Igini Rejects Out-Of-Court Settlement, As Edo High Court Adjourns ₦5bn Libel Suit Against Edo APC Chairman to September 26

Igini Rejects Out-Of-Court Settlement, As Edo High Court Adjourns ₦5bn Libel Suit Against Edo APC Chairman to September 26

…Insists Imuse must prove allegation

A Benin High Court, presided over by Justice Vestee Eboreime, on Thursday, adjourned to September 26, 2022, the ₦5 billion libel suit instituted by the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, for Akwa Ibom State, Mike Igini, against the Edo State Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, David Imuse, retired army colonel, and medical doctor.

The long adjournment, which was for the purpose of exploring an out-of-court settlement, was at the behest of the defendant. In an oral application, counsel to Imuse, Austin Osarenkhoe, informed the court that at the close of sitting on Tuesday, August 3, he had a meeting with the claimant’s counsel, Clement Onwuenwu, senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN, on the possibility of settling the matter amicably.

Osarenkhoe stressed that having settled a sister matter with the claimant out of court, earlier, he would like to explore the window for Alternative Dispute Resolution, ADR, and implored the court to grant his prayer.

In further demonstration of his seriousness at pursuing an out-of-court settlement, the first defendant’s counsel, stopped his further cross-examination of Igini, after he (Imuse) had tendered copies of the Nigerian Tribune and The Sun Newspapers, which the claimant relied upon as the vehicles for the alleged libel.

The proposed out-of-court settlement may however be dead on arrival as Igini told journalists at the end of Thursday’s proceedings that it was coming too late. According to the former University of Benin students’ union president, “the train has left the station”. He insisted Imuse must prove his allegation as he intended to ruin his reputation both in private and in public life.

Igini, it would be recalled, had dragged Imuse and two others: African Newspapers of Nigeria, ANN, Plc, publishers of the Tribune titles, and The Sun Newspapers, before the court, claiming that the Edo State APC chairman libeled him (Igini), when he addressed a press conference in Auchi, Edo State, August 29, 2020, in the heat of electioneering for the Edo State gubernatorial election held September 19, 2020.

Onwuenwu, SAN, counsel to the REC, in objecting to the motion for adjournment, said since counsel to the first defendant had opened his cross-examination, it would be proper for him to complete the leg of the legal firework, and use the window of court vacation slated for mid-August through September, 2022, to pursue the amicable settlement. He stressed that hinging the motion for adjournment on the possibility of amicable settlement was not strong enough.

While counsel to the second defendant (ANN Plc), Femi Jarete Edema, aligned with the submission of the senior advocate, counsel to the third defendant (Sun Newspapers), Henry Ogbodu, aligned with the position of the first defendant’s counsel, adding that the parties had met and agreed to explore ADR opportunity.

Ruling on the oral application, Justice Eboreime, noted that the court encourages Alternative Dispute Resolution machineries by parties to settle out of court. She subsequently adjourned the case to September 26, 2022.

The judge urged the defendant’s counsel to make maximum use of the window to ensure that the matter was resolved amicably before the next date.

Speaking to newsmen after the adjournment, Igini, said the court case was geared towards redeeming his reputation, which he alleged Imuse damaged by the contents of the press conference.

According to him, “the court is the highest place of ethical standards. For an Imuse to do what he did to me at a time the attention of the whole world is focusing on Edo State Governorship election, is not acceptable. It is damaging”.

“He intended to ruin my reputation both in private and in public life. We all have a life to live. I will be leaving INEC in a very short while. After this, life continues. Reputation is everything. It precedes you anywhere you go to in life. I am not the only one bearing that name, Igini. There are other members of the family bearing the same name, but he tried to destroy my name.

“Of course, it is one of the duties of the court to encourage litigants on amicable settlement of disputes; but in this case, the train has left the station. This is 2022, and I have stepped into the witness box. I have been stressed traveling all over the place. Under God, Imuse must come to this court to prove his allegations to the world. That is all I have to say for now”, he maintained.

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