By Lucky Isibor
A Benin High Court has thrown out a libel suit against an Edo state based community tabloid, “The Navigator Newspaper” for lack of merit.
Delivering judgment Monday, 17 July, 2017 in the N100million libel suit No. B/266/13 filed by former Transition Committee Chairman, Esan South East Local Government Council, Mr. Andrew Akhabue, in 2013, the trial judge Benin High Court 3, Honourable Justice (Mrs.) E. A. Edigin, held that the published news report titled “N21m scam hits Esan South East LG Council”, was not defamatory or libelous because it was a reportage of substantial facts and a collation of interviews, with named sources regarding the activities of the local government council pertaining to the abandonment of an earlier proposed Magistrate Court at Ubiaja, during the transition committee tenureship of the said Mr. Akhabue.
The Court further held, in its wisdom, that as a person occupying a public position, wherein he should be accountable and answerable to the people in matters of execution of projects with public funds, Mr. Akhabue ought to have kept the people abreast of developments by keeping interested journalists, operating at the behest of the people, informed about council activities for more elucidating reportage for the people’s consumption.
The Navigator newspaper had, in its Volume 9 No. 04 February 18, 2013 edition, published a report of its journalistic investigations into allegations received from some indigenes of Esan South East local government area that the then transition committee had abandoned a proposed Magistrate Court for which council funds had been partly released for its execution.
In a chat with newsmen, shortly after the judgment, Editor of The Navigator, Mr. O’Ray Osawe, extolled the thoroughness and sagacity of the judgment, adding that some persons, especially aggrieved politicians, usually attempt to gag the press by raising frivolous libel suits in an unholy attempt to harass journalists, as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, from asking salient and germane questions on behalf of the people and putting such well investigated reports in print.
“It had been a painstaking 4-year libel suit. I must commend the trial judge and the judiciary for the profound judgment. This truly is a victory for democracy; a victory for good governance; a victory for the media in its quest to hold our political office holders accountable and answerable to the people who elect them into offices,” he said.