A High Court in Abuja has dismissed a N3 billion libel suit filed by the former governor of Ekiti State and Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Kayode Fayemi, against Governor Ayodele Fayose’s spokesman, Lere Olayinka, and the Chairman, Information Committee of the Ekiti State House of Assembly, Samuel Omotoso.
In the ruling which was obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, the judge, A. O. Ebong, dismissed the suit for lack of “territorial jurisdiction.”
“Based on the facts as pleaded by the plaintiff in this suit, I am unable to accept that there was defamation of the plaintiff (Fayemi) in the FCT, as no publication of the defamatory materials is shown to have taken place within the FCT,” Ebong declared.
“For that reason, this court cannot exercise jurisdiction in respect of the instant suit. The case is consequently struck out for want of territorial jurisdiction.”
Mr. Fayemi filed the Suit Number CV/577/2016 before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, at the Gwagwalada judicial division, Abuja, claiming that the Messrs Olayinka and Omotoso, defendants in the suit, brought disrepute to his name through statements allegedly made by them on July 6, 2016, during a live programme tagged Ejiire on Ekiti State Television, which also aired on cable network, Startimes.
He held that Messrs. Olayinka and Omotoso alleged that he (Fayemi) illegally collected N5 billion from Ecobank in the name of Fountain Holdings for a sham road construction.
Mr. Fayemi sought payment of N3 billion for “aggravated damages” caused him by the defendants.
According to Mr. Fayemi’s submission through his lawyer, Rafiu Balogun, as a result of the alleged statements, the defendants (Olayinka and Omotoso) portrayed him (Fayemi) as a “very corrupt public office-holder and fraudulent person who siphoned public funds at the detriment of Ekiti citizens while serving as governor.”
But counsel to the defendants, Ola Olanipekun, filed a notice of preliminary objection, praying the court to strike out the suit for want of jurisdiction and/or competence.
“It is trite that a court in one state cannot hear and determine a matter which lies exclusively within the jurisdiction of another state,” argued Mr. Olanipekun.
“The cause of action and/or the wrong complained of by the plaintiff occurred in Ekiti State which is clearly outside the jurisdiction of this honorable court.
“The 1st and 2nd defendants in the suit reside and carry out their businesses in Ekiti State which is outside the jurisdiction of this court.”
Agreeing with the defendants’ preliminary objection, Mr. Ebong said it was incumbent on Fayemi to have shown that the statements in question were published within the FCT.
He went further to state that for the court to have jurisdiction, the plaintiff (Fayemi) must show, not merely that the defamatory matter was published to the whole world, but that someone within the FCT has read or watched the alleged defamatory statements.
“On his part, the plaintiff relying on the case of Dairo v Union Bank of Nigeria Plc supra, amongst others contends that jurisdiction in respect of libel is governed by the fact of publication,” the judge said.
“Thus, the place where libelous matter is published is the appropriate venue for trial of the case.
“And where the publication occurs in different places the courts in each of such places would have jurisdiction. In such cases it is submitted the plaintiff has a right to choose which of those courts he would bring his claim in.”
Responding to the judgment, Mr. Olayinka hailed the ruling, saying that it was funny that Mr. Fayemi could go to court, when it was clear that he mismanaged the state during his tenure as governor.
“I wished he was put in the witness box and cross examined so that pertinent questions bordering on his mis-governance of Ekiti State will be asked,” Mr. Olayinka said.
“That Fayemi could still go to court claiming that his character, which he lacked in the first place was assassinated show that those claiming to be fighting corruption in Abuja are just wasting their time, or at best, fighting the opposition,” Mr. Omotoso said.
The former governor is yet to react to the ruling.