Defamation Gone Awry!
Segun Babatola Vs Chief Remi Oguntuase

In year 2000, Governor Adeniyi Adebayo of Ekiti State set up a Petroleum Task Force to monitor the distribution and sale of petroleum products to ensure the availability of petrol at the controlled price. He appointed Chief Remi Oguntuase as the chairman of the Task Force.

The problem of scarcity of petrol was a matter of interest as well as concern to the public, hence the Broadcasting Service of Ekiti State, in one of its programmes, had a phone interview with Chief Remi Oguntuase on the problems facing the task force on the scarcity of petrol and the steps he was taking to combat the problems.

After answering questions from the moderator of the programme, the session was thrown open to the public for interested members of the public to ask questions from Chief Oguntuase. The procedure was for the person who wanted to ask any question to first introduce himself and then proceed to ask his questions or make his contribution.

A seemingly hostile Segun Babatola phoned and introduce himself as Segun Babatola phoning in from Ado Ekiti. He poured a lot of vituperation and invectives against Chief Oguntuase, accusing him of feeding fat on the public by making fortunes from the petrol scarcity by diverting petrol to a station operated by him where he was selling petrol at an inflated price, rather than the controlled price at which he was to ensure that it was sold to the public. He refused to accept all the explanations offered by Chief Oguntuase that he did not operate any petrol station anywhere let alone sell petrol at inflated prices.

At a stage when the exchange were really hot, the moderator asked Chief Oguntuase if he had previously known the person phoning and making the serious allegation and Chief Oguntuase answered that he knew him as Segun Audu and not Segun Babatola and that he was actually the son of one Alhaji Audu who lived in the same area with him. After the programme, Segun Babatola commenced an action against Chief Oguntuase for defamation, contending that his Statement that he was Segun Audu rather than Segun Babatola amounted to calling him a bastard.

I was briefed by Chief Remi Oguntuase to defend the action. I applied to the Broadcasting Service of Ekiti State for a copy of the recording of the programme where the words complained about were allegedly uttered but the moderator said it had been obliterated and was no longer available. I was shocked to note later during the trial that the moderator, as witness for the plaintiff, on subpoena, came to court to tender the cassette on which he recorded the programme.

Chief Oguntuase briefed me comprehensively on the facts upon which he relied to say that he knew the Plaintiff as Segun Audu the son of one Alhaji Audu. He even arranged for me to meet Alhaji Audu who told me that he was the reputed father of segun, now answering Segun Babatola and that as his father, he sent him to two Muslim primary schools and a Muslim Secondary School and also trained him at the Technical College, Kaduna before he heard that he changed his name to Segun Babatola, claiming to be the son of one Chief J. E. Babatola, an educationist and politician who once served as Minister in the government of Western Region of Nigeria.

I pleaded all these facts in the Statement of Defence and denied that the Defendant called him a bastard but only said he knew him as Segun Audu rather than Segun Babatola by which he introduced himself on the programme. In the alternative, I pleaded the defence of justification in case the statement allegedly made by the defendant is held to be capable of conveying to the hearers the meaning that the plaintiff was a bastard.

We further pleaded that at all material times, the Plaintiff’s mother was married to Alhaji Audu and was never married to Chief Babatola whom he was claiming to be his father and his records in all institutions he attended showed his name as Segun Audu and his father as Alhaji Audu until he allegedly changed his name to Segun Babatola, claiming to be son of Chief Joel Ehinafe Babatola, the Olora of Ado -Ekiti.

At the trial, the moderator of the programme at which the words complained of were allegedly uttered by my client’s was the first witness for the plaintiff who tendered the cassette of the recording on a subpoena duces tecum. Then came the plaintiff who stated that he was Segun Babatola but that the Defendant called him a bastard on the radio programme and that the statement of the Defendant lowered his reputation in the eyes of the public who heard the programme, which was listened to by a large audience of listeners in Ekiti and beyond.

Under cross-examination, I put it to him that his mother was married to Alhaji Audu as a spinster and lived with Alhaji Audu as his wife at the time of his birth and he agreed that it was true. I also put it to him that Alhaji Audu named him at birth as Segun Audu, and he admitted that it was true. I further put it to him that when he was of school age, Alhaji Audu as his father and as a Muslim sent him to the Ansar-Ud-Deen School, Ado -Ekiti and he was registered as Segun Audu, and he admitted that it was true. I put it to him that as a Muslim, Alhaji Audu sent him to Ansar-ud-Deen High school, Ikole Ekiti for his secondary education and he was registered as Segun Audu, and he admitted that it was true. He also admitted that after his Secondary School education, he attended the Government Technical College, Ado Ekiti and Higher Technical College, Kaduna, sponsored to both institutions by Alhaji Audu and registered as Segun Audu.

