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Lauretta Onochie Caused Me Mental, Psychological Trauma —- Atiku Tells Court, Demands N2.5bn For Defamation

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Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar has narrated before a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, how President Muhammadu Buhari’s aide, Lauretta Onochie, caused him mental and psychological trauma through what he termed as fabricated offensive electronic messages.

Atiku who was the presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, in the last general election, told the court that Onochie leveled series of “baseless allegations” against him on twitter and facebook, to the extent that his hard-earned reputation and all that he laboured for over the years, was destroyed.

In a witness statement on oath he personally deposed to before the court, Atiku, decried that all the alleged disparaging social media posts against him came at a time he was challenging President Buhari’s re-election before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal Tribunal, insisting that Onochie’s action was “accentuated by malice and bad faith”.

He specifically prayed the court to punish Onochie who is Buhari’s Special Assistant on Social Media, over a post she shared through her twitter handle on May 7 and on Facebook on May 20.

In a libel suit he filed through his lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, the former VP demanded for N2.5billion representing general, aggravated, punitive and exemplary damages over the untold embarrassment, derision, public ridicule, odium, obloquy, marital disharmony, mental agony and psychological trauma which the Defendant’s publications have caused him.

According to Atiku, Onochie had in the said post, portrayed him as someone on the watch list of security operatives in the United Arab Emirates, and who had traveled to shop for terrorists in the Middle East.

He told the court that his public image was battered by the allegation to the extent that he was regarded as a security threat both within and outside the country.

He said he would in the course of the hearing, tender call logs showing an avalanche of text messages and calls he received in the aftermath of Onochie’s posts.

“That I am the Claimant in this suit and by virtue of which I am seized with the facts deposed herein.

‘I am an astute politician, businessman, philanthropist and former Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“That I am a notable and respected personality in my community, Nigeria and the World at large, a distinguished elder statesman, who has served the Nigerian people, the Federal Government of Nigeria and humanity in various capacities.

“I had a sterling career in the political sector.

“That sometime in May 2019, I embarked on a foreign trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as I have done over the years.

“That while still in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the said trip, the Defendant on 7th day of May, 2019, through her twitter handle page, which is linked to, and belongs to the Defendant, published a most libelous story about me on her said twitter and also published same globally online on the social and other print media and electronic media, making the following false and unfounded allegations against me.

“Atiku on UAE watchlist-Security sources Security operatives in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are keeping a close tab on a former Nigerian Vice-President Atiku Abubakar who has been in the Middle East nation for several weeks now, What is he doing there? Me: Shopping for Terrorists?”

“That in the said defamatory publication against me made by the defendant on 7th May 2019, the defendant amongst other baseless allegations falsely and maliciously accused me of being on the watch list of Security Operatives in the United Arabs Emirates (UAE).

“The defendant further falsely accused me of shopping for terrorists in the Middle East, thereby portraying me as an evil man, mentor of terrorists, someone who has links with terrorists, and a person who is interested in destabilizing the peace and unity of Nigeria. The publication also portrayed me as a security threat and terrorist to right-thinking members of the public and the society at large.

“That since the 7th day of May 2019, when the said libelous and offensive electronic message vide twitter, was sent and also published globally online `in the social and other print media, the odious publication has clearly rubbished my image and reputation.

“It has caused me national and international backlash and embarrassment and has done incalculable damage to me.

“The publication of the defendant has also caused me, in the eyes of reasonable members of the public, unspeakable odium, obloquy, hatred, ridicule, mental and psychological trauma.

“I have thereby been subjected to the shame and infamy of being viewed by members of the public as not only corrupt but as a terrorist and sponsor of terrorism.

“Numerous telephone calls, emails, visits, letters and private social media chats by my family members, friends, political and business associate, and international statesmen and women attest to the alarm and serious concerns generated by the defendant’s false publication.

“I categorically deny each and every allegation contained in the said publication which is a figment of the imagination of the defendant. I state most emphatically that the entire opprobrious and denigrating story above referred to is most misleading, baseless, false, malicious and totally bereft of any foundation howsoever.

“I state most emphatically that the inference and grave conclusions made by the defendant in the obviously politically orchestrated story were invented by the defendant and others of her ilk, solely to cause maximum damage to my high reputation.

