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Court orders Nigerian newspaper to pay Wike N200m as damages [DETAILS]

A Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt has delivered judgment against ThisDay Newspaper wherein it is asked to pay N200 million as damages in favour of Governor Nyesom Wike for alleged libellous publication.

POLITICS NIGERIA reports that defendants in the suit no. No. PHC/1505/CS/2020 are Thisday Newspapers Limited, Leaders and Company Limited, Davidson Iriekpan, Chuks Okocha and Adibe Emenyonu.

Recall that ThisDay Newspapers had published a malicious article entitled; “With a Friend Like Wike, Obaseki Meets His PDP’s Waterloo; Almost …” and governor Wike had filed a N7 billion suit against the newspaper company and three of its staff.

In the suit, governor Wike had claimed that the newspaper’s publication of June 23, 2020 was intended to damage his character; portray him as deceitful and untrustworthy person.

The presiding judge of the High Court, Justice Adolphus Enebeli, while delivering judgment on the matter on Monday, found ThisDay Newspapers to have committed the libellous offence against governor Wike.

“From whatever angle ones look at it, I cannot but hold that the claimant has proved that the said article published in ThisDay Newspapers and its online version of 23rd of June, 2020 were purely defamatory of the claimant and he has been injured in his person, trade, professional body and is hereby title to damage,” the judge said.

Justice Enebeli declared the offensive and malicious article against governor Wike is demonstratively false even to the knowledge of the defendants, as they did not honestly believe the facts to be true. And yet in a bid to portray their recklessness, they went ahead to publish the libellous article.

“The claimant, apart from being the governor of Rivers State, a politician, he also a lawyer by profession by calling, and he is a life bencher, an august body of the legal profession and with numerous national and state laurels as evidence show. It will not be just and right for him to live with a permanent apparent stigma of being an influencer of court cases and judges as if noble judges are his lackeys and protegees.”

Justice Enebeli asserted that the offensive article is injurious to governor Wike’s reputation, his profession and calling. He noted that the defendants were requested earlier on to retract the article and render apology through the newspaper, but they treated it with vexatious rebuff, intransigent, maintaining their stand.

According to him, this is even exhibited in the demeanour and the manner of answering questions by the defendant witnesses during the trial.

Justice Enebeli, acknowledged that the Nigerian constitution guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of the press to disseminate information. But such freedom, he insisted, requires special responsibilities which may subject it to certain restrictions as it concerns rights and reputations of others.

“It is much to be desired that newspapers, televisions or news media generally should be free to bring to the notice of the public any matter of public interest or concern. But in order to be deserving of that freedom, the press must show itself worthy of it. A free press cannot be deserving of that appellation unless it is responsible press,” Enebeli said.

After considering all factors in the suit, Justice Enebeli awarded the damage sum of N200M as against the sum of N7 billion in favour of Governor Wike as against the defendants.

“And for the avoidance of doubt, I hereby adjudge, declare and order as follows; the defendants are to pay N200m as against N7B being damages for libel, written and published on and concerning the claimant by the defendants in ThisDay Newspapers on 23rd June, 2020,” Enebeli said.

Justice Enebeli, issued an of mandatory injunction against ThisDay Newspapers to publish a retraction of the article on its front page while also publishing an apology on the back page in two separate editions.

The mandatory injunction also demanded that ThisDay stopped publication of same article or any material similar to it in its newspaper.

“An order of mandatory injunction compelling the defendant to withdraw, retract and recant the said publication. The retraction to be published in the front page as well as to publish an apology in terms acceptable, publishable in the said two consecutive edition of ThisDay Newspapers.

“An order of injunction is hereby made restraining the defendant by themselves or by their servants, agents, privies and associates from publishing the same libel or similar libel or in any manner as soever and whatsoever, continue to circulate the same libel or similar libel of that sort concerning the claimant. Parties are reminded of their right of appeal,” the judge said.

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