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Appeal Court orders retrial of N5b defamation suit against Lai Mohammed

By Ameh Ochojila, Abuja
16 July 2022   |   4:03 am
The Court of Appeal Abuja yesterday ordered a fresh trial of the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in a N5 billion defamation suit brought by a business mogul, Chief Raymond Dokpesi.

[files] Nigeria’s Information Minister Lai Mohammed. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

The Court of Appeal Abuja yesterday ordered a fresh trial of the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in a N5 billion defamation suit brought by a business mogul, Chief Raymond Dokpesi.

A three-man panel presided over by Justice Abraham Goergewill ordered the retrial after setting aside the judgment of the lower court for failing to give Dokpesi fair hearing before dismissing his suit against the minister.

Recall that a trial court in Abuja had dismissed a defamation suit by Dokpesi against Mohammed and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami.

Justice Olukayode Adeniyi, in a judgment delivered on July 6, 2021, held that Dokpesi failed to establish his claim that Mohammed defamed him by allegedly including his name in a supposed list of looters at a press conference he (Mohammed) addressed on March 30, 2018.

Justice Adeniyi, in the judgment, faulted the evidence led by Dokpesi through the eight witnesses he called and held that the claimant failed to prove the publication of the alleged defamatory statement.

He noted that the evidence of the eight witnesses were similar, giving the impression that they were tutored and that their statements were made beforehand through the same mechanical means.

Noting that the situation presented by the witnesses could be termed; “hear one, hear all,” the judge found that the evidence of the witnesses were materially the same.

He also noted that while Dokpesi pleaded libel, his witnesses gave evidence of slander by all of them claiming to have heard of the alleged defamatory publication on Channels Television.

Justice Adeniyi also found that the witnesses called by Dokpesi, who claimed to have watched the press conference on Channels TV, did not give evidence in respect of the exact statement made by Mohammed, which they claimed defamed the claimant.

However, the appellate court yesterday held that the decision of the lower court was erroneous.

The Appeal Court therefore ordered that any other Judge except Justice Olukayode Adeniyi of the Federal Capital Territory High Court should be assigned the retrial.

A three-man panel of Justices said the lower court did not dispassionately hear the suit and thereby committed a fatal error. 

The Court of Appeal, therefore, nullified the decision of the trial court on the ground that the appellant was not given fair hearing and ordered trial denovo.