I put it to him that he had contact with Chief Babatola when the company in which he was working was seeking the assistance of Chief Babatola, then a Minister in the government of Governor Adeyinka Adebayo in Western Nigeria and that it was Chief Babatola who told him that he was his biological father and persuaded him to change his name to Segun Babatola. His answers was that it was not because of the contact that he changed his name. He however admitted that he got close to Chief Babatola during the time of the contact and subsequently changed his name.

I put to him that the Defendant was right when he said he knew him as Segun Audu as he might not have seen the newspaper publishing his change of name but they rejected the suggestion saying that the Defendant knew that he had changed his name. He; however, admitted that many of his schoolmates in primary and secondary school as well as technical College who did not read the Newspaper publication would still only know him as Segun Audu. He admitted that Chief Babatola was never married to his mother but he was a product of concubinage between Chief Babatola and his mother. He admitted that at all times relevant to this matter, Alhaji Audu was the husband of the mother who was never married to Chief Babatola but rejected the suggestion that if anyone called him a bastard, he would be right.

His next witness was Chief Joel Ehinafe Babatola, a retired Principal, a former Parliamentary Secretary and former Minister in the Government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo as well as the Government of Brigadier General Adeyinka Adebayo. In his evidence, he testified that he was the biological father of the plaintiff although he was no at any time married to his mother. He told the court that he was interested in marrying the Plaintiff’s mother as a spinster but that the parents of the plaintiff’s mother, being Muslims, preferred that she should marry Alhaji Audu, a Muslim like them, but he was the one whose sexual intercourse with her resulted in the birth of the Plaintiff. He testified further that when the Plaintiff came of age, he told him about their relationship and requested that the Plaintiff should change his name from that of Audu to Segun Babatola. He tendered a copy of the Newspaper publication in which the Plaintiff changed his name from Segun Audu to Segun Babatola which was admitted as an exhibit. He testified that since the time of the publication, the Plaintiff had been answering Segun Babatola.

Under cross-examination, the witness agreed that not all Nigerians buy and read copies of the Daily Times everyday. He also agreed that those who did not read the Newspaper would not know about the plaintiff’s change of name from Segun Audu to Segun Babatola. I then put it to him that at the time he said he wanted to marry the Plaintiff’s mother and had sexual relationship with the mother which resulted in his birth, he was already married to one former Miss Familoni, a native of Ido Ekiti and he admitted that it was true. I also put it to him that the marriage was contracted in a church under the Marriage Act, and he admitted that it was true. He also admitted that his marriage to former Miss Familoni had produced grown up children, one of which was a Medical Doctor and another was a graduate teacher.

I put into him that he could not have married the Plaintiff’s mother at the time of his conception, having been married under the statute, which does not admit of his taking another wife, but he stated that he truly wanted to marry her. I asked the witness if he knew that he would have committed the offence of bigamy, if he married the Plaintiffs mother after his statutory marriage but the court disallowed the question.

I then asked him if he knew that the complaint of the Plaintiff was that the Defendant called him a bastard and he said he knew. I asked him if knew the meaning of bastard and he said he did not know. I gave him three dictionaries of English Language as well as Black’s Law Dictionary to read the meaning of the word bastard. I then put it to him that any child born of a father who was not married to the mother was a bastard but he said he did not know. I also put it to him that since he was not the husband of the Plaintiff’s mother at the time of the conception of the Plaintiff, anyone who called the Plaintiff a bastard would not be wrong, but he said he would not know. I finally put it to him that the Plaintiff was indeed a bastard and he refused to admit. I then modified the question and put it to him, that if the Defendant referred to the Plaintiff as a bastard, he would not be wrong but he refused to agree that he would be correct.

At that stage, I closed my cross-examination of the witnesses. After the evidence of the witness, the trial Judge asked the Plaintiff and his counsel if they would not like to review the case and make up their minds if they would continue the hearing of the case. They agreed to review the case and took a long adjournment to consider their position.

Before the next date of adjournment, they had filed a notice of discontinuance and the case struck out without any order as to costs.

Culled from Adventures in Litigation by Chief Raphael Makanjuola Esan, SAN, JP