By Comfort Oseghale
A Lagos State High Court sitting in Ikeja on Thursday dismissed a N100 million libel suit filed against Nigeria’s leading maritime communication firm, Ships & Ports by embattled former President of the Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA), Niyi Labinjo.
Niyi Labinjo had in February 2015 filed a suit against Ships & Port over a story titled ‘NISA President Labinjo in $6.5m vessel purchase scandal’ in which Mrs. Adenike Jolapamo-Onifade, the daughter of his predecessor and founding President of the association, accused him (Labinjo) and his wife Bola of allegedly diverting part of a USD5.85 million loan granted by First Bank Plc to an indigenous shipping company, Acenk Maritime & Energy Services Limited, for the purchase of two vessels.
Jolapamo-Onifade, who is the Managing Director of Acenk, said the loan was granted to her company through an offer letter dated 15th September 2014. She had petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), leading to the detention of Labinjo and his wife at the anti-graft agency’s Ikoyi office.
NISA had also asked Labinjo to “step aside” until he clears his name in the matter.
Delivering judgment on Thursday, Justice Hakeem Oshodi dismissed the suit for the claimant’s failure to prove publication.
Justice Oshodi said since there is no dispute of the evidence laid before the court, as the defendants are not disputing the exhibits tendered, “the query now is whether the claimant has proved publication”.
He said “publication” means the making known of the defamatory matter to some persons other than the person of whom it was written.
According to him, it is the production of the libellous matter into writing and its delivery to any person other than the person injuriously affected.
“The court has looked through the 15-paragraph statement of claims and cannot find where the names of third parties with the offending words were published.
“The court cannot find where the names of Claimant Witness 1, Claimant Witness 2 and Claimant Witness 3 were pleaded and that they read the offensive words.
“Furthermore, the evidence of CW1, CW2 and CW3, as given by them are not pleaded. It is trite that evidence led but not pleaded goes to no issue,” he said.
The Judge said the position of the law is that parties are bound by their pleadings, while evidences that are at variance with the averments in pleadings go to no issue and must be disregarded by the court.
“Further, the court cannot base its judgment on a matter of fact not pleaded, as facts not pleaded goes to no issue.
“The court finds that the claimant has not proved publication and accordingly, the suit is dismissed,” Justice Oshodi ruled.
Defence Counsel, Mrs. Adeyinka Akanji, commended the judgment, which she described as thorough and detailed.
Prosecution Counsel, Mr. Victor Imevbore, however, declined to comment.
The CEO of Ships & Ports, Mr. Bolaji Akinola, said the ruling of the court is the triumph of truth and a victory for the freedom of expression.
“At Ships & Ports, we will continue to discharge our duties without fear or favour. We owe it to the maritime industry and to Nigeria to report the truth at all times and we will not succumb to threat or intimidation at any point in time in the discharge of our duties. No one can stifle the truth,” he said.
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