An Accra High Court on Thursday ruled that Professor Ebenezer Oduro Owusu, Immediate Past Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, was liable for defamation in a case brought against him by his predecessor, Professor Ernest Aryeetey.
In an unprecedented case of two Vice Chancellors in litigation, the trial judge accepted all the pleadings of the plaintiff.
In his statement of claim, Professor Aryeetey noted that months into Professor Owusu’s tenure, several news outlets began publishing a dispute that had emerged between the University and the developers of the Africa Integras project.
Several of those reports mentioned that the University had suffered substantial financial damages amid allegations of corruption and wrongdoing in the signing and execution of the project.
Prof Aryeetey maintained in his statement that those discussions set the stage and the general background for fault-finding for alleged losses to the University and the country. They were informed by false statements made by the Vice Chancellor at the time.
Professor Aryeetey contended that the first defendant made several public statements in which he suggested to his audience that he (Professor Aryeetey) had engaged in reckless acts in the signing of the contract and accused him of improper, corrupt, and criminal conduct in the negotiation and execution of the project.
He maintained that Professor Owusu had said to different university stakeholders, including alumni and staff, that he (Professor Aryeetey) secretly discussed and negotiated the agreement without following due process and misled the University to agree to terms that were detrimental to the University.
Professor Owusu was reported to have imputed wrongdoing to Professor Aryeetey and claimed on several occasions that the terms of the agreement were unconscionable and motivated by corruption.
Professor Owusu also indicated at a meeting of the Convocation of the University that “Former VCs managed the UG well, what happened between August 2010 and August 2016?”
Professor Aryeetey contended that the rhetorical statement was intended to damage his reputation among his peers, and it did.
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The trial judge upheld the claim by the plaintiff, Professor Ernest Aryeetey, that all the different statements complained of were defamatory. The judge observed that the defendant did not deny making those statements but relied on a defence of justification.
The Court found no justification for making the various statements that the plaintiff had complained about and stressed that, at the time Professor Owusu made them, he knew they were false.
The judge noted that records from the University that were presented by Professor Owusu in his own defence showed clearly that he knew his statements were false. The Court accepted the claim by the plaintiff that the statements were intended to injure his reputation, and they did.
Professor Ebenezer Oduro Owusu was given 21 days in which to publicly retract the statements complained of and issue an unqualified apology to Professor Ernest Aryeetey.
He was also ordered to pay GHC300,000 damages to Professor Aryeetey, as well as GHC30,000 as a cost.