By Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
The Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt has issued an order restraining the federal government, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed, and Vintage Press Limited (publishers of The Nation Newspapers) from further publishing the name of the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus, in the list of looters.
Secondus had slammed a N1.5 billion suit against Mohammed, the federal government and Vintage Press in Suit No. Suit PHC/1013/2018 as damages for alleged defamation as his name was listed as a looter in the list published by the minister of information and culture for allegedly collecting N200 million on February 19, 2015 from the office of then National Security Adviser.
In the suit, Secondus among other reliefs, asked the court to order the defendants to retract the publications in as many media houses as they published the list and pay N1.5 billion as damages.
As the matter came up Monday at the state High Court 1, the trial judge and Chief Judge of Rivers State, Justice Adama Iyayi-Lamikanra, granted one of the two prayers sought by the counsel to Secondus, Emeka Etiaba (SAN), and restrained the defendants from further publication of the name of the PDP National Chairman in the list of looters pending the determination of the matter before the court.
The judge also ordered that hearing notice be served on the defendants as neither the defendants nor their counsel were present in court and adjourned the case to May 28.
Secondus, had through his counsel, sought an interlocutory injunction retraining the defendants from further publication of his name as a looter and secondly restraining them from publication of any other list. While the court granted the first, it refused the second on grounds that it was “at large”.
Addressing journalists shortly after the proceedings, the plaintiff’s counsel, Etiaba, who led Emeka Okpoko (SAN) and others, said Secondus instituted the matter in court because the defendants included him in the list of looters, accusing him of collecting N200 million on February 19, 2015 when they (the defendants) knew that he never collected any such money.
He expressed satisfaction with the order issued by the court and said at the end of the matter, Nigerians would know that the federal government and its agents lied.
“The judge has granted a restraining order. We moved our motion seeking interlocutory injunction to restrain the defendants from further publishing the libellous materials. Prayer one was granted but prayer two was not granted because the honourable court felt it was at large. But we are very satisfied with prayer one which effectively put a halt to further libel,” he said.
He said the defendants were not in court perhaps because they knew that there was no truth in what they published.
He said: “There is no truth in what they published, so I can understand why they are not in court. But by the time the restraining order comes, may be they will take us more seriously. But we have told Nigerians that this is one case of executive recklessness which comes up once in a while but we hope at the end of the day to prove to Nigerians that this is nothing but a gimmick, a ploy to destroy the PDP and its leadership because of the 2019 elections coming up.”
On why the suit was filed at a state High Court, Etiaba said: “It is a matter for the state High Court. It is a matter that relates to libel and the state High Court has absolute jurisdiction to try the matter. That is actually the main claim in the suit; that he was defamed and the state High Court has jurisdiction. And the Rivers State High Court, especially Port Harcourt, where we are, is the best suited for the matter because the publication was made all around the world and Nigeria, but specifically in Port Harcourt where it was read by people who complained and confronted him (Secondus). So where the publication was made and we are relying on is in Port Harcourt and that is why we are here.”
On the progress of the matter, Etiaba said: “The matter has been adjourned to May 28. On that day, we believe we will go into the merit of the case. The court also ordered that we serve them hearing notice and that we will do just as we served them the court processes. We will serve them vide the newspapers and deposit same at the office of the attorney general of the federation.”