Onyeama: Court set date to deliver judgment in N500m libel case

An Abuja High Court at Zuba has set a date to deliver judgment in a N500 million libel case instituted by a former Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama against Ambassador Lilian Onoh. 

Justice Keziah Ogbonnaya will also deliver her decision on a counter-claim filed by Ambassador Onoh against Onyeama in which she is asking for N2 billion compensation against the former minister. 

Onyeama sued Ms Onoh, an ambassador in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for libel, alleging defamation in several memos she sent to then President Muhammadu Buhari while he was the minister.

Onyeama asked the trial judge, Keziah Ogbonnaya, to award him N500 million as compensation against Ambassador Onoh and two other defendants – Akelicious Media Company and Newswire Law & Event Magazine – for “their defamatory publications” against him. 

But in a counterclaim, Ms Onoh who is the first defendant in the libel suit filed in 2023, urged the court to “impose a N2 billion” fine on Mr Onyeama “for causing total upheaval and emotional trauma” to her by his “malicious suit.”

According to Ambassador Onoh, a former Nigerian ambassador to Namibia and Haiti, Onyeama lodged the malicious suit as “part of his 40-year-vendetta to avenge his humiliation of being divorced by” her “sister due to unhinged psychiatric behaviour.”

Ambassador Onoh alleged large-scale stealing by staff members of the foreign service of funds belonging to Nigerian embassies and high commissions.

Adopting his final written arguments on Wednesday, May 22, Mr Onyeama’s lawyer, Agada Elachi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), urged the court to impose N500 million damages against Ms Onoh and other defendants – Akelicious Media Company and Newswire Law & Event Magazine – for “their defamatory publications” against his client.

The claimant also sought an order “compelling the defendants” to apologise to him and “retract the defamatory words uttered” against him.

“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendant… from further uttering, writing…defamatory words against the claimant.”

Elachi said the former minister had discharged the burden of proof placed on him by providing “credible evidence” in substantiating his claims. 

The claimant’s lawyer pointed out that the defendants “failed woefully to raise a formidable defence” to Mr Onyeama’s claims.

He dismissed the first defendant’s arguments challenging the propriety of the mode of service of court filings on her outside of her base in the United States. 

He equally contended that Ms Onoh’s contention that Mr Onyeama did not swear to the witness statement on oath that accompanied his suit has no legal basis.

Elachi further said Ms Onoh was precluded from questioning Mr Onyeama’s identity because she did not tender any evidence to refute the former minister’s identity in the suit.

Closing the arguments, Ms Onoh’s lawyer, J.O Okpor, said the former minister failed to prove “any defamatory words” used against him by his client. 

He wondered why Mr Onyeama would seek to “gag the whole world from ever saying things against” him by “judicial sleight of hand.”

Okpor argued that Ms Onoh who testified in the suit via Zoom from her residence at Texas in the US, “proved beyond reasonable doubt that” Mr Onyeama “had no legal basis in law for the suit he filed. 

In the final written address, Mr Okpor contended that the service of “an expired” court document on Ms Onoh’s former lawyer in the case, “Richard Aneke, in September 2023, was unlawful.”

He said the order by the judge, Amb Ogbonnaya to serve Ms Onoh court processes in court through her lawyer without any application by Mr Onyeama was illegal.

The lawyer further said the judge’s refusal to determine the propriety of Mr Onyeama’s libel suit until after final written addresses demonstrates the illegality that has trailed the adjudication of the matter.

Aside from the N2 billion compensation being sought by Ms Onoh, she is also urging the court to “refund all court fines” she had paid as well as the “enormous cost of providing Zoom, which should have been paid provided by the court.”

“The court is asked to grant the 1st defendant’s request for legal costs totalling N15 million, and personal costs of USD160,000 being the lost income incurred by her since July 2023 when she became seized with this malicious suit by the claimant,” Mr Okpor prayed the court.

Finally, he urged the court to dismiss Onyeama’s suit and allow Ms Onoh’s counterclaim.

Meanwhile, the other defendants in the case did not put up any legal representation during the hearing.

The judge has adjourned the suit for judgment.

“A date for the verdict would be communicated to the parties,” The Judge held.