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DEFAMATION VIS-A-VIS INJURIOUS FALSEHOODS

Dictum

Defamation has been judicially, defined to embrace imputations which tend to lower a person’s dignity in the estimation of the right thinking members of the society and expose him, the person so disparaged, to hatred opprobrium odium, contempt or ridicule, see Oruwari v. Osler (2013) 5 NWLR (Pt. 1348) 535. The action is specifically anchored on injurious/malicious falsehood which signifies. “A false and injurious statement that discredits or detracts from the reputation of another’s character, property, product or business” It denotes “The common-law tort of belittling someone’s business, goods or services with remarks that are false or misleading: but not necessarily defamatory” see – Bryan A- Garner et al (eds.) Black’s Law Dictionary, 10th edition (West Publishing Co., US.A., 2014) pages 570 and 1721 respectfully. It bears the other names: – trade libel, slander of goods/title. It is an economic tort that attacks proprietary interest of citizens.

— 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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WHAT NEED BE PROVED TO SUCCEED IN DEFAMATION

It is trite that for a claimant to succeed in an action for defamation, he needs to prove the following; (a) That the words are defamatory which exposes him to hatred, ridicule, contempt in the estimation of right thinking members of the society and has the tendency to injure his reputation, profession or trade. That the false words referred to him (the Plaintiff) and are to discredit him. (b) (c) That the words were published (to at least one person other than the plaintiff). It is the position of the law in the case of STEPHEN EMMANUEL v. CHRISTIANA FELIX & ORS (2022) LPELR-57960 (CA) that; “It is indeed the correct position of law that at least one witness must be called who actually perceived the defamatory words by reading the written words or by hearing in its oral form.” See also the case of OKECHUKWU v. UBA PLC & ANOR (2017) LPELR-43100 (CA).

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

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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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ACTUAL DEFAMATORY WORDS MUST BE STATED IN THE PLEADINGS

More so, it is of necessity in an action for defamation either libel or slander, that the actual words complained of and not merely their substance must be set out verbatim in the statement of claim. It is on the perusal of the actual words complained of as pleaded that the court will determine whether or not the words convey defamatory meaning. Failure to plead such actual words is fatal to the plaintiff’s case. See. Olaifa v. Aina (1993) 4 NWLR (Pt286) 192; Okafor v. Ikeanyi (1979) 1 NWLR (Pt. 100) 678; Olaniyi v. Elero (2008) All FWLR (Pt.411) 975 at 986 Paras C-E.

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

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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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INGREDIENTS OF INJURIOUS FALSEHOODS

In Newbreed Org. Ltd. v. Erhomosele (2006) 5 NWLR (Pt. 974) 499, the locus classicus on injurious falsehood, the Apex Court confirmed the essential elements of this tort, videlicet: (a) That the words complained of were untrue (b) That they were published maliciously (c) That the plaintiff has thereby been caused damage.

— 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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DEFINITION OF DEFAMATION

In resolving Issue 1, the courts especially the Apex court have in plethora of cases judicially defined defamation as: “a tort whether libel or slander, it is any written words in a permanent form or printed article which is published to a third person or persons without lawful justification or excuse which tends to lower the person defamed in the estimation of right thinking members of the society or to expose him to hatred, contempt, ridicule or to injure him in his profession, office or trade or to injure his financial credit”. See the cases of SKETCH PUBLICATIONS LTD v. AJAGBOMKEFERI (1989) 1 NWLR (PT.100) 678 SC, NSIRIM v. NSIRIM (1990) 3 NWLR (PT.138) 285 @ 297, CHILKIED SECURITY SERVICES AND DOG FARMS LIMITED V. SCHLUMBERGER NIGERIA LTD (2018) LPELR-44391 (SC), STEPHEN EMMANUEL V. CHRISTIANA FELIX & ORS (2022) LPELR-57960 (CA).

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

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