Construction firm slams N100bn libel suit against Unity Bank

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A construction firm, Bulet International (Nig) Limited has dragged Unity Bank Plc before an Abuja High Court, seeking N100 billion for damages for libel.

The first plaintiff is a building and civil engineering construction company while the second plaintiff is its Chief Executive, Ismaila Isa, former Minister of Water Resources and former President of the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN).

In 2013, Unity Bank commenced a debt recovery action against Bulet before an Abuja High Court. However, the case was dismissed on February 24 this year for lack of reasonable cause of action.

While the said suit was still pending, Unity Bank through its lawyer, I. H. Yamah, wrote letters to Bulet’s tenants and clients, including the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Australian and American Embassies as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs conveying an auction sale notice (threatening to sell the property being occupied by the tenants).

The plaintiffs said these letters were false, malicious and baseless and calculated to mislead the public.

In the letters, Unity Bank alleged that it loaned the plaintiff N6.856 billion, adding that the bank was in possession of the perfected legal mortgage over the landed properties occupied by the tenants, warning them not to have any commitments to their landlord.

In 2014, the bank further instituted another suit which is still pending in court and is being challenged by Bulet for non-disclosure of reasonable cause of action, in which ruling has been fixed for February 2015.

The plaintiffs said while awaiting the ruling, the bank went ahead again to publish public notices and articles in numerous newspapers as well as on its internet outlets specifically addressed to the CBN containing list of alleged debtors of which the plaintiffs’ names were falsely and maliciously added.

According to the plaintiffs, the letters, newspaper reports and public notices by the bank meant that the plaintiffs are bankrupt and irresponsible and took bank credit with intent to defraud the bank.

The plaintiffs said the letters and public notices were understood by the public to mean that Unity Bank gave N6.8 billion credit facilities and was in custody of the perfected mortgage instruments which exposed the plaintiffs’ tenants to auction their homes and offices.

In a 17-paragraph statement of claim, the 1st plaintiff stated further that it has been portrayed as a rogue company and a failed enterprise.

According to the plaintiffs, the defamatory publication which are false, malicious, baseless and calculated to mislead the public while injuring the reputation of the 1st plaintiff brought the 2nd plaintiff into scandal and ridicule his character as a statesman.

The plaintiffs stressed that the bank never granted them any N6.8 billion credit facility as alleged.

As at the time of filing this report, Unity Bank was yet to file a defence and efforts at getting the bank to comment on the matter wee unsuccessful.

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