Abuja-based lawyer drags Jaja, COSON boss, Okoroji, to court over libellous publication

*Demands N1bn as damages

By Ralph Christopher

Renowned human rights lawyer, Barr. Joni Icheka has dragged the dismissed former chairman of the Governing Council of the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NgCC) and ace musician and President of the Copyright Society of Nigeria Ltd/GTE, Chief Tony Okoroji, to court over alleged defamatory publications.

The plaintiff, a senior civil servant at the NgCC, asked the court to award N500m to him as general damages and an equivalent sum as special damages for the alleged civil wrongs caused against him jointly and severally, over the said libellous publication.

According to Barr. Icheka, the defendants had on September 15th, 2020, caused a letter to be addressed to Dr. Jaja, who then chaired NgCC, in which they claimed that the lawyer is standing trial in an on-going N7 billion fraud with Mr. Kenny Martins, in alleged forgery of documents allegedly used in defrauding the defunct Nigerian Police Equipment Fund.

The plaintiff stated that Okoroji and Jaja had in the said libellous publication alleged that the Director-General of the NgCC, “concealed this critical information from the Governing Board and deceived the board to approve the appointment of Barr. Icheka.”

The plaintiff further said that the defendants forwarded some petitions where the false information was stated to President Muhammadu Buhari, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice (AGF) Abubakar Malami (SAN); the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geofrey Onyeama; the Chairman, Code of Conduct Bureau, and the Chairman, ICPC.

Icheka said the petition containing those criminal imputations and widely circulated to the above listed personalities, and also to every member of the Governing Council of NgCC, staff members of the parastatal, other persons and institutions, including the D-G NgCC, without verifying the allegations made against him, “constitutes libel” as it impacted negatively on his (Icheka’s) employment and put him on the ham’s way as bread winner of his family.

Icheka exhibited Charge No: CR/267/18 which he said the defendants had referred to as source of their facts which is pending before Justice Modupe Adebiyi of the FCT High Court, to assert that the allegations of the defendants were false in its entirety.

On the contrary, Icheka stated that curiously he was lawyer to one of the defendant in the alluded criminal charge, wondering how he transformed to an accused in that matter.

“The claimant avers that the defendants exhibited utter callousness and negligence in the publication and circulation of the false information by failing to act with reasonable level of care in simply cross-checking their source of the false information as regard to the existence of the Open Court Registry and the EFCC who is a sister government agency from which the defendants could have cross-checked and authenticated their information prior to publication or republication of the false petition”.

He maintains that by the said publication, the defendants adversely affected his current employment and his future chances of advancing to the very top echelon in the public service.

He also claims that career people, including his colleagues, now see him as “a dubious person of low quality and who is morally bankrupt and should not be trusted by all and sundry.”

Icheka attached a certified true copy of the charge sheet filed by Festus Keyamo (SAN), on June 20th, 2018; the affidavit of completion of investigation filed along with the charge sheet sworn to by Aliu Dauda, an Inspector of Police; list of witnesses in the charge; the Case Summary; the libelous petition addressed to the NgCC Governing Board and signed by Dr. Jaja; petition by COSON written on their instruction by White Dove Solicitors; petition to the D-G NgCC against Icheka by Dr. Jaja; petition to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) against Mr. Icheka, and several other petitions against Icheka.

In asking for N1 billion damages, the plaintiff further urged the court to direct the defendants to tender a formal apology which should be published in three national newspapers and an order for perpetual injunction against the defendants against further publishing defamatory materials against the plaintiff.

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