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Saraki vs Sowore: Court overturns N4bn suit against Saharareporters

The Court of Appeal in Ilorin, Kwara State, has nullified the lower court’s judgment that awarded a ₦4 billion cost as sum of damages against SaharaReporters and its founder, Omoyele Sowore, in a suit between the two and Bukola Saraki, Nigeria’s Senate President.

On Tuesday, the Appeal Court set aside the judgment of Justice A.S. Oyinloye of the Kwara State High Court in Ilorin delivered on June 28, 2017.

The Appeal Court judges, Justice Ibrahim  Salauwa, Justice Chidi  Uwa and Justice Hamma Barka, unanimously ruled that the judgment be nullified and assigned to a new trial judge at the lower court for a retrial.

Justice Oyinloye had entered a judgment of N4 billion against SaharaReporters and its founder, Omoyele Sowore, over allegations of defamation involving Saraki. However, the judgment was used to obtain a plaintiff order against the Sahara foundation, a separate entity.

Sometime in 2017, Saraki had sued the media organisation and its founder to the tune of N1 billion each as general damages for four different publications on its website.

He also sought the court “for injunction restraining the Defendants from further writing, printing or causing to be written, printed or circulated or otherwise published of the Claimant, the said or similar libel”.

However, Stanley Imhanruor, a senior lawyer from Falana & Falana’s Chambers, who represented the media agency at both the High Court and the Appeal Court, argued that his clients were never served in the motion on notice neither were they given an opportunity to defend themselves during the hearings that led to Justice Oyinloye’s judgment.

Paul Erokoro, Saraki’s lead counsel, had claimed in court that he could not serve the counter affidavit on the counsel for SaharaReporters because there was no address for service within the court’s jurisdiction. He argued that he had no obligation to serve counsel directly unless the court ordered him to do so or if he sought the court’s leave to serve counsel directly.

Imhanruor contested this argument, stating that his chambers had sent one Adams Adebara to the chambers of Tunde Olomu & Co to pick up the counter affidavit, to no avail. He told the court that, rather than give the document to Mr. Adebara, the chambers rudely dismissed him.

He explained to the court that Saraki’s lawyer had asked Adebara, who was to collect the counter affidavit, to meet with him on the premises of the court so that the bailiff could serve him, but Erokoro failed to deliver on his promise. He told the court that multiple calls to Erokoro were ignored.

The case was, however, withdrawn from the lower court, having lost faith in the process and an appeal was filed at the Court of Appeal.

The protracted case had taken several turns before the eventual judgement of the appeal court. In one of the hearings at the Federal High Court in Ilorin, journalists and student activists who had gone to court to observe the hearing were harassed by alleged loyalists of the Senate President.

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