- Category: NEWS
- Published on Friday, 06 April 2012 18:13
- Written by elombah.com
Thursday, April 5, 2012, marked the end of discovery in the defamation lawsuit known as Ugwuonye v. Sowore, (the publisher of Saharareporters.com) which is pending in the United States Federal Court. In a twist of timing, Sowore's lawyers had to file
their Summary Judgment Motion on March 30, 2012, one day outside the deadline for that, before they could depose their final witness, Mr. Carl Umunnah.
As predicted by legal experts, this case may have tumbles and twists that could shock everybody and profoundly change the way Nigerians in Diaspora communicate with one another, and particularly the manner in which the online news reporters have done business. Yesterday's deposition were full of dramas, as expected of anything involving the very outspoken and audacious Carl Umunnah. The deposition was set to start by 4:00pm because that was when Umunnah agreed he would be available, and it lasted till 10:00pm. The venue for the deposition was the New York offices of Sowore's law firm, Baker & Hostetler, LLP, 45 Rockefeller Plaza, 11th Floor, New York 10111.
The law firm has continued to demonstrate clout and raw muscles at every turn in the case, just short of winning any motions yet. It has offices in major cities in the United States and it could depose witnesses in various places without moving lawyers. In their planned scotched-earth deposition schedule against Ugwuonye, knowing that Ugwuonye had scheduled to depose Sowore in Maryland on February 27, they quickly scheduled to depose Emeka's sister, Ifesinachi, in California on February 28 and Carl Umunnah in New York on February 29. They would have different lawyers in these locations, with Ms. Babinski the main lawyer never having to leave her Washington, DC office. They knew there was no way Ugwuonye would be able to finish deposition in Maryland on February 27 and be in California for February 28 and in New York for February 29. Evidently, it was calculated to wear Ugwuonye down and throw into a frenzy that could frustrate him with costs and impossible logistics.
However, Emeka Ugwuonye was not to be underestimated. Speaking to this reporter Ugwuonye said he had his plans. He never wanted to face his own sister in any formal setting. He had insisted that such would wait for the right place and the right time. So he was not really harmed by not going to California on the February 28. Besides, he knows he would find other ways to fault his sister's deposition especially if it happened in his back. His target was Umunnah's deposition. He needed to be there. But also, he did not wish to incur the cost of traveling, which was part of the plan of his opponents - to force him to spend money that they didn't have to spend.
Still unknown how it happened, Ugwuonye managed a wrangling with Sowore's lawyers that forced Umunnah's deposition to be postponed beyond the time Sowore's lawyers were to file their motion but before Ugwuonye is to file his response. So, Ugwuonye would have a view of Umunnah's testimonies by the time he files his response while Sowore's lawyers would hope to make use of Umunnah's deposition by way of a reply to Ugwuonye's response or at trial, should their summary judgment motion fail. There is no doubt that it has been a complex game on both sides without anyone knowing yet who is ahead in that game. Ugwuonye is keeping his cards close to his chest and away from the open deck. Also, no one knows much about Sowore's lawyers' moves except for the releases they seem to be issuing on Nigerian list-serves through one Afis Odidera, a close friend of Sowore.
In yesterday's deposition of Umunnah, it was drama from the first moment, when Umunnah arrived with his own video camera to record live the deposition. Sowore's lawyer was a bit taken aback. She said she had never seen a situation like that before. She requested to consult her client and her colleagues on the matter. Sowore adamantly refused to allow a camera in the deposition. He was so frightened by the prospects of being caught on tape, even though he was not the one being deposed. An argument ensued between Ugwuonye and Sowore's lawyer on the rules of civil procedure relating to that. Sowore's lawyer insisted that the deposition was governed by the civil procedure rules of New York, where the court that issued the subpoena was located. But Ugwuonye countered that the deposition was pursuant to a case in Maryland and subject to the order of the Maryland court on March 9, which set the deposition. The argument lasted for 30 minutes. Sowore's lawyer asked Ugwuonye to take it up with the court. But Ugwuonye requested her to confirm which court - the New York court that issued the subpoena or the Maryland Court that ordered the deposition – dramatizing the illogicality of her position. Ugwuonye also insisted that Umunnah was Sowore's witness and that he was not in a position to tell Umunnah what to do. Ugwuonye then wondered why Sowore's lawyers would seem so powerless with their own witness whom they called to help their defense. What an irony - Sowore's lawyers called Umunnah as a witness, but then looked to Ugwuonye to persuade Umunnah to take away his video camera. In the end, Ugwuonye, said all he could do was to wish that the witness, who apparently could not be controlled by the lawyer that called him, would reconsider his desire to video-tape the deposition.
