Friday, July 26, 2019 6:00 pm
…In the suit filed against it by Professor Olugbemiro Jegede, TheNEWS magazines comes out victorious
TheNEWS magazine has come out victorious in the court case involving it and Professor Olugbemiro Jegede, former Vice Chancellor, National Open University. The story, published in the 16 July 2007 edition of the magazine, was based on a court case between Alhaji Mufutau Akande and Jegede. Akande accused Jegede of having an illicit affair with his (former’s) wife.
In the court papers from which TheNEWS wrote the story, Akande had filed an affidavit in support of a claim of criminal inducement of a housewife, harbouring and adultery. In the affidavit, Akande stated that his wife was encouraged to pack out of the matrimonial home by Jegede who gave her a house at Isheri to live. There was, as contained in the affidavit, an interim police investigation report that the house had just been renovated before Saruyi (the woman) packed in and the agent who carried out the renovation was commissioned by Jegede. Jegede, through his lawyer, wrote a letter to Akande’s employer, the Nigerian Customs, that he was always maltreating his wife. Akande too wrote to the Senate and the President that Jegede was taking his wife and should be sacked.
When TheNEWS wrote the story, Saruyi Akande (the woman at the centre of the drama) said the magazine did not capture her own side. She visited the the magazine’s office, granted an interview which was published. In Jegede’s own case, however, he made a beeline for the court, slamming a N100 million libel suit against TheNEWS. Defendants in the suit were: Independent Communications Network Limited, Bayo Onanuga, Babajide Otitoju, Ernest Omosrelojie, Idowu Ogunleye and Alhaji Mufutau Akande.
This magazine also threw its own hat into the ring by drafting its laywer, Benjamin Umudjoro, to represent it.
Umudjoro, the lawyer, did not waste time in blowing the opponent’s arguments into smithereens. He argued that the story written by TheNEWS was based on court papers and was availed by what he called “defence of justification, fair comment and qualified privilege.” Justification means the story may be libelous but true.
TheNEWS, through Umudjoro, proved that adultery could be proved by circumstantial evidence:
1. House provided by Jegede for Akande’s wife.
2. Letter that Jegede wrote to Akande’s employers, the Nigerian Customs, saying that he (Akande) was maltreating his wife.
3.That Jegede got the woman employment at the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB), the reason for which she abandoned her own business.
TheNEWS, through its lawyer, further argued that in law, adultery is proved by evidence of inclination and opportunity. In other words, the circumstantial evidence above revealed inclination and opportunity to commit adultery. On the defence of fair comment, TheNEWS argued that there were some words the magazine used to embelish the story, but they do not constitutue libel as long as the main gist of the allegation was provided.
Another defence raised was the concept of qualified privilege. That is, the writers have a privilege to inform those they address the message (the reading public) as enshrined in Sections 22 and 39 of the Constitution of Nigeria. Also, the publication must be done without malice and must be in public interest. And at the time of writing the story, the writer believed the story to be true.
TheNEWS was able to show that it has a duty to inform the readers on matters of public interest as in the court case involving the parties. Readers too have the right to know matters of public interest. The only thing in law that can destroy qualified privilege is “expressed malice” (when the publication is used for some indirect purposes. In this case if the editor wanted to contest for the VC’s position against Jegede or just to increase the sales of their magazine to sell). In the case of TheNEWS, however, it was a pure display of public interest.
The court, on 16 April 2019, agreed with the magazine on the defences it raised. Justice Y.O Idowu (Mrs) ruled that journalists have right to do their job. With that, the judge dismissed the case.