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PUBLICATION IS A REQUIREMENT TO SUCCEED IN DEFAMATION

Dictum

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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A COMPANY CAN SUE FOR DEFAMATION

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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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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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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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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IMPUTATION OF CORRUPTION ON A MAN IN OFFICE IS DEFAMATORY

It is settled law that it is defamatory to impute to a man in any office, whether public or private, any corrupt, dishonest or fraudulent conduct or other misconduct or inefficiency in it or unfitness or want of ability to discharge his duties. See the case of CITIBANK NIGERIA LIMITED v. IKEDIASHIO (2014) 7 CLRN (CA).

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

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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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