“That Contrary to the defendant’s derogatory, disparaging, mendacious and unrestrained defamatory statement, as published in various print, electronic and online media platforms, and as concerning me, is not and I have never been on the security watch list of UAE, or any other country, for that matter. I have neither ever been denied entry into, interrogated, nor been declared wanted by the UAE Authorities, or any of its security agencies.

“That I was at the time of the said publication in the UAE and was never accosted by any security agencies over the said frivolous and baseless allegations.

“That the allegation by the Defendant to the effect that I was shopping for terrorists is not only dishonest and reckless but was calculated and

“Politically, designed to instigate agents against me not only in the UAE but across the world”, Atiku averred.

He told the court that the Defendant failed to retract her allegations, despite a letter his lawyer wrote to her on May 14 to that effect.

Atiku said rather than to apologize to him, Onochie, in a follow-up post on facebook on May 20, “portrayed me to right-thinking members of the society as a depressed person without the mental fitness to hold the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or any public whatsoever.”

He said: “Further and by way of innuendo, the defamatory words complained of the above used by the Defendant also meant and were understood to mean that I am a hypocrite”.

“That after these defamatory publications by the Defendant, several people, both within and outside the country, who read the publications have called me and expressed their disappointment that they never knew that I was a man of dubious character and sponsor of terrorists, despite my apparent sterling and distinguished career in the public sector and enviable achievements in the private sector.

“Some of them challenged me to sue the author of the publications to clear my name if I believed that the publications were false.

“That it is most uncharitable of the Defendant to disparage my reputation, who has done everything humanly possible to serve Nigeria and humanity with a view to alleviating poverty and unemployment in Nigeria and beyond.

“That I deserve accolades for my personal commitment and sacrifices by creating employment and alleviating poverty through the empowerment of the youths. I have made outstanding contributions to the development of our country and humanity for which I do not deserve to be insulted or vilified.

“I plead that my character, reputation, person, psyche, honour, dignity, being and all I have ever stood for in life, have been smeared, maligned, assaulted and denigrated, without any justifiable basis by the electronic messages vide twitter and Facebook, and also published globally online in the social and other print media circulated around the World by the Defendant.

“That upon the receipt of the electronic messages vide twitter and Facebook, containing the highly libelous statements, the contents have been the subject matter of discussion in my matrimonial home and amongst other persons who heard about them both within and outside the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“That unless restrained by an order of this Honourable court, the Defendant will continue to cause to be published, the same, or similar defamatory publications against me.

“Upon the afore pleaded premises, that I am entitled to punitive, exemplary and aggravated damages, as well as injunctive reliefs against the Defendant.

“That I shall at the hearing of this suit, found upon all the documents relating to the facts pleaded herein, including, but not limited to the electronic messages vide Twitter, Facebook, other text messages, letters and e-mails from family members, concerned relatives and associate all over the World”, Atiku added.

Aside praying for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Defendant from making further offensive posts against him, Atiku, also sought an order compelling the defendant to make a retraction of, and an apology to him for the said offensive twitter and Facebook publications on the same platforms, and also to be published in three national newspapers with wide circulation within the country and also broadcast on AIT, Channels and NTA television stations.

Atiku also sought an order compelling her to write to him, “a letter of unreserved apology for the said offensive twitter and facebook publications.”

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Nigerians Should Be Proud We Are Importing Fuel From Niger Republic —– Timipre Sylva

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Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, says Nigerians should be proud that the Federal Government is set to resume the importation of petroleum products from neighbouring Niger Republic.

Sylva said contrary to comments by critics of the government, the plan by the Federal Government to resume fuel importation from its West African brother should not be seen as ‘an embarrassment’ but rather as a means of encouraging intra-regional trade.

Recall that we had reported that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources announced last Thursday in a statement that the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding for petroleum products transportation and storage.

According to the statement, Niger Republic’s Soraz Refinery in Zinder, some 260km from the Nigerian border, has an installed refining capacity of 20,000 barrels per day.

The move by the Federal Government attracted steaming criticisms with many knocking the government over its inability to keep the country’s refineries running.

But reacting on Monday evening while featuring on Channels Television’s Politics Today programme, the minister said Nigeria is a big market that needs excess fuel products processed in other countries.

