Libel : Ex-Nigerian envoy closes defence against Geoffrey Onyeama

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By Kenneth Atavti 

Lilian Onoh, a Nigerian ambassador has closed her defence in a libel suit instituted by a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, at the Federal Capital Territory High Court at Zuba in Abuja on Thursday. 

Mr Onyeama, accused Lilian Onoh, career diplomat the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs of waging a vendatta against him.

The ex-minister sued Ms Onoh for libel before a judge, Keziah Ogbonnaya. 

But Ms Onoh, a former Nigerian ambassador to Namibia and Jamaica, and daughter of late Christian Onoh, a erstwhile governor of old Anambra State, denied the allegations. 

Mr Onyeama’s lawyer, Agada Elachi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), while cross-examining Ms Onoh on Thursday, said, “it is obvious from your testimony that this is a personal vendatta against the claimant (Mr Onyeama).”

Mr Elachi also asked Ms Onoh of she was investigated by the foreign affairs ministry concerning an allegation of financial misappropriation. 

In her response, Ms Onoh said Mr Onyeama as minister vigorously pursued a personal vengeance against her because her sister divorced the ex-minister. 

“Geoffrey Onyeama has been pursuing a vendatta against me cause my sister divorced him on account of his mental hereditary insanity.

“Onyeama spent six years destroying my career because my sister divorced him on account of his unhinged psychiatric problem,” Ms Onoh told the court during a tense hearing on Thursday as she testified via Zoom from base in the United States of America.

She was led in her testimony by her lawyer, Monday Ejeh.

Responding to the fraud allegation by Mr Onyeama, Ms Onoh said contrary to a media publication saying she had been sacked from service, the ex-minister did not set-up any investigative panel to probe the allegation. 

“Mr Onyeama and the Permanent Secretary (Gabriel Aduda) concerted lies and published them in Sahara Reporters.”

The subject of the press publication by Sahara Reporters about her sack forms a major defamation suit in the U.S against Messrs Onyeama and Aduda as well as the media outlet.

In court filings, Ms Onoh accused the former foreign minister of using Sahara Reporters, a New York-based online newspaper, to defame her.

The Ex-Nigerian envoy told the court that the purported letter of her dismissal from service was fake having not been authorised by the Federal Civil Service Commission, the hiring agency for the federal government of Nigeria. 

At the end of Thursday’s proceedings when Ms Onoh closed her testimony, the judge, Ms Ogbonnaya adjourned the suit until 15 April for adoption of final written addresses by Messrs Elachi and Ejeh in their clients’ suits.

Ms Onoh also filed a counterclaim against Mr Onyeama.

The judge said the 4th and 5th defendants – Akelicious Media Company and Newswire Law Events & Magazine – never entered appearance or filed any papers in the suit. 

Ms Onoh’s petition to former President Muhammadu Buhari formed a major thrust of the suit.

In the petition to Mr Buhari, Ms Onoh had detailed series of alleged corrupt acts involving Mr Onyeama and top officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Mr Onyeama found the petition libellous as he accused Ms Onoh of granting press interviews where the issues were applied.

However, in her statement of defence, Ms Onoh said she played her role as patriotic citizen who was interested in ending corruption by reporting to the appropriate authority, and never granted an interview to the aforementioned media outlets. 

Ms Onoh noted in her depositions that the House of Representatives had rejected the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2023 budget estimates on account of Mr Onyeama’s suffocation of foreign missions by “unlawfully refusing to spend allocated funds.”