Nigeria’s musical icon and mother, Onyeka Onwenu has won a N750 million libel suit brought before a Lagos State High Court by the chairman, Board of Copyright Society of Nigeria, Tony Okoroji.
Mr Okoroji who instituted a court action against Onyeka over an article in the Vanguard Newspapers of October 14, 2011 which he said was a deliberate attempt to tarnish his image in the eye of the public.
According to the article, it was alleged that Okoroji diverted N3 million that was donated by the Cross Rivers state government for the final burial of the late Nigerian musician, Essien Igbokwe. While Mrs Onwenu sent mails to members of the family alarming them of the gross mishap that took place. The claimant and the defendant both served in the Igbokwe’s final burial committee.
In the suit, Okoroji sought for an order to compel Onwenu to pay him N750 million for general damages and to tender a full page “unreserved apology to be published in every edition of The Vanguard and The Guardian for seven consecutive days.”
The defendant lawyer, Fred Agbaje, told the court that Okoroji had failed to link Onwenu to the Vanguard Newspaper publication. He argued that Onwenu only send an email to members of the burial committee as part of her responsibility and maintained that his client did not send it email to Vanguard Newspapers.
Agbaje said: “Onyeka Onwenu was duty-bound to comment on issues affecting the well-being and smooth-running of the committee, and this she did by complaining to the claimant and other members of the committee”.
The presiding Judge, I.O. Kasali, in her judgment, held that “the words complained of, in their ordinary meaning, and also with reference to the circumstances in which they were written, were libellous of the claimant”, but Okoroji failed to show the evidence that the words had negatively altered a third person’s perception of him.
The judge said, “For words to be defamatory of a party, the said words must have lowered that party in the estimation of right-thinking members of the public and there must be evidence of this from a person whose views of that person have been so adversely affected.
“In the absence of any evidence of what CW2, CW3 and CW4 think about the claimant upon reading the publication, which has affected the good name, reputation and estimation in which the claimant stands in the society of their fellow citizens, it cannot therefore be said that the claimant has been defamed.
“After a careful consideration of all the materials before me, I have come to the conclusion that the claimant has not been able to establish that the e-mail alleged to have been sent to members of the of the committee by the defendant defamed him”, Judge concluded.