The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court in Maitama, Abuja, ordered, on Monday, that a N1 billion libel suit filed against Lauretta Onochie, President Muhammadu Buhari’s personal embattled assistant on new media, will continue with or without her defence on October 18.
The suit was instituted against Ms Onochie by the senator representing Delta North in the National Assembly, Peter Nwaoboshi, alleging that Ms Onochie defamed him by accusing him of fraud via her Facebook and Twitter handles last year.
Mr Nwaoboshi’s lawyer, Andrew Abogede, noted Ms Onoiche’s absence from court, while addressing the judge, Yusuf Halilu, on Monday.
The lawyer said Ms Onochie stayed away from court despite the fact that the court’s order for substituted service on her had been complied with and hearing notices duly served on her.
He then urged the court to allow the claimant to proceed with the case.
In his ruling, the judge held that there was clear evidence in the court’s file that the defendant was duly served with the originating processes and hearing notice.
“The defendant has a choice of attending court and cannot be forced to be in court. Once service is effected on a defendant, such a defendant has a choice whether to attend court or not,” the judge said in response.
“However, a defendant is bound by the decision of the court once there is evidence of service on him (her).
“I have seen that the defendant has been served and we can’t continue to wait for her. The defendant shall be put on notice on the next hearing date,” Mr Halilu said.
The judge, thereafter, ordered the claimant to serve hearing notice on the defendant through substituted means and adjourned the case to October 18 for hearing.
Mr Nwaoboshi said in his suit that Ms Onochie maligned him by claiming in her social media posts that “he cornered Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) funds meant for execution of contracts.”
He said the alleged defamatory statements were contained in an article she posted/published on her Facebook page (Lauretta Onochie) captioned, ‘NDDC- THE CHICKEN COMES HOME TO ROOST’ on June 8, 2020.
The claimant is urging the court to declare that ‘the defendant’s post/publication of June 8, 2020, posted/published on her Facebook page Lauretta Onochie captioned: “NDDC: The Chicken Comes Home To Roost”, amounts to libel.
“An order of this Honourable Court awarding the sum of N1,000,000,000.00 (one billion naira) only, to the claimant as general damages against the defendant.
“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendant, her agents, servants, privies and any other person howsoever described, acting for and on her behalf, from further publishing/posting any other false and damaging publication in respect of the claimant.”
Controversial INEC nomination
Meanwhile, Ms Onochie is one of Mr Buhari’s nominees as National Commissioner of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) awaiting the outcome of Senate’s screening exercise.
Her nomination for the top INEC job has been widely condemned due to her clear partisanship and a number of controversial claims many of them fact-checked to be untrue against opposition members.
Mr Nwaoboshi, who recently defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), was a member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), at the time Ms Onochie’s statement he complained about was said to have been posted on social media.
The Nigerian constitution clearly prohibits partisan persons from being appointed to hold INEC positions. Some civil society groups have filed a suit to stop her appointment to the sensitive position in the electoral body.
During her screening by the Senate last week, Ms Onochie said she resigned her membership of the ruling APC in 2019.
Her denial fell short of other pieces of evidence have emerged linking her to the party up till 2020.
A suit a libel suit she had initiated in 2016 in which he claimed to be a member of the APC and active in politics is still pending before a judge of the FCT High Court.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that she appeared in court in respect of the suit to adopt her statement on oath in February 2020, when she again declared to stand by her claims contained in it.
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