The management of Kaduna Polytechnic has urged the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Abuja to strike out a N1 billion libel suit lodged against it by a civil servant, Bilkisu Sannusi.
Mrs Sannusi, a polytechnic expenditure officer in the Budget Office of the Federation, had sued the school’s authorities over what she described as their alleged defamatory publication against her.
She sued a former rector of the institution, Idris Bugaje, the incumbent rector, and the institution itself, as the 1st, 2nd and 3rd defendants, respectively, accusing them of damaging her image before right-thinking members of the society through their publication.
The plaintiff’s encounter with defendants came about while handling the 2020 expenditure budget of the institution in 2019.
She filed her suit marked, FCT/HC/CV/54/2021, filed against the school authorities in February 2021, claiming that the defendants maliciously described her as “incompetent and corrupt” in a publication dated April 15, 2019, but which was “only dispatched on June 26, 2020”.
According to her, the publication was sent to the office of the Permanent Secretary, Special Duty, Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, who was the past Director General, Budget Office of the Federation.
She quoted the defendants as stating in the publication that “Except we do the needful, asking for a large amount in double digits of millions, and she insisted on reducing our (Kaduna Polytechnic) proposal if we failed to comply with her demand.”
Mrs Sannusi denied ever demanding any bribe or any sort of favour from the defendants “to do schedule as the schedule officer of the Kaduna Polytechnic.”
She explained that she had been confronted with and denied the defendants’ complaint while she was testifying at an investigative panel of inquiry that was constituted to probe corrupt practices and allegations against her colleagues at the budget office in July 2020.
After several months that the probe panel concluded its work, it has yet to make public its report or findings, the complaint said.
She added in her statement of claim filed in her suit that the publication was circulated as “vendetta” against her.
She said they circulated the publication after “they were fingered in the corrupt practices complaint” which she claimed to have lodged against them and some of her colleagues (in the Budget office) “who conspired with them to manipulate the personnel budget of the Kaduna Polytechnic for the year 2020.”
Mrs Sannusi lamented that she had suffered “great hardship, public opium and psychological trauma” as a result of the defendants’ conduct which was “unfounded and unjustifiable.”
Among other prayers she urged the court to declare that the defendants’ publication of April 15, 2019, was “untrue, maliciously made and a calculation at bringing the plaintiff’s personality into disrepute and did achieve same.”
She also sought an order directing the defendants to retract the publication, tender an apology to her in two national dailies, and pay her N1 billion in damages.
Defence’s preliminary objection
In a preliminary objection, the defendants’ lawyer, Kamaluddin Umar, told the presiding judge, Hamza Mu’azu that the court lacked the jurisdiction to hear the case.
In a notice of preliminary objection dated June 22, 2021, the defendants argued that the action of the claimant was barred by the provisions of the Public Officers Protection Act.
They further contended that the necessary parties have not been brought before them.
They therefore sought among others, “an order of this honourable court dismissing/striking out” the suit, “as this honourable court lacks jurisdiction to entertain same.”
At the resumption of proceedings on Tuesday, the plaintiff’s counsel, Martin Opara, informed the court that the matter was for a definite hearing.
However, defence lawyer, Mr Umar, sought an adjournment to enable him to file a response to the claimant’s counter-affidavit.
Subsequently, the presiding judge, Hamza Mu’azu, adjourned the case till July 15 for hearing.