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Obono-Obla Slams Nigerian Pilot With N500m Defamation Suit

Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, SA to the President on Prosecution and Chairman, Special Presidential Panel on the Recovery of Public Property

A newspaper, the Nigerian Pilot, has found itself in a big legal quagmire after they published a story written by one of their reporters where it was claimed that Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, the Senior Special Assistant on Prosecution to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Chairman of the Special Presidential Panel on the Recovery of Public Property, collected a bribe of 1.2 Billion naira from 5 former Governors that was why he was sacked as Chairman of the Presidential Panel on the Recovery of Public Property.

Part of the said article, published on page 5 of the Nigerian Pilot of Tuesdays 7th November 2017 reads:
“Why FG sacked Obono-Obla as chairman of public assets recovery panel

By Kenneth Atavti

MIND BOGGING revelations emerged yesterday on why the federal government removed Chief Okoi Obono-Obla as the chairman of Special Investigation Panel on the Recovery of Public Property.

A highly placed source in the office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), yesterday told Nigeria Pilot that the embattled PARP chairman was fired based on allegations bordering on bribery, abuse of office, intimidation and corruption.

According to the source, several petitions were written against Obono-Obla by some politically exposed persons over alleged intimidation and outright extortion.

The source further added that in one of the alleged petitions written against Obla, the petitioner alleged that the sacked PARP chairman between August till date has allegedly collected a whooping sum of N1.2billion from five former governors promising to shield them from investigations and prosecution which prompted the AGF to act on his removal.

Apart from the alleged bribery allegations, Obono-Obla has been accused by the source, for alleged sabotage and causing embarrassment to the federal government from the press interview and press releases since inception of this administration.

Malami in a statement on Sunday said that recent actions of Obono-Obla, who is equally an aide to President Muhammadu Buhari on prosecution, ran contrary to the enabling act that established the panel.”

Chief Obono-Obla immediately instructed his lawyer to write to the Newspaper demanding a retraction of the story and issuing an unqualified apology and take necessary steps to seek redress in court.

We spoke on phone to Chief’s lawyer, First Baba Isa, Principal Partner of FBI LEGAL; Mr Isa confirmed that a defamation suit has been filed at the Federal Capital Territory High Court. “We wrote to them (Nigerian Pilot) on the 8th of November, 2017 giving them 24 hours to retract the story and issue an unqualified apology and pay a N10 million naira compensation for defaming the character of our client. But instead of replying our letter they put a call to Chief to issue a verbal apology. How can you defame a man’s character publicly and choose to issue a private apology? That’s preposterous.”

Barrister Isa went on to say “Before publishing that piece of fabricated lies, they reached out to our client; and Chief graciously warned them of the liability for libel but they stubbornly went ahead to publish that malicious story. Now they are apologizing in private and confessing that there is no truth to the story. They are now admitting that the reporter who wrote that piece of falsehood cannot produce any shred of evidence to back it up. They should have been sure of that before going to the press.

“Well, we filed our defamation suit on the 9th of November, 2017. The matter will be hopefully assigned next week and we will get a date for hearing. If they want an out of court settlement, they know what to do; our letter to them is clear on that. But we will not stand by and watch the hard earned reputation of our client rubbished by mercenary journalists and sensational journalism.”

The lawyer also said that Chief Obla was never sacked as the Chairman of the Special Presidential Panel on the Recovery of Public Property. He said those giving different slants to the leaked memo are doing so for their own selfish and mischievous reasons. “Enemies of the anti-corruption war can go ahead and knock themselves out interpreting that letter anyhow they like; the truth is Chief Obla is still the Chairman of the Special Presidential Panel on the Recovery of Public Property. Their interpretation of the letter doesn’t hold water. But anyone who inputs barefaced lie in their interpretation, just like the Nigerian Pilot just did, will have the law to contend with,” the lawyer concluded.

The defamation suit, with SUIT NO: CV/0096/17, filed at the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Maitama joined the Nigerian Pilot and Kenneth Atavti (the reporter who wrote the story) as defendants. The Plaintiff, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, is seeking the following reliefs:
“The Plaintiff claim against the Defendants, individually and severally, is as follows:
1. The sum of Five Hundred Million Naira (N500, 000, 000) as General Damages for libel and malicious falsehood published by the Defendants on NIGERIAN PILOT Newspaper, on Tuesday the 7th Day of November, 2017.

2. A Declaration that the above publication with the caption “Why FG sacked Obono-Obla as chairman of public assets recovery panel” referring to the Plaintiff by the Defendants on Tuesday the 7th November, 2017 on NIGERIAN PILOT Newspaper is malicious, in bad taste, defamatory, libellous, unconscionable, intimidatory and in extreme bad faith.
 
3. An Order directing the Defendants to retract the defamatory publication and malicious falsehood as averred in paragraphs 1 & 2 above within Forty Eight (48) of the delivery of judgment in this case and publication of an apology in Five Editions of the NIGERIAN PILOT Newspaper and other main stream media channels in a form approved by the Counsel to the Plaintiff.

4. An Order of Injunction restraining the Defendants by themselves, their agents or servants from any publication of a defamatory nature against the person of the Plaintiff.

5. Cost of this action.”

A date for hearing of the suit has not yet been given.
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