Wednesday 15 April 2015

Court lifts ban on Obasanjo’s autobiography ‘My Watch’

A Federal Capital Territory High Court in Apo, Abuja, has lifted an injunction barring former President Olusegun Obasanjo from publishing his autobiography, ‘My Watch’.

Justice Valentine Ashi ordered ‎on the release of the books which had been in the custody of the Nigerian Customs Service.

The books were intercepted by the Nigerian Customs on the strength of the court injunction which was granted on December 10, 2014.

But Justice Valentine Ash set aside the order of injunction on Monday upon an application by Obasanjo, through his lawyer, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN).

The court asked the customs not to collect demurrage on the books for the period they had overspent in their custody.

The court upheld Agabi’s argument that the applicant, a Peoples Democratic Party chief in Ogun State, Buruji Kashamu, who is currently pursuing a N20bn libel suit against Obasanjo in the same court, suppressed vital facts to obtain the order.

No journalist was in court when the judge lifted the injunction on Monday as the ruling was not delivered earlier on March 30, the date originally fixed for it.

New date for the ruling was said to have been later communicated to the parties.

Kashamu‎, had on December 10, 2014, obtained the injunction from the court through an ex parte application which he filed in his N20bn libel suit against Obasanjo.

Kashamu had anchored his prayer on the argument that part of the book related to the subject matter of the libel suit – a letter dated December 2, 2013 written by Obasanjo to President Goodluck Jonathan.

Kashamu had instituted the libel suit against Obasanjo having been dissatisfied with his being described by the former President in the letter which was widely published in the electronic and print media as a fugitive wanted for drug offences in the United States of America.

On December 8, 2014, Justice Ashi granted an ex parte application restraining Obasanjo from publishing the book pending the determination of the libel suit.

But Obasanjo went ahead to present the book to the public in Lagos, an act which the court held on December 10, 2014, as contemptuous.

Following the development the court ordered security and law enforcement agencies including ‎customs to confiscate the book anywhere it was found.

The judge in his ruling on Obasanjo’s application on Monday upheld Agabi’s argument that the order of injunction was wrongly made.

Agabi had maintained that the court made the order w‎ithout jurisdiction.

The Senior Advocate of Nigeria said, “The single ground of this application is that, in a case of libel, an interlocutory injunction does not lie to restrain publication in the face of a defendant pleading justification.

“The defendant (Obasanjo) is pleading justification. In paragraph 24 of our counter-affidavit, the defendant said his claim about the plaintiff is correct, true and justified from records available in the federal court of the United States.”

He said the court had “issued without jurisdiction” adding, “The moment an interlocutory is granted, the issue is prejudiced, fair hearing is prejudiced.”

He also argued that the court could only validly bar publication in a libel suit after the case of libel was proven against the defendant.

But Kashamu’s counsel, Mr. Alex Izinyon II, urged the court to dismiss Obasanjo’s application seeking to set aside the December 10, 2014 order.

He said the order having been enforced by being served on the police, Nigeria Customs Service and other security agencies, the application had lost relevance.

He told the court that Customs authority had recently requested a copy of the order when its men intercepted a container-load of the order.

The judge adjourned further proceedings in the matter till May 25.

Credit: Ade Adesomoju/Punch

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