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George loses N2bn libel suit

By Abdulwahab Abdulah & Richard Eromosele
Convicted former Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Chief Olabode George  Wednesday lost the libel case he instituted against The News magazine and a national daily, Daily Independent, as the court held he has no such reputation he claimed.

Delivering judgement on the N2bilion suit instituted against the media houses by Chief Bode George, Justice Hakeem Oshodi held that since the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, chieftain has been sentenced by a court of competent jurisdiction on corrupt charges, it would be inappropriate to grant him damages on publications published by the media houses. Justice Oshodi said, a man cannot claim damages for a  reputation that he did not possess.

Reviewing the case, Justice Oshodi noted that all the witnesses called by Bode George did not prove sufficiently the fact that he was libeled by the media reports.

The court held that since the politician had earlier been convicted by a Lagos High Court judge on same facts on which he approached the court, it would be inappropriate to grant him damages on those facts.

Justice Oshodi held, “the court notes through the submission of the defendants that the claimant had been sentenced to two years without an option of fine on the same facts which he alleged libel. A man cannot lay claim to a reputation that he never had. And as such this case fails in its entirety.” The matter was therefore struck out for lack of adequate evidence.

During the trial of the matter, counsel to Chief George, Bambo Adesanya, SAN, had argued in his final submission that the judgement of the High Court convicting his client was of no relevance to the libel suit, since it has not been delivered as at the time the case was instituted.

George had claimed an aggregate of  N2 billion in the libel suit he instituted against TheNEWS magazine, P.M.NEWS and Daily Independent newspaper respectively.

The Falana chambers appeared for the two media organisation in the suit.

The problems started when TheNEWS, in its 18 April 2005 edition, published a story, titled “Anti Corruption War: N85 billion Scam At The Ports. Bode George’s Board Indicted.” The magazine reported how former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who claimed to make anti-corruption war the cornerstone of his government, was angry over the report of a committee on NPA contracts, submitted by one time Minister of Transport, Abiye Sekibo.

While the report indicted the board and the NPA management, it failed to zero in on who did what, when and how. Obasanjo, according to TheNEWS story, therefore set up another review panel on 28 October 2003, headed by Engineer Mustapha Bukar from the office of the Head of Service of the Federation.

Other members were Mr. Greg Ogbeifun of Starz Investment Company; Mr. A.A. Lawal of Tata Industries Kano; Chief John Amadi Damshakai of the office of the Plateau State Governor, Barrister (Mrs.) Nella Andem Ewa, a Calabar-based lawyer; Mrs. B.F. Oyelowo of the Auditor-General of the Federation’s office, Abuja and Mrs. G.O. Ezezika of the Ministry of Transport, Abuja.

Obasanjo mandated the committee to review all contracts awarded at NPA between 2001 and 2003 and determine “exactly how much was expended, with dates, exactly how much was paid out on each contract, the outstanding amounts and works not executed but for which monies were paid”.

The panel was also asked to find out whether the board followed correct procedures in the award of the projects.

When the committee submitted its report, it discovered that George’s board awarded 29,586 contracts, valued at N85 billion. Worse still, if the contracts were not split, the committee revealed that they could not be more than 300, all of which were, with abandon, massively inflated by George and his men.

It was also found out by the Bukar committee that contracts were awarded to companies which, on the surface, belonged to many people but actually belonged to one or a few.

He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to two years by Justice Olubunmi Oyewole of an Ikeja High Court for corrupt related offences.


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