A Federal High Court, Abuja has elected to hear a N1.5 billion defamation suit brought against the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) by former Governor of Akwa Ibom, Victor Attah.
Justice Emeka Nwite, in a ruling, dismissed the preliminary objection raised by the AGF, challenging the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Attah, through his lawyer, Dr. Reuben Atabo, SAN, had sued the AGF as sole defendant in the case.
In the ruling, Justice Nwite upheld the argument by plaintiff’s lawyer, Atabo, that the subject of the case fell within the scope of the court’s jurisdictional competence as provided in Section 251 of the constitution.
The judge held that the suit was informed by the action of the AGF, “which emanated from the administrative action and decision of the Federal Government to retry the plaintiff for a crime which he was earlier charged, tried, discharged and acquitted.
The case was n respect of money laundry, conspiracy and abuse of office,” and in relation to which the AGF granted an interview that was published in national dailies, and prompting the plaintiff to sue.
“In the light of the above, I must say that the argument of the learned counsel to the defendant/applicant (the AGF) is misconceived.
“The main crux of the matter is not one pertaining to tort only; rather, it is one seeking declaratory reliefs as well as to stop the prosecution of the plaintiff for the second time.
“The authority relied on by the learned counsel to the defendant/applicant is of no moment as it is distinguishable from the instant case.
“In the light of the above, I am of the humble opinion that Section 251(1)(r) is applicable in this case and has vested this honourable court with the jurisdiction to hear and determine the instant suit.
“The application of the defendant is hereby dismissed,” Justice Nwite held.
The judge adjourned until Oct. 16 for hearing of the substantive suit.
NAN reports that in the suit, marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/646/2018, the ex-governor claimed that the immediate past AGF, Abubakar Malami, in 2016, named him among some ex-governors to be prosecuted by the National Prosecution Coordination Committee (NPCC) for alleged corruption.
Attah stated, in his witness statement, that as a result of the pronouncement by the AGF, which was published in the media, the Specialist Crimes Directorate (SCD) and the Metropolitan Police (MP) of the United Kingdom placed him on its watch list of corrupt governors of Nigeria, facing corruption charges.
“I left office of the Governor of Akwa Ibom State on the 29th day of May, 2007 and the only allegation made against me and my government were the of allegations of money laundering concerning the sale of Akwa Ibom’s shares in Econet by the Akwa Ibom Investment and Industrial Promotion Council (AKIIPOC) and African Development Fund Inc and I have been cleared of the said allegations.
“From the 29th day of May, 2007 till date, there are no fresh facts linking me with the looting of the treasury of Akwa Ibom State or any case of money laundering, official corruption and/or abuse of office.
“By the conduct of the defendant in causing the Specialist Crimes Directorate and the Metropolitan Police of the United Kingdom to place my name under their watch list and upon arrival in the United Kingdom to be arrested and interrogated, I have not been able to travel to the United Kingdom to meet my international obligations to my clients and have lost several contracts.
“By the defendant’s publication, I have been brought into public ridicule, a politician not worthy of my calling and a person who cannot be trusted to hold political office and I have therefore suffered loss and damages,” he said.
Attah said his resort to court was because the AGF failed to retract the publication as demanded in his lawyer’s letters to him.
The ex-governor, therefore, prayed the court to, among others, order the AGF to tender apology to him, which must be published in three national dailies, retracting the alleged defamatory statement.
He also sought an order compelling the AGF to write to the Specialist Crime Directorate of the UK. stating that he was not among the ex-governors facing corruption charges.
Attah is claiming N1.5 billion in general, exemplary and aggravated damages.