The Accra High Court has ruled on the defamation suit between two former Vice Chancellors of the University of Ghana in the Africa Integras case, and upheld the claim by the plaintiff, Professor Ernest Aryeetey, that all the different statements complained of against his successor, Professor Ebenezer Oduro Owusu were defamatory.
The court observed that the defendant, Prof Oduro Owusu did not deny making those statements but relied on a defence of justification.
The court has therefore ordered Prof Oduro Owusu to pay GH¢300,000 damages to Professor Aryeetey, as well as GH¢30,000 as cost.
The court, presided over by Justice William Boampong gave the judgement on Thursday, October 27, 2022.
The court explained that it 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 of Ghana 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 has therefore been given 21 days in which to publicly retract the statements complained of and issue an unqualified apology to Professor Ernest Aryeetey in addition to the GH¢300,000 damages, as well as the GH¢30,000 as cost.
How it started
In July 2014, under the leadership of the then Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, the University of Ghana entered into a contract with Africa Integras, a private investment company with headquarters in New York, to construct five buildings for the university on a Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis.
The project was to consist of the construction of an expanded facility for the College of Humanities, a complex for the new College of Education, a new building complex for the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, a complex to house the Institute of Technology and Applied Science and a building for the College of Health Sciences to aid the university in relocating the medical school to the UG campus from its present location in the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital.
The project was structured as a 25-year Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) contract but when the leadership of the university changed in January 2016, the new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ebenezer Oduro Owusu sanctioned the project, citing issues with viability and favourableness with the project contract.
The $64 million infrastructure project then came to a standstill due to the disagreement between the current Vice-Chancellor (VC) and his predecessor over the viability of the project.
The matter then went for arbitration in London.
In August 2018, it was reported that the University of Ghana had lost an arbitration in London in relation to the Africa Integras Project and therefore expected to pay $160 million to Africa Integras as termination costs.
Background to defamation suit by Prof Aryeetey
In 2019, Prof Ernest Aryeetey dragged his successor as Vice Chancellor at the University of Ghana, Prof Ebenezer Oduro Owusu to the High Court for defamation in relation to the Africa Integras case.
It was Prof Aryeetey’s argument that Professor Ebenezer Oduro Owusu, now the immediate Past Vice Chancellor of University of Ghana, was liable for defamation.
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.
He argued that they were informed by false statements made by the Vice Chancellor at the time [Prof Oduro Owusu].
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 wrong-doing 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 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.
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 GHS 300,000 damages to Professor Aryeetey, as well as GHS 30,000 as cost.