Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Former Vice-President and the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has slammed a N2.5 billion libel suit against President Muhammadu Buhari’s Special Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie.
The presidential aide had on May 7, 2019, allegedly tweeted on her twitter handle suggesting that Atiku was on the watch list of security operatives in the United Arab Emirates and had travelled to shop for terrorists in the Middle East.
Irked by the statement, Abubakar in a May 14, 2019, letter, demanded an apology, retraction and payment of N500m compensation from Onochie “to assuage” the damage allegedly caused him by her social media post.
He also threatened to sue her should she fail to accede to the demand “within 48 hours.”
Alleging that Onochie was unmoved by his demand letter, the former vice president, through his counsel, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), on June 26, filed a N2.5bn suit against Onochie before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
In his statement of claim, Abubakar noted that “to say that the claimant is shopping for terrorists knowing same to be untrue and without any foundation is not only dishonest and reckless, but is calculated and politically designed to instigate security agents against him not only in the UAE, but across the world.”
While denying the allegations contained in the said tweet, Abubakar said the tweet was “politically orchestrated solely to cause maximum damage,” to his “high reputation” while challenging “the purported victory” of Onochie’s boss, President Buhari in the last presidential election at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal.
He Abubakar, stated that rather than show “remorse by retracting her earlier publication,” she further, on May 20, made “another derogatory publication and also published same globally online in the social and other print media,” against his person.
Besides, the PDP presidential candidate said sometime in May this year, he had embarked on a foreign trip to the UAE as he had done over the years, and while on the said trip, Onochie on May 7, 2019, wrote, through her twitter handle: “Atiku on UAE watchlist- Security sources Security operatives in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are keeping a close tab on a former Nigerian Vice Pres Atiku Abubakar who has been in the Middle East nation for several weeks now. What is he doing there? Me: Shopping for terrorists?”
He told the court that “the defamatory publication” was also published by several newspapers nationwide and on several social media news.”
Abubakar further denied the allegations contained in the said publication which he described as “a figment of the imagination of the defendant,” but said it portrayed him “as an evil man, mentor of terrorists, someone who has links with terrorists, and a person who is interested in destabilising the peace and unity of Nigeria.
“The publication also portrayed the claimant as a security threat and terrorist to right-thinking members of the public and the society at large,” the former Vice-President added.
He noted that “the odious publication has clearly rubbished the claimant’s image and reputation. It has caused him national and international backlash and embarrassment and has done incalculable damage to him.
He added, “he has thereby been subjected to the shame and infamy of being viewed by members of the public as not only corrupt, but as a terrorist and sponsor of terrorism.”
Abubakar also told the court that following the publication, he received numerous telephone calls, emails, visits, letters and private social media chats by his family members, friends, political and business associates, and international statesmen and women, confirming “the alarm and serious concerns generated by the defendant’s false publication.”
While promising to tender the call logs showing the text messages, and calls received by him in the aftermath of Onochie’s post, Abubakar described “the entire opprobrious and denigrating story” as “most misleading, baseless, false, malicious and totally bereft of any foundation howsoever.”
He noted that the “inference and grave conclusions” contained in the post were “politically orchestrated” and “invented by the defendant and others of her ilk, solely to cause maximum damage to the high reputation of the claimant, who is currently before the Election Petition Tribunal against her employer and boss, President Muhammadu Buhari, challenging the latter’s purported victory in the last presidential election.”
He said contrary to the said “derogatory, disparaging, mendacious and unrestrained defamatory statement, as published in various print, electronic and online media platforms” he had “never been on the security watch list of the UAE, or any other country, for that matter.
The statement of claim added that “he has neither been denied entry into, interrogated, nor declared wanted by the UAE authorities, or any of its security agencies.
“That claimant was at the time of the said publication in the UAE and was never accosted by any security agencies over the said frivolous and baseless allegations.”
Abubakar prayed among his eight prayers, a declaration by the court that the publications made by Onochie via her social media accounts on May 7, and May 20, 2019, concerning and touching on him “are utterly false, baseless, unfounded and defamatory of the claimant, and injurious to his reputation.”
He also sought an order compelling the defendant to make a retraction of, and an apology to him “for the said offensive twitter and Facebook publications on the same platforms, also to be published in three national newspapers with wide circulation within the country and also broadcast on AIT, Channels and NTA television stations.”
He also sought an order compelling her to write to him, “a letter of unreserved apology for the said offensive twitter and Facebook publications.”
The claimant also sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining her whether by herself, her servants, agents, privies, assigns, friends and /or representatives, or otherwise howsoever, from further posting such “offensive and libellous material or any other form of defamatory statements against his person.
He asked for an order directing the defendant to pay him “the sum ofN2,500,000,000,000 “representing general, aggravated, punitive and exemplary damages over the untold embarrassment, derision, public ridicule, odium, obloquy, marital disharmony, mental agony and psychological trauma which the defendant’s publications have caused the claimant.”