SLAPP: Court dismisses Landwey’s N100m libel suit against FIJ

A High Court in Lagos state has dismissed a N100 million libel suit brought before it by real estate firm Landwey against the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ).

A ruling delivered by the court through its judge, Y. Oshoala, on Monday, May 20, held that the case lacked diligent prosecution and the sum of N500,000 was awarded to indemnify [FIJ].

“I have considered in the interest of justice Order 27(1)(3) cited by counsel and I agree. The kind of lack of diligence in prosecution displayed by the claimant should never be encouraged by any court of law whatsoever,” the court held.

According to a report by FIJ, Landwey filed the libel suit, but only appeared before the court once.

The legal battle between both organisations began in 2023.

Before Landwey instituted the lawsuit, FIJ had published a report in 2022, which revealed that the real estate organisation owned by Olawale Ayilara, failed to provide a property to a Nigerian based abroad, nearly two years after receiving N42 million for it.

FIJ published a follow-up to this report in 2023 in which several other Landwey clients spoke on not receiving property they had paid for years before.

Following the first report, Landwey sent emissaries to FIJ’s founder Fisayo Soyombo with an appeal to take down the story, which was declined.

Months later, FIJ raised an alarm that Ayilara provided fake information to its service provider Digital Ocean, which suspended its website.

The service provider accused FIJ of copyright infringements, adding that someone had sent an email, claiming ownership of its investigation on Landwey, titled, ’21 Months After Taking N42m, Wale Ayilara’s Landwey Fails to Give UAE-Based Nigerian His Property.’

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Digital Ocean had identified the claimant as Luis Felipe Colina from Venezuela, who claimed to have published the article in a private newsletter a day before FIJ.

However, the FIJ described the letter as fake and a retaliation by Ayilara over the report published against Landwey.




     

     

    FIJ also noted that Digital Ocean had previous records of pulling down investigations written by journalists.

    “In FIJ’s case, Digital Ocean did not only block FIJ’s website, it rejected all our defences of being the original copyright owner. It then went ahead to blacklist FIJ,” the media organisation had noted.

    In Nigeria, there have been several attempts to clamp down on the media and civic space, through harassment, attacks, illegal detentions and Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP), which includes frivolous lawsuits against newsrooms.

    A survey conducted by The ICIR in 2023 on SLAPPs in Nigeria revealed that at least 40 organisations had been sued within 12 months for reporting or advocating about issues of public concern.

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    Ijeoma Opara is a journalist with The ICIR. Reach her via [email protected] or @ije_le on Twitter.

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