Atiku files N2.5bn libel suit against Buhari’s aide, Onochie

Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar has sued President Muhammadu Buhari’s Special Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, for her alleged libellous tweet against him via her Twitter handle on May 7, 2019.

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

He prayed the court in the suit marked, CV/2287/19, to order Onochie to pay him the N2.5bn as “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.”

He stated in his statement of claim accompanying the suit that the post by the defendant that he “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 across the world.”

Denying the allegations in the said tweet, Atiku said the tweet was “politically orchestrated solely to cause maximum damage to his high reputation” while challenging “the purported victory” of  Onochie’s boss, President Buhari in the last presidential election at the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal.

The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the February 23, 2019 poll had, through a May 14, 2019 letter signed by Ozekhome,  demanded an apology from Onochie, a retraction of the said post and a payment of N500m compensation to him  “to assuage” the damage allegedly done to him by her social media post.

He also threatened to sue her should she fail to accede to the demand “within 48 hours.”

Justifying his suit, Atiku stated in his statement of claim accompanying his suit, that rather than show “remorse by retracting her earlier publication,” she further, on May 20, made “another derogatory publication against his person.”

He said sometime in May this year, he had  embarked on a foreign trip to the UAE  and while on the said trip, Onochie on  May 7, 2019, wrote, through her Twitter handle:

“‘Atiku on UAE watch-list — Security sources; Security operatives in the United Arab Emirates are keeping a close tab on a former Nigerian Vice-Pres Atiku Abubakar who has been in the Middle East for several weeks now. What is he doing there? Me: Shopping for terrorists?”

Atiku denied the allegations in the said publication which he described as “a figment of the imagination of the defendant.”

But he said the post portrayed him “as an evil man, a mentor of terrorists, someone who has links with terrorists, and a person who is interested in destabilising the peace and unity of Nigeria.”

He said he had “never been on the security watch list of the UAE, or any other country, for that matter,” adding that he had “neither ever been denied entry into, interrogated, nor been declared wanted by the UAE authorities, or any of its security agencies.”

Apart from demanding N2.5bn compensation from the defendant, Atiku also prayed for, among his eight prayers, a declaration by the court that the publications made by Onochie via her Twitter and Facebook accounts on May 7, and May 20, 2019, concerning his person “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.”