A Federal High Court in Makurdi, presided by Justice Joseph Aneke, on Tuesday struck out a libel suit against the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) for lack of jurisdiction.
Delivering the ruling, the judge said that the subject matter which was defamation of character and falsehood fell outside the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court as stipulated in the Constitution.
He, therefore, upheld the preliminary objection of Mr Bayo Ojo, counsel to the defendant, and struck out the case for want of jurisdiction.
Mr Boniface Ortese and Mr Alloyisus Umalo, both of Voice of Nigeria (VON) and Mrs Helen Teghtegh had dragged NAN to court for alleged defamation of character and falsehood.
Mr Samuel Irabor, counsel to the plaintiffs, had claimed that a news item published on NAN’s website of Sept. 15, 2017 on purported diversion of relief materials was false, baseless, mischievous, unsubstantiated, defamatory and libellous.
Irabor had pleaded with the court to grant his clients general damages of N3 billion against NAN.
But in the preliminary objection by NAN’s counsel, Mr Theophillus Okwute from Bayo Ojo’s chamber, told the court that 1999 Constitution denied the Federal High Court rights to entertain libel matters.
Okwute averred that “defamation is not one of the actions listed in section 251 of the Constitution of Nigeria upon which this honourable court can assume jurisdiction”.
According to him, the court cannot assume jurisdiction on matters not within the confines of its enabling law.
He also averred that the defendant expressly denied all the allegations contained in the statement of claim, adding that NAN did not published the purported defamatory item on Sept.15, 2017 but on Sept.12, 2017.
The counsel, however, stated that the publication did not mention the names of any of the plaintiffs, neither was it deliberately designed to tarnish their image.
He maintained that the publication complained by the plaintiffs was a true reflection of what transpired on the said date, and that the pictures and video clips would be relied on at the trial of the suit.
Okwute also told the court that the allegations of defamation of character and falsehood contained in the plaintiff’s statement of claim was mere figment of their imagination.
He said that the publication was true and devoid of any malice or injurious falsehood.
He maintained that the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) on Sept. 12, 2017 protested when a truck, two hilux vans, a bus and a saloon car loaded with relief materials were about to move out of flood victims’ camp.
Okwute said that the camp was located at the International Market, Makurdi. (NAN)