A Federal High Court in Cross River State has adjourned a libel suit filed by the Cross River Microfinance Bank against Agba Jalingo, publisher of CrossRiverWatch, a state-based online newspaper.
Justice Maurice Eneji, the presiding judge, adjourned the case till March 21 after the sole witness to the Microfinance Bank failed to turn up in court.
In suit number HC/296/2019, R.A Manga Esq, the counsel to the claimant told the Court that his witness was “very sick,” and that he had conveyed the information to James Ibor Esq, counsel to the defendants.
“My Lord, you know these days when we are told people are sick, we have to be careful because the next time, you may hear that the person has died and it will prick your conscience that you did not act humanely,” Ibor told the court.
Responding, Ibor said on behalf of the defendants that the defence would “indulge the claimants again” due to the peculiarities of the times.
This is the second time the claimant’s sole witness is absent at the hearing of the suit.
In 2019, Jalingo had published an article via CrossRiverWatch, probing an illicit transaction of N500 million involving the Cross River Microfinance Bank and Benedict Ayade, the governor of Cross River State.
Following the publication, the Cross River Microfinance Bank filed a libel suit against him at the High Court of Cross River State, dated August 28, 2019.
He was then arrested on August 22, 2019 at his Lagos residence. He spent 179 days in detention after criminal proceedings over the article were preferred against him, with the Microfinance Bank, Governor Ben Ayade and the Cross River State Government as nominal complainants. The criminal trial is slated for prosecution to present their witnesses on March 1, 2021.
However, while in police detention before his arraignment before Justice Simon Amobeda of the Calabar Division of the Federal High Court, where the criminal proceedings were instituted, the Cross River Microfinance Bank went ahead to file a libel suit at the High Court of Cross River State.
The matter was first called on February 5, 2020, the court failing to sit. The matter was then adjourned to February 20, 2020 but the court still failed to hear the matter.
However, a hearing notice was issued for November 3, 2020 and upon resumption of hearing, the matter was adjourned until November 26 for pre-trial.
After the pre trial on November 26, 2020, the matter was adjourned until January 14, 2021 for hearing but upon resumption, the claimants sole witness was absent and the matter adjourned until Monday. By implication, 18 months after the suit was filed, Cross River Microfinance Bank has not managed to produce a single witness against Jalingo before th court.
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