Sylva said, “I don’t see that as an embarrassment at all. As a country, Nigeria is a big market, we need products, even if all our refineries were functioning, we will still need extra products.

“Niger Republic produces oil and they are landlocked as a country. They have a refinery that produces in excess of what they require as a country and they offered to sell to us in Nigeria because this is a bigger market.

“In the spirit of regional cooperation, regional trade development, we decided to buy from them. I don’t see anything wrong with that. If your neighbour is producing something that is required in your country and you buy from him, why is that a big problem?

“So, we agreed with Niger to buy the excess of what they don’t require in Niger because this is a big market.”

“Nigerians should be proud that we are doing that to encourage sub-regional trade because we have been talking about sub-regional trade for a long time and this is how it should be between neighbouring countries. Niger should import from us what we have and we should be able to import from Niger what they have. Let us encourage intra-regional trade and this is one good example of trading within West Africa,” he added.

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JUST IN: Trump Finally Okays Transition As Key US Agency Declares Biden Winner Of Presidential Election

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The General Services Administration has ascertained that President-elect Joe Biden is the “apparent winner” of the November 3 election.

President Donald Trump, who had refused to concede the election, said Monday that he is directing his team to cooperate on the transition but is vowing to keep up the fight.

The move clears the way for the start of the transition of Trump’s administration and allows Biden to coordinate with federal agencies on plans for taking over January 20.

An official said administrator Emily Murphy made the determination after Trump’s efforts to subvert the vote failed across battleground states, most recently in Michigan, which certified Biden’s victory Monday.

“Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts. I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official —including those who work at the White House or GSA — with regard to the substance or timing of my decision,” Murphy wrote in a letter to Biden.

Trump tweeted shortly after her letter was made public: “Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good … fight, and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”

Earlier Monday, retiring Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, who has repeatedly called for the transition to begin, released a new statement saying that Trump should “put the country first” and help Biden’s administration succeed.

“When you are in public life, people remember the last thing you do,” Alexander said.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio on Monday called for the head of the General Services Administration to release the money and staffing needed for the transition. Portman, a senior member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, also said Biden should receive high-level briefings on national security and the coronavirus vaccine distribution plan.

Alexander and Portman, who have both aligned themselves with Trump, joined a growing number of Republican officials who in recent days have urged Trump to begin the transition immediately. Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia also urged a smooth transition, saying in a statement Monday that “at some point, the 2020 election must end.”

Separately, more than 100 Republican former national security officials — including former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte — said in a statement that Trump’s refusal to concede and allow for an orderly transition “constitutes a serious threat” to America’s democratic process. The officials signing the letter worked under four Republican presidents, including Trump.

The statement called on “Republican leaders — especially those in Congress — to publicly demand that President Trump cease his anti-democratic assault on the integrity of the presidential election.”

Among those signing the letter from business leaders were Jon Gray, president of the Blackstone private equity firm; Robert Bakish, president and CEO of ViacomCBS Inc.; Henry Kravis, co-chief executive of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., another private equity giant; David Solomon, CEO at Goldman Sachs; and George H. Walker, CEO of the investment firm Neuberger Berman and a second cousin to former President George W. Bush.

AP

 

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Nigerian Government Petitions CNN Over Lekki Shootings Report [Full Letter Attached]

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The Federal Government has berated US-based Cable News Network for its coverage of the #EndSARS protest in the Lekki area of Lagos saying “CNN breached the most basic of the core principles of journalism – balance and fairness.”

The government also demanded “an immediate and exhaustive investigation from CNN into its ‘investigative’ report on the Lekki Toll Gate incident to determine, among others, its authenticity.”

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, stated this in his letter to Jonathan Hawkins, VP (Communications) in CNN Centre Atlanta, Georgia.

The letter dated November 23 2020 entitled ‘Re: How a bloody night of bullets quashed a young protest movement’, was obtained by PorscheClassy News in Abuja on Monday.

The letter reads, “Our attention has been drawn to an ‘investigation’ by CNN, entitled ‘How a Bloody Night of Bullets Quashed a Young Protest Movement’ and aired on 18 Nov. 2020, in which the international news organization said it had ”uncovered that Nigerian security forces opened fire on unarmed protesters” at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, Nigeria, during the #EndSARS protest.

