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Law/Judiciary

The Tort Of Defamation

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Defamation is any written or printed article published
of, and concerning a person without lawful jurisdiction or excuse, while tends to expose him/her to public contempt, scorn, ridicule, shame or disgrace or even  intending to induce an evil opinion of him in the mind of right thinking persons, or injure him/her in their chosen profession, occupation or trade.
In the case of sketch publishing V. Ajagbemokaferi ( ) INWLR (PT100)  p.678 SC, the learned justice said the basis of the tort of defamation is that every person reputation and the good opinion and estimation the public holds of him. The law of defamation is designed to protect, compensate and otherwise remedy any injury done to the good name of a person and the resultant effect the loss of reputation may have on the person, office, trade or profession.
Although the law as to what constitutes defamation varies by jurisdiction, there are four basic elements that must usually be shown to prove that there has been a form of defamation.
1.    The statement must be “published” which means someone else has hard or seen it, whether through printing, speaking gesturing or some other method.
2.    It must be false not an opinion or a fact
3.    The statement must be injurious, meaning that it caused damage to the persons reputation.
4.    It must not be privileged.
These elements were reaffirmed in Newbreed Org. Ltd V. Erhomosele (2007) S NNLR PT974 P. 499, where the court stated that the elements needed to be proven in a case of defamation are
i)    That the word or statement complained of were untrue,
ii)    (ii) that they were made maliciously .
iii)    And that the plaintiff suffered damage.
There are  two forms of defamation, the spoken defamation called slander and defamation such as printed word or images called libel. One differentiating factor among these two firms of defamation is that you can sue someone for libel without having to prove that you have suffered financial harm because of the libel. The law assumes that once your good reputation has been harmed by the libel, you deserve to be compensated with money. But that is not the case for slander. In a case of slander, for you to sue, you must prove the slanderous comment has injured you financially. Although there are some form of slander which don’t require proof of monetary loss. An example of such is imputing someone has committed a crime or is not fit to practice their trade or profession. For instance, a medical doctor who is said to be a quack and is parading himself as a specialist.
Note that a person who is accused of libel or defaming another may defend against the accusation by proving that the statement was in fact true but this was not the case in F.R. Williams V. Daily Times of Nig Ltd (1990) I NWLR (pt 124).
In that case the defamatory article published by Evening  News of Monday 19, 1979. The Newspaper was published by the defendant company. It was said in the article that one of the country’s legal luminaries, Chief Rotimi Williams (popularly known as F.R.A Williams) has been sued for N5 million by the children of a deceased client. Thirteen children of late Michael Oredolapo Onayemi, nine of them infants are claiming the amount from Chief Williams for “losing or otherwise failing to make available the February 1978 draft will of the deceased was duly executed between February 1978 when the Chief completed amending and causing same to be typed out and 12th May 1978 when the deceased died.” The children are also asking that Chief Williams be ordered to “surrender to the court the true last will of the deceased made in February 1978 now in his custody or power and or copies thereof and that same pronounced for in solemn form.
After this publication Chief Williams commend an action in Lagos High Court claiming the sum of N250,000.00 as exemplary damages for libel. The trial judge found the defendants liable in libel and awarded aggravated damages of N100,000. On appeal to the court of appeal by Daily Times on the issue of liability by relying on privileged, the appeal was dismissed and the award of damages reduced to N60,000.00 on further appeal to the Supreme Court by Chief Williams on the reduction of the award of damages, the appeal was sustained and the damages restored back to N100,000.00.
Note that for a plaintiff to win in a case of defamation the plaintiff must have a reputation to protect. Unlike the case of the once convicted PDP Chieftain and former Board of Chairman of Nigeria Ports Authority, Bole George in the libel case he instituted against The News Magazine, P.M News & The Daily Independent Newspaper. Justice Akeem Oshodi stated thus: “the court notes through the submission of the defendant that the claimant has been convicted to 2years without an option of fine on the same facts which he alleged libel.  A man cannot lay claim to a deputation that he never had and as such this case fails in its entirety.

 