Umunnah finally relented and turned off his video camera, but that was after capturing 30 minutes of crossfire between Ugwuonye and Sowore's lawyer. Throughout the period, Sowore was uncomfortable under the camera. Ugwuonye had to read into the record that Sowore, who claimed to be interested in transparency and openness should not be so desperate to hide the deposition in his case from the eyes of the public. Aside, Sowore was reported to have recently attempted to video-tape a function by Nigerian officials in New York. He suddenly became video shy when the camera was turned on him. By the way, it is to be noted that Ugwuonye participated through teleconference. He had managed to get the court's permission for him to have the option of not having to travel to New York for the deposition. No one knew how he was to exercise that option until yesterday. Those who have watched this case from the technical point of view all believe it was in the interest of Ugwuonye for Umunnah to be deposed. It might have been a blunder for Sowore to be the one to call Umunnah as a witness. There was a fear in Ugwuonye’s camp that Sowore’s lawyers might discover their miscalculation and abandon the deposition of Umunnah, especially as it was occurring after they had filed their summary judgment motion, meaning that they did not need Umunnah.
What turned out the most stunning about this deposition may not be the drama or the legal firework between the lawyers. Rather, it is going to be what was revealed about the role Professor Bolaji Aluko played in this case. Sowore's lawyer turned up with documents, which showed a string of emails between Bolaji Aluko and Ifesinachi Ugwuonye and Sowore all plotting on how to publish negative stories against Emeka Ugwuonye in Saharareporters.com. The emails seemed to indicate Professor Aluko had his fingerprints all over the stories and appeared to be driving the whole thing.
It is now clear this controversy would not be over soon, regardless of what happens in the present case. Elombah.com contacted Ugwuonye last night to know his thoughts, but he would rather continue to keep his cards close to his chest, at least until he responds to Sowore’s summary judgment motion. When prodded for his views on Aluko's involvement, he only could say: "When it is all over, the world would know what a petty little mischievous fellow Bolaji Aluko has been".
Even as Elombah.com went to press on this story, many legal minds are finding this case more intriguing than they have predicted initially. Elombah.com has obtained the transcripts of Ifesinachi Ugwuonye's deposition. That too was full of its own shockers. Ifesinachi was asked under oath why she called her brother a thief. She replied that her brother had tried to substitute their mother's name in the title document of a land in Enugu, which she claimed was hers.
Elombah.com had previously learned that the dispute in the Ugwuonye family was over the claims that Emeka Ugwuonye and Ifesinachi had jointly raised money for the purchase of land supposedly for their mother in Enugu. But as Ifesinachi was the one entrusted with the handling of the transaction, she put the land in her name instead of their mother's name as Emeka had expected. When a dispute arose between Ifesinachi and their mother, who had been living with Ifesinachi, baby-sitting her child for over 4 years, Ifesinachi threw their mother out of her house. Emeka was furious.
In an effort to resettle their mother, Emeka tried to build a house on the land in Enugu, but he discovered that the land was in Ifesinachi's name rather than their mother's, and Ifesinachi had threatened not to allow their mother to move into any house to be built on the land. Emeka then asked his younger brothers in Enugu to try to rectify in the land registry the title to the document. Actually the title document was signed by their mother in a signature space under Ifesinachi’s name. From the family’s perspective, it should have been not only their mother’s signature but also her name. Emeka considers that to be a mistake that ought to be rectified in the land registry. To avoid fighting their sister in public, Emeka and his brothers have relented from any move to take correct the title to the land in dispute.
When asked to explain why she called her brother a thief, Ifesinachi replied under oath, "How else would you describe a person who tried to steal your land" and give the land to your mother? Also, when asked why she said her brother had affairs with married women, she only came up with answers that amounted to nothing really. She even tried to plead the Fifth, (a US equivalent of the right against self incrimination, which can only be used when the witness believes that her answer could expose her to criminal prosecution). She was advised that she couldn’t plead the Fifth. She then requested to be allowed to provide the name of one woman later. Evidently, Sowore’s lawyers have realized how worthless her testimony is and it seems they are not relying on it for their motion. And if they do not, that defeats their effort to push responsibility for that publication away from Sowore to Ifesinachi.
It is really stunning that it was on the basis of this unsubstantiated story, that many people have called Emeka Ugwuonye a thief and other unprintable names on the Nigerian Internet list-serves. If no other benefit comes to Emeka Ugwuonye from these cases, at least, they revealed things previously unknown to the public.
Ugwuonye's contention is that it was all about a conspiracy and gang-up in which Bolaji Aluko has played the role of both “an executive producer and director”. Apparently, it was a well stewed dirt and mud-slinging right from the sewer by Aluko against Ugwuonye. It was “packaged and peddled or syndicated by Professor Aluko…he invaded Ugwuonye’s family at its most vulnerable spot, exploiting the desperations and frustration of Emeka’s much troubled sister”.
What puzzles observers is why Sowore's lawyers call Carl Umunnah as a witness, knowing Umunnah’s past unfriendly re;atonship with Sowore? It would seem that Umunnah's testimonies would be favorable to Ugwuonye's case. It should have been Ugwuonye who would like to call Umunnah. How come that Sowore's lawyers did that job for him?
Elombah.com intends to publish in fully all the deposition transcripts in this case, starting with Ifesinachi Ugwuonye’s deposition and continuing with Emeka Ugwuonye’s deposition, Sowore's and Umunnah's depositions, depending on whether Sowore's lawyers did not try to try to block such publication.