A High Court has ordered Today Publishing Company, publishers of The Union newspaper, to tender an apology and pay N10 million for defaming Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State.
Governor El-Rufai had approached the court in 2015 after The Union published false claims about his assets declaration, in suit number KAD/KDH/285/15, which had Today’s Publishing Company Ltd as the defendant.
Justice M.L. Muhammed of the Kaduna State High Court who delivered judgment on Monday ordered the defendants to pay El-Rufai the sum of N10m as general damages and tender an apology which must be published in national dailies.
The court also perpetually restrained the defendants from further defaming Governor El-Rufai.
It will be recalled that the case followed a front-page story published in The Union on 2nd July 2015 of July, which falsely claimed that the governor had declared assets worth N90bn and 40 mansions.
El-Rufai’s lawyer, A.U. Mustapha, SAN praised the judgment “as a well-considered judgment which was replete with industry and erudition”.
On his part, the governor has welcomed the judgment “as a clear statement that the freedom to publish is not a license to defame people or clothe rumour-mongering and malice as journalism”.
He said that “he approached the court and personally testified in the case as a demonstration of his belief in the rule of law, a stance he has taken in securing apologies from other newspapers for libel and which informs his continued pursuit of other instances of defamation in the courts”.
The court held that the plaintiff had clinically demonstrated through his pleadings and evidence led in support that he never declared assets worth N90bn and 40 mansions.
The court reiterated the ingredients that the plaintiff had proven the ingredients of defamation to wit: publication of the offending words; that the words refer 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.
In juxtaposing the said ingredients with the instant case, the court held that by Exhibits 1 and 2 (the print and electronic versions of the said publication), the plaintiff had shown that indeed the offending material was published by the defendants to third parties.
The court also held that by Exhibit 11 (the plaintiff’s assets’ declaration form submitted to the CCB), the plaintiff had satisfactorily shown that he did not declare assets worth N90bn and 40 mansions, the implication of which is that the words were false and defamatory of the plaintiff.
The court also noted that the first 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 first defence witness which was replete with admissions and held that the defendants had failed to prove the defences of justification, fair comment and qualified privilege.