N10b Defamation Suit: As Ugwuonye’s Trial Begins
After months of attending to preliminary objections and legal fireworks, a Federal Capital Territory High Court sitting in Apo, Abuja, will on Thursday, 21st September, 2017 commence hearing on a Ten Billion Naira (N10b) defamation suit instituted against controversial Lagos lawyer, Emeka Ugwuonye, by the former husband of missing Abuja business woman, Charity Aiyedogbon, Mr. David Aiyedogbon.
The Court had in May, 2017, adjourned to September 21, 2017, after resolving all issues around preliminary objections and motions filed by the defendant.
It is expected that at the resumed hearing on Thursday, Aiyedogbon will give an oral evidence in support of the already submitted electronic evidence, in compliance with relevant sections of the Evidence Act.
Ugwuonye had earlier filed a motion challenging the twenty thousand Naira (20,000.00) fine slammed on him by the Court for refusing to move an earlier motion he filed challenging the jurisdiction of the Court.
He had also prayed the Court to reinstate the motion earlier struck out, saying his absence in previous sittings to move same was not deliberate.
All the issues relating to preliminary objections are now resolved in favour of the plaintiff, clearing the air for the commencement of the substantive suit.
The crux of the matter is that David Aiyedogbon approached the Court to seek redress following the alleged refusal of Ugwuonye to desist from posting materials he considered defamatory on his Facebook group, The Due Process Advocates. He also wrote Mr. Ugwuonye through his lawyers, demanding an apology and retraction, but he refused to heed, leaving Mr. Aiyedogbon with no option, but to approach the court to seek justice.
Ugwuonye had falsely accused Mr. Aiyedogbon of having a hand in the sudden disappearance of his estranged wife, Charity Aiyedogbon; an unsubstantiated claim that compelled Mr. Aiyedogbon to institute the N10b suit against him.
In addition to the Ten Billion Naira damages, the Suit, with number CV/2750/16, between David Aiyedogbon (Plaintiff) and Emeka Ugwuonye (Defendant) on defamation of character, before Justice Peter Kekemeke of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court 14, Apo, Abuja; also prays that the defendant be ordered to pay for the cost of the litigation.
The Plaintiff is also seeking an order of perpetual injunction “restraining the Defendant, his Agents, Privies, Associates or whosoever called” from making further defamatory publications against him and his family members.
Mr. Ugwuonye is accused of posting severally on The Due Process Advocates (DPA), a Facebook group, claiming to have evidence of the involvement of the missing Charity Aiyedogbon’s ex-husband, David Aiyedogbon in her sudden disappearance. One of the posts reads in part:
“I now have overwhelming evidence that Mr. David Aiyedogbon killed his wife, Chacha. David has an idea of the kind of evidence at my disposal.”
In another post, Ugwuonye is quoted as saying: “this is the headless and dismembered body of Charity Aiyedogbon (posting a corpse on his DPA Facebook page). DPA has been able to identify this as her body within the limits of resources at our disposal.”
Continuing, on the 28th of June, 2016, he is quoted as posting: “I will describe David as a low-life and cold-blooded murderer of his own wife. The only reason I would not go further to describe David in the most despicable language that he rightly deserves is that I would rather focus my argument on points that would lead to justice for Chacha.”
In an earlier reaction to Ugwuonye’s allegation, Mr. Aiyedogbon washed his hands over the disappearance of the woman and wrote his accuser, through his lawyers, demanding an apology, failure which he would institute a suit against him for defamation of character.
The letter dated 21st June 2016, titled: “Defamation of the character of David Aiyedogbon; demand for apology,” signed by his lawyer, Obiora Ilo and made available to newsmen, expressly states: “It is our instruction to demand an unqualified apology from you to our client through our chambers for the defamatory publications you have made of and concerning our client.”
Aiyedogbon went a step further by writing a reminder to him, reiterating the issues raised in the earlier letter. The second letter dated 12th July, 2017, signed by Chinenye Ofoegbu, of Ogbulafor chambers and made available to newsmen, expressed his readiness to drag him to Court, in an event that he failed to apologize and issue a retraction.
