The right to free speech is a fundamental right guaranteed in the Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999(as amended), but this right is not without its limitations. One of these limitations is the restriction on communications that would constitute defamation, which is a tort(a type of civil wrong that can at the same time be classified as a crime) .
This article will be focusing on the topics of :-
– The definition of defamation under Nigerian Law.
– Required ingredients of defamation.
– Types of defamation.
– Defences to an allegation of defamation.
What is defamation as defined under Nigerian Law?
Defamation is defined under Nigerian Law is any written or spoken false communication about a person (an individual or corporate body) from one party to another party carrying the legal effect of exposing the person spoken about to either :-
– Public contempt.
– Character/Reputation assassination/lowered estimations & opinions of the person spoken about in the minds of right thinking persons.
– Affecting the goodwill of the persons spoken about in their trades, businesses, livelihoods, or professions.
What are the required ingredients of defamation under Nigerian Law?
To successfully prove an allegation of defamation, the following ingredients must be shown to exist:-
– A communication which is at face value, defamatory (damaging & untrue) must have been made.
– The defamatory communication must have specifically referred to the party alleging defamation.
– The defamatory communication must have been published to a 3rd party.
What are the types of defamation under Nigerian Law ?
Defamation under Nigerian Law is either strictly :-
– Slander – Defamatory communications that consist of spoken words , signs or gestures.
– Libel – Defamatory communications that are in written, typed or in readable formats e.g. False accusations or written unconfirmed assertions of fact.
How are damages determined in defamation matters?
Under Nigerian Law, defamation (libel in particular) is a tort actionable per se which means that the publication of a defamation communication is presumed by its very existence to have caused damage to an affected party.
Can dead people legally sue for defamation under Nigerian Law?
Yes they can. This is possible through their estate either under a probate grant or in administration where they died intestate (without a will being drafted).
Which specific examples of communications would pass for defamation under Nigerian Law?
Examples of communications that would pass for defamation under Nigerian Law include :-
– Publishing communications stating a party is guilty of a crime punishable with an improvement term.
– Publishing untrue communications about a party having a communicable or sexually transmitted disease.
– Publishing untrue communications about a person who practices a certain profession that can affect their professional competence estimation in the minds of right-thinking members of the public.
What are the acceptable defences to an allegation of defamation under Nigerian Law?
Some of the acceptable defences to defamation under Nigerian Law include :-
– A mistake of fact :- This means being able to prove that the party making the communication honestly believed at the time of making those communications that the communications were true.
– Mere vulgar abuse/Name-calling :- In online communications common with the internet era, this is the most frequent form of communication that may be deemed defamatory. This would however not be considered as such as the publishers are deemed to be making such abusive communications in the heat of the moment and not with the intent to cause damage within the contemplation of the Cybercrime Act of Nigeria.
– Comments on matters of public interest :- The would include comments on public policies , matters of public interest (like election petitions) or executive decisions not constituting sedition, incitement or treason.
– Innocent Dissemination :- As in the case of courier companies conveying defamatory written communications or live media (TV and radio) shows where guests might publish defamatory communications to the viewing or listening public( based on the “Don’t shoot the messenger” principle).