Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, has sued The Punch newspaper and Sonala Olumhense, a syndicated columnist, over an article they published on January 27, 2019.
In the article, “This is the best contribution Obasanjo can make,” Mr. Olumhense recalled previous articles he had written about the two-time Nigeria leader, explaining that because of Obasanjo’s “persistent efforts to distort Nigeria’s history and colour it in his own image,” he occasionally writes to remind Nigerians “he is not the saint or patriot or doer he pretends to be.”
But Obasanjo is claiming one billion naira as general damages, describing the article as “false, malicious, unjustified, injurious, scornful, distasteful, unsavoury” and exposing him to “public odium, ridicule and disdain.”
Mr. Olumhense is also principally syndicated on Sundays by Daily Trust, but the Abuja-based newspaper was not joined in the suit.
In addition to riches, Obasanjo is also seeking retraction of the already published complaint in two national newspapers within three days of the judgement of the court, and an order to restrain the defendants and others from publishing the same or similar words.
In an earlier article, on January 27, 2008, Olumhense called on the Umaru Yar’Adua administration “To Probe the Emperor,” giving 10 reasons.
“If Obasanjo gets away without being investigated, the bigger loser will not be Obasanjo, but this nation,” he wrote. “What Obasanjo did in office, and the reason that people are calling for him to be probed was done with arrogance, indiscipline and impunity. Not to probe him is to protect him. To protect him is to betray the constitution and the people of Nigeria in favor of yet another privileged citizen.”
Olumhense recalled that on June 23, 2004, Obasanjo himself publicly admitted that Nigerian leaders had failed Nigerians, and argued that a probe would be his chance to prove he is not one of the leaders he had criticized.
The columnist further recalled, on that occasion, that four years earlier Obasanjo had told the BBC that any Nigerian who was not prepared to die for the nation did not deserve to be a Nigerian citizen. “Probing him would give him the opportunity to stand by those words, and for Nigerians to see who he really was, as a president,” Olumhense observed.
In another article on August 18, 2013, he described Obasanjo as “Nigeria’s First ‘419’ President,” drawing attention to a speech Obasanjo had given that month at the University of Ibadan in which he excoriated other Nigerian leaders as not being good enough.
“And then he dismissed Nigerians for not finding him to be exceptional,” the columnist noted. “If Nigerians were yet to find a leader worthy of commendation after 53 years of independence [Obasanjo] declared, “’Then we are jinxed and cursed; we should all go to hell.’”
Commented the writer, “No, Chief, I humbly disagree. Only dishonest and unpatriotic leaders qualify for perdition.”
He asserted that Obasanjo knew he was Nigeria’s first ‘419’ leader. “But he is counting on the Nigerian people, especially the youth, remaining too distracted or too scared to rise to their feet and say, emphatically and in unison: “NO,” “ENOUGH” and “NONSENSE.”
“It is time,” Olumhense declared. “Our mumu don do!”
When the trial opens in the suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja, The Punch is expected to be represented by a battery of lawyers.
Olumhense will be represented by the fiery legal luminary, Femi Falana (SAN).