Libel Suit: THISDAY Newspaper Report Adversely Affected Gov Wike’s Reputation – Counsel

One of the counsel representing Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, in the libel suit against THISDAY newspaper, Mark .S. Agwu, on Thursday said that the reputation of the governor was adversely affected by the newspaper report.

Speaking in an interview at the end of court hearing on Thursday, March 24, the counsel who spoke on behalf of lead counsel, E. C. Ukala (SAN), said that Governor Wike’s reputation was adversely affected when the newspaper published a story allegedly defaming the governor.

The counsel said: “His (Governor Wike’s) reputation actually had been adversely affected by the publication and an impression being created even among his political peers that he’s not a man to be relied on. That’s just the issue. The governor is a man of reputable character, impeccable character. In fact, he’s a political juggernaut which this (THISDAY) publication tended to actually reduce his person”.

Agwu further said: “If not that he’s a man of political ability, this would have done some serious political adversity against him.”

Governor Wike filed a N7 billion libel suit against the paper for portraying him as being deceitful and untrustworthy “who exerts subterranean influences on judicial matters and over court sittings in Port-Harcourt.”

The paper had on June 23, 2020 published a story with the headline: “With Wike, Obaseki Meets His PDP’s Waterloo; Almost”.

The case which is before the Port-Harcourt High Court presided by Honourable Justice Adolphus Enebeli was heard again on Thursday and Friday.

Speaking in the interview on video clips played before the court, the counsel said: “They know what they want to make out of the documents (clips)”.

He said that there was nowhere Governor Wike showed that he was inconsistent.

Speaking about the subject matter of the case, Agwu said: “The subject matter is that they said that if Obaseki should associate with His Excellency Wike, he’s bound to meet his waterloo and the question is, how can he meet his waterloo? The same Governor Wike was the DG in the campaign for re-election of Governor Obaseki.”

The counsel said when the libellous story was published the governor had written to the newspaper requesting it to retract the story but they never did.

He said that the governor was only asking for “very little amount” of money from the defendants in damages “which if you compare it to the person he is it means nothing”.      

Agwu also said that the governor wants the newspaper to retract the story.

On Thursday, lead counsel to THISDAY newspaper, Tuduru Ede (SAN), had called his witness, Jude Igbanoen, to take the witness box.

Three Compact Disks (CDs) were played before the court.

Five disks actually were tendered before the court by the defence as well as their transcripts but only three played.

In one CD, Governor Wike was addressing the people of Edo State at a campaign rally for the re-election of Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki.

In another, it was an interview he granted Arise News in which the governor said that although there could be disagreement in a party there should be ability to reconcile and said that he had nothing against the Edo State governor.

The interview was aired before the Edo State governorship election.

In the interview Governor Wike said that he was very happy that Governor Obaseki emerged as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP’s) governorship candidate in Edo State.

The governor also said that he would be happy that the All Progressives Congress (APC) should make mistakes and fall apart in Edo State.

The clip of the interview also showed a group of men who threatened to create crisis in Rivers State should anything happen to Transportation Minister and former Rivers State governor, Chibuike Amaechi, specifically mentioning Senator Magnus Abe and Hon Igo Aguma.

Responding in the interview to those who issued the threat, Governor Wike described their outburst as unfortunate.

He had said security agents should have called to order those who issued the threat and said that the country’s security system was dependent on which party one belonged.

The Arise News interviewer also asked him questions on Covid-19 and lockdown imposed on the state then.

Talking about his achievements, the governor had said at the time that the state was moving on well.

The defence witness, Jude Igbanoen, was cross-examined by the governor’s lead counsel, E. C. Ukala (SAN), on the video clips. Igbanoen is THISDAY’s legal editor.

Asked if it was not standard journalism practice to balance news the witness said that it was true but added that each media house had its operational pattern saying for breaking news each media house would be in competition to first publish or air the news saying that Governor Wike’s side of the story was not sought because the news would have been stale and other media houses would have carried the news.

Asked about the news at the time, the witness said that events at the time were unfolding in Edo State.

Also asked if he could show in the interview played if Governor Wike showed he was a pretender and had betrayed Governor Obaseki on Arise News interview, the witness somehow did not give direct answer saying rather that the claimant’s counsel (who is Govenor Wike’s counsel) was singling out statements instead of taking everything said as a whole.

The claimant’s counsel said that the witness was making general comments instead of giving direct answers to direct questions.

Govenor Wike’s counsel asked if what the governor said in terms of reconciliation in the interview any way portrayed him as being against Governor Obaseki.

He also asked if there was any betrayal by Governor Wike on Arise News interview against the Edo State governor.

The witness alleged that the governor was not consistent.

Again on Friday, Tuduru Ede (SAN) called his witness, Jude Igbanoen, to the witness box and was cross-examined by the governor’s lead counsel.

Asked if Governor Wike looked to the witness as someone who was pretending in the video clip at the campaign rally in Edo State for the re-election of Governor Obaseki, the witness after much evasion said that the governor was not pretending at the campaign rally.

The claimant’s counsel said that Governor Wike was very passionate for his party, the PDP to win election in Edo State to which the witness also concurred.

Also asked if there was any specific case of betrayal on the Arise News interview in which the governor spoke, the witness said that he was not in position to comment over that.

Asked if he was aware if the governor exerted influence on the case involving his party and governorship candidate, the witness said that the governor could not just have passing interest in the matter since it involved his party and governorship candidate.

Also asked if the governor did influence the judgement at the court – over Edo PDP governorship primary – the witness said that he would not agree that was a fact.

He was also asked if he was aware it was undemocratic and unethical for a member of the executive to direct the court on what to do over a matter to which the witness said it was undemocratic and unethical for executive member to direct the court over a matter.

There was a letter asking THISDAY newspaper to retract the story and publish an apology, according to Governor Wike’s lead counsel, which was tendered before the court and was not objected by the defence as the judge adjourned to 25 and 27 April for continuation of hearing.

Meanwhile, speaking in an interview on Friday, March 25, lead counsel to THISDAY newspaper, Tuduru Ede (SAN), said that his witness testified: “The witness has adopted his deposition in respect of which he has made several comments or at least sustained his defence. All that are before the presiding justice”.

He said that the two video clips which could not play would be played at the next hearing adding that their transcripts were available.

Meanwhile in a press release last year, the Governor’s Special Assistant on Electronic Media, Mr Kelvin Ebiri, said that the governor filed the suit 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.”

In the release Mr Ebiri said: “In his (Governor Wike’s) written statement on oath (when he appeared beforre the court), 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”.

The Governor’s Special Assistant on Electronic Media said that the defendants “maliciously” accused the governor of “undemocratically exerting influence on the primary 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 (by THISDAY) was reckless, false and without regards for the truth,” the governor’s media aide said in the release.

The suit PHC/1505/CS/20 was filed by the governor against the newspaper in 2020.

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