Activist Slams N1bn Libel Suit On US Based Blogger
A member of the Buhari Media Support Group, Lauretta Onochie, has dragged a blogger and US-based commentator, Emeka Ugwuoye, to court over a libellous publication on Facebook.
Onochie’s suit follows an alleged malicious publication by Ugwuoye that she runs an international human trafficking ring.
The plaintiff is therefore asking for N1 billion saying she has suffered tremendous damage to her reputation, insisting that if the defendant was not restrained, he would further publish injurious articles against her.
Ugwuonye has been facing criminal charges from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), over alleged theft.
Onochie in the suit filed by her counsel, Festus Keyamo, at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and obtained by journalists on Sunday in Abuja, also demanded a retraction and an unreserved apology from the defendant for the words he had used with her photograph.
According to the court papers, no fewer than 163 persons have ‘Liked’ the post, while over 80 people have ‘Shared’ it with 198 ‘Comments.”
Ugwuoye had in the post entitled: “A major break in tracking of the Dubai Madams and their agents – A key Madam revealed as a socialite with apparent connections to (sic) Nigerian politicians”, published on January 21 2016, in his Due Process Advocates Facebook page, alleged that Onochie, using names like Aunty Lolly, Madam or Aunty, operates an international girls trafficking ring across United Arab Emirates (UAE), Italy and Greece for prostitution.
He had said, “Ms. Lauretta Onochie is clever as much as she could be cruel and mean-spirited her victims. As part of her cleverness, she has associated herself with the Abuja politicians. She likes photo-up opportunities with the most powerful politicians, including Presidents and Vice Presidents…Seeing a picture of her and the President (Muhammadu Buhari) is enough to silence the agents of a victim of human trafficking.
“That is enough to silence any official likely to ask questions; that is enough to get any curious immigration official who intercepts her girls to let them go unstopped. That is enough to cause you and I to believe that she cannot kill an ant. Yet, she is a vicious trafficker of poor girls into international prostitution…Her support for President Buhari seems so honourable and something we would not expect from someone in the business of human trafficking.”
He also alleged that Onochie was fond of recruiting young girls, “promising them good life in Dubai and elsewhere, swearing their parents to shrines, selling them off for $5,000 to $15,000, making nude videos of them and using thugs to intimidate their parents back here in Nigeria”, and making sure that immigration officials were bribed at the airport to let the girls through despite being underage.
The plaintiff therefore asked the court for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendant, whether by himself, agents, privies or servants from further publishing or causing to be published any libellous, injurious or defamatory words against her.
In her statement of claims, the plaintiff who is a grandmother and member of the All Progressives Congress, averred that the defendant falsely and maliciously described her as “an international human trafficker who belongs to a powerful network of criminal gangs and racketeers.”
While describing the allegations as false and untrue, she added that the defendant did not conduct any investigation before publishing them.
Recalled that two years ago, a U.S. District Court had ordered Ugwuonye to immediately refund Nigeria’s $1.55 million, an amount he was accused of having stolen during a real estate transaction with the Nigerian Embassy in Washington.
In a default judgment delivered after the embattled lawyer failed to appear for his deposition as ordered by the court, Judge Barbara J. Rothstein dismissed claims by Ugwuonye that he converted the controversial amount to personal use because the Nigerian government owed him for other services he rendered.
The judge said the lawyer failed to provide credible proof that he was being owed by the government. “Mr. Ugwuonye’s counterclaim and cross-claims are dismissed,” the judge ruled.
The court therefore requested the Embassy to file “its motion for default judgment, including an affidavit for damages, no later than May 28, 2013, and shall serve Ugwuonye with notice of its application by the same date.”
Judge Rothstein also awarded the Embassy its attorneys’ fees and costs of any expenses incurred in the course of the litigation.
A hearing on damages was set for 10 a.m. on June 10 2013.
The refusal of the lawyer to refund the allegedly stolen funds had pitted him against the embassy in a fierce legal battle.
According to the court judgments, the Embassy said Ugwuonye represented it in several real estate transactions, including the sale of its property located at 2201 M Street, NW, Washington D.C.
Under the terms of their engagement, the Embassy agreed to pay Ugwuonye and his company, ECU Associates, an amount equal to 3.5 per cent of the sale price of the property as complete payment for fulfillment of their obligations under the contract.
But in what the Embassy suspected to be a premeditated attempt to steal part of the proceeds of the sale, Ugwuonye failed to submit the required paperwork to the American Internal Revenue Service to the effect that the Nigerian embassy is a tax-empt organisation.