Defamation Suit Against Activist Omoyele Sowore Stalls in Abuja Court

A defamation and cyber-stalking lawsuit against human rights activist Omoyele Sowore hit a roadblock in a Nigerian court due to the police's failure to serve a hearing notice on the 3rd defendant, SaharaReporters Media Group Incorporated. The case was adjourned to September 23, with Sowore's lawyer objecting to the court's move to proceed with the trial.

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Quadri Adejumo
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Defamation Suit Against Activist Omoyele Sowore Stalls in Abuja Court

Defamation Suit Against Activist Omoyele Sowore Stalls in Abuja Court

A defamation and cyber-stalking lawsuit against human rights activist Omoyele Sowore has hit a roadblock in the Federal High Court in Abuja. The case, filed by the FCT Commissioner of police, serving on behalf of Senator Ned Nwoko, was slated for arraignment before Justice Emeka Nwite on Thursday but could not proceed as a result of the police's failure to serve a hearing notice on the 3rd defendant, SaharaReporters Media Group Incorporated.

Why this matters: The outcome of this case could have significant implications for freedom of expression and the ability of activists and journalists to hold those in power accountable without fear of legal repercussions. It also highlights the challenges faced by human rights defenders in Nigeria, who are often targeted with lawsuits and harassment for their work.

Sowore, the convener of the RevolutionNow movement, had traveled from the United States to attend the trial, arriving in Nigeria on Wednesday, May 1, 2024, after spending about one and a half months with his family abroad. He was greeted by a throng of supporters, activists, and party members upon his arrival at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos.

During the court proceedings, Sowore's lawyer, Tope Temokun, objected to the court's move to proceed with the trial, arguing that it was improper to impose the representative of the 3rd defendant on his client. Temokun insisted that Sowore had resigned from SaharaReporters Media Group Incorporated and could not represent other defendants in the case. "We are not saying we are running away from the trial. Omoyele Sowore travelled all the way from the United States just because of this matter," Temokun stated.

The prosecution counsel, Edwin Inegbenoise, argued that SaharaReporters had no address, making it difficult to serve the organization. In the end, Justice Emeka Nwite ordered the police to effect service of the hearing notice on the 3rd defendant and adjourned the case to September 23.

The defamation and cyber-stalking suit against Sowore has faced criticism from human rights organizations. Amnesty International has called for the immediate dismissal of the cybercrime trial, describing it as "bogus" and unlawful. The organization stated, "The unfair prosecution of Sowore is part of the restriction of civic space and escalating crackdown on human rights in Nigeria."

This is not the first legal challenge Sowore has faced. In February, the court rejected a motion filed by Sowore and SaharaReporters seeking to quash the defamation and cyber-stalking suit. Justice Emeka Nwite ruled that he was convinced that Sowore was still a Director and Chief Executive Officer of SaharaReporters, an online news platform, and SaharaReporters Media Group Incorporated, which were joined in the suit as 2nd and 3rd defendants respectively.

Addressing his supporters upon his return to Nigeria, Sowore reaffirmed his commitment to the fight against corruption. "When I left about a month and a half ago, I made it very clear that I would be back," he said. "We said it that we would be back and I'm back today and I'm glad to be back with all of you. I have another trial in Abuja." Sowore vowed to put all corrupt individuals in Nigeria on trial, one by one.

The defamation and cyber-stalking case against Sowore continues to unfold, the court's capacity to tackle the complexities surrounding the service of hearing notices and the representation of defendants will be vital. The outcome of this case could have significant implications for freedom of expression and the ability of activists and journalists to hold those in power accountable without fear of legal repercussions. Amnesty International has urged authorities to allow Sowore and other activists and journalists to freely carry out their activities without harassment or fear of reprisals.

Key Takeaways

  • Defamation and cyber-stalking lawsuit against Omoyele Sowore hits roadblock in Federal High Court in Abuja.
  • Case delayed due to police's failure to serve hearing notice on 3rd defendant, SaharaReporters Media Group Incorporated.
  • Sowore's lawyer objects to court's move to proceed with trial, citing improper representation.
  • Amnesty International calls for immediate dismissal of cybercrime trial, describing it as "bogus" and unlawful.
  • Outcome of case could have significant implications for freedom of expression and accountability in Nigeria.