The Port-Harcourt Division of the Rivers State High Court on Monday adjourned until January 9, 2019, hearing on a motion challenging its jurisdiction to hear a defamation suit brought by Peter Odili.
Mr Odili, a former governor of Rivers State, recently sued Chidi Odinkalu and Ayisha Osori over claims that the authors defamed him in their latest book, ‘Too Good To Die: Third Term and the Myth of the Indispensable Man in Africa.’
He demanded a published apology and N1 billion from Mr Odinkalu and Ms Osori, and that further publication of copies of the book must cease immediately.
Mr Odili’s lawyers, led by Kanu Agabi, a senior lawyer, had initial court approval to an interlocutory motion which sought to ban further printing of the books.
The court was expected to hear the interlocutory application (a judicial process in which parts of a case could be enforced pending the final judgement of the original case) on December 17, but the authors’ legal team, led by Idaye Opi, said the judge should allow more time for them to file a response.
They also immediately challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter. Both Mr Odinkalu and Ms Osori live and work in Abuja, and they argued the book was not published in Rivers States, even though it might have been taken to the state by those who purchased copies.
The presiding judge, A.U. Kingsley-Chukwu, then adjourned hearing in the matter until January 9.
Mr Odinkalu said in a statement that allowing Mr Odili to get an interlocutory injunction against further printing and sales could effectively kill the book, which explored rich history about the intrigues of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s alleged plot to perpetuate himself in power beyond the two terms allowed by the Constitution.
“In Nigeria, where court proceedings can last until the day after eternity, an interlocutory injunction in this kind of case could amount to get everything that the claimant asks for in the case without even having to prove anything,” Mr Odinkalu said. “That would be a travesty.”
Mr Odili was the governor of Rivers State from 1999 until 2007. He was amongst over two-dozen governors identified by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission as having corruption questions to answer for their use of public resources at the time.
After leaving office, the EFCC filed corruption charges against Mr Odili for alleged misappropriation, but the politician strongly denied wrongdoing and has managed to lock the case down in court via a controversial perpetual injunction he was granted.
In his court filings, Mr Odili said he took note of excerpts of the book in which the authors narrated how late politician, Harry Marshall, was assassinated soon after they publicly fell out with each other in 2003.
The book cited a letter which Mr Marshall had written to the police in Rivers at the time, expressing strong concerns about a growing spate of intimidation and violent attacks against members of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in the state.
Mr Marshall said the attackers were loyalists of Mr Odili, and they had the support of the police (to) regularly unleash mayhem ahead of the 2003 elections.
The book also painted vivid details of how Mr Odili allegedly helped bankroll the third term agenda which Mr Obasanjo pushed to perpetuate himself in power beyond the 2007 expiration of his constitutionally-approved two terms of eight years.
“Most of the cash distributed in support of the project were wrapped in bundles bearing the stamp of First Inland Bank. Unknown to most people, First Inland Bank’s history lay buried in networks of loyalty between some of the most influential leaders of the ruling party, including President Obasanjo himself,” the authors wrote on page 162.
“The corporate trail however disclosed a deep financial bond between the president, Senator Ararume and the governments of Bauchi and Rivers States, then ruled, respectively, by two of President Obasanjo’s closest governorship acolytes, Adamu Muazu and Peter Odili, who were at the centre of shadowy, complex, unlawful and, almost certaining, criminal financial operations behind third term,” the authors added.
In his lawsuit, Mr Odili said the book cast him in a distasteful light before reasonable people across the world who have read it, including eminent scholars in the United States.
The former governor listed scores of awards he has received from persons and organisations across the world throughout his career, and said there was no way he could have been involved in the slew of criminal exploits Mr Odinkalu and Ms Osori linked to him in their book, which was unveiled in September, 2018.