“We write to put on record that the report did not just fall short of journalistic standards, it reinforces the disinformation that is going around on the issue, it is blatantly irresponsible and it is a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organization.

“In the first instance, the report did not live up to the most basic of the core principles of journalism – balance and fairness. According to the website www.ethics.journalists.org, ”balance and fairness are classic buzzwords of journalism ethics: In objective journalism, stories must be balanced in the sense of attempting to present all sides of a story. Fairness means that a journalist should strive for accuracy and truth in reporting, and not slant a story so a reader draws the reporter’s desired conclusion.”

Read the full letter below:

 

23 Nov. 2020

Mr. Jonathan Hawkins

VP, Communications

CNN Centre

Atlanta, Georgia

U.S,

RE: HOW A BLOODY NIGHT OF BULLETS QUASHED A YOUNG PROTEST MOVEMENT

Our attention has been drawn to an ‘investigation’ by CNN, entitled ‘How a Bloody Night of Bullets Quashed a Young Protest Movement’ and aired on 18 Nov. 2020, in which the international news organization said it had ”uncovered that Nigerian security forces opened fire on unarmed protesters” at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, Nigeria, during the #EndSARS protest.

We write to put on record that the report did not just fall short of journalistic standards, it reinforces the disinformation that is going around on the issue, it is blatantly irresponsible and it is a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organization.

In the first instance, the report did not live up to the most basic of the core principles of journalism – balance and fairness. According to the website www.ethics.journalists.org, ”balance and fairness are classic buzzwords of journalism ethics: In objective journalism, stories must be balanced in the sense of attempting to present all sides of a story. Fairness means that a journalist should strive for accuracy and truth in reporting, and not slant a story so a reader draws the reporter’s desired conclusion.”

Rushing to air such a momentous story without presenting the government’s side is inexcusable and indefensible. CNN said it contacted over 100 protesters and family members, but did not speak to one official of Nigeria’s federal government. While CNN said there was no response from the army and that officials of Lagos State would not speak in view of the Judicial Panel that is investigating the matter, it did not say what effort it made to speak with any official of the federal government.

The truth is that CNN did not even attempt to reach the federal government. Nima Elbagir, who presented the report and most probably led the investigation, is conversant with the Minister of Information and Culture, who is also the Spokesman for the Federal Government of Nigeria, yet did not say that she even tried to reach the Minister. It is therefore strange, to say the least, that she would rush to air such an important ‘investigation’ report without getting the government’s side. In other words, Nima, and by extension CNN, breached the most basic of the core principles of journalism – balance and fairness.

Another serious breach by CNN, in its ‘investigation’, is that the network relied heavily on unverified footage it harvested from social media.

CNN was not present at the Lekki Toll Gate on the night of the incident. Neither its reporter nor cameraman was there, but it relied on eyewitnesses. Well, this is fraught with danger. While experts say eyewitness testimony is a potent form of evidence, it is also subject to unconscious memory distortions and biases, Unlike CNN, a reporter from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Pidgin Service, Damilola Banjo, was at the Lekki Toll Gate on the night in question, and was quoted as saying soldiers shot sporadically into the air and not at the protesters – a direct contradiction of the position taken by CNN who relied on second and third-hand information.

In airing its ‘investigative’ report, CNN conveniently forgot that on Oct. 23rd, 2020, it emphatically tweeted, from its verified Twitter handle, that the military killed 38 people when it opened fire on

peaceful protesters on Tuesday, Oct. 20th, 2020. Almost a month later, the same CNN – after a supposedly exhaustive investigation – is now reporting only one death from what the world was made to believe was a massacre. Is CNN not embarrassed by this sharp climb down? Has CNN owned up to this and apologized for its faux Paz?

It is also interesting that while CNN obtained footage showing when the vehicles carrying soldiers left their barracks and arrived at the Lekki Toll Gate, it could not obtain any footage showing the bodies of those supposedly killed in the ‘massacre’. After all, forensic ballistic experts will most likely testify that firing military-grade weapons into a crowd will not leave anyone needing a microscope to look for blood or bodies at the scene.

