Filed under: Political Issues |



Nigerians were aghast to have heard the news, sometime in October, 2014 that one Mr. Joseph Mbu, an Assistant Inspector General of Nigerian Police Force had ordered the incancetration of Mr. Ameachi Anakwe, one of the anchors of the popular political programme on the Ray Power Radio Station, THE POLITICAL PLATFORM. His offence, according to AIG Mbu, was that Mr. Anakwe used the adjective, ‘controversial’ in qualifying him in one of their live broadcast. For that singular act, Mr. Mbu claimed, he was defamed by Mr. Anakwe. Acting as the Plaintiff, Witness, and Judge all rolled in one, AIG Mbu found Mr. Anakwe guilty as charged.

However, instead of claiming damages in the court of Law, since defamation in this context falls within the ambit of civil, rather than criminal aspect of our Laws, AIG Mbu ordered Mr. Ameachi’s detention for a day. Upon been granted ‘bail’, he also ordered that Mr. Anakwe should be reporting to his office every morning! This action by AIG Mbu is not only illegal, it is also condemnable. It shows the level at which impunity has reached in this Country.
Having said so, the AIG Mbu’s action calls for urgent need to examine the law of defamation in Nigeria and see if actually AIG Mbu was defamed by Mr. Anakwe’s comment.

The tort of defamation is one of the legacies of the common law and it occupies a prominent place in Nigerian law. Defamation is concerned with injury to reputation from words written or spoken by others. A defamatory statement may be one which tends:

a. to lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally;
b. to expose him to hatred, contempt or ridicule;
c. to cause other persons to shun or avoid him;
d. to discredit him in his office, trade or profession;
e. to injure his financial credit.

Under the Islamic Law, defamation is known as Qazf and it literally means to throw or to cast a pebble or anything. The Qur’an says; ‘‘put him into a chest or a case, and cast it down into the river, then the river shall throw it unto the shore. ’’ Jurisprudentially, it means, leveling accusation for the commission of zina,i.e adultery or fornication. It also means accusing person of committing sodomy, or it could take the form of refuting one’s claim to paternity, expressly or documentarily, by gesture or by clear illustration, in the presence of the person defamed or in his absence, openly or secretly.

However, unlike under Islamic Law, words complained of, under our law, must tend to injure the plaintiff’s reputation in the minds of right-thinking people generally, not merely in the minds of a particular section of the public. Thus, Brett J.SC in Egbuna v. Amalgamated Press of Nigeria Ltd (1967) ALL N.L.R. 25 at P.29 stated:’ ‘to write or say of a man something that will disparage him in the eyes of a particular section of the community, but will not affect his reputation in the eyes of the average right-thinking man, is not actionable within the law of defamation in Nigeria.’’

Although, there are two types of defamation namely Libel-a defamation in a permanent form, the most common being written or printed words contained in a newspaper etc; Slander-a defamation in a transient form, most often through the medium of spoken words or gestures.
A person claiming that he or she has been defamed must establish that: a. the words were defamatory b. the word referred to the plaintiff c. the words were published (to at least one person other than the plaintiff).

On the other hand, the person that is being sued of defaming a particular person can rely on four major defences i.e. justification, fair comment, absolute privilege and qualified privilege. However, for the purpose of this article, we shall be concerned with justification (i.e. truth) as a defence for defamatory action.

Justification is a complete defence to an action for libel or slander that the words complained of were true in substance. Thus, where a defamatory statement is uttered, the plaintiff does not have to prove that it is false, for the law presumes this in his favour-AKUREFE V. THE SKETCH PUBLISHING CO. LTD. (1971) U.I.L.R.13 at p.26. But if the defendant can prove it’s truth, he will defeat the plaintiff’s claim. In other words, in all cases where an individual complains that his reputation has been injured, it should be a defence for a plaintiff to prove that what he or she said was in fact true. It is another way of saying that one cannot sue for defamation of character he or she never has in the first place. Kassim J. captured this beautifully in the case of Onwuchekwa v. Onovo (1974) 12 CCHCJ 1919 in the following words: ‘’that Law will not allow a man to recover damages for injury to a character he is in fact not entitled to bear. For example, if the allegation in a libel is that the plaintiff is addicted to drink, it is admissible for the defendant to show in justification thereof that on the day succeeding the day of the libel he (plaintiff) was suffering from delirium tremens.”
This now brings us to the theme of this article, can we say, in the face of Law of Defamation in Nigeria and the defence of justification, that Ameachi Anakwe has defamed AIG Mbu? In my humble opinion, Mr. Anakwe has not defamed AIG Mbu and if he has, the defence of Justification will easily avail him.

Prior to this incident, AIG Mbu had been involved in one controversy or the other, first as a Commissioner of Police in Oyo State. As a Commissioner of Police in Rivers State, he was involved in another controversy with the fearless and energetic Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Ameachi to the point that the Governor was prevented from entering Government House one day. It took the cries of well meaning Nigerians, the media and opposition party-All Progressives Congress (APC) before AIG Mbu was moved to Abuja. On arrival to Abuja, he ran into another controversy with the Bring Back Our Girls Campaigners when he threatened to disrupt their gatherings. It took the intervention Human Rights Activists like Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), who had approached a court of law for the enforcement of the rights of campaigners that AIG Mbu peddled low.

In all, the media in the past had and are still describing Mr. Mbu as a controversial super Cop. So what is it that Ameachi Anakwe said that is different from what is already in public domain?

Anyway, we are in era of impunity, where public office holders, from Presidency down to our so-called Law enforcement agents can do anything with total disregard to the rules of law and that is why someone like AIG Mbu has done a lot including the Anakwe’s saga without being called to order. Having said so the laws can never be silent on issue like this, for as Lord Atkin said:” In this country amid the clash of arms, the laws are not silent. They may be changed but they speak the same language in war as in peace.”