The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja has set aside the judgment of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory which absolved the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, of any wrongdoing in an allegation of defamation of character brought against him by High Chief Raymond Dokpesi.
Setting aside the judgment, the Court of Appeal further ordered that the matter be returned to the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court for retrial.
The Court of Appeal further ordered that the initial trial judge, Justice Olukayode Adeniyi, should not come anywhere near the matter.
Chief Dokpesi, who is the founder of DAAR Communications Plc, had dragged the Minister to Court claiming N5billion for libel and defamation of character.
The Minister had in a May 2019 press briefing publicly named Chief Dokpesi as one of those that looted Nigeria’s treasury prompting the suit.
In the trial court judgement, Justice Adeniyi dismissed the suit and absolved Lai Mohammed of any culpability in the alleged defamation claiming that the plaintiff did not supply enough evidence to prove his case.
However, delivering judgment on the appeal, Justice Abraham George-Will held that the decision of the trial court was erroneous.
He also held that Justice Adeniyi failed to discharge his duty of fair hearing to the plaintiff before dismissing the suit.
Justice George-will also held that the lower court’s Judgement was a breach of the appellant’s right to fair hearing, when it asked for proof of probability, that the minister’s statement was defamatory.
The Court of Appeal held that “each allegation of lack of fair hearing must be determined on the facts and circumstances of the case”.