It is instructive to note that as at today, Mr. Ugwuonye is yet to produce any evidence to substantiate his allegations against Mr. Aiyedogbon.
Impeccable sources reveal that Mr. Aiyedogbon’s lawyer, Tony Ogbulafor may have also filed a personal suit against Mr. Ugwuonye for wrongly accusing him of giving a bribe (in an envelope) to a Police man to detain him, at the peak of Police investigations.
As the whereabouts of Charity Aiyedogbon remain unknown, I join millions of Nigerians to demand that Emeka Ugwuonye provides his “overwhelming evidence” regarding what happened to Chacha or get prosecuted for false information, criminal conspiracy and defamation.
The ‘missing’ Charity Aiyedogbon
It is about eighteen months since the sudden disappearance of an Abuja-based business woman, Charity Aiyedgbon. She was declared missing by her Facebook friends. Charity, popularly known as ‘Chacha’, is said to have gone missing since the 9th of May, 2016.
Following allegations by Lagos lawyer, Ugwuonye, linking him to the disappearance of Charity, former husband of the missing woman, Mr. David Aiyedogbon washed his hands over the disappearance of the lady and wrote his accuser, through his lawyers, demanding an apology, failure which he would seek legal redress.
He also addressed newsmen in Abuja, wherein he urged the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris to investigate the allegation against him, describing it as “cruel, criminal and untrue”, stressing that his estranged wife Charity left their matrimonial home on the 28th of May, 2014, noting that since then, he had neither heard from her, nor had any dealings with her.
While the controversy lasted, a Civil Society Organisation, Coalition against Crime (CAC) called on Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris to arrest Lagos-based lawyer, Ugwuonye to explain his role in the disappearance of Charity Aiyedogbon.
The Petition to the Inspector General of Police reads in part: “…Charity Aiyedogbon is said to have been missing since the 9thth of May, 2016 and one Emeka Ugwuonye claims he has evidence that the woman is dead and was murdered. He also posted a photograph of a dead person, part of whose body was dismembered. How can Police be looking for a missing person and someone says he has a clue and he has not been invited or arrested?”
Following the intervention by the Civil Society Organisation, the Police eventually arrested Mr. Ugwuonye and later released him on bail, after questioning, while investigations continued.
Several developments aided Police investigations. First, those believed to be close to Chacha are quoted as saying that she went missing on the 9th of May, 2016, but her lawyer, Barrister Nsikak Udoh, handling a suit filed at the Federal High Court, Lokoja on 29th April, 2016 against 29 respondents, including her biological children and former husband, claimed she (Chacha) came to his house on the 18th of May, 2016 (eight days after her purported disappearance) and one of his staff accompanied her to Federal High Court, to sign and depose to an affidavit in support of the ex-parte motion filed along with the case. How could someone who was declared missing on the 9th of May reappear on the 18th and then disappear again?
Today, it has been established that Chacha’s signature was forged; as the lawyer, Nsikak Udoh has recanted. He says he did not see Chacha, contrary to his earlier claim. He confessed to the Police that he forged Charity’s signature in an affidavit he filed in court. Apparently, Charity was not behind the filing of the suit, but her lawyer, Nsikak Udoh. He therefore lied on oath. Both himself and the Commissioner for oaths in the Federal High Court, Abuja judicial division, risk being prosecuted by the Police for forgery and perjury.
The suit purportedly filed by Chacha at the Federal High Court, Lokoja, wherein Barrister Nsikak Udoh represented her has been decided in favour of David Aiyedogbon. The Court held that the plaintiff had no locus to have instituted the action. I am still at a loss, as to why the Police has not commenced the prosecution of the duo of Nsikak and the Commissioner for Oats for their roles in forging the signature of the missing woman. Are forgery and perjury no longer offences in our laws?
Another puzzle is that a corpse, said to have been dismembered beyond identification was allegedly seen in Abuja on the 12th of May 2016 and Mr. Ugwuonye claimed it was Chacha’s body. Till date, who has identified the corpse as that of Chacha? Impeccable sources say a DNA test conducted on the body revealed otherwise. Children of the missing woman have also chorused on several platforms that their mother was NOT dead.
