A Kaduna High Court has ordered Today Publishing Company, publishers of The Union newspaper, to publicly apologise as well as pay N10 million damages to Gov. Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State for defamation.
El-Rufai had sued the company in a suit number KAD/KDH/285/15, over false publication in the Union newspaper on July 2, 2015, concerning his assets.
The defendant in the said July 2, 2015 edition in its front-page, falsely claimed that the governor had declared assets worth N90 billion which included 40 mansions.
Delivering judgment, Justice M.L. Muhammed, ordered the defendants to pay El-Rufai the sum of N10 million as general damages and also tender an apology which must be published in national dailies.
The court also perpetually restrained the defendants from further defaming El-Rufai.
The court held that the plaintiff had clinically demonstrated through his pleadings and evidence that he never declared assets worth N90 billion and 40 mansions.
The court further held that the pieces of evidence as provided before the court by the plaintiff had proven the ingredients of defamation to wit: publication of the offending words.
“That the words referred to the plaintiff; that the words are defamatory of the plaintiff; that the words were published to third parties; that the words are false; and that there are no justifiable legal grounds for the said publication”.
The court held that by Exhibits 1 and 2 – the print and electronic versions of the said publication – the plaintiff had shown that the offending material was published by the defendants to third parties.
The court also held that Exhibit 11, which contained the plaintiff’s assets declaration form submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau, the plaintiff had satisfactorily shown that he did not declare assets worth N90 billion and 40 mansions.
The court also noted that the 1st defence witness concluded his testimony by admitting that there was no basis for the said publication.
The court further referred to the testimony of the 1st defence witness and held that it failed to prove the defences of justification, fair comment and qualified privilege.
El-Rufai’s lawyer, Mr A.U. Mustapha, SAN, praised the judgment saying “it is a well considered judgment which was replete with industry and erudition”.
On his part the governor welcomed the judgment “as a clear statement that the freedom to publish is not a license to defame people or cloth rumour-mongering and malice as journalism”.
He said that “I approached the court and personally testified in the case as a demonstration of my belief in the rule of law”.