Respite finally came the way of the former Deputy Governor of Imo State, Sir Jude Agbaso, in his legal battle against a former Imo State Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Prince Marshall Okafor-Anyanwu. Last Thursday, a Lagos High Court held Okafor-Anyanwu liable in libel to Agbaso five years into a protracted legal battle. This is contained in a judgment in Suit No. LD/506/2013, Sir Jude Agbaso v Prince Marshal Okafor Anyanwu, by Hon. Justice Ronke Harrsion of the Lagos High Court.
Following Agbaso’s impeachment as Imo State Deputy Governor in March, 2013, Okafor-Anyanwu, who was then the State Chairman of APGA, issued a ‘press statement’ published at page 40 of the Daily Sun newspaper of April 18, 2013. In the publication, the former APGA State Chairman stated that Agbaso collected a bribe of N458 Million from a contractor for Imo State government, Mr. Joseph Dina. He further stated that Agbaso was “guilty of the allegation” and should stop accusing the governor as being the mastermind of his impeachment.
Sequel to this, Agbaso filed an action for libel in the High Court of Lagos State against Okafor-Anyanwu claiming an apology, retraction in some national newspapers and general damages. The case had a protracted history and in five years passed through four Judges of the Lagos High Court, having variously been before Justice Alogba, Justice Oke (who is now the Chief Judge), Justice Dawodu and finally Justice Harrison. It was Justice Harrison who finally conducted trial in the case. Agbaso tendered some documents, testified for himself and called two witnesses, while Okafor-Anyanwu only testified for himself.
Agbaso’s lawyer, Chijioke O. P. Emeka of Auxano Law contended that the paid newspaper advertorial in which Agbaso was alleged to have collected bribe of N458 Million was defamatory of his client as it was false and so unjustifiably imputed criminality against his client. In his defence, Okafor-Anyanwu who did not dispute Agbaso’s contention that the allegation of bribery was false, however contended that it was APGA that published it and not him.
Okafor-Anyanwu’s lawyer, Edwin Anikwem of Edwin Anikwem & Co. maintained that since APGA was not sued as a party, the case was bad as the offensive material was “a publication of APGA” and his client acted in official capacity, while the publisher was APGA. Interestingly, Agbaso had sued only Okafor-Anyanwu contending that APGA, of which he has always been a member of its Imo State caucus, never authorized the libelous publication against him.
In its Judgment, the Court found Okafor-Anyanwu liable of publishing a falsehood of criminal nature against Agbaso. By alleging in a newspaper publication personally signed by him that Agbaso took a bribe from a contractor, JPROS, Okafor-Anyanwu was liable in libel. He was consequently ordered to write a letter of apology to Agbaso within 7 days, pay N5 Million as general damages, publish a retraction in the Daily Sun, the Nation and the Punch newspapers to run on a given Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday consecutively; and pay additional costs of N100,000. An order of perpetual injunction was also issued against further publication of the offensive allegation.
At the time of going to press, it was not yet clear whether Okafor-Anyanwu will appeal the judgment as efforts to reach his lawyer for reaction on the judgment was unsuccessful.