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Nigeria: Abuja Court Dismisses N2 Billion Libel Suit Against Ribadu

Justice Olasumbo Goodluck of the Federal High Court, Abuja, Tuesday, dismissed a N2 billion libel suit instituted by Bashir Dalhatu, a former Minister in the regime of late Head of State, Sani Abacha, against former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu.

Mr. Dalhatu had filed a N2.1 billion libel suit on February 7, 2007 against Mr. Ribadu, and Daar Communications Plc.

According to the suit which was filed by Yunus Usman on behalf of Mr. Dalhatu, the plaintiff alleged that Mr. Ribadu had, while addressing the Nigerian Bar Association in November 2006, made a libelous statement which was broadcast by Daar Communications Plc.

Mr. Ribadu was quoted to have said, "....I can name names of lawyers who struggle over 419 cases. I know, I can talk some of these we have facts and figures. For example Bashir Dalhatu, he is a lawyer, we have a case we are investigating. He took fifteen million dollars ($15 million) from the Government of Nigeria. He said he was going to give it to somebody whose ship was destroyed by the Buhari administration for illegal bunkering. They went and got Babangida to approve and they took $15 million. The same guy went to a judge, his own classmate, Justice Auta, to give him a court order that we can't prosecute him. Yes it happened in our country..."

The suit

Mr. Dalhatu considered the statement defamatory and asked the court to, among other reliefs, ask the 1st defendant to pay him personally. "the sum of N1 billion being general damages for the defamation of the Plaintiff by the 1st Defendant".

He also asked the court to grant him N1 billion being general damages against the second defendant (Daar Communications plc) for the defamation of the plaintiff by the publication and repeated broadcast of the statements made by Mr. Ribadu.

Mr. Dalhatu also asked for the sum of N100 million against the defendants as aggravated and exemplary damages.

He equally prayed for an order of the court directing the defendants to write and publish a written apology to him in some National Newspapers- The Daily Trust, This Day and The Daily Leadership- along with a broadcast of same in the second defendant's television arm, the African Independent Television, AIT. Mr. Dalhatu said the broadcast must be carried for seven consecutive days in all its news broadcast

Mr. Dalhatu also asked for "an order of perpetual injunction restraining both Mr. Ribadu and DAAR Communications PLC from further making or publishing defamatory statements against the Plaintiff ".

While Daar Communications Plc had reportedly settled the case with the plaintiff and apologised for the broadcast. Mr. Ribadu insisted that he was prepared to justify every part of the statement.

The plaintiff gave evidence for himself and called four other witnesses to support his claims while Mr. Ribadu called an official of the EFCC to testify on his behalf.

The judgement

In a judgment delivered Tuesday, Justice Goodluck upheld the submissions of Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who had contended on behalf of Mr. Ribadu that the plaintiff failed to prove that he was defamed by the statement credited to Mr. Ribadu.

In view of the evidence of qualified privilege and justification canvassed by Mr. Ribadu, the trial judge held that Mr. Dalhatu was not defamed having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case.

In particular, the court found that the allegation that Mr. Dalhatu duped his client was not challenged because evidence was led to show that even though he collected $15 million from the Federal Government on behalf of his foreign client he only remitted $6.5 million while the remaining sum of $8.5 million was not accounted for.

Justice Goodluck therefore dismissed the case.

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