A former governor of Ogun State, Olusegun Osoba, has demanded N3bn from a chieftain of a Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Senator Femi Okurounmu, as damages for an alleged libelous statement published by two national newspapers.
In a letter sent to the senator by Osoba’s counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, which was obtained by our correspondent on Tuesday, the former governor also demanded a public apology to be published on the front pages of Daily Independent and The Sun newspapers, starting from Monday, July 29, 2019.
Osoba gave Okurounmu a14-day ultimatum to comply with the demands or get sued for a defamation of character.
The letter read in part, “We act as solicitors to Chief Olusegun Osoba, CON, hereinafter referred to as ‘our client’, and on whose instruction we write you on the above subject, particularly in relation to the interviews recently granted by you to two leading national dailies, that is, the Daily Independent newspaper and the Saturday Sun newspaper, respectively published on Thursday, July 11, 2019 and July 20, 2019.
“In your interview with the Daily Independent newspaper published on Thursday, July 11, 2019, appearing on pages 13-15, you maliciously stated and caused to be published, circulated and disseminated concerning and in relation to our client as follows:
“Those who know Osoba know that he has always been a double-faced politician. On one face, he will want people to see him as a progressive; on the other face, he is working with the security forces. Osoba has always been an agent of the security forces.”
The letter also quoted Okurounmu as saying of Osoba in the interview, “He has one leg in the military and the other leg in the progressives’ camp. If you have never been told that, I am telling you now. So, when he narrated what he went through in his book, of course, for anybody who is a double agent, such person will get into trouble. So, he got into trouble in the early stage of the annulment of June 12 because he has been a close collaborator with (Ibrahim) Babangida who annulled the election. It was Babangida that sponsored Osoba’s governorship in Ogun State in 1992.”
According to the letter, Okurounmu, through the interview, also claimed that Osoba only pretended to be in the struggle for Abiola so he could also benefit if Abiola eventually became the President.
“That pretence of being with us is what got him into trouble and he got detained. In fact, people like Gani Fawehinmi had to go and fight for him in court. But as soon as he realised that the struggle would not be a brief one and the military was not prepared to hand over to Abiola, he abandoned the struggle.
“When the late Sani Abacha formed his five political parties, we in Afenifere decided that we will not participate in any of the five parties. Osoba was present when we took that decision but as soon as we left the place, he decamped and took his followers and they all went and joined Abacha’s transition.
“So, Osoba participated fully in Abacha’s transition in all the elections conducted from ward to local government level, Osoba’s men participated. So, he was not part of the NADECO struggle.”
It added, “There is no gainsaying the fact that the words employed by you in defaming our client are weighty and far-reaching. In their natural and ordinary meanings, the words present our client as representing everything negative, retrogressive and treacherous.
“The innuendoes embedded in the said words are clear cut, pointing and leading to your objective of parading and presenting our client to the public as one who should be treated with disdain and contempt. Clearly, by the said interviews and subsequent publications of same, you have not only defamed our client, but have also brought him to public ridicule and odium. You have virtually discounted all what our client has achieved in life and rubbished his image.”
The letter alleged that Okurounmu’s claims in the interview were motivated by malice and hatred, saying it dented our “client’s hard-earned reputation.”
“Since the said publications, our client has received and continued to receive several telephone calls, text messages, letters, mails etc., from friends, relations, associates and well wishers from within and outside Nigeria, expressing their shock, outrage and disappointment at their contents; further questioning our client as to the integrity which he has been known for over the years, particularly in view of the statements and assertions made by you in the said publications.
“Arising from the foregoing, we have the further instruction of our client to demand from you the following:
“Directing a retraction of the said interviews granted by you and published in the Daily Independent newspaper of Thursday, July 11, 2019 and the Saturday Sun newspaper of July 20, 2019.”
The letter also demanded a public apology to Osoba to be published on the front pages of “seven consecutive editions of both newspapers, starting from Monday, 29th July, 2019.
It also demanded “a sum of N3,000,000,000.00 (three billion naira) as damages for the said libelous publications.”
The letter warned, “You are given fourteen (14) days from the date of this letter within which to comply with our client’s simple demands; otherwise, our final instruction is to commence proceedings against you, claiming reliefs in terms of the said demands, plus aggravated and exemplary damages.”
When contacted on Tuesday for his reaction to the letter, Okurounmu said, “No comment.”
Afenifere, YCE mull resolution
But in its reaction, the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, described the libel suit filed by Osoba against Okorounmu as unfortunate, noting that the two men belonged to the same family and should not engage in a legal battle.
The group’s spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, expressed the hope that the issue would be resolved amicably, noting that Afenifere would prevail on the two Egba elders to dialogue.
He said, “I don’t think he (Osoba) should have taken it to the level of filing a libel suit; I believe that must have been done in the heat of passion. Two of them are Egba chiefs. I am sure somewhere down the line, there would be an amicable resolution of the issue. They are in the same political family but in different wings, but we would always call for a peaceful resolution.”
Similarly, the Secretary General of the Yoruba Council of Elders, Dr Kunle Olajide, described the libel suit as an unfortunate development.
He stated, “It is very unfortunate that this matter has to go to court but we will talk to them and wade in for them to bury the hatchet.