Fashola files N2bn libel suit against Sunrise Power CEO

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The Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, has filed a N2 billion character defamation suit against the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sunrise Power and Transmission Company Ltd, Leno Olaitan Adesanya, citing libelous publications allegation made in two national daily newspapers – The Guardian and THISDAY.

The minister in the suit before a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), argued that Adesanya made false and disparaging publications against him in The Guardian and Thisday newspapers of January 11 and 16, 2019 in respect of the Mambilla Power Project.

Adesanya, in the publications, had reportedly said that ‘Fashola frustrated the completion of the Mambila Power Project and engaging in acts of corruption in relation to the project while serving as Minister of Power, Works and Housing”.

Fashola protested that the advertorial publications, captioned: “Mambilla Power Project: Open letter to Mr. Babatunde Fasola,” and sponsored by Adesanya, “amount to nothing less than character assassination, with a view to achieving damaging effects against the claimant.”

The minister argued that Adesanya and the two newspapers, by the publications in which his name was deplored, portrayed him as a dishonest and disloyal political actor, and a greedy thieving political manipulator, unworthy of his office as a minister or any other public office.

Fashola also protested that the publications portrayed him as “a dirty politician who would take beneficial steps in governance only when it is for his personal advantage even at the risk of causing his country and political leader great harm.

Fashola, then, declared that he has suffered embarrassment, humiliation, etc., as a result of the false publications. He, therefore, demanded the award of N2 billion damages by the court for damages over the libelous publications, and aggravated and exceptional damages.

The minister further sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants and their agents from further publishing the offending materials or any other materials relating to the claimant.

Fashola, also demanded the court to order the defendants to publish retractions of the damaging publications, seeking an order compelling the defendants to offer him “properly worded unreserved apology for the libellous advertorials.”

It was said that Adesanya and Thisday are yet to respond to the suit.

The Guardian, however, in a statement of defence, absolved the organization from any wrongdoing.

It was indicated that The Guardian, pleading qualified privilege, insisted that it acted within its constitutional responsibilities, including the duty to inform the public on matters relating to the conduct, activities, operations and policies of the state, its ministries, parastatal, and agencies.

The Guardian maintained that the publication cited by Fashola “is a fair and accurate publication of a rejoinder about issues relating to the management and/or administration of the Mambilla Power Project by the claimant as to the Minister of Power.”

It noted that since the Mambilla Power Project is being executed with public funds, the publication complained about was made in furtherance of its moral, professional, and legal duty to inform the public on matters of public interest.

The Guardian pointed out that it did not hold Fashola in malice of any contempt and has never made any publication or done anything against him to cast him in a bad light.

When the case came up  on Tuesday, counsel to Fashola, Charles Edosomwan (SAN), informed the court that only the second defendant (The Guardian) has filed any response in the case.

The presiding Judge, Justice Sylvester Oriji, however, said that the first and third defendants are still within the required seven days to file their responses.

Justice Oriji, thereafter,  adjourned the case to December 6 for a hearing of a pending application filed by the claimant.