An Edo State High Court sitting in Benin City has dismissed a N500 million libel suit instituted by the Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Tony Anenih against the Chief Press Secretary to Edo State Governor and the Edo State Broadcasting Service (EBS).
In a judgment delivered by Justice U.I Erameh in consolidated Suits Nos: B/285/2010 & B/366/2010 between Chief Tony Anenih (CFR) as Claimant and Mr Peter Okhiria (Chief Press Secretray to Edo State Governor), Edo Broadcasting Corporation and Bendel Newspaper Company Limited who are the Defendants, the court refused the prayers of Chief Anenih to declare that a Press release issued on behalf of the state Government in 2010 was libelous and therefore refused the prayer for N500 million damages, among others.
Chief Anenih had sued the defendants, claiming that a Press release issued on behalf of the Government by the Chief Press Secretary libeled him and sought N500 million in damages.
Justice Erameh in her judgment held that the defence of privileged occasion availed the first defendant (Peter Okhiria, Chief Press Secretary) on the ground that he acted on the instruction of the Chief Security Officer of the State, (the Governor) to educate and inform the public on security happenings in the state and that such statement was made by the Chief Press Secretary in his official capacity as the spokesman of the government of Edo State and as such he could not be held liable for libel because statement made on privileged occasion are a defence to libel.
The Judge added that prior to the publication of the press release in issue in the consolidated suits in respect of the bomb scare incidence at the premises of Edo State House of Assembly and Edo State Broadcasting Services , there was serious security tension in the state and as such the publication was necessary in order to keep the public abreast with the security situation on ground in the state.
The court however entered judgment against Bendel Newspaper Company Limited for failure to defend the suit and awarded minimal cost against the 3rd Defendant (Bendel Newspaper Company Limited). However, Bendel Newspaper Publishing Company had sought to defend the suit before the judgment by filing all the necessary court processes but his Lordship refused the application to defend the suit on the merit on the ground that they failed to enter appearance timeously.
The State Solicitor-General, Wole Iyamu esq said Bendel Newspaper has already filed a notice of appeal and stay of execution against the said judgment as it concerns Bendel Newspaper Limited.
The Court awarded N50,000 cost against Chief Tony Anenih in favour of the Chief press Secretary and Edo Broadcasting Service.
Chief Press Secretary to the Governor was represented by Stanley Omeike Imhanruor Esq, of Femi Falana (SAN) Chambers while Edo Brodcasting Service was represented by O.A Otamere, esq. Chief Tony Anenih was represented by Chief Alfred Eghobamien (SAN).