Defamation and the Law in Nigeria – Civil Law
Defamation, in law, is the act of communicating false statements about a person that cause damage to that person’s reputation.
A defamatory statement is a statement that tends to lower a person in the esteem of other members of society; or to expose it to hatred, contempt or ridicule; Or to induce others to flee or avoid it; or to discredit any person’s office, trade or profession; or damage financial credit
The Nigerian courts have defined defamation as any written or printed matter published about and relating to a person without lawful justification or excuse and tending to expose that person to public contempt, contempt, obscenity, ridicule, shame or disgrace, or intending to induce a bad opinion of in the minds of right-thinking persons, or to injure him in his profession, occupation, or trade is defamatory and liable to prosecution, whatever may have been The intention of the author. The word need not impute actual scandalous conduct to the plaintiff; it is enough that they make him contemptible and ridiculous.
Lawyers/law firms are taxable persons liable for VAT — Submissions of Al-Masser v FIRS
In Nigeria, for a libel suit to take place, the comment must be defamatory of the general public, not merely “a certain section of the public”.
Damage to the plaintiff’s reputation in the eyes of a particular segment of the public cannot be considered defamation.
InEgbuna v Amalgamated Press of Nigeria Ltd. 1 All NLR 25 at p. 30., the term “a particular part of the public” was defined as “a group of people who subscribe to standards of conduct that are not those of society at large.”
Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention) Act 2015 effective May 15, 2015 also provides the following: ‘anyone who knowingly sends a message or other thing by means of computer systems or that he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, intimidation criminal, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another or causes the sending of such a message commits an offense under this Act and is liable, on conviction, a fine of up to €7,000,000.00 or imprisonment for up to three years, or both this fine and imprisonment”
It has been established that when an individual posts something on social media, they are acting as a publisher and can be sued for making false statements or defamatory comments.
Online defamation meets the same standard of proof as the generally known type of defamation.
How to prove a defamation action?
For a defamation action to succeed, the plaintiff must prove three important things:
- That the remarks were defamatory
- That the comments referred to the plaintiff
- That the remarks have been published (to at least one person other than the applicant).
TYPES OF DEFAMATORY STATEMENTS
A defamatory statement can be of two types
The dissemination of a defamatory comment in written or permanent form is qualified as defamation. It can be an email, a blog post, a tweet, an SMS or WhatsApp message, a newspaper article, a TV show or radio, a video clip downloaded from the Internet or even a handwritten letter. Defamation can be the filing of a false domestic violence action against a spouse or a sexual harassment complaint against a co-worker, which can lead to one of the conditions of defamation.
Slander, on the other hand, refers to non-permanent forms of expression that involve a defamatory accusation, such as oral comments or gestures. It can be a derogatory statement made in public or a private remark reported later. For example, if Mr. A in an interview says that Mr. C, who is a branch manager in a bank, is incompetent and a fraudster, which causes the bank to suspend him. Mr. C, knowing that such a statement is false, can bring an action for defamation against Mr. A.
LIBEL ACTIONABLE IN ITSELF
This means that whenever a libel is published, the law will presume that there has been damage to the plaintiff’s reputation and award general damages as compensation.
In any action for defamation, the plaintiff must prove that the alleged fact:
- is defamatory
- refers to him
- has been released to a third party. In the case of
Sketch c. Ajagbomkeferi 1989 1 NWLR (PT 100) 678 SC Wali JSC 695 para CDit has been held that there are three criteria for determining whether a statement is defamatory, which are as follows:
- A statement concerning a person who exposes him to hatred, ridicule or contempt, or who causes him to shun or avoid or who tends to harm him in his office, profession or trade.
- A false statement about a man to his discredit.
- Would words tend to lower the claimant in the estimation of thinking members of society at large?
Once a case of defamation has been established, the victim is entitled to general damages as compensation for loss of reputation and emotional distress, as well as aggravated damages if the perpetrator/ editor does not apologize or feel remorse, and his actions are calculated on malice or if he persists in an unsubstantiated means of justification.
Who can sue for defamation?
Individuals, businesses, and other legal entities can file a lawsuit for defamation or defamation if they believe the defamatory statement is directed at them.
In Nigeria, according to the different procedural rules, the competent court is the one where the defendant resides or exercises his activity. See Order 3 rule 4of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (Civil Proceedings) Rules, 2018. The same is provided in Order 4 Rule 4(1) Lagos State High Court Rules of Civil Procedure, 2019.
It is the State High Court that has jurisdiction to adjudicate defamation cases and therefore also applies to online defamation.
It is important to note that a statement is not defamatory if it is a simple vulgar abuse. What does that mean? A vulgar abuse is an “insulting” statement made in the heat of passion.
For example, in Bakare vs Ishola  WNLR 106, there was a fight between the plaintiff and the defendant. In the heat of the moment, the accused declared in the presence of spectators: “ole ni o, Elewon, iwo ti o sese ti ewon de yi”. It meant in English: “You are a thief. Ex-inmate. You who just got out of prison.” In this case, the court found that the statement was merely a vulgar and not defamatory abuse.
There must have been publication of the words or documents complained of in order to bring an action for defamation. The law recognizes and punishes communicating defamatory information to others, not writing or speaking defamatory information.
Publishing refers to making defamatory material known to someone other than the person it was written about or drawing someone else’s attention to it after it has been written. ‘it was written.
Any conduct by a person that conveys the defamatory connotation of the case to third parties is also considered publication.
In law, any defamatory communication to someone other than the defamed person can be considered publication. Indeed, there is no requirement that there be an overt act; a person who allows defamatory comments to remain on premises under their control may be held liable.
CRIMINAL DEFAMATION UNDER NIGERIAN LAW
A matter of defamation is defined in section 373 of the criminal code as a matter likely to damage the reputation of any person by exposing him to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or likely to harm any person in his or her profession or trade by damaging his reputation.
Such matter may be expressed in speech or in words legibly marked on any substance, or by any sign or object signifying such matter otherwise than in words and may be expressed either directly or by innuendo or irony. It does not matter whether at the time of the publication of the defamatory statement, the person in respect of whom this statement is published is living or dead.
Award of damages
In Basorun v. Ogunlewe 2000 1 NWLR (PT 640) 221 CA the court held that defamation, spoken or written, is always actionable and even if the damages are not proven, the law will infer the damages necessary to establish the action in justice. the following circumstances:
- When the words are written or printed
- When the words spoken impute a crime punishable by imprisonment
- When they impute certain diseases naturally excluding the patient from social relations
- When words spoken by a person in response to a call end up being spoken about him in that call, thereby imputing to him incompetence or misconduct in that call.
In conclusion, a person’s reputation and good name are protected by law, and when sullied without cause or justification, the person is entitled to some form of compensation.
- Lawhub.com.ng – Defamation in tort: definition, types, distinctions
-  1 All NLR 25 at p. 30.
- Cybercriminality (Prohibition, Prevention) Act 2015
- 1989 1NWLR (PT 100) 678 SC
- DNL Legal & Style – Defamation under Nigerian Law: The Rumbling Call to Criminalize Hate Speech By Evans Ufeli.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.