The sudden death of Justice Timothy Ukpebor Oboh of the Auchi Criminal Division, Tuesday, stalled the libel suit instituted by Edo Governor’s Chief of Staff against The Gaurdian Newspapers.
The death of the Judge stopped all cases in the High Courts across the state, as the bereaved Judges adjourned all cases in honour of their departed colleague, who reportedly died after a brief illness.
Among cases affected was the hearing of a suit filed by Taiwo Akerele, Chief of Staff to the State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, against The Guardian Newspapers.
Akerele had sued the paper over a publication it carried over allegations made by the Edo PDP that the state government diverted the rice and assorted relief materials allotted by the Federal Government through the Customs Service to Internally Displaced Persons, (IDPs) in the State.
The case which should have been heard at State High Court number 8, had to be scheduled for hearing to September 2018, after counsel to both parties in the suit reached an agreement.
Recall that Akerele recently dragged The Guardian Newspapers to court on the footing of what he calls “general and/or exemplary or aggravated damages for libel.”
The suit relates to a report widely published online and in major local and national dailies which the Guardian Newspapers published earlier in the year with the title: “Probe of Alleged diversion of relief materials begins in Edo”.
The report re-echoed the PDP position that about 4, 781 bags of rice out of the 6,822 ostensibly approved for the Internally Displaced Persons Camp at Uhogwa in Ovia North East Local Government Area of the state by the Federal Government got missing while in the custody of state officials.
At the time of the PDP allegation, the state government insisted that the items were judiciously disbursed a development which saw the Nigerian Police inviting Chief Dan Orbih, the State Chairman of PDP for questioning.
But it recanted and said that some of the bags of rice and other items like shoes were damaged in storage before they were duly allocated to the IDPs and other orphanage homes in the state.
Media Adviser to the Governor, Crusoe Osagie then said: “The allegation is laughable and completely false and is a design of detractors to smear the image of a performing government. They have tried and failed on all other fronts, now they have stooped lower to a commodity as cheap as rice.”
Akerele in his claims before the court is asking it for an order for the newspaper to pay him a total sum of N252.5m.
He is asking for N250m as general and/or exemplary or aggravated damages for libel and another N2.5m as costs.
In addition, Akerele is asking the court to compel the newspaper and one other, to publish a “well-worded retraction and apology in a similarly conspicuous manner.”
Besides, he is asking for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants by themselves or their agents or privies howsoever from publishing or causing to be published the “said or similar words defamatory of the claimant.”