The High Court of FCT, Abuja has ordered an online news platform, Pointblanknews to pay a total of N200m in damages for a libelous story it published – and refused to retract after it was proved to be false – against former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in 2012.
The judgment by Justice Chizoba N. Oji in suit No. FCT/HC/CV/2602/12 also included an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants – the platform and its founders Jackson Ude and Churchill Umoren – from defaming Dr Okonjo-Iweala in the future.
Pointblanknews had published the false story, OKONJO-IWEALA BUYS N1.2 BILLION ABUJA MANSION in its edition of January 10, 2012 in which it alleged that Okonjo-Iweala had purchased “a massive home in Maitama, Abuja for a whopping N1.2 billion”.
The website alleged that Dr Okonjo-Iweala paid for the property located at No 3 Nwaora Street, Off, Gana Street, Maitama, Abuja, claiming that an unnamed source at the “property management company” confirmed the purchase.
According to the false report: “The Coordinating minister’s mansion, is a 7 bedrooms duplex with boys quarters and a swimming pool, a massive Masters Bedroom with an adjacent bedroom dubbed “ Madam’s Bedroom. The mansion, which is still unfurnished, could wear a tag of over N2 billion after furnishing. It has a red clay roof. The property is complete with top shelf marble imported from Italy, gold trimmings and chandeliers in the living rooms, bedrooms and a very expansive kitchen.”
Pointblanknews also accused the former minister, without any proof, of “pocketing $2 billion (two billion dollars) in commission in the last debt buy-back deal under the presidency of the Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration” (sic).
The story was subsequently proved to be a complete fabrication as Mr Fabian Nwaora, the owner of the property who was identified in the report came out to say that not only had Dr Okonjo-Iweala not bought any property from him, the building in question was still up for sale.
In response to a rebuttal issued by the minister’s spokesperson, Pointblanknews declared: “We have overwhelming evidence to prove she owns the mansion but if she insists we are wrong, she knows where to seek redress”.
But the platform was mostly absent in court throughout the duration of the case which went through two judges.
The court imposed general damages in the sum of N50,000,000 (Fifty Million Naira) and Exemplary damages in the sum of N150,000,000 (One hundred and fifty million Naira) against the Defendants jointly and severally.