Renowned human rights lawyer, Barr. Joni Icheka, has dragged the dismissed former Chairman of the Governing Council of the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NgCC) and the President of the Copyright Society of Nigeria Ltd/GTE (COSON), Chief Tony Okoroji, to court over defamatory publications.
The plaintiff, who is a senior civil servant at the NgCC, is asking the court to award N500m to him as general damages and equivalent sum of money as special damages for the alleged civil wrongs caused against him by COSON, Chief Okoroji and Dr. Jaja, jointly and severally, for the said publication. According to Barr. Icheka, in suit no CV/3398/2020, the defendants had in a petition dated September 15th, 2020, and addressed to Dr. Jaja, who was at that time the Chairman of the Governing Council of NgCC, alleged that the plaintiff is co-defendant in an on-going trial regarding a purported N7 billion fraud alongside Mr. Kenny Martins, and were alleged to have engaged in the forgery of documents that used in defrauding the Nigerian Police Equipment Fund.
The plaintiff disclosed that the defendants in the libellous publication claimed that the Director-General of the NgCC, “concealed this critical information from the Governing Board and deceived the board to approve the appointment of Barr. Icheka”.
The plaintiff further asserted that the defendants forwarded petitions containing this false information to President Muhammadu Buhari, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice (AGF) Mohammed Adolescent, SAN; the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geofrey Onyeama; the Chairman, Code of Conduct Bureau, and the Chairman, ICPC.
He said such petition with criminal invitations and widely circulated to the above listed, and also to all members of the Governing Council of NgCC, staff members of the parastatal, other persons and institutions, including the D-G NgCC, without verification as to the veracity of the allegations made against him, “constitutes libel” as it has impacted negatively on his employment and put him on the ham’s way as bread winner of his family. Icheka exhibited Charge No: CR/267/18 referred to by the defendants, pending before Justice Modupe Adebiyi of the FCT High Court, to prove that the statements of the defendants were false in its entirety. On the contrary, Icheka stated that he was lawyer to a defendant in the said criminal charge and wondered how he transformed to an accused in that matter.
“The claimant avers that the defendants exhibited utter callousness and negligence in the publication and circulation of the false information by failing to act with reasonable level of care in simply cross-checking their source of the false informationbinnissue having regard to the existence of the Open Court Registry and the EFCC who is a sister government agency from which the defendants could have cross-checked and authenticated their information prior to publication or republication of the false petition”. He maintains that by the said publication, the defendants adversely affected his current employment and his future chances of advancing to the very top echelon in the public service.
He also claims that career people, including his colleagies, now see him as “a dubious person of low quality and who is morally bankrupt and should not be trusted by all and sundry”. Icheka attached certified true copy of the charge sheet alluded to, filed by Festus Keyamo, SAN, on June 20th, 2018; affidavit of completion of investigation filed with the charge sheet sworn to by Allu Dauda, an Inspector of Police; list of witnesses in the referenced charge; the Case Summary; the libelous petition addressed to the NgCC Governing Board and signed by Dr. Jaja; petition by COSON written on their instruction by White Dove Solicitors; petition to the D-G NgCC against Icheka by Dr. Jaja; petition to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) on Mr. Icheka, and several other petitions written against Icheka. In asking for N1 billion as damages, the plaintiff further asked the court to direct the defendants to tender formal apology to be published in three national news papers as well as order for perpetual injunction against them again further publishing defamatory materials against the plaintiff.