Defamation

Defamation Any written or spoken words which fall within one or more of the five definitions listed above may be defamatory. The following are examples of statements held defamatory by the Nigeria courts.

To state:
That a medical practitioner has a “fake” degree and that he exploited the public; see the case of African Press Ltd V. Ikejiani (1953) 14 W.A.C.A 386.

That a stevedoring and general contractor exploited the labour of dockworkers and lived a life of wanton gluttony and immorality; See the case of Bakare V. Oluwide (1969) 2 All N.L.R. 324

That a public official was corrupt; see the case of African Newspaper Ltd V. Coker (1973) 1 N.M.L.R. 386; or had been arrested on suspicion of corrupt practices; see the case of Ukpoma V. Daily Times of Nigeria Ltd (1979) 1 L.R.N. 357
That a legal practitioner had defrauded his clients; see the case of Lardner V. The Sketch Publishing Co. Ltd. (1979) 3 L.R.N. 276

That a university lecturer had committed adultery with a female student; see the case of Nthenda V. Alade (1974) 4 E.C.S.L.R. 109

That a female teacher was a “bad woman”
That an “aladura” of the Cherubim and Seraphim sect had used enchantments that were not from the Bible; see the case of Bandele V. Daily Times of Nigeria Ltd. (1974) 6 CCHCJ 755; that the plaintiff has stolen the defendants coco-yam.

Finally, it may be noted at this point that there is an initial presumption that a defamatory statement is untrue; but if the defendant can prove that the statement is substantially true, he will have a complete defence to an action for defamation. This is the defence of justification, which is considered below.

Defamation is the act of injuring another’s reputation by any slanderous communication, written or oral; the wrong of maliciously injuring the good name of another.

See also- Damage and Liability in Tort; Psychiatric negligence; Element of Public Nuisance; Remedies to Nuisance.

The tort of defamation occupies a prominent place in Nigerian common law, as it does in the Laws of African countries in which the common law applies. It is significant to note that plaintiffs in defamatory actions in the early 1960s included most of the leading political personalities of the time, and that there was hardly a national newspaper which was not a defendant in at least one such action during the period.

What is Defamatory?

Defamation is concerned with injury to ones reputation resulting from spoken words or written articles by others.
A defamatory statement may be defined as one which tends:

  1. To lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally; or
  2. To expose him to hatred, contempt or ridicule; or
  3. To cause other persons to shun or avoid him; or
  4. To discredit him in his office, trade or profession; or
  5. To injure his financial credit.

The words complained of must tend to injure the plaintiff’s reputation in the minds of right-thinking people generally, not merely in the minds of a particular section of the public.

“To write or say of a man something that will disparage him in the eyes of a particular section of the community, but will not affect his reputation in the eyes of the average right-thinking man, is not actionable within the law of defamation; see the case of Telley V. Fry (1930) 1 KB 467 at p.479, per Green L.J.

Defamatory statements – Examples – Defamation

Any written or spoken words which fall within one or more of the five definitions listed above may be defamatory. The following are examples of statements held defamatory by the Nigeria courts.

To state:
That a medical practitioner has a “fake” degree and that he exploited the public; see the case of African Press Ltd V. Ikejiani (1953) 14 W.A.C.A 386.

That a stevedoring and general contractor exploited the labour of dockworkers and lived a life of wanton gluttony and immorality; See the case of Bakare V. Oluwide (1969) 2 All N.L.R. 324

That a public official was corrupt; see the case of African Newspaper Ltd V. Coker (1973) 1 N.M.L.R. 386; or had been arrested on suspicion of corrupt practices; see the case of Ukpoma V. Daily Times of Nigeria Ltd (1979) 1 L.R.N. 357
That a legal practitioner had defrauded his clients; see the case of Lardner V. The Sketch Publishing Co. Ltd. (1979) 3 L.R.N. 276

That a university lecturer had committed adultery with a female student; see the case of Nthenda V. Alade (1974) 4 E.C.S.L.R. 109

That a female teacher was a “bad woman”
That an “aladura” of the Cherubim and Seraphim sect had used enchantments that were not from the Bible; see the case of Bandele V. Daily Times of Nigeria Ltd. (1974) 6 CCHCJ 755; that the plaintiff has stolen the defendants coco-yam.

Finally, it may be noted at this point that there is an initial presumption that a defamatory statement is untrue; but if the defendant can prove that the statement is substantially true, he will have a complete defence to an action for defamation. This is the defence of justification, which is considered below.

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