N250m libel judgment: Odinkalu takes a swipe at judge over “breach” of conduct, constitution

LAWYERS representing human rights activist and writer, Chidi Odinkalu, have attacked the partiality of justice Augustina Kingsley-Chuku who ordered their client yesterday to pay N250 million in damages to former Rivers governor Peter Odili.

Odinkalu and Ayisha Osori had in 2018 co-authored Too Good to Die: Third Term and the Myth of the Indispensable Man in Africa, a book that takes a look at former President Olusegun Obasanjo, his third term bid, and other issues surrounding political leadership in Nigeria.

Alleging defamation, Odili in October sued the authors, demanding N1 billion in damages and a public apology published in newspapers. The book narrates how late politician, Harry Marshall, was assassinated after a public fall-out with Odili.

On Monday, the Rivers State High Court ordered the defendants to pay N250 million to the claimant and also publish apologies 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,” Punch Newspaper reported.

“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.”

In a press statement shared with The ICIR on Tuesday, Odinkalu’s lead counsels, who were absent at the court proceedings, said they have seen reports of the judgment but cannot comment properly until they receive a copy.

“We had in the course of proceedings filed a petition against the presiding Judge, Hon. Justice Augustina Kingsley-Chuku, before the National Judicial Council (NJC) for manifest acts of bias in clear breach of the Judicial Code of Conduct and violation of basic constitutional guarantees of due process, which made impossible a fair representation of the interests of our clients in the proceedings,” the lawyers explained.

They said all efforts to bring the breaches to the court’s attention were frustrated and the counsels were “denied the basic right to present their case and when counsels applied to the court to recuse itself, the court repeatedly doubled down, ultimately forcing counsel to withdraw from further participation in the proceedings”.

The statement further noted that there are already appeals before the Court of Appeal against previous rulings of the High Court, including one challenging its jurisdiction in the matter.

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There is also, pending before the National Judicial Council, a complaint of judicial misconduct in connection with the proceedings in this case,” it added.

“It has not come as a surprise to us that other court users have alleged a similar experience in this particular court, including, most recently, the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, who similarly laid a complaint of bias against this same court.”

The lawyers concluded that, based on Odinkalu’s instructions, they will “vigorously pursue legal remedies”, hoping that the judicial system “is eminently well-equipped to correct every travesty”.
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