A Federal Capital Territory High Court judge, Justice Valentine Ashi, on Wednesday ordered security agents, including the police and operatives of the Department of State Service, to confiscate the latest book of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, My Watch.
The judge of the FCT Wuse Zone II court said the publication of the book, which was presented to the public on Tuesday in Lagos, contravened the order of the court restraining the publication.
Justice Ashi also gave Obasanjo 21 days within which to explain why he should not be punished for flouting the court order.
He ordered that the enrolled orders of the court be served on all media houses in the country and be equally served on the defendant by publication in two national daily newspapers.
The judge held, “I hold the defendant not only in contempt of the court, but to show cause why he should not be punished for contempt and ordered to undo what he has wrongly done.
“The defendant, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, shall be given 21 days, from the day this order is served on him, to show cause, via affidavit, why he should not be punished for contempt committed by publishing and distributing for sale to the public, the book, My Watch, in plain disregard of the pendency of substantive suit and the order of this court made on December 5, 2014 restraining him from doing so.
“The defendant, whether by himself, agents, servants, privies or whatever name called, is hereby restrained from further publication or offering for sale or distribution, in any way or manner, the book called My Watch or the like of the visual or written materials which contains a re-publication or statement extracted from the letter referred to by the plaintiff.”
The judge had on December 5 restrained Obasanjo from going ahead with the publication pending the determination of the N20bn libel suit instituted against him by a member of the Peoples Democratic Party in Ogun State, Buruji Kashamu.
Kashamu’s lawyer, Dr. Alex Iziyon (SAN), had in his ex parte application before the court on December 5, argued that Obasanjo should be restrained from publishing the book since the content related to the subject matter of the libel suit.
The content of the book was said to be related to a letter dated December 2, 2013 written by Obasanjo to President Goodluck Jonathan, in which Kashamu was described by the former President as a fugitive wanted for drug offences in the United States of America.
Iziyon had argued that since part of the content of the autobiography related to the December 2, 2013 letter, which is the subject matter of the libel suit, it was wrong for Obasanjo to be allowed “to proceed to comment on, write books about or make publications on the issue yet to be decided by the court.”
The court had after granting Kashamu’s application and by making the restraining order on December 5, fixed Wednesday for the continuation of the substantive libel suit.
But Obasanjo had on Tuesday made public presentation of the book, arguing at the venue of the event that the book had been published before the court was misled into making the orders.
He also said the judge ought to be punished for making such order.
The court on Wednesday heard Iziyon and Obasanjo’s lawyer, Realwon Okpanach, on the plaintiff’s motion for interlocutory injunction, and motion for order to set aside the earlier interim orders.
In his ruling, Justice Ashi held that it was wrong for Obasanjo to have proceeded to publish the book despite the fact that a libel suit, which subject matter formed part of the content of the book, was still pending before the court.
The judge said the orders he made on December 5 were still pending.
He further held that it was immaterial that the book was published before the interim orders were made.
The judge said Obasanjo ought not to have published the book because he was aware of the part-heard libel suit relating to the letter he wrote to President Jonathan, accusing Kashamu of being a fugitive wanted in the USA.
“The fact that the book was published in November is irrelevant. As long as the substantive suit is not yet determined, no party is entitled to publish or comment on material facts that are yet to be decided on by the court,” the court held.
Justice Ashi also ordered “the Inspector General of Police, the Director General of the Department of State Services and the Comptroller of Customs to recover the published book from all book stands, sales agents, vendors, the sea and airports and deposit them with his court’s registrar pending the determination of the substantive suit.”
The judge rejected argument by the defendants that the interim orders were wrongly made as the plaintiff failed to produce the book to show that it actually contained the alleged libellous materials.
He held, “What I find difficult to understand is why the defendants went through the pains to depose to the ISBN number and other details about the book, which they said was published since November before the interim order was obtained on December 5, without supplying the court with copies of the book.
“This would have served to disprove the claim by the applicant/plaintiff that the book contains a reproduction of the letter, which formed the subject of the libel case before the court.
“The fact that the book was published in November, while the substantive case was still pending is contemptuous enough.”
The court then adjourned January 13 for further proceedings.