An Abuja High Court has found former President Olusegun Obasanjo guilty of contempt, after the former leader defied the court’s directive barring him from releasing his autobiography.
Mr. Obasanjo released the new book, My Watch, Tuesday, in Lagos, days after the court order.
The court had ordered that the book launch be put on hold over claim the three-volume series contained details of a libel case already before the court.
The case involves a drug trafficking allegation made by Mr. Obasanjo against Buruji Kasahmu, a leader of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the southwest.
Mr. Kashamu had requested the court order to stop the release of the book, citing the case.
But the move is believed to have been a cover to block Mr. Obasanjo from making public some of his most scathing assessments of President Goodluck Jonathan, as contained in the book.
Mr. Kasahmu is an ally of President Jonathan.
On Tuesday, the former president defied the court order and proceeded with the book launch saying the judge acted in error and deserved to be sanctioned.
The former president also said the book had already been published before the court gave its order.
Justice Valentine Ashi, in a ruling Wednesday, gave Mr. Obasanjo 21 days to demonstrate why he should not be punished for going ahead to publish the book.
The court also ordered the Inspector General of Police, the Director General of the State Security Service (SSS) and the Comptroller of Customs to recover all the books all book stands, sales agents, vendors, the sea and airports and deposit them with the court’s registrar pending the determination of the case.
Mr. Ashi said it was immaterial that the book was published before the interim orders were made.
He said Mr. Obasanjo should not have in the first place published the book since the Kashamu case was already in court.
“The fact that the book was published in November is irrelevant. As long as the substantive suit is not yet determined, no party is entitled to publish or comment on material facts that are yet to be decided on by the court,” the judge said.
“I hold the defendant, not only in contempt of the court, but to show cause why he should not be punished for contempt and ordered to undo what he has wrongly done.”
“The defendant, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo shall be given 21 days, from the day this order is served on him, to show cause, via affidavit, why he should not be punished for contempt committed by publishing and distributing for sale to the public, the book, My Watch, in plain disregard of the pendency of substantive the suit and the order of this court made on December 5, 2014 restraining him from doing so.
“The defendants, whether by himself, agents, servants, privies or whatever name called, is hereby restrained from further publication or offering for sale or distribution, in any way or manner, the book called My Watch or the like of the visual or written materials which contains a re-publication or statement extracted from the letter referred to by the plaintiff,” the judge said.
He also ordered that orders of the court be served on all media houses in the country and be equally served on Mr. Obasanjo by publication in two national dailies.
The judge rejected claims by Mr. Obasanjo’s lawyer that Mr. Kashamu failed to produce the book to prove it contained libellous details.
The judge said it was the duty, instead, of the defendant, in whose custody the book was, to show the court that the plaintiff’s fear was misplaced.
He said Mr. Obasanjo’s failure to do so, showed he had something to hide.
Mr. Obasanjo’s lawyer, Realwon Okpanach, said the former president will appeal the ruling.
He said the court order, which the former president flouted, was given in error since it was not proven that the book contained libellous materials.
“The orders made cannot be enforced. They want the court to stop an act that had been concluded. That is impossible. We had published the book in November, they came before the court in December and asked that the publishing shroud be stopped. Is that possible?” he said.
“We shall file our appeal within the stipulated time of 14 days in the case of interlocutory orders.”