Defamation: Odili sues NIMASA DG for N6bn damages

  • As judge’s absence stalls ruling on suit against Agip, NNPC

Former governor of Rivers State, Dr Peter Odili, has approached a Port High Harcourt, asking for N6 Billion damages for alleged defamation by the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr Dakuku Peterside.

The former governor claimed that the defendant, a former governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in the 2015 elections state, defamed his person at a press conference held after the victory of Governor Nyesom Wike at the Supreme Court, last January.

Peterside, who failed to appear before Justice Adama Iyayi-Lamikanra of the state High Court, on Tuesday, was reported to have said during the press conference that Wike, during his victory thanksgiving service, allegedly said Odili helped him (Wike) to secure victory at the apex court.

The former governor said what Dakuku said was false and malicious, adding that Wike never made such an inference, but that Dakuku deliberately twisted and misrepresented what the governor said.

Entering the witness box, Odili affirmed his statement, adding that the defendant was duly served the notice of hearing, but neither the NIMASA DG nor his legal representative were in court for the matter.

Lead counsel to Odili, Kanu Agabi (SAN), told the trial judge that there was a proof of service on Peterside, even as Justice Iyayi-Lamikanra adjourned to October 27, for further hearing.

Speaking with newsmen shortly after court proceedings, Agabi said the defendant was properly served, adding, “We sued for libel and we called our first witness. And we have adjourned for cross examination to 27 October. We felt defamed by their (defendant) publication and we are here to vindicate ourselves.

“You could see that the defendants were not in court, but they have been served; they have been properly served. The court would not have proceeded otherwise.”

In another development, the absence of Justice Abdullah Liman of the Federal High Court, on Tuesday, stalled ruling on six motions in a suit by an indigenous oil servicing firm, ARCO Group, against the Nigerian Agip Oil Company and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) over the implementation of the Local Content Act.

Others joined in the suit number FH/PH/CS/02/2015 included Conoco Philips Petroleum Nigeria Limited and the Nigeria Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS).

Tuesday made it the fourth time the court failed to deliver judgment on the matter, as ARCO had,  in the suit number before the court to determine whether it was entitled to execute the task of performing the contract for the maintenance service of rotating equipment at the Nigerian Agip Oil Company gas plants at OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale.

The plaintiff claimed that being a Nigerian company and having demonstrated ownership of equipment, Nigerian personnel and capacity to execute the task, it had the exclusive right to be considered and granted such contract, including any extension of its duration, in line with the provision of Section 3, subsections (2) and (3) of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act, 2010.

The indigenous oil servicing company also sought a declaration that the persistent and deliberate failure of NAOC to award the contract for the maintenance of the said plants, as well as grant an extension of the award by way of interim or stop gap contract, violated Section 3 (2, 3) of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act, 2010.

Justice Liman had, on July 22, 2016, deferred judgment on the matter and other cases listed for judgment, citing “distractions and annoying petitions.”

He had said that he had hoped to deliver his ruling on  the six contentions issues on the case as well as judgments on other matters, but that he was not able to write his judgment because of distractions and petitions.

All parties in the suit were present in court on September 23, 2016 but Justice Liman was again absent as he was said to be attending a Judges Conference in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.

Friday, October 7 was subsequently fixed for judgment, but after waiting for hours, counsel to both plaintiff and defendants were called into the judge’s chamber where they were told to come back on Tuesday, October 11.

But on resumption yesterday, the litigants and interested members of the public gathered in court and waited till about 12.30pm before court officers announced that the court would not sit and that judgment had, again, been deferred to Friday, October 14.

Though no reason was given for the latest deferment, it may not be unconnected with the raid on the homes of some Federal High Court judges by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS), as it was believed that Liman was one of the targets.