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DEFINITION OF DEFAMATION

Dictum

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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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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EFFECTS OF DEFAMATORY STATEMENTS TO BE PROVED

Similarly, the tort of defamation has to do with injury to the reputation of a person resulting from words written or spoken by others against him. A defamatory statement has the following effects: (a) To lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right thinking members of the society generally; or (b) To expose him to hatred; contempt or ridicule; or (c) To cause other persons to shun or avoid him; or (d) To discredit him in his office, trade or profession; or (e) To injure his financial credit. Thus, to succeed in an action for libel, the plaintiff, must establish the aforementioned as the effects of the defamatory publication of him. See Olaniyi v. Elero (Supra) at 983 Paras A-C. … Generally, the onus is on the plaintiff to show that the published words complained of are defamatory or that they convey a defamatory imputation. However, where the words complained of are defamatory in their natural and ordinary meaning, the plaintiff has no legal duty to lead any evidence to show additional defamatory meaning understood by persons possessing some particular facts.

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

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PUBLICATION IS A REQUIREMENT TO SUCCEED IN DEFAMATION

It is the settled position of the law that defamatory words are actionable once it is libelous and has been published to a 3rd party. Publication is one of the basic ingredients of defamation. For a Claimant/plaintiff to succeed in libel there must be proof by evidence of publication to a third party and the reaction of the 3rd party to such publication. See the cases SKETCH PUBLICATIONS LTD v. AJAGBOMKEFERI (SUPRA), NSIRIM v. NSIRIM (SUPRA).

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

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CHARACTER IS PUT IN ISSUE IN A TORT OF DEFAMATION SUIT

The tort of defamation, whether libel or slander, relates essentially to damages to the character of the person. In other words a plaintiff who institutes an action for libel has invariably put his character in issue. He is understood to be telling the whole world what a good person he is, and stating that some one is trying to destroy his enviable good name. He puts his reputation at stake depending of course on what the defamation is all about. In the course of consideration of the case but particularly as in this case where the appellant has shown through his pleadings what a person of great repute and of unblemished character he is, he has literally thrown his hat on the ring, caution to the wind, and dares the defamer to disprove his good and admirable character. Where in the process of the proceedings, facts elicited in the evidence portray him as an inveterate liar incapable of distinguishing truth from falsehood he might have unwittingly succeeded by his inconsistent statements and falsehoods destroyed his character which he has held out to the world to be clean. In such a case he cannot complain if the court finds out that he is a chronic, or penitus insitus liar.

— Pats-Acholonu, JSC. Iloabachie v Iloabachie (2005) – SC.137/2000

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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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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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