Bashir Dalhatu, a former minister in the Sani Abacha regime, yesterday lost a N2.1 billion libel suit he filed against Nuhu Ribadu, a former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and DAAR Communications Plc, the parent company of African Independent Television (AIT).
Mr. Dalhatu had filed the case on February 7, 2007 claiming that the former EFCC boss had defamed him by stating that he had stolen public funds. AIT, which was initially sued along with Mr. Ribadu, was subsequently dropped from the case after apologizing to the former minister. However, Mr. Ribadu had stood his ground, choosing to contest the case in court.
In the original suit, Mr. Dalhatu asked the court to make several rulings against Mr. Ribadu, the first defendant. He sought the sum of one billion naira from Mr. Ribadu as general damages for an alleged defamatory speech where the former EFCC boss spoke as follows: "I can name names of lawyers who struggle over 419 cases. Some of these, we have facts and figures. For example Bashir Dalhatu, he is a lawyer, we have a case we are investigating. He took fifteen million dollars from the Government of Nigeria. He said he was going to give to somebody whose ship was destroyed by the Buhari administration for illegal bunkering. They went and got Babangida to approve and they took $15 million. The same guy went to a judge, his own classmate, Justice Auta to give him a court order that we can’t prosecute him. Yes it happened in our country."
In addition, the plaintiff has originally demanded that the second defendant, DAAR Communications, pay him a billion naira as well as general damages for repeated broadcast of Mr. Ribadu’s words. He then asked the court to award him an additional sum of one hundred million naira against the defendants jointly and severally as aggravated and exemplary damages. In addition, Mr. Dalhatu sought a court order compelling the defendants to write and publish a written apology to him in several Nigerian newspapers. He had wanted AIT to broadcast its apology for seven consecutive days in all its news broadcast.
In the defamation case filed on his behalf by Yunus Usman, Mr. Dalhatu also sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from further making or publishing defamatory statements against him. The plaintiff stated that Mr. Ribadu made the allegedly libelous statement while addressing the Nigerian Bar Association in November 2006. Daar Communications Plc, which broadcast the statement, later settled the case with the plaintiff by apologizing for its broadcast. But Mr. Ribadu insisted that he was prepared to justify every claim he made in the statement. During trial, the Plaintiff gave evidence for himself and also called four other witnesses. On his part, Mr. Ribadu called an official of the EFCC to testify on his behalf.
In a verdict delivered on January 29, 2013, the trial judge upheld the arguments of qualified privilege and justification canvassed by Mr. Ribadu’s attorney, Femi Falana. The judge held that Mr. Dalhatu was not defamed having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case. In particular, the court found that the allegation that Mr. Dalhatu duped his client was not challenged because evidence was led to show that even though he collected $15 million from the Federal Government on behalf of his foreign client he only remitted $6.5 million while the remaining sum of $8.5 million was not accounted for.