CNN has said it stands by its story, and that ”our reporting was carefully and meticulously researched”, This is baffling, considering that the story lacks fairness and balance, as we have pointed out, and that the organization relied heavily on manipulated social media videos. This resort to an escapist cliche seems more like a face-saving measure by an otherwise respectable news network caught in the blinding glare of ‘fake news and disinformation’ headlamps. Or how else does one explain the arrogant defense of an international news network that would not even respect the most basic principle of journalism?

One of CNN’s star eyewitnesses in its ‘investigative’ reporting is DJ Switch. Unknown to CNN, DJ Switch’s story on the Lekki Toll Gate shooting has changed several times. From claiming she counted 78 bodies of protesters who were supposedly killed by soldiers on the night of the Lekki Toll Gate incident, she has twice, at least, changed the casualty figure from 78 to 15 and then to 7, without a shred of evidence. CNN cannot pretend not to know that for anyone to act as a witness, his or her credibility must be unimpeachable. DJ Switch’s credibility does not meet that threshold.

In one of the social media videos of DJ Switch that was used by CNN (see attached link 1), the lady (DJ Switch) claimed she and some unnamed persons carried dead bodies and dropped them at the feet of the soldiers. She also claimed she spoke to their Commander before the soldiers threw the bodies into the vans. Curiously, for someone who was streaming live on Instagram during the Lekki Toll Gate incident, there was not a single video or picture of the dead bodies. Not even Godson (Uyi), another CNN star witness whose video was also used by the network, or any of the hundreds of protesters, all armed with smartphones, at the scene recorded a video or shot a picture of dead bodies being carried away by soldiers.

Talking of Godson, despite claiming to have analyzed hours of footage, it is curious that CNN conveniently left out key parts of Godson’s 57-minute, 5-second video (see attached link 2). For example, 13 minutes, 40 seconds into the video, there were voices, in street lingo, in the background telling Godson that the gunshots were not from the soldiers (na boys dey shoot, that na local gun sound….it’s boys, meaning touts and hoodlums, who are shooting.

That’s a local gun). Some 20 minutes,14 seconds into the video, Godson confirmed that the boys had brought out their guns and were shooting (local okay, he called it). Some 23 minutes, 14 seconds into the video, Godson said ‘wait, all these boys dey shoot’ (meaning gunshots rang out from the touts/hoodlums). CNN, in its rush to nail soldiers and tell a ‘radically different story’, conveniently left out these parts of the Godson video, which could have shown that armed hoodlums invaded the Lekki Toll Gate that night, and could have hit any of the protesters as they shot sporadically. This is clearly a ploy by the CNN reporter/presenter to manipulate viewers of its ‘investigative’ report and force them to draw the reporter’s desired conclusion! Another video showing an armed protester at the Lekki Toll Gate (see attached link 3) was apparently not among the footage reviewed by CNN!

It is shocking that all through its ‘investigation’, CNN did not for once mention the fact that six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed during the #EndSARS crisis, which also left 196 policemen injured, not to talk of the monumental destruction of government and private properties across the country. Instead, the network is fixated on the massacre that never happened. Are security agents not human beings too? Are they not entitled to the protection of their human rights?

For the record, this is not the first time that CNN has carried an inaccurate or hoax story about Nigeria. In February 2007, Nigeria accused CNN of staging one of its reports from the country’s Niger Delta region, showing gunmen holding 24 Filipinos hostage. Of course, CNN and it’s then Africa Correspondent Jeff Koinange flatly denied the charge, saying the network did not pay for any part of the report. Later, in an email reportedly sent to a friend, Mr. Koinange was quoted as saying: “Of course we had to pay certain people to get the story… You do not get such a story without bribing.” So much for denials!

As a form of remediation, Nigeria’s Federal Government demands an immediate and exhaustive investigation from CNN into its ‘investigative’ report on the Lekki Toll Gate incident to determine, among others, its authenticity, whether or not it met the basic standards of journalism and also the selective use of unverified social media videos to manipulate public opinion. While it is up to CNN to accede or not, please note that the Federal Government reserves the right to take any action within its laws to prevent CNN from aggravating the #EndSARS crisis with unprofessional, irresponsible, one-sided, inciting, and sensational reporting that is capable of pitching Nigerians against themselves and setting the country on fire.

 

Lai Mohammed

Hon. Minister

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