By Peter Anosike
Nigeria’s immediate past High Commissioner to Namibia, Ambassador Lilian Onoh, has threatened to drag an online platform to court for leveling an unverified financial misappropriation allegation against her in its publication.
Ambassador Onoh through her lawyers in a letter dated September 30, 2021, demanded from the online medium the immediate retraction of the publication and an unreserved apology within 48 hours or face a lawsuit of N5 billion.
Her lawyers in the letter signed by S. G. Kekere-Akpe, entitled: “Libelous Publication…Demand for retraction of publication and unreserved apology to Ambassador Onoh”, stated that the ambassador was never indicted by any panel nor was asked to refund N50 million as alleged in the online publication.
Mr Kekere-Akpe said that his client “expressed her disappointment that your organisation which styles itself as an anti-corruption platform should rather become a vehicle for corrupt officials to witch-hunt the whistle-blower of corruption and publish such clear propaganda materials totally lacking in any form of investigative journalism and full of false accusations designed to malign and impugn our client’s integrity.”
He said the defamatory article constitutes part of the witch-hunting and campaign of intimidation, harassment and calumny by the officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs against Ambassador Onoh since 2016 when she started raising objection to various acts of corruption in the Ministry, and more recently, “her petition to the Presidency to save Nigeria and Nigerians from the multiple acts of corruption treachery and sabotage of our national interests by officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”.
Mr Kekere-Akpe said that the platform did not do its due diligence before publishing the defamatory report and highlighted several areas of false information contained in their report.
He also pointed out that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama did not raise any panel to go to Windhoek as was falsely reported in the online platform, claiming also that likewise, the Permanent Secretary, Mr Gabriel Aduda did not travel to Windhoek and did not lead any panel as alleged by the platform in its ‘defamatory and libelous publication’.
The counsel stated that the only panel that visited Windhoek was the panel raised by the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Hon. Buba Yakub, in response to the testimony of Ambassador Onoh on March 23, 2021, exposing corruption at the highest levels of the Ministry, consisting of five members of the House of Reps and a Director from the Ministry, adding that Gabriel Aduda did not accompany them even though he was on the list.
The counsel stated that the panel did not indict Ambassador Onoh and that any document purporting to do so would be an internal fabrication by officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in their desperate effort to besmirch the ambassador and diffuse attention from her multiple letters flagging rampant corruption in the Ministry since 2017.
He, therefore, challenged the online platform “to publish a certified true copy of the authentic report signed by the five members of the House and the Director that travelled to Windhoek on the 13th of April, which the House panel submitted to Hon. Buba Yakub, which he then submitted to Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and adopted by the full house of Reps, which is a public document to evidence the public where the House Investigative Panel indicted the Ambassador and demanded the Ambassador refund N50 million for unauthorised claims in order to justify that your publication, under reference was not a hatchet publication intended only to injure our clients’ hard-earned reputation.”
Mr Kekere-Akpe also said that the defamatory publication portrayed the House Committee panel as biased or lacking necessary knowledge when they claimed that the panel asked Ambassador Onoh to refund school fees paid over four years for two children because school fees are paid for the children of all officers no matter their rank.
He noted that the article deliberately confused currencies for maximum defamatory effect, arguing that the ambassador was not paid much of the fabricated figures in the publication.
The lawyers said that if the online platform was not able to publish the Authentic Certified True Copy of the report of the House Panel sent to Windhoek as adopted by the full committee and full House of Assembly, which it claimed to have and purportedly based on writing the defamatory article on Ambassador Onoh, then it must tender an unreserved apology with the same prominence it gave the defamatory article and pull down the report from its website and all other websites on which it was circulated within 48 hours, or face a lawsuit of N5 billion for damages to the reputation of Ambassador Onoh.
The counsel stated that his clients had a stellar reputation in her over 28 years career and had never had a smear on her reputation, pointing out that the Ministry was even owing her entitlements and claims since 1994 to present, including claims from the Embassy in London since 2013 and almost four years promotion arrears because she refused to push for the officials to get paid her claims.
He stated that her reputation for integrity, especially in financial affairs, is both national and international.
Mr Kekere-Akpe also noted that the online article “dented the image of His Excellency, Chief C.C. Onoh, who was of such unassailable reputation that he was the only governor released within two weeks of the December 1983 coup by then Head of State, Major General Buhari, while others were sentenced to hundreds of years for corruption and that the inclusion of his name was designed to cause maximum offence and pain to the whole extended Onoh family.”
He also debunked the claim that Ambassador Onoh had worked for over 40 years, saying that it was pure mischief because the same platform wrote articles when the former IGP was given a-three-month extension about length of service (35 years of service or 60 years of age).
“Their publication was, therefore, intended to portray the Ambassador as unduly privileged in order to further dent her reputation,” the lawyers said.