Nkechi Bright Ewere

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Features

Judiciary As Last Hope Of The Common Man

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The judiciary is said to be the last hope of the common man. If there is no judiciary or where the judiciary is shut, the hope of the common man is dashed. If the saying is anything to go by, one is shocked that for nearly two months, the last bastion of hope of the masses was shut by striking workers, yet it has been business as usual. Both the government and the workers union are not bothered about the ugly situation.
Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) is on indefinite strike nationwide to protest the inability of both the federal and some state governments to grant financial autonomy to the judiciary. The independence of the judiciary is contained in Nigeria’s grundnorm, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended.  Just as the positions of President and Governors of states are creations of the constitution, so also is the independence of the judiciary.
The truth of the matter is that JUSUN does not need to go on strike before the two tiers of government can implement the financial autonomy of the judiciary. It is a constitutional provision and political office holders swore to implement the spirit and letters of the Constitution.
Indeed, the judiciary and legislature are supposed to be independent as provided in the Constitution. When the three arms of government are independent, separation of powers is assured. This is because it will prevent fusion of powers which leads to tyranny. Fusion of powers smacks of dictatorship. In many states of the federation, governors have become absolute rulers.
It is becoming common that some state governors find it easy to shut the judiciary in order to have their way when unfavourable conditions tend to persist in their states.
For eight months, Rt. Hon. ChibuikeAmaechi shut the judiciary following an indefinite strike embarked upon by JUSUN. The closure of the courts caused a lot of hardship for both practising lawyers and litigants. Some lawyers who could not make ends meet died as a result. Litigants suffered lack of access to justice.
The indefinite strike embarked upon by JUSUN to demand financial autonomy is commendable because of its insistence on propriety obviously intended to prevent state chief executives from ruling on their whims and caprices.
But pathetically, many governors are unwilling to allow an independent judiciary that they will no longer hoodwink or coerce to do their biddings.  The delay in implementing the autonomy is predicated on the fact that most of our leaders are bigger than the country’s institutions.
Hence, we have strong leaders and weak institutions. At the federal and state levels, the suppression of the country’s main institution has aided tyranny.
Consequently, the governors and even the president can afford to do anything unconstitutional and go scot-free with it.
The national and some state Houses of Assembly have become rubber stamps ready for the masters’ use anytime. Therefore, one hardly finds meaningful debates in the legislature except in states that have strong opposition. In the states, where all the members of the legislature come from the ruling party, meaningful debate is moonshine.
The fashionable term is “Carry go”. The term “Carry go” literally means treat as requested. There is obviously no alteration or modification. The application of “Carry go” has continued to worsen the state of our democracy. The governors or the president can afford to do anything he likes without any compunction. Consequently, the masses and indeed the electorate do not have a voice anymore. The voices of the electorate are lost in the legislators’ inefficiency and cowardice.
The country is worse for it. What we have in most states of the skewed Nigerian federation are monarchs, who brook no challenges. They rule howsoever they like, for themselves and their various families. They have goons all over their states whose duty it is to defend them. If not for the state of our nation where rust is ripeness, do the President and Governors have no choice in implementing the constitution?
Many state chief executives implement and execute projects that would facilitate corruption yet any project that would better the lot of the people is either treated with levity or left undone. The question that readily comes to the mind is: whose interest are the leaders working for? Is it for themselves or the populace?

 

By: Chidi Enyie

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Law/Judiciary

Elele OSPAC Seeks Govt’s Assistance

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Elele Security Planning and Advisory Committee has appealed to the state government to come to their aid.
The local vigilante often called ESPAC said the call became imperative following its key role in sustaining peace in the communities.
In a chat with newsmen in his office yesterday, the commander, Daniel Wosa disclosed the unbearable situation his men faced on daily basis without anything to take home.
Wosa said some of his men had threatened to quit the voluntary job since nobody appreciated them.
The commander expressed regret that ESPAC members had volunteered to sacrifice their lives for the society yet nobody appreciated them.
“Some struggle to feed their families. It is unfair …”
“We appeal to governor Nyesom Wike to consider us because of the key role we have been playing in Rivers state.
“Today communities,road users and business men can attest to our untiring effort since we came on board.”
“No more kidnapping, killing and other vices which threatened the peace of the land,” he noted.
“Boys under me who volunteered to sacrifice for the wellbeing of others need recognition,” he stated.
Wosa said there was no security challenge the group could not contend if only government could give them support.
He specifically commended the executive Chairman, Ikwerre Local Government Area, Hon Samuel Nwanosike for his assistance and said if not Ikwerre Council boss the situation would have degenerated.
Wosa said some time now he had been using his hard-earned money to appease his men.
Wosa said it was on record Elele OSPAC had never been found wanting in the cause of its duty and explained that the group worked in collaboration with the conventional police to achieve desired objective
Meanwhile,a youth leader in Ikwerre Local Government, Comrade Eleonu Chukwuka says Hon Samuel Nwanosike’ s achievement in security has given him the second term ticket.
Comrd Chukwuka said Ikwerre Council Boss had written his name in gold by surmounting the security situation in Ikwerre.
The youth leader while chatting with newsmen said the introduction of OSPAC by Nwanosike led to other infrastructural and human capital development and pointed out that peace was key to development.
It is a thing of joy that farmers can return to farm. Normal life has returned.

It is the greatest achievement which snowballed to what we are seeing today in Ikwerre.

Ikwerre people are proud of him and will back till eternity.

