A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Wuse Zone 2, Abuja yesterday held that former President Olusegun Obasanjo was in contempt of court for flouting its orders restraining him from publishing his autobiography, “My Watch”.
Justice Valentine Ashi, in a ruling, gave Obasanjo 21 days (from the day of service of the court’s orders on him) to show cause why he should not be punished for going ahead to publish the book, in spite of the ex-parte interim order made by the court on December 5 and a pending libel involving him (Obasanjo).
The judge restrained him from further publishing, printing or offering for sale, the book, My Watch, which content touches on the subject matter before the court.
Justice Ashi had on December 5 granted ex-parte interim orders, restraining Obasanjo from proceeding with plans to publish the book or have it published for him. It fixed December 10 as the return date.
Despite the court’s orders, Obasanjo presented the book on Tuesday in Lagos, arguing that it had been published before the court was misled into making the orders.
Yesterday, the judge took arguments from lawyer to the plaintiff/applicant, Alex Iziyon (SAN), and the defendant/respondent’s lawyer, Realwon Okpanach, on the plaintiff’s motion for interlocutory injunctions, the defendant’s counter affidavit and motion for order to vacate the interim orders.
Justice Ashi held that it was wrong for Obasanjo to have published the book despite the fact that a libel suit, which subject matter formed part of the content of the book, was pending before the court and that the orders he made on December 5 were still pending.
He said it was immaterial that the book was published before the interim orders were made. Justice Ashi said Obasanjo ought not to have published the book because he was aware of the part-heard libel suit relating to the letter he wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan, accusing a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Buruji Kashamu, of being a fugitive wanted in the United States.
“The fact that the book was published in November is irrelevant. As long as the substantive suit is not yet determined, no party is entitled to publish or comment on material facts that are yet to be decided on by the court.
“I hold the defendant, not only in contempt of the court, but to show cause why he should not be punished for contempt and ordered to undo what he has wrongly done.
“The defendant, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo shall be given 21 days, from the day this order is served on him, to show cause, via affidavit, why he should not be punished for contempt committed by publishing and distributing for sale to the public, the book, My Watch, in plain disregard of the pendency of the substantive the suit and the order of this court made on December 5, 2014 restraining him from doing so.
“The defendants, whether by himself, agents, servants, privies or whatever name called, is hereby restrained from further publication or offering for sale or distribution, in any way or manner, the book called My Watch or the like of the visual or written materials, which contain a re-publication or statement extracted from the letter referred to by the plaintiff,” the judge said.
Justice Ashi also ordered the Inspector General of Police (IGP), the Director General of the Department of State Services (DG, DSS) and the Comptroller of Customs to recover the published book from all book stands, sales agents, vendors, the sea and airports and deposit them with the court’s registrar pending the determination of the substantive suit.”
He ordered that the enrolled orders of the court be served on all media houses and be equally served on the defendant by publication in two national dailies.
The judge rejected the defendant’s argument that the interim orders were wrongly made as the plaintiff failed to produce the book to show that it actually contained the alleged libellous materials.
Justice Ashi held that since the plaintiff said he came to court on the fear that Obasanjo was to publish a book that touches on the issue already before the court, it was the duty of the defendant, in whose custody the material was, to show the court that the plaintiff’s fear was misplaced.
“What I find difficult to understand is why the defendants went through the pains to depose to the ISBN number and other details about the book, which they said was published since November before the interim order was obtained on December 5, without supplying the court with copies of the book.
“This would have served to disprove the claim by the applicant/plaintiff that the book contains a reproduction of the letter, which formed the subject of the libel case before the court.
“The fact that the book was published in November while the substantive case was still pending is contemptuous enough,” the judge said.
Justice Ashi said the Obasanjo’s failure to supply the book to convince the court that nothing relating to the subject of the pending libel case was contained in it (the book) suggested that he was hiding something.
The judge is to hear the substantive suit expeditiously. He adjourned till January 13, next year.
Kashamu on February 6 sued Obasanjo, accusing him of defaming him (Kashamu) in the former President’s December 2, 2013 letter to President Goodluck Jonathan titled: “Before it is too late”.
The case was adjourned for Obasanjo to open his defence. But before he could open his defence, Kashamu went before the court on December 5, complaining that Obasanjo planned to publish a book with the December 2, 2013 letter forming part of the content. He sought an interim order restraining Obasanjo from publishing the book. The court granted the order and fixed December 10 for the hearing of another motion by Kashamu for interlocutory orders.
Rather than come before the court to convince it to lift the interim orders, Obasanjo publicly presented the book on December 9 in Lagos.
Reacting to the ruling, Obasanjo’s lawyer, Okpanach said his client will appeal it. He said the orders, which his client allegedly flouted, were made in error because the plaintiff failed to show, through material facts, that the letter formed the content of the book.
“The orders made cannot be enforced. They want the court to stop an act that has been concluded. That is impossible. We had published the book in November, they came before the court in December and asked that the publishing should be stopped. Is that possible?
“We shall file our appeal within the stipulated time of 14 days in the case of interlocutory orders,” Okpanachi said.