Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has narrated before a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, how President Muhammadu Buhari’s aide, Lauretta Onochie, caused him mental and psychological trauma through what he termed as fabricated offensive electronic messages.
Atiku who was the presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, in the last general election, told the court that Onochie levelled series of “baseless allegations” against him on twitter and facebook, to the extent that his hard-earned reputation and all that he laboured for over the years, was destroyed.
In a witness statement on oath he personally deposed to before the court, Atiku, decried that all the alleged disparaging social media posts against him came at a time he was challenging President Buhari’s re-election before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal Tribunal, insisting that Onochie’s action was “accentuated by malice and bad faith”.
He specifically prayed the court to punish Onochie who is Buhari’s Special Assistant on Social Media, over a post she shared through her twitter handle on May 7 and on Facebook on May 20.
In a libel suit he filed through his lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, the former VP demanded for N2.5billion representing general, aggravated, punitive and exemplary damages over the untold embarrassment, derision, public ridicule, odium, obloquy, marital disharmony, mental agony and psychological trauma which the Defendant’s publications have caused him.
According to Atiku, Onochie had in the said post, portrayed him as someone on the watch list of security operatives in the United Arab Emirates, and who had travelled to shop for terrorists in the Middle East. He told the court that his public image was battered by the allegation to the extent that he was regarded as a security threat both within and outside the country.
He said he would in the course of the hearing, tender call logs showing an avalanche of text messages and calls he received in the aftermath of Onochie’s posts.
“That I am the Claimant in this suit and by virtue of which I am seized with the facts deposed herein. I am an astute politician, a businessman and a philanthropist and former Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“That I am a notable and a respected personality in my community, Nigeria and the World at large, a distinguished Elder Statesman, who has served the Nigerian people, the Federal Government of Nigeria and humanity in various capacities.
“I had a sterling career in the political sector. That sometime in May 2019, I embarked on a foreign trip to the United Arabs Emirates (UAE), as I have done over the years. That while still in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the said trip, the Defendant on 7th day of May, 2019, through her twitter handle page, which is linked to, and belongs to the Defendant, published a most libellous story about me on her said twitter and also published same globally online on the social and other print media and electronic media, making the following false and unfounded allegations against me.
“Atiku on UAE watchlist-Security sources Security operatives in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are keeping a close tab on a former Nigerian Vice Pres Atiku Abubakar who has been in the Middle East nation for several weeks now What is he doing there? Me: Shopping for Terrorists?”.
“That in the said defamatory publication against me made by the defendant on 7th May 2019, the defendant amongst other baseless allegations falsely and maliciously accused me of being on the watch list of Security Operatives in the United Arabs Emirates (UAE).
“The defendant further falsely accused me of shopping for terrorists in the Middle East, thereby portraying me as an evil man, mentor of terrorists, someone who has links with terrorists, and a person who is interested in destabilizing the peace and unity of Nigeria. The publication also portrayed me as a security threat and terrorist to right-thinking members of the public and the society at large.
“That since the 7th day of May 2019, when the said libellous and offensive electronic message vide twitter, was sent and also published globally online `in the social and other print media, the odious publication has clearly rubbished my image and reputation.
“It has caused me national and international backlash and embarrassment and has done incalculable damage to me. The publication of the defendant has also caused me, in the eyes of reasonable members of the public, unspeakable odium, obloquy, hatred, ridicule, mental and psychological trauma.
“I have thereby been subjected to the shame and infamy of being viewed by members of the public as not only corrupt but as a terrorist and sponsor of terrorism. Numerous telephone calls, emails, visits, letters and private social media chats by my family members, friends, political and business associate, and international statesmen and women attest to the alarm and serious concerns generated by the defendant’s false publication.
“I categorically deny each and every allegation contained in the said publication which is a figment of the imagination of the defendant. I state most emphatically that the entire opprobrious and denigrating story above referred to is most misleading, baseless, false, malicious and totally bereft of any foundation howsoever.
“I state most emphatically that the inference and grave conclusions made by the defendant in the obviously politically orchestrated story were invented by the defendant and others of her ilk, solely to cause maximum damage to my high reputation.
“That Contrary to the defendant’s derogatory, disparaging, mendacious and unrestrained defamatory statement, as published in various print, electronic and online media platforms, and as concerning me, is not and I have never been on the security watch list of UAE, or any other country, for that matter.
“I have neither ever been denied entry into, interrogated, nor been declared wanted by the UAE Authorities, or any of its security agencies. That I was at the time of the said publication in the UAE and was never accosted by any security agencies over the said frivolous and baseless allegations.
“That the allegation by the Defendant to the effect that I was shopping for terrorists is not only dishonest and reckless but was calculated and Politically, designed to instigate agents against me not only in the UAE but across the world.”
He told the court that the Defendant failed to retract her allegations, despite a letter his lawyer wrote to her on May 14 to that effect, adding that rather apologise to him, Onochie, in a follow-up post on facebook on May 20, “portrayed me to right-thinking members of the society as a depressed person without the mental fitness to hold the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or any public whatsoever.”
He said: “Further and by way of innuendo, the defamatory words complained of the above used by the Defendant also meant and were understood to mean that I am a hypocrite. “That after these defamatory publications by the Defendant, several people, both within and outside the country, who read the publications have called me and expressed their disappointment that they never knew that I was a man of dubious character and a sponsor of terrorists, despite my apparent sterling and distinguished career in the public sector and enviable achievements in the private sector.
“Some of them challenged me to sue the author of the publications to clear my name if I believed that the publications were false. That it is most uncharitable of the Defendant to disparage my reputation, who has done everything humanly possible to serve Nigeria and humanity with a view to alleviating poverty and unemployment in Nigeria and beyond.
“That I deserve accolades for my personal commitment and sacrifices by creating employment and alleviating poverty through the empowerment of the youths. I have made outstanding contributions to the development of our country and humanity for which I do not deserve to be insulted or vilified.
“I plead that my character, reputation, person, psyche, honour, dignity, being and all I have ever stood for in life, have been smeared, maligned, assaulted and denigrated, without any justifiable basis by the electronic messages vide twitter and facebook, and also published globally online in the social and other print media circulated around the World by the Defendant.
“That upon the receipt of the electronic messages vide twitter and facebook, containing the highly libellous statements, the contents have been the subject matter of discussion in my matrimonial home and amongst other persons who heard about them both within and outside the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“That unless restrained by an order of this Honourable court, the Defendant will continue to cause to be published, the same, or similar defamatory publications against me. Upon the afore pleaded premises, that I am entitled to punitive, exemplary and aggravated damages, as well as injunctive reliefs against the Defendant.
“That I shall at the hearing of this suit, found upon all the documents relating to the facts pleaded herein, including, but not limited to the electronic messages vide twitter, facebook, other text messages, letters and e-mails from family members, concerned relatives and associate all over the World.”
Aside praying for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Defendant from making further offensive posts against him, Atiku, also sought an order compelling the defendant to make a retraction of, and an apology to him for the said offensive twitter and facebook publications on the same platforms, and also to be published in three national newspapers with wide circulation within the country and also broadcast on AIT, Channels and NTA television stations.
Atiku also sought an order compelling her to write to him, “a letter of unreserved apology for the said offensive twitter and facebook publications.”