TORT 2.7A DEFAMATION (INTRODUCTION)
Freedom of expression and speech is one of the most cherished and guaranteed rights of man as a political being in a democratic society. However, the law strikes a balance between the freedom to express oneself and a duty not to harm another person’s reputation. See Nthenda V Alade.
Professor Winfield in his treatise stated that defamation is the publication of a statement which tends to lower a person in the estimation of right thinking members of the society, or which tends to make people shun or avoid him. Also Okolie V Marinho. There may be no need to prove malice-Newbreed V Erhomosele but malice may aggravate damages (compensation) awarded.
:: Defamation is classified into libel and slander.
:: Libel is defamation in a permanent form (for example publication in writing, video, cartoon).
:: Slander is defamation in a transient form (for example gestures, oral speech…)
:: We are classifying defamation into libel and slander because Libel is actionable per se while slander is not actionable per se. Meaning that for slander, the plaintiff must prove damage while the plaintiff does not need to prove damages for libel-Onojioghofia V Okitipai.
:: Although Slander may be actionable per se (i.e. without need to prove damages) in cases which show prima facie damage (See the combination of Section 1 of Slander of Women Act; The Defamation Act, Section 2 and 4 of Defamation Law of Lagos which provide for the instances). A summary of the instance include where the defamatory statement has a connotation/imputation of:
- Crime: Agoaka V Ejiofor (falsely accusing plaintiff of stealing his cocoyam). Ractcliffe V Evans. Provided the crime is punishable with imprisonment in the first instance.
- Contagious and venereal diseases: where the defendant alleges that that the plaintiff has such a disease that would make others shun and avoid the plaintiff-Murray V
- Unchastity /adultery: In Farashi V Yakubu, allegation that the plaintiff committed adultery made the slander actionable per se.
- Unfitness for professional/business calling which injures the plaintiff in his office or profession. Jones V Jones.
Note however that statements uttered in the heat of argument/altercation (maybe vulgar abuse) may not be construed to make the slander actionable per se-Bakare V Ishola. It depends on the facts of each case. See also Ibeanu V Uba. Benson V West African Pilot.