A Rivers State High Court in Port Harcourt on Monday ordered the author of a book, Too Good to Die, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, to pay an ex-governor of the state, Peter Odili, N250m as damages for defamation.
Odili in October 2018 filed the defamation suit before the court, demanding a published apology and N1bn as damages from Odinkalu.
He claimed the said book had caused him public ridicule.
Justice Augustina Kingsley-Chuku, while delivering her ruling on the suit, ordered the defendant to pay Odili N250m and an additional N300,000 as cost.
She restrained the author from further publication and circulation of the book.
The judge also ordered Odinkalu to apologise to Odili in two national dailies.
Justice Chuku described the contents of the book as distasteful and malicious, adding that the defendant abandoned the case and failed to provide further evidence.
He noted that when a piece of evidence was not challenged, the court would have no option but to adopt the unchallenged evidence if substantial.
Counsel for the claimant, Ifedayo Adedipe, who spoke to reporters after the ruling, said the defendant attracted an additional cost of N300,000 because of his attitude in court.
He said, “The defendant did not offer a shred of evidence, even though they pleaded that they would rely on justification, but failed and they refused to attend court proceedings.”
Counsel for the defendant, Idaye Opi, was absent from court.
Meanwhile, Odinkalu has petitioned the National Judicial Council, seeking sanctions for Justice Kingsley-Chuku for alleged misconduct.
Odinkalu, in his petition dated October 9, 2019, accused the judge of compromising “every appearance of judicial propriety in violation of Rule 1:1 of the Judicial Code of Conduct”.
This, among other alleged acts of misconduct by the judge, according to the petitioner, arose in the judge’s handling of the case.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, who doubles as the Chairman of NJC, has acknowledged receipt of Odinkalu’s petition in a letter dated November 15, 2019.
The CJN’s letter with reference number NJC/S.32/HC.RV/32/I/32 was seen by our correspondent on Monday.
“This is to acknowledge receipt of your petition dated October 9, 2019 on the above subject matter to inform you that action is being taken, please,” the CJN stated.
Odinkalu noted in his petition that Odili instituted his defamation suit filed along with applications for interim and interlocutory injunctions restraining him from further publication of the book.
He said the only grounds for the applications was that he (Odinkalu) “attended a Dialogue Session organised by the Abuja Global Shapers in Abuja on November 11, 2018 after being served with the originating process in this matter”.
He added that while the suit was served on him on November 29, 2018, the said Abuja Dialogue Session was held on November 14, 2018, “a period of 15 days before the service of the process on the defendants”.
The ex-NHRC Chairman alleged in his petition that the judge had denied him fair in further proceedings in the case and continued to conduct hearing in the absence of his lawyer.
He noted that in the face of alleged bias, the judge refused to disqualify herself from the case when requested to do so.
He stated, “On all days in the proceedings, the plaintiff, a former Governor of Rivers State, was personally present in court with his political associates, many of them serving members of the cabinet of the Government of Rivers State, whereupon Justice Kingsley Chuku showered him with deference which was not shown to any other litigants before her, including special greetings, acknowledgement and a special seat in court.
“By reason of above premises, the defendants filed a motion before the honourable court urging the court to recuse herself from the proceedings and refer the case file back to the honourable the Chief Judge for transfer to another judge.
“Expected, the court struck out the application urging it to recuse from the proceedings.”