Libel: Court slams N70m damages against Punch

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Justice Maryam Omeya of an Ikeja High Court, Lagos on Monday awarded N70 million damages against Punch Nigeria Limited for publishing a libellous report concerning a prominent intellectual property protector and legal practitioner, Mr Akeem Aponmade.

Delivering judgement in suit number ID/1124/2010, Justice Omeya upbraided the newspaper for engaging in “irresponsible journalism” and ordered the company to publish retractions in three newspapers and an apology to Aponmade on its website.

Defendants in the suit were Punch Nigeria Limited, Mr Casmir Igbokwe, the then Sunday Editor, and one Ajibola Adeosun, a reporter with the newspaper.

In an emotion-laden voice, Aponmade thanked the court for restoring his reputation which, according to him, was savagely attacked by the newspaper  10 years ago and which the company had arrogantly refused to retract.

It all began on September 28, 2008 when the Sunday edition of the newspaper published an interview conducted by Adeosun with a former client of Aponmade, entitled: “I regret meeting my lawyer, though he got N10m judgement for me.”

In the interview, the former client admitted that the lawyer successfully prosecuted a case of enforcement of fundamental rights by the Police against him. He, howevet, wrongly accusef Aponmade of pocketing the judgement sum and for negligence resulting in the breach of fundamental rights by the Police.

Although he received the response of the lawyer, sent to the Managing Director of the newspaper, the editor proceeded to publish a one-sided and untrue report

In her judgement, Omeya berated the newspaper for the conduct.

A press statement by the lawyer on the judgement reads:

“Today, Monday February 19, 2018, Hon. Justice Emeya of the High Court of Lagos State, sitting in Lagos, gave judgement in a N5billion libel suit I instituted against Punch (Nig.) Ltd., its editor, Mr. Casmir Igbokwe, and Mr. Ajibola Adeosun, its reporter. It all started on Sunday September 28, 2008, when the Defendants published a full page disparaging story about me titled: ‘I regret meeting my lawyer, though he got N10m judgement for me’ both in their Sunday newspaper edition and on their websites. In the week of the publication, I received more than 200 calls from my relations, friends, neighbours and colleagues from all over the world. And for each call, I needed to answer the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of every caller. I fell ill.

“In one single publication, the defendants aimed a devastating blow on a reputation I had nurtured for decades. They cast me as a dishonest and incompetent professional. These defendants attacked my most valuable asset: my good name. By their publication, they injured my reputation in my professional standing. I know of a few people who avoided me on account of this injurious publication. I do not know how many more people found me odious such as to be unmeritorious of their association because of these people’s reckless action. What I will never know is how much this has cost me in terms of briefs lost and valuable contacts I missed.

“I wrote to Punch demanding a retraction of the defamatory story but the defendants arrogantly refused to do so. I filed this suit in 2010. The defendants defiantly pleaded that the disparaging statements they published concerning me were true. They chose to dance on the grave of my mutilated reputation and laughed at my sadness. Unfortunately, when the time came for them to produce evidence, as required by law, to prove the truth of their statements, the defendants failed to show any scintilla of evidence.

“Today, the Honourable Court held that the defendants’ publication was libelous and injurious to my reputation. Hon. Justice Emeya rebuked the defendants for their reckless and unconscionable conduct holding that the defendants ‘engaged in irresponsible journalism’. The court went on to award N50million general damages and N20million aggravated damages severally and jointly against the defendants. The court also ordered the defendants to publish a full page unreserved apology in every edition of The Guardian, Sunday Punch and The Sun newspapers for (3) three consecutive times commencing not later than 7 days after the judgement in this case; an unreserved apology on the 1st Defendant’s website not later than 7 days after the judgement in this case; removal of the defamatory publication from the web site of the 1st Defendant company and a perpetual injunction restraining them, their agents, privies, servants or anyone who has been licensed by them, from publishing same or similar words defamatory of me.

“I thank the Almighty God for sparing my life to see this day, for this day would not have been had I passed away before judgement. I am grateful to my family, my team of legal practitioners, friends, colleagues and well wishers who stood by me in all these years it has taken to obtain justice in this matter. Today, with Justice Emeya’s judgement, I got my reputation back.”

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