Justice Oluwatoyin Ipaye of an Ikeja High Court has adjourned until Nov. 6 a N100 million libel suit filed by Mr Louis Mbanefo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, against Independent Communications Network Ltd, a media company.
Mbanefo, 73, a professor of Maritime Law, is the son of Sir Louis Mbanefo, the first lawyer from Eastern part of the country and a former Justice of the Supreme Court.
He alleged that a story with the headline, “Judge stuns senior lawyer, Mbanefo, by denying him bail on self-recognition”, published in the May 5, 2015 edition of The News online magazine is defamatory.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that online magazine had alleged in its story that Mbanefo, had stood surety for another lawyer, Mr Luke Emejulu, at the X-Squad, Lagos Police Command, Ikeja, Lagos.
Following Emejulu’s failure to make an appearance in court, Mbanefo, according to th story, was arraigned before Magistrate Yewande Aje-Afunwa of an Ikeja Magistrates’ Court and charged with obstruction of justice.
Mbanefo was allegedly refused to be set free on self-recognizance by Aje-Afunwa, but was instead slammed a bail of N500,000 with a surety in like sum.
Mbanefo, however, through his lawyer, Mrs Bibiana Orekyeh, in his N100 million suit against the media company, claimed that he was never arraigned at the Ikeja Magistrates’ Court and was abroad in London during the alleged proceedings.
He claimed that his pristine reputation had been damaged by the publication and had suffered damages.
In addition to the N100 million compensation, the lawyer is also seeking a declaration that the publication is defamatory to him and demanded an unreserved apology from the defendants.
He said the unreserved apology should be published in five national newspapers and requested a removal of the cached title of the publication online.
However, the defendants through their lawyer, Mr Benjamin Umudjoro, relied on the defence of justification and qualified privilege.
According to them, the publication is not malicious but is a direct report from their reporter.
They noted that Mbanefo, a public figure, is a role model to many young Nigerians and they (the defendants) are empowered by the Constitution of Nigeria to inform those that look up to the claimant of matters connected to him.
They noted that criminal matters and court proceedings are of public interest.
The defendants insist that Mbanefo is not entitled to N100 million damages, a unreserved apology or any other declaratory relief.
However, all parties involved in the suit have agreed an out-of-court settlement.