The N2.1billion libel suit instituted by a leader of the Peoples Democratic Party in Ogun State, Buruji Kashamu, against former President Olusegun Obasanjo has sparked abusive exchange between the two men.
The suit, which is before Justice Valentine Ashi of an Abuja High Court, turned into a sort of name calling platform as Obasanjo in his statement of defence described Kashamu as a notorious debtor and a man lacking in local and international reputation.
He described the PDP leader’s suit as “frivolous, speculative and gold digging,” and urged the court to dismiss it for lack of jurisdiction because it failed to disclose any reasonable cause of action against him.
But in his reply to the statement of defence, Kashamu faulted what he described as Obasanjo’s “self-praise,” referring to the former president as a social misfit and a poverty-stricken school dropout.
He said the former president only found fame and fortune in joining the Nigerian Army where he benefited “disproportionately” from the military incursion into governance in Nigeria.
Kashamu had on February 6, sued Obasanjo, asking the court to award N20billion as aggravated and exemplary damages, and another N100million against the former president for “maliciously and recklessly” publishing a letter titled: ‘Before it is too late’, addressed to President Goodluck Jonathan.
Through his counsel, Dr. Alex Iziyon (SAN), Kashamu claimed that the words used by Obasanjo to describe him in the said letter, which was published in both the print and electronic media, portrayed him “as a criminal wanted for drugs-related offences in the United States of America and the United Kingdom.”
But in his statement of defence filed on May 14, Obasanjo stuck to his allegations in his letter to President Jonathan, stating that he had no reason to retract the words in the said letter as requested by Kashamu’s lawyer “because the statement/words are correct, true and justified.”
He added: “The plaintiff has no iota of good reputation locally and internationally.
“Aside the plaintiff’s illicit drug business for which he was indicted and wanted in America, the plaintiff has penchant for taking loans from unsuspecting banks/financial institutions with intention to permanently elude/avoid repayment or liquidation of such loans.
“Further to that, the plaintiff has been judicially adjudged/confirmed a debtor by a competent court of law in Cotonou, Republic of Benin. And the plaintiff presently occupies a choice position on the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON)’s list of notorious debtors.
“The plaintiff is a person, who with his true name/identity supplied, will not be granted visa by German government or any country of the world which has good relationship with the United States of America.”
But in his reply dated May 21, to Obasanjo’s statement of defence, Kashamu stated that the former president’s claims in his statement of defence constituted “an aggravation of libel.”
He said Obasanjo’s use of his touted national and international acclaim to “malign more productive members of the society was uncalled for and could be symptomatic of megalomania.”
Kashamu stated: “The plaintiff acknowledges that the defendant (Obasanjo), a poverty-stricken dropout from school and otherwise a social misfit, eventually found fame and fortune by joining the Armed Forces of Nigeria and benefitting disproportionately from opportunism of military adventure into governance in Nigeria…"
He said Obasanjo’s “vaunted international acclaim” was tested in when the former president contested for the position of the Secretary-General of the United Nation with “a barely known diplomat from Egypt.
“The defendant (Obasanjo) was put in his place as he failed to fly the flag of the nation successfully and lost the contest disgracefully,” the plaintiff’s lawyer, said on behalf of his client.
Apparently embarrassed by Kashamu’s response, Obasanjo, subsequently filed a motion on notice dated June 6, asking the court to expunge the parts of the plaintiff’s counter-affidavit which he said constituted a “personal abuse” on him.
But the former president’s lawyer, Mr. Gboyega Oyewole, withdrew the motion on notice after Kashamu’s counsel opposed it in a counter-affidavit, contending that the facts alluded to were relevant and that expunging them when the matter had not be heard would amount to pre-judging case.
The matter was then adjourned till July 28 and 29 for hearing.