By Funmilayo Olagunju
Black’s Law Dictionary defines defamation as “the act of harming the reputation of another by making a false statement to a third person”.
Based on its form, defamation may consist of libel or slander. Slander consists of a false and defamatory statement (of a transient nature) made or conveyed by spoken words, looks, signs and gestures or in some other non-permanent form. Libel, on the other hand is required to be in some permanent form such as writing or digital publication.
In Nigeria , Defamation is both a civil wrong (Tort) and a crime.
In the case of CHILKIED SECURITY SERVICES & DOG FARMS LTD v. SCHLUMBERGER (NIG) LTD & ANOR (2018) LPELR-44391(SC), the Supreme Court defines defamation thus:
“Defamation, as a tort, whether as libel or slander, has been judicially defined to consist of the publication to a third person or persons of any words or matter which tend to lower the person defamed in the estimation of right thinking members of society generally or to cut him off from society or to expose him to hatred, contempt, opprobrium or ridicule or to injure his reputation in his office, trade or profession or to injure his financial credit”
Both a natural person (human being) and corporate entities (Incorporated companies) can sue or he sued for defamation.
Trade defamation which is also known as commercial defamation is the damaging of a business by a false statement that tends to diminish the reputation of that business.
In the above mentioned case, the Supreme court further states that a Company can sue for defamation and be protected by the Court in appropriate cases:
“A company can sue for defamation. It has reputation and goodwill which can be protected. An injury to its reputation can lead to loss of its goodwill. The Courts will, in appropriate cases, protect the reputation and goodwill of a company by award of damages and injunction. While it is true that a company, being an artificial person, is incapable of having natural grief and distress, this does not mean the same thing as its reputation in the way of its trade and business.”
Sections 373, 374, 375 & 376 of Criminal Code Act prohibits Defamation, making it an offence punishable with terms of imprisonment.
Sections 391, 392, 393, 394 and 395 of Penal Code equally prohibits Defamation.
Defamation is not just a moral wrong but an actionable civil wrong and punishable offence. It is in the interest of everyone to guard his or her utterance whether in writing, oral expression or gestures against other persons.
“He who conceals hatred has lying lips,
And he who spreads slander is a fool”
Proverbs 10:18 (NIV)