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A COMPANY CAN SUE FOR DEFAMATION

Dictum

The dismal effect of defamation/injurious falsehood on a persona ficta, like the first respondent, was graphically captured in Oduntan vs. General Oil Ltd. (1995) 4 NWLR (Pt. 387) 1 at 14 wherein the Apex Court declared: A company can sue for defamation. It has reputation and goodwill, which can be protected. An injury to its reputation can lead to loss of its goodwill. The Courts will, in appropriate cases, protect the reputation and goodwill of a company by award of damages and injunction. While it is true that a company, being an artificial person, is incapable of having natural grief and distress, this does not mean the same thing as its reputation in the way of its trade and business. See, also, C.S.S. & D.F, Ltd vs. Schlumberger (Nig,) Ltd (Supra).

— O.F. Ogbuinya JCA. Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc v. Longterm Global Cap. Ltd. & Ors. (September 20 2021, ca/l/1093/2017)

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TRUTH IS JUSTIFICATION FOR DEFAMATION

The law of defamation in this country has not changed even by latest developments in law. A man is entitled to his good name and to be called what he is. But if in a man’s life he happens to have a blur and that blur is with the sanction of law recognised as such, it is no libel to point it out, even if it is done for mischief. That a man is entitled to the estimation he stands in the opinion of others is qualified only if what is said of him is false and thus lowers that estimation. But to say what is true, even if not obvious, that a man has been once convicted of a criminal offence attracting jail sentence, will not be defamatory if in fact that person has been so criminally convicted.

— Belgore, JSC. Din v. African Newspapers (1990)

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JUSTIFICATION IS A DEFENCE TO DEFAMATION

Defamation however, is not without a defence. Justification is a complete and a veritable defence to an action for libel or slander, that the defamatory imputation is true. Simply put, the truth of the imputation is an answer to the action because the law presumes that the plaintiff has no right to a character free from that imputation, and If he has no right to it, he cannot in justice recover damages for the loss of it. He is not entitled to benefit from the loss of a reputation he is not entitled to. See Iloabachie v. Iloabachie (Supra) at 517 paras A-D; Amorc v. Awoniyi (1991) 3 NWLR (PT. 178), 245.

— S.D. West, JCA. Fayose v ICN (2012) – CA/AE/58/2010

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TRUTH OF A DEFAMATORY STATEMENT IS JUSTIFICATION

One of the defences available to a defendant in an action for libel is that of justification. It is therefore a complete defence to an action for libel or slander that the defamatory imputation is true. The truth of the imputation is an answer to the action because the law presumes that the plaintiff has no right to a character free from that imputation if he has no right to it. He cannot in justice recover damages for the loss of it. He is not entitled to benefit from the loss of a reputation he is not entitled to and as such the allegation in a defence that the words complained are true is therefore called a plea of justification. A defence of justification is therefore a complete bar to any relief sought by a party who complains of defamation. It is appropriately described in the Latin maxim: damnum absque injuria.” Until it is clearly established that an alleged libel is untrue, it will not be clear that any right at all has been infringed: See Registered Trustees of Amore v. Awoniyi (1991) 3 NWLR (Pt. 178) 245 at 257.

— Akintan, JSC. Iloabachie v Iloabachie (2005) – SC.137/2000

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RELYING ON THE PLEA OF DEFENCE OF JUSTIFICATION

It is trite that for a defendant to rely on a plea of Justification, the words spoken or written must be true. The defence of justification is made out the moment a defendant establishes that the alleged libelous words are true. All the defendant has to do, is to justify the substance of the publication by showing that the main charge or gist of the libel is true. See the case of RAFIU AJIBOLA OKIKIOLA OGBARA v. KAZEEM OLORUNIMBE OGBARA (2022) LPELR-59307(CA). A plea of justification means that the libel (defamatory words) is true, not only in its allegation of facts but also in any comment made there on. The defendant who pleads justification is required to deliver full particulars of the facts and matters upon nich he relies in support of such a plea inits statement of defence and the evidence at the trial in support of this plea of justification. See the case of FIRST BANK OF NIGERIA V. GHANNY INTERNATIONAL LIMITED & ANOR (2022) LPELR-58083 (CA). The defendant must prove that the statement made is true in substance and fact, irrespective of whether the statement was made out of malice or as fair comment. The duty of proving the truth of the statement is on the defendant, and the plea of justification must be broad enough to cover every injurious imputation contained in the libel.A summary is that he must justify his action. Strict proof is required not a mere ipsi dixitin pleadings.

— A.O. Obaseki-Adejumo, JCA. Gbemre v Gbemre (2023) – CA/AS/114/2020

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DEFENSE OF ABSOLUTE PRIVILEGE TO DEFAMATION

Nwaenang v. Ndarake & Ors. (2013) LPELR – 20720 (CA): “I should state that the law on defamation or libel has recognized situations which would constitute a complete defence to an action or defamation or libel. For instance, there are occasions on which the law regards the freedom of speech as essential and provides a defence of absolute privilege which can never be defeated no matter how untrue the words or statement may be. Such occasions includes when the words or statement were said or made in parliament….words or statements said or made in the course of judicial proceedings by judges, counsel, witnesses and other officials or persons which relates to the proceeding…”

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THE DEFENCE OF QUALIFIED PRIVILEGE

The defence of qualified privilege is a defence to an untrue publication. It can only be claimed however when the occasion of the publication is shown to be privileged. An occasion is privileged when the person who makes the documentation has a moral duty to make to the person to whom he does make it and the person who receives it has an interest in hearing it. Both these conditions must exist in order for the occasion may be privileged. See the case of MAINSTREET BANK LIMITED & ANOR v. DOMINIC BINNA (2016) LPELR-48351 (SC).PUNCH (NIG) LTD V OVBEREDJO (2018)LPELR-44540(CA) The defence of qualified privilege will not avail a defendant if there is evidence of actual or express malice. If the action of the defendant is actuated by malice. See the cases of UKO v. MBABA (2001) 4 NWLR (PT 704) 460 CA; CHIEF S. B. BAKARE & ANOR v. ALHAJI ADO IBRAHIM (1973) 6 SC 147 @ 152-153.

— A.O. Obaseki-Adejumo, JCA. Gbemre v Gbemre (2023) – CA/AS/114/2020

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