More so, the missing Chacha has an ongoing case of forgery. A suit instituted in a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT High Court 8) on the 14th of March, 2016, with suit number CV/1231/16, between Messrs. Chibuzor Ogugua and Chigozie Eme (plaintiffs) and Mrs. Charity Aiyedogbon (defendant), made eight prayers to the Court. The last prayer reads: “an order of the Honourable Court directing the defendant to pay the plaintiffs the sum of 200,000,000.00 (Two Hundred Million Naira) as damages for the losses suffered on the ground of the unauthorized and fabricated Valuation Report by the defendant.” Could that be part of the reasons why Chacha got ‘missing’?
For Ugwuonye, the last is yet to be heard about how he got involved in the matter. He claimed to have been in the United States of America as at the time of Chacha’s disappearance and only came into Nigeria in June, 2016, after being briefed to handle the matter, but his call log betrayed him, showing that he was in Abuja on the 10th, 11th and 12th of May, 2016; same time Chacha is said to have got missing. Private investigators and telecommunication service providers revealed that he made calls around Jabi area of Abuja, up till midnight same 10th and 11th and departed Abuja on the 12th of May, 2016. He also made calls around Transcorp Hilton area of Abuja on the 10th of May and one wonders if it is a mere coincidence that it was at the same spot that the principal suspect, Chukwujekwu Ezeugo claim he dropped the missing woman around the same time.
In addition, Ugwuonye made calls around Chukwujekwu’s house in Wuse zone 6 same period. Is there no cause for reasonable suspicion that the calls suggest a ‘movement’ between them? Ugwuonye departed Abuja on the 12th of May, 2016; same day he claimed to have seen the purported dismembered body. When confronted by the Police in Abuja with evidence of his movement and call logs, he owned up, claiming he forgot that he was around.
Today, Chacha’s car has been recovered, following a tip-off by one of the suspects that were in Police custody, IK Ezeugo. The car was found in Enugu, Enugu state by the Police, in the residence of one Uche, with its Plate Number and particulars already changed. Again, Chacha’s two handsets have been recovered. We await explanations from those that were in possession of Chacha’s car and handsets on their roles, accomplices and her whereabouts.
It also baffles me why the families of the missing Chacha and Jekwu (on exile) are not looking for them. It is only natural that if one is missing, his/her family members will make efforts to look for them, but for the family of Chacha, ‘life goes on’. There is God oooooooo!
Unfortunately, the Police has not made any progress in locating/arresting the principal suspect, Jekwu Ezeugo, who has also not been seen since after the disappearance of Chacha. Reports say he was the person that dropped Chacha at Transcorp Hilton and indeed, the last person to see her. Jekwu is said to have escaped to a neighbouring African country.
One other puzzle is the fact that all the suspects in Chacha’s case are from Enugu state (the missing Chacha’s maternal home). Both Chacha and Jekwu are from Orba-Nsukka, in Enugu State. All other suspects, including Emeka Ugwuonye are also from Enugu. Like someone earlier asked, is Chacha’s disappearance an Enugu project? Only time shall tell!
While we wait patiently for the unfolding drama, the Police must realise that Nigerians and indeed the world are watching. We also await the prosecution of other suspects; as, at the moment, only Ik Ezeugo is presently being prosecuted for his complicity in hiding Chacha’s car. Waiting endlessly on the matter does not help the course of justice.
Ultimately, the time has come for Ugwuonye to come forward with his ‘overwhelming evidence’ linking David Aiyedogbon with the sudden disappearance of his former wife.
It is either he opens up on what he knows about the whereabouts of Chacha and his allegation of the involvement of her former husband or face the course of justice.
As for gimmicks to either frustrate or delay the ongoing defamation suit, I can only wish him well. One thing is sure: he that asserts must prove.
Destiny Ugorji is an Abuja-based Public Affairs analyst. You can reach him on: [email protected]