Atiku Files N2.5bn Libel Suit Against Buhari’s Aide, Lauretta Onochie

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By John Ameh

The presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party in the l2019 elections and former Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has filed a law suit against President Muhammadu Buhari’s Special Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, for her alleged libelous tweet; via her twitter handle on May 7, 2019.

Onochie allegedly in tweet said that Atiku was on the watch list of security operatives in the United Arab Emirates and had travelled to shop for terrorists in the Middle East.

“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 Eastnation for several weeks now What is he doing there? Me: Shopping for Terrorists?” Onochie’s tweet.

Atiku, through his lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), against the tweet filed a N2.5bn suit against Onochie before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja on June 26.

“To say that the claimant is shopping for terrorists knowing same to be untrue and without any foundation is not only dishonest and reckless, but is calculated and politically designed to instigate security agents against him not only in the UAE, but across the world,” Ozokheme stated in a statement of claim accompanying the suit.

According to Ozekheme, Atiku earlier denied the allegations contained in the said tweet, and noted that the tweet was “politically orchestrated solely to cause maximum damage” to his “high reputation”.

And in a letter dated May 14, 2019, demanded an apology, retraction and payment of N500m compensation from Onochie “to assuage” the damage allegedly caused him by her social media post. He also threatened to sue her should she fail to accede to the demand “within 48 hours”.

President Buhari’s Special Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie,

In his suit, Atiku explained that Onochie was unmoved by his demand letter, and rather than show “remorse by retracting her earlier publication”, she further, on May 20, made “another derogatory publication and also published same globally online in the social and other print media” against his person.

He also said “the defamatory publication” was also published by several newspapers nationwide and on several social media news.

While he further denied the allegations contained in the said publication which he described as “a figment of the imagination of the defendant”, he however said the allegations portrayed him “as an evil man, mentor of terrorists, someone who has links with terrorists, and a person who is interested in destabilising the peace and unity of Nigeria.

“The publication also portrayed him as a security threat and terrorist to right thinking members of the public and the society at large.”

Furthermore, he noted that “the odious publication has clearly rubbished the claimant’s image and reputation. It has caused him national and international backlash and embarrassment and has done incalculable damage to him.

“He has 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.”

Ozekheme also added that following the publication, his client have received numerous telephone calls, emails, visits, letters and private social media chats by his family members, friends, political and business associates, and international statesmen and women, confirming “the alarm and serious concerns generated by the defendant’s false publication”.

The suit went on to explain that Atiku would tender the call logs showing the text messages, and calls received by him in the aftermath of Onochie’s post. And added that “the entire opprobrious and denigrating story is most misleading, baseless, false, malicious and totally bereft of any foundation howsoever”.

The statement further said “derogatory, disparaging, mendacious and unrestrained defamatory statement, as published in various print, electronic and online media platforms” he had “never been on the security watch list of the UAE, or any other country, for that matter.

“He has neither ever been denied entry into, interrogated, nor been declared wanted by the UAE Authorities, or any of its security agencies.

“That Claimant 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.”

Atiku’s lawyer then prayed for among his eight prayers, a declaration by the court that the publications made by Onochie via her social media accounts on May 7, and May 20, 2019, concerning and touching on his “are utterly false, baseless, unfounded and defamatory of the Claimant, and injurious to his reputation.”

He 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, also to be published in three national newspapers with wide circulation within the country and also broadcast on AIT, Channels and NTA television stations”.

He also sought an order compelling her to write to him, “a letter of unreserved apology for the said offensive twitter and facebook publications.” And an order of perpetual injunction restraining her whether by herself, her servants, agents, privies, assigns, friends and /or representatives, or otherwise howsoever, from further posting such “offensive and libelous material or any other form of defamatory statements against his person.

He asked for an order directing the defendant to him “the sum ofN2,500,000,000,000 “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 the claimant.”

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