Instituting an action against a person in Nigeria for defamation can be straightforward. However, it is advisable that other modes of settling disputes, such as - Arbitration, Conciliation, and Mediation, be explored before embarking on the journey to the Courtroom. This generally will help save more time and cost.
Damage to one's reputation and good name should not be taken for granted, and appropriate measures such as instituting a suit at the High Court should be taken to seek redress and forestall future occurrences of such acts equally.
How to Prove an Action in Court for Defamation?
For an action in defamation to succeed in the Nigeria Court, the Plaintiff must prove three crucial things:
- That the words were defamatory
- That the terms referred to the Plaintiff, and
- That the words were published
TYPES OF DEFAMATORY STATEMENTS
We have 2(two) types of defamatory statements and these are:
Libel involves the dissemination of a defamatory comment in written or permanent form. This could come in any form, such as an email, a blog post, a tweet, a text or WhatsApp message, an article, or even a handwritten letter.
Slander refers to non-permanent forms of expression involving defamatory accusations, such as spoken comments or gestures.
DISTINCTION BETWEEN LIBEL AND SLANDER
Libel and slander are treated as two aspects of the single tort of defamation and are generally governed by the same principles. They differ, however, in that whereas libel is always actionable per se, without the need to prove special (i.e., actual) damage, slander is not actionable per se except in certain cases.
LIBEL ACTIONABLE PER SE
This means that whenever a libel is published, the law will presume that damage has been caused to the plaintiff's reputation and will award him general damages by way of compensation.
In any action for Libel, the Claimant must prove that the matter complained of:
- is defamatory
- refers to him or her
- has been published in the third person1.
Once a case of libel has been established, the victim is entitled to general damages as compensation for the loss of his reputation and emotional distress and aggravated damages if the author/publisher is unapologetic or not remorseful.
Who can sue for defamation?
- Generally, any human being can sue since the tort protects an individual's reputation, but it does not survive death2
- Companies that are deemed to have a business reputation
Things to Consider Before suing a person in Nigeria:
To sue a person in Nigeria, the Claimant and Defendant must be legally capable to sue and being sued, respectively. In Nigeria, only legal persons (Natural or Non-natural) can sue and be sued.
- Limitation of Action:
Before filing a lawsuit against a person for defamation in Nigeria, it is critical to confirm whether the cause of action identified is statute-barred. The status of limitation prescribes a period after which a claimant will be unable to bring an action against a defendant. For instance, an action for damages for slander must be commenced within 3 (three) years of its occurrence3.
It is one thing to identify a valid cause of action and another to file a suit in the correct Court. Considering how foundational jurisdiction is to every lawsuit, a claimant must ensure that they confirm the jurisdictional validity of their defamation case before instituting the action for defamation in any Court in Nigeria.
In a defamation suit in Nigeria, "publication" gives rise to a cause of action and signifies the wrong done to the Plaintiff. So, every High Court within whose territorial jurisdiction publication is made has jurisdiction in a defamation suit. It should be noted that the High Court of the State has jurisdiction to adjudicate over defamation cases and thus, by implication, also applies to Online defamation 4.
HOW TO SUE FOR DEFAMATION IN NIGERIA
The proper way to sue for defamation in Nigeria is to hire the service of a lawyer. The lawyer's job is to commence a suit at the High of a State with the jurisdiction to entertain the course of action.
The lawyer would have to file the necessary court processes and evidential documents before the Court. The lawyer would have to appear in the High Court to represent the interest of the Claimant in order to establish the defamation claim. The lawyer would claim damages or injunctive relief and any other relief sought before the Court or any other relief that the Court deems fit in the circumstances.
It is very important that people should be minded that the law protects the reputation and name of a person in Nigeria, and any damage or negative action that decimates a person's reputation and name can lead to a suit at the High Court and others seek redress for such slanderous or libelous acts.
1 Sketch v. Ajagbomkeferi 1989 1 NWLR (PT 100) 678 SC Wali JSC 695 para C-D
2 This is a well-established common law principle that is applicable in Nigeria
3 Section 9, Limitation Act, Abuja, and Section 10, Limitation Law, Lagos
4 Order 3 rule 4 of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (Civil procedure) Rules, 2018. The same is provided for in Order 4 Rule 4(1) of the High Court of Lagos State Civil Procedure Rules, 2019.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.