers have continued with their campaign of calumny against Mr. Wabote, instead of facing squarely the case in court by producing evidence to prove the accusation of bribe-taking which is made against Mr. Wabote in the article for which he was sued.
“We would have ignored the recent publication as usual, but it comes across to us as a particularly disingenuous attempt by Jackson Ude and his cohorts to distort the truth and to conceal Ude’s colossal losses in the pending lawsuit, which he has desperately sought to truncate without success, knowing that he has no defense to the claim.
“For the avoidance of doubts, we are aware that Mr. Wabote has categorically stated that he does not operate any foreign account and there is no evidence to the contrary. So, if Ude has evidence of a foreign account, the onus is on him to prove his case conclusively. This is the law in Nigeria and even in the US: He who alleges bears the responsibility to prove.
“Curiously, instead of Ude to go ahead and prove his allegation, he and his cohorts are busy gloating that “the table has turned against Mr. Wabote, the plaintiff”; and this is false.
“To set the record straight, many would recall that in May 2021, Mr. Wabote instituted a lawsuit in the US State of Pennsylvania against the said Jackson Ude, for defaming his character through a false and libelous online article which Ude published, accusing Mr. Wabote of taking a bribe for the award of the EPC contract for the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Train 7 project. Mr. Wabote was so outraged by that malicious and unfounded accusation that he vowed to seek legal redress to vindicate himself and preserve his hard-earned reputation.
“As soon as the lawsuit was instituted in the US, Ude realized that he has nowhere again to hide because he has no answer to the case of defamation hanging over his neck. Thus, he started to try all manner of legal tricks, including filing counterclaims, questioning the court’s jurisdiction, even the law under which the action was filed, the issue of forum convenience, and whether the US Court was the proper venue to hear the case. He urged the court to return the matter to Nigeria. His intent, no doubt, was to get the case dismissed, but none of his tricks worked. All his arguments failed and were denied.
The group went further to chronicle the highlights of the ongoing case against Jackson Ude
“Just to illustrate from the record of proceedings, below are the highlights of what has transpired in the lawsuit thus far:
(1) In an October 21, 2021, Opinion and Order made by the Honorable Judge Joseph F. Leeson Jr., United States District Court Judge, after evaluating Ude’s Motion to dismiss Mr. Wabote’s defamation claim, the Court ruled and dismissed Ude’s Motion in its entirety, stating that:
(a) Defendant Ude’s request to dismiss the case against him is denied;
(b) Defendant Ude’s request to send the case to Nigeria is denied; but
(c) Ruled that Mr. Wabote has adequately alleged wrongdoing by Defendant Ude and directed Ude to answer to the allegation of wrongdoing put forward against him; and
(d) Dismissed all of Ude’s counterclaims against Wabote because they lacked merit.
(2) In a November 24, 2021 Order by the same Court, Honorable Judge Joseph F. Leeson Jr., again held the following:
(a) overruled Defendant Ude’s objections to discovery and ordered Defendant Ude to answer Mr. Wabote’s rightful questions and requests for documents;
(b) ruled in favor of Wabote and ordered that any personal banking records of Mr. Wabote be treated as confidential in the case and not shared outside of the litigation; and
(c) ordered that if Defendant Ude fails to comply with his obligations he will be subject to contempt proceedings.
(3) In a December 1, 2021, Order by the same Honorable Judge Joseph F. Leeson Jr., the Court again overruled Defendant Ude’s attempt to hold in-person depositions in the US and ruled in favor of Mr. Wabote doing his deposition by remote video conference from Nigeria.
“It is hard to see the basis for the recent online publication by Ude and his cronies, gloating about “table turning against Mr. Wabote” when in fact it is Ude that has consistently lost all the motions he brought to frustrate the claim against him.
“In fact, Ude’s desperation to terminate the lawsuit was so manifest that the Judge noted in his Opinion of 21st October 2021 that “Ude’s Motion throws everything and the kitchen sink at the Amended Complaint. However, the arguments made in Ude’s Motion lack merit”. Thus, the Court addressed and dismissed each of the arguments in turn.
“In another show of helplessness and frustration, the same Ude argued in his Counterclaim that the lawsuit brought against him is intended to harass him and that he has “suffered financially and emotionally as a result”. The Court rightly overruled him, stating that “these are simply conclusory statements, which are not supported by any additional factual allegations”. The Judge added, “The Court also finds it unlikely that Wabote would bring a lawsuit against Ude from halfway around the world for the sole purpose of harassing Ude and the Court cannot make that inference in Ude’s favor using bare conclusory statements in the Counterclaim”.
The group noted that as to the issue of subpoenas being issued in the case, such invitation to testify and produce documents is a normal adjudicatory process and does not amount to a victory for which a party to a lawsuit would gloat about or celebrate. Any party to a US litigation has the right to issue subpoenas.
It stated that clearly, the most recent publication is an extension of the ongoing media war and smear campaign by Ude against Mr. Wabote instead of facing the weighty allegation of defamation of character hanging over his neck. It, therefore, warned the reading public to rest assured that Mr. Wabote will pursue the lawsuit to its logical conclusion in order for Ude to be held accountable for his wrongful conduct.
It further called on the media, especially the online news platforms not to destroy the hard-earned positive reputation of the journalism profession citing the frivolous attempt to blackmail and extort high-ranking members of the public and government through false and paid for media reports.