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“Defamation”: Suspended Minister, Betta Edu threatens to sue BBC

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The suspended Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr Betta Edu, has expressed her intention to take legal action against the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) over what she claims to be defamatory statements.

Edu made this known through a letter signed by her legal representative, Chikaosolu Ojukwu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and addressed to the BBC offices in Abuja and London.

In the letter titled ‘Request for immediate retraction of defamatory article published on BBC website against Dr. Betta Edu’, the lawyer expressed the harm caused to Edu’s reputation, as well as the emotional distress and suffering endured as a result of the publication.

It accused the BBC of failing to uphold journalistic fairness and due process by not giving Edu a chance to respond to the allegations prior to publishing the article.

The letter read, “We write to express our deep concern regarding the recent article published by the BBC on its website titled: “Betta Edu Probe: Nigeria Recover $24m in Poverty Minister Investigation- EFCC” with the byline “Nigeria has recovered 30bn naira ($24m; £19m) as part of an ongoing corruption probe into a suspended minister, the financial watchdog says.”

“The aforesaid article, which presents information purporting to relate to an ongoing corruption probe into the activities of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation in Nigeria, is replete with innuendoes and insinuations which suggest that N30bn has been recovered in the course of the ongoing investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from our client and that the 50 bank accounts connected with the recovered sums are linked to our client.

“Furthermore, your article proceeds to cast aspersion on our client by referencing her earlier suspension (to allow for unfettered investigations) in the following terms: ‘Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation Minister Betta Edu was initially suspended in January over the alleged diversion of $640,000 of public money into a personal bank account’.

“First and foremost, the language used in describing our client’s purported involvement in the alleged corruption case suggests guilt without allowing for the presumption of innocence, which is fundamental in any fair and unbiased reporting.

“The reckless manner in which the article was crafted, without providing our client with the opportunity to respond to the allegations before its wide publication, is a clear breach of journalistic fairness and due process and demonstrates a complete disregard for journalistic integrity and professionalism.”

The letter continued, “For the avoidance of doubt, our client has neither been indicted nor found culpable of any act of financial impropriety in relation to her stewardship of the Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation Ministry in Nigeria. It is also pertinent to emphasise that neither N30billion nor any amount whatsoever has been traced to or recovered from our client’s bank accounts nor has any proceed of crime been traced or recovered from her to warrant the scurrilous article under reference.

“Suffice it to say that in the aftermath of the publication of this scandalous article (which the BBC caused to be disseminated to millions of persons across the globe), our client has been inundated by calls and messages from friends, associates expressing their shock and consternation. Our client has suffered immeasurable reputational damage, psychological trauma and anguish as a direct consequence of the publication and dissemination of the article.

“In the light of the above, we hereby demand that the BBC, forthwith and immediately, pull down the offensive article from its website and/or any other associated platform. Furthermore, we demand that the BBC, within 48 hours from the receipt of this correspondence, issue and publish an immediate and unqualified retraction of the aforementioned article and a public apology to our client, for the false and defamatory content published. This retraction and apology must be given the same prominence as the initial offensive article.

“Take notice that should the BBC fail and/or neglect to comply with the above demands, we have our client’s instructions to, without further recourse to the BBC, initiate swift legal action(s) before the appropriate Courts to obtain redress for the injurious falsehood peddled in your article, and to seek punitive and exemplary damages in the sum of US$ 50 million against the BBC for the damage and injury suffered by our client.”

President Bola Tinubu suspended Edu in January 2024.

Edu’s suspension followed criticism after a leaked memo on December 20, 2023, revealed that she directed the Accountant-General of the Federation, Oluwatoyin Madein, to transfer N585m to a private account owned by one Oniyelu Bridget.

The ministry, however, stated that Oniyelu was working as the Project Accountant, Grants for Vulnerable Groups.

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