Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike of Rivers State, appeared before the State High Court in Port Harcourt, on Tuesday, November 30, 2021, to testify as a witness in a Seven Billion Naira (N7B) libel suit against THISDAY Newspaper.
A statement by Kelvin Ebiri, Special Assistant (Media) to the Rivers State Governor, revealed that Governor Wike said he was in court to seek justice and clear his name as a person from the malicious publication by THISDAY Newspaper, which portrayed him as deceitful, untrustworthy person, who exerts subterranean influences on judicial matters and over court sittings in Port Harcourt.
It will be recalled that Governor Wike had in August 2020 slammed a N7 Billion suit being damages for libel written and published in THISDAY’s Tuesday, June 23, 2020 edition captioned, “With Wike, Obaseki Meets His PDP’S Waterloo; Almost.”
The defendants in the suit are THISDAY Newspapers Limited, Leaders and Company Limited, Davidson Iriekpan, Chuks Okocha and Adibe Emenyonu.
Governor Wike, while testifying as witness in suit No. PHC/1505/CS/2020 before the court presided over by Justice A. Enebeli, asserted that the defendants maliciously and falsely portrayed him as an unreliable friend/person.
“When you say somebody cannot be trusted; that cannot be a fair comment. When you say somebody is influencing the judiciary, that cannot be a fair comment.”
In his written statement on oath, Governor Wike had stated that the defendants had accused him of influencing the decision of the Court sitting in Port Harcourt that granted an injunction restraining Godwin Obaseki from participating in the primaries of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State in 2020.
He stated that the defendants maliciously accused him of undemocratically exerting influence on the primaries process of PDP in Edo State in aid of his ally, Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, who was the beneficiary of the court order restraining Obaseki from participating in the PDP primaries.
The governor, who told the court that he was not even aware of the aforementioned suit by Ogbeide-Ihama against Obaseki, said the publication was reckless, false and without regards for the truth.
According to him, contrary to well known journalistic tradition and practices, the defendants did not investigate properly to ensure the information they relied on was accurate.
“They did not seek to verify the facts from me or in any manner oblige me with the opportunity to state my own side of the story before proceeding to make the false publication.”
Governor Wike stated that the defendants further denigrated him before the entire world as a fake democrat, who engages in meddling in the internal affairs of All Progressives Congress, in order to get at his political foe, Chibuike Amaechi.
The governor explained that he is not a member of the APC and have had no hand in the internal crisis which has bedeviled the party both in Rivers State and all over Nigeria.
“By the letter of Messrs E.C. Ukala and Co., Solicitors, under the hand of Emmanuel C. Ukala, SAN, dated 23rd June 2020, the defendants were given opportunity to retract, and recant the publication as well as to offer apology for the false publication but the defendants spurned the opportunity and ignored the letter completely.”
The governor, while responding to claim by lawyer to the defendants, Turudu Ede, SAN, that the essence of the lawsuit was to intimidate and harass his clients, said the whole essence of the suit was to get justice and clear his name as a man of substantial character, honour and repute.
“The essence of the suit is to get justice since they (defendants) refused to retract the publication or apologise. So, I sued them to clear my name.”
Speaking to journalists outside the court, one of the lawyers to Governor Wike, Mr. Mark Agwu said his client is in court to seek legal redress.
“To challenge him as person, it means you have made him untrustworthy, a deceit, a cheat, an influencer of the court, because the publication they made was that he had a role to play influencing the outcome of that Federal High Court case. Nobody will take that lightly, and especially for a man who believes in the rule of law.”
The court adjourned the matter for further hearing to 12th, 13th and 14th of January 2022.
Polity watchers will recall that this particular report, which was boldly printed on the front page of Thisday Newspaper had compelled Govenor Wike to pull out of the reconciliation effort instituted by the PDP amongst it’s gubernatorial aspirants, following the arrival of Governor Godwin Obaseki, who defected from the APC and was handed the gubernatorial ticket of PDP, just days before the primaries.
Governor Wike, reacting to the report at that time had said: “I have had sleepless nights to resolve the issue in Edo state. The Governors of Edo, Adamawa and Delta states, know what I have done to resolve the issues in Edo state. As a result of this senseless accusation, I have pulled out of Edo State settlement. My integrity matters. I have also directed my lawyer to write ThisDay Newspaper on the publication they made against me in their Tuesday,23rd June, 2020 edition”.
The Rivers Governor had subsequently sued Thisday Newspaper over the publication in a statement, issued by Paulinus Nsirim, the State Commissioner for Information and Communications, which reads:
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike has slammed a N7 Billion suit against ThisDay Newspapers being damages for libel written and published in ThisDay’s Tuesday, June 23, 2020 edition.
In the publication captioned, “With Wike, Obaseki Meets His PDP’S Waterloo, Almost,” the Defendants maliciously and falsely portrayed the Claimant as an unreliable friend/person.
The suit filed at the Port Harcourt High Court by Governor Wike’s Counsel, Emmanuel C.Ukala, Esq, S.A.N, FCIArb, the Defendants further portrayed Governor Wike as a selfish politician and a person who meddled in and exerts subterranean influence in judicial matters in courts sitting in Port Harcourt to achieve selfish political interest and that he is not a true democrat.
He is therefore seeking an order of mandatory injunction compelling the Defendants to withdraw, retract and recant the said libellous publication.
The retraction is to be published at the front page(and to devote the whole full front page to the publication of the retraction).
ThisDay Newspaper is also to publish an apology in the terms acceptable to the Claimant and with his prior approval at the back page( on the full back page) in the same edition on which the retraction is published, and two consecutive editions of ThisDay Newspapers.
The Claimant is also seeking an order of injunction restraining the Defendants by themselves or by their servants, agents, privies and associates from further publishing the said libel or any manner however and whatsoever continuing to circulate the said libellous publication concerning the Claimant.
Commissioner for Information and Communications
August 5, 2020