Chibok Defamation Case: Court Awards Costs Against Govt As FG Fails To Begin Defense
Govt Lawyer Claims Boko Haram Upsurge In Insurgency Hinders Witnesses
A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory has ordered the Nigerian Government to pay costs to international human rights lawyer Emmanuel Ogebe following the failure of the Federal Government to begin its defense in a defamation lawsuit brought by Ogebe against them.
At the previous hearing of the court on May 31st after the plaintiff was cross examined and closed his case, the court had adjourned to September 25 for the commencement of the defense of the first defendant, the Attorney General of the Federation.
However upon arrival at the court, AGF’s office served a motion seeking leave of the court to file their defense out of time.
This was the dialogue when the proceedings began:
Plaintiff’s Counsel (Abarike): Yes, my lord, we were served two processes this morning, one of which is a motion. We have not had the time to have gone through the processes…
His Lordship: Yes!
Plaintiff’s Counsel: So, we will require some time to look at it and see a way to reply with the necessary actions. However, my lord, the matter today is for defense and the motion ordinarily is not ripe for court. We shall not be urging you to ignore the processes since they are already before the court. However, this matter came up on the last adjournment on the 30th of May, 2018. And my lord from the 30th of May to today is about three months twenty five days (3months 25 days), three good months.
His lordship: Alright, yes.
Plaintiff’s Counsel: The claimant to this suit, as the court is aware of, doesn’t reside in Nigeria, he comes all the way from the United States. He just returned and he is in court this morning…
In response, defense counsel for the government Una Martins stated that the last adjourned date was May 31st not May 30th. The judge replied that this only reduced the length of time by 1 day from 3 months 25 days to 3 months 24 days.
Defense Counsel stated further “Secondly my lord, the plaintiff by law is not necessarily required to be in court everyday.”
His lordship: Is it his case?
Defense Counsel: Yes my lord.
The judge then proceeded to explain it was the plaintiff’s choice not that of counsel to decide whether to be in court or not. He stated that though represented by counsel, a plaintiff could choose to be in court to check on how his representatives were doing.
Plaintiff’s Counsel Godwin Abarike requested the court for costs in the amount of 50,000 naira in view of the inconvenience of Mr Ogebe’s coming all the way from US only for the government not to be ready to present their defense.
Defense Counsel for the government claimed that due to the increased insurgency it was difficult for them to bring their witnesses from the northeast.
Notwithstanding the excuses, the judge ordered the Federal Government to pay 25,000 naira costs to Barrister Ogebe.
The case was then adjourned for the hearing of the motion for the government to file their defense late and for the opening of their defense as well.
Incidentally the FGN’s motion contained a bombshell revelation that the Nigerian embassy in Washington USA sought to revoke the passport of human rights lawyer Emmanuel Ogebe. An exhibit containing the incriminating information was a letter from the embassy dated June 2, 2016 addressed to the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja, Nigeria.
In it the embassy claimed that “Mr Ogebe derived pleasure from trash-talking Nigeria on social media in the chambers of the United States Congress and other public places across the United States”.
The embassy letter then stated further that, “Going forward, to prevent Mr Ogebe, who is a Nigerian citizen, from making further derogatory comments that are inimical to the image of Nigeria, Government May consider taking punitive action against him, including withdrawal of his privilege to carry a Nigerian passport.”
It was signed by the Charge d Affairs Hakeem Balogun. (Hakeem Balogun is now the Ambassador to Indonesia.)
This latest evidence proving the government’s animus against the human rights activist is just the latest setback for the defense case.
During re-examination at the last adjourned date in May 31st, the following dialogue ensued:
Plaintiff’s Counsel David Ogebe: My lord, two questions, under cross examination you had said you had financial dealings with Jubilee Campaign?
Emmanuel Ogebe: Yes.
Plaintiff’s Counsel David Ogebe: Explain what you meant by financial dealings.
Defense Counsel: My lord we are through with that line, this is about re-opening a closed case. He had explained the dealings that he had to the extent that he incurred personal expenses and he has been reimbursed. If plaintiff wants to reopen his case as in examination in chief, my lord we always have a window he can apply and we also apply the laws. The purpose of re-examination is essentially to clear ambiguities, in this case he has explained that he had incurred expenses and he has been reimbursed. To that extent that question is re-opening of the case my lord.
Plaintiff’s Counsel David Ogebe: My lord, my learned friend is referring to the old quotation of the law with respect to ambiguity. the evidence act that was promulgated in 2011 says that “re-examination is referring to explanation of matters referred to in cross examination”. Now my lord, under cross examination…
Defense Counsel: My lord I’m not sure he finished reading that.
Plaintiff’s Counsel David Ogebe: Okay! Let me read it. Section 215 sub 3 “the re-examination shall be directed to the explanation of matters referred in cross examination and if a new matter is by permission of the court introduced in re-examination the adverse party may further cross examine upon that matter”. So, my lord for re-examination is the first three lines, which is “for matters referred in cross examination”. It’s the old evidence act that had the word “ambiguity.” Now my lord, under cross examination counsel asked the witness “were you reimbursed eleven thousand”? he said “yes.” He asked him “were you earning salary with Jubilee Campaign? he said “no”. He asked him, did you have financial dealings with Jubilee Campaign? He said “yes” and it ended there. So, the question to him is what was the financial dealings? That is it, he should explain the financial dealings, if he is going to say that the only financial dealings I had is reimbursable; fine! But that word, that tender he used financial dealing my lord it could be anything, financial dealings could be anything. So, my lord he is to explain that matter that arose from cross examination, there’s nothing about financial dealings in the pleadings of the plaintiff none what so ever, so it was introduced under cross examination. So, my lord that will be all for my question.
His Lordship: Can you explain?
Emmanuel Ogebe: Yes, ordinarily in the non-profit world; we don’t characterize it as “financial dealings.” But what I was, was I was a major donor having donated financially, materially.
His Lordship: You are a major donor to who?
Emmanuel Ogebe: To Jubilee Campaign. Having donated financially and materially to Jubilee Campaign over a number of years.