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Tuesday, 28 July 2020

WHAT DEFAMATION IS NOT....

"A Good Name Worth More than Gold"

Chinecherem Ubaka


photo by deposit photos

It very easy for people to claim that they have been defamed. Nowadays, unscrupulous individuals hack into the social media accounts of celebrities and other prominent members of the society in order to discover or publish items aimed at painting them black. Naturally, the victimized persons claim defamation, libel or slander and the next action will be to take legal actions.

WHAT IS DEFAMATION?
Generally, defamation is the act of damaging the good reputation of someone.There are a plethora of cases on the tort of defamation in the Nigerian legal space. 

In the recent case of Daily Telegraph Pub. Cop. Ltd v. Ekeuwei (2019) 14 NWLR per Jombo-Ofo, J.C.A
" A defamatory statement is one which tends to dent or injure the reputation of a person about whom it was made, consequent upon which that person's repute or esteem is lowered in the eyes of right-thinking members of the society and thereby bring him to ridicule, contempt, fear or dislike. The vexed statement is weighed by a standard of right-thinking, ordinary and reasonable man in the society". 

Thus, any person who publishes anything that injures a person's good name and reputation commits a tort of libel if the publication is in writing or slander where the publication was orally made.


WHY DO PEOPLE TOE THE PATH OF DEFAMATION TO DESTROY AN INDIVIDUAL?
The court in the case of Salaudeen v. Okunloye (2020) 8 NWLR per Aliyu J.C.A answers the above question.
1. To lower the person defamed in the estimation of right thinking members of the society generally.
2. To cut the person off from the society.
3. To expose the person to hatred,       contempt, opprobrium or ridicule.
4. To injure his reputation in his office, trade or profession.
5. To injure his financial credit.

MAIN RATIONALE BEHIND CIVIL LAW ON DEFAMATION
In the case of Scotch v. Sampson (1882) 8 QBD 491 at 563, the court noted that 
the tort of defamation arises because every person has a right to the protection of his good name, reputation and the estimation in which he stands in the society of his fellow citizen". Hence, we can safely conclude that the protection of a person's good name and reputation is a fundamental human right. See Sec 34 of the 1999 Constitution.

WHO DETERMINES WHETHER A STATEMENT OR PUBLICATION IS DEFAMATORY?
Whether a statement or material is defamatory is for the court to determine. This is because it is a Question of Law. See Katto v. CBN (1999) 6 NWLR (pt. 607) 390.
In Buraimoh v. Bomosko (1989) 3 NWLR 352, the court listed out the conditions that must be present 
- That there is a publication in existence
- That the publication is defamatory of the plaintiff.
- That the publication was made to a 3rd party.
- That the defendant published the defamatory words. 
You can also see Mayaange v. Punch Nig. Ltd. (1994) 7 NWLR (358) 570 @ 585.

WHAT DEFAMATION IS NOT...
There are individuals who enjoy taking advantage of the law to oppress others. Generally, in banking law, a bank cannot tanoer with customer's money without their consent or court order to that effect. The respondent in the case of Keystone Bank LTD v. Office Devices Ltd & Anor, tried to take advantage of the above mentioned legal position. The gist the Keystone bank case is that the respondent owed the bank about N18M. They were yet to repay the debt. However, the bank mistakenly credited the respondents account with the sum of N20M. The respondents taught a miracle had happened and they withdrew the entire sum. Consequently, the bank was frustrated. They wrote a petition against the respondents to the EFCC and also filed a negative Credit Risks Management System (CRMS) report against the respondents to the CBN.

Can you imagine that these respondents sued the bank for defamation! They claimed that the contents of the petition and report against them were defamatory. Unfortunately, the trial court ruled in their favour and awarded damages to them. 

The Bank was obviously aggrieved and so they appealed the decision. The learned Justice per Obaseki-Adejumo, JCA noted that the respondent's claim cannot amount to defamation.
" .. .it is not in dispute that there was an existing debt to be paid before the erroneous payment of N20,000,000 and despite prompt and timeous notification to the respondents, withdrew the amount to the last penny. This is Criminal Conversion".
The Court held the conduct of the respondents to be reprehensible and ought to be condemned. 

Any publication or statement which dented your reputation is not defamatory if the contents are true.


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