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TRUTH OF A DEFAMATORY STATEMENT IS JUSTIFICATION

Dictum

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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