A Kano State Chief Magistrate Court has adjourned further proceeding to February 15, 2023 in a criminal complaint filed against a Bauchi-based online newspaper, WikkiTimes Nigeria Limited, and its reporter, Mr. Elijah Ojonicko, to determine whether the court has jurisdiction to hear the complaint brought by Alhaji Surajo Sani Marshal and three construction companies alleging that the media outlet published a defamatory statement about them.
Presiding Magistrate Auwal Yusuf Suleiman adjourned ruling to February 15 following an objection raised by Barrister Aliyu Yakubu, lawyer to WikkiTimes, against the reading of the complaint on the ground that the Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the complaint made pursuant to the Federal Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act, 2015 and the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Kano State, 2019.
The four applicants – S.A.T Engineering Services Limited, Insulum Nigeria Limited, Haitel Nigeria Limited and Alhaji Marshal, by means of “Direct Complaint” filed on October 27, 2022, applied to the court to order WikkiTimes and Mr. Ojonicko to appear before the court for it to ascertain their culpability in the applicants’ allegations that they conspired and published statements against the three construction companies and Alhaji Marshal which defamed their character.
The Complainants alleged that on August 31, 2022, WikkiTimes published a defamatory story concerning six construction companies (S.A.T Engineering Service Ltd, M. Sulum Nigeria Ltd, Emacs Engineering Consultant, Pyramid Investment, MGK Global Service Ltd and Haitel Nig Ltd) who were awarded contracts for the building of 20 units of one block of two classrooms with furniture, toilets, and offices in three senatorial zones in Kano and were jointly paid the sum of N 290 million as part payment for the construction and reported that they never perform the contracts.
They also stated that WikkiTimes alleged that S.A.T Engineering Service Ltd, M. Sulum Nigeria Ltd and Haitel Nig Ltd were not in existence and had fictitious addresses.
They complainants claimed that the story published by WikkiTimes on August 31, 2021 was false, malicious, unfounded and an attempt to defame their reputation, urging the court to direct WikkiTimes and Mr. Ojonicko to appear before the Court in order to ascertain their culpability to the alleged offence.
The court therefore issued a summons on WikkiTimes and Mr. Ojonicko in Bauchi to appear before the court registrar of Court 18 of the Chief Magistrate Court in Kano on January 9, 2023 regarding the complaint of defamation of character contrary to the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention ETC) Act, 2015, Section 393 of the Penal Code of Kano State and Order 107 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law, Kano State.
However, on January 9, Mr. Yakubu, a member of Media Rights Agenda’s network of lawyers who represented WikkiTimes and Mr. Ojonicko, told the court that his clients were not in court because of an incident they encountered on their way to Kano a few days earlier to enable them to attend court proceeding. He therefore urged the court to adjourn its sitting for three weeks to enable them to attend to the allegation against them.
Counsel to the Complainants, Barrister Habiba Abdullahi Umar, did not oppose the request for an adjournment but asked the court to shorten the period to less than three weeks.
Magistrate Suleiman accordingly adjourned the matter to January 25, 2023 for mention.
On January 25, Mr. Ojonicko was in court while WikkiTimes was represented by Mr. Yakubu Muhammad.
However, when the case was called and the complaint about to be read, Mr. Yakubu raised an objection to the reading of the complaint on the ground that the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the complaint arising from alleged offences committed under the Cybercrime Act and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
After hearing arguments from both counsel, the Magistrate adjourned the case to Feburaru 15 for ruling.