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Law/Judiciary

Legal Departments In LGAs And Justice Dispensation

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Lawyers at the Local Government (LG) Legal Department would supervise and undertake prosecu-torial activities in magistrate courts, and represent their respective local governments in area courts, Magistrates Courts, High Courts, among others.
They would be on hand to render necessary legal advisory services to their local governments.
They could be in charge of advising their LG Chairmen on legal issues relating to issuance of the Customary Right of Occupancy at the LG level, thereby playing roles similar to those being played by the ministries of Justice and Lands at the State level in the Statutory Right of Occupancy. Section 6 of the Land Use Act, 1978 provides: “It shall be lawful for a Local Government in respect of land not in an urban area. (a) to grant customary rights of occupancy to any person or organi-sation for the use of land in the Local Government areas for agricultural, residential and other purposes. (b) to grant customary right of occupancy to any person or organisation for the use of land for grazing purposes and such other purposes ancillary to agricultural purposes as may be customary in the local government area concerned”.
They could take steps to set up (citizens) ADR/Mediation centres at the LG level, as well as render other legal aid/advisory services aimed at helping the local community or to make justice more affordable and easily accessible by local inhabitants.
Establishing a legal department at the LG level will tremendously reduce the pressure of having all lawyers striving to settle down only in major cities, such as Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano, Onitsha, Aba, Ibadan, Jos, Abuja, Enugu City, Uyo, Warri, Calabar, Kaduna City, etc; lawyers employed by the various local governments would have to relocate to the local council headquarters where they’d live and operate from, with their families.
Establishing a legal department at the LG Level would bring lawyers and legal services closer to the people at the grass-root; residents of local communities will no longer need/have to travel to the major cities in order to get the services of lawyers to draft their various agreements, contracts, or to render other legal services.
Lawyers in the LG Legal Departments will, apart from attending to the legal needs of the local government councils, assist in prosecution of some cases, especially in courts located within the local council areas. This will minimise involvement of law prosecutors in criminal prosecution. Lay police officers‘ and non-lawyers’ continued involvement in criminal prosecution in Nigeria, is partly responsible for the worsening cases of awaiting trial cases and prison congestion in the country.
This is because of their professional limitations in this area, so many of the so-called police prosecutors are not able to match or withstand the legal firework of professionally qualified lawyers who act as defence counsel in courts during criminal prosecutions; these lay police officers and non-lawyers hardly understand the intricacies of formal courtroom proceedings and trial procedure, and more often than not, have very little or no preparation prior to their court appearances.
It may therefore be seen that the clamour for extrication of lay policemen from criminal prosecution is primarily not targeted at creating more jobs for lawyers, but rather at leaving criminal prosecution in the hands of qualified personnel (lawyers) who alone understand the law and are well able to match the expertise of defence counsel in court, in order to ensure that justice was dispensed in good time and more effectively.
Gradually, from among these lawyers, who are LG legal officers, some magistrates or even judges are appointed, just as it is done at the state level.
Establishing a legal department at the LG level would provide huge job/employment opportunities for lawyers in Nigeria.
Imagine, if all the 774 local government areas in Nigeria could create and have legal departments, and each local government (depending on capacity) employs an average of 10-20 lawyers in its legal department, we’d have at least 7,740 to 15,480 lawyers or much more immediately gainfully employed at the local government level.
Establishing a legal department at the LG level would redress the existing inequity and unfairness at the local government level. The following departments already exist in all the LGAs in Nigeria: Education, Health, Agriculture, Finance, Information, and Works. It’s gross marginalisation against the legal profession that there’s not yet a legal department in all LGAs in Nigeria. This obvious anomaly, which has wreaked huge havoc, considering the undeniable importance of law and lawyers in society, needs to be be urgently corrected to provide the needed balance that would make lawyers more relevant to society and move society forward.
B) Stakeholders To Make This All-Important Project A Reality:
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) at both the National and Branch levels:  NBA has responsibility to set the ball rolling. Indeed, if the NBA does nothing,  nothing happens.
The Attorney-General of the Federation of Nigeria, considering that he is the  Chief Law officer of the Federation.
Attorneys-General of the various states in Nigeria.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria.
The President of the Court of Appeal.
The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and the President of the National  Industrial Court of Nigeria.
The Chief Judge of the Federal capital High Court and the High Courts of the  various States in Nigeria.
The House of Assembly of the various States in Nigeria.
The Nigerian Governors‘ Forum and the Governors of the various States in  Nigeria.
The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN), the Egbe Amofin Lawyers,  the Body of Benchers (BOB), the Eastern Bar Forum (EBF), the Muslim Lawyers’ Association of Nigeria (MULAN), the Mid-West Bar Forum (MBF), the Christian Lawyers’Association of Nigeria (CLASFON), the National Association of Catholic Lawyers (NACL), etc.
C) Conclusion: What Does This Take As A First Step?
It starts with an amendment to the Local Government Law of each State, to create a legal department in the LGAs in the state.
This is long overdue. Provision of necessary logistics and support infrastructure would then follow.
This writer believes that there would be business enough for lawyers in Nigeria, only if the lawyers could, by themselves and working hand in hand with their Bar Associations, put their acts together and stand up to do something concrete and constructive for themselves and their profession.
Time for action is now; there is no time to wait or waste, because time will never be right. Barack Obama said, “the change we desire will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.  A stitch in time saves nine.”
It would be recalled that lawyers under the employment of Local Government Authorities in Rivers state, penultimate week, demonstrated for full recognition and salary increment to match that of their counterparts in the employment of the State Government, while the Authorities are against such on the ground that they (lawyers), are first and foremost, not employed as lawyers by the authorities, thus, may be making an unlawful request.
Udemezue is of the Civil Litigation Department with the Nigeria Law School.

 

By: Sylvester Udemezue with reports from King Onunwor

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