In The Supreme Court of Nigeria
the 18th day of May 1990
Before Their Lordships
Judgement of the Court
in the matter of appeal to this court
instituted in the High
Court of the Rivers
State of Nigeria Holden at Port Harcourt. In that court, the plaintiff/appellant
claimed as per paragraph 8 of the statement of claim:
N100,000 (one hundred thousand Naira) being general damages for libel published of and concerning the plaintiff on the 20th day of April, 1982 in a document of that date circulated by the defendant to all and sundry.
were filed and served and at the close of pleadings, the issues joined came
before Jacks. J.. for hearing and determination. The defendant/respondent while
admitting writing the offending document, denied its publication. The offending
libel was pleaded in paragraph 3 of the statement of claim as follows:
or about the 20th day of April, 1982, the defendant without reasonable and
probable cause held a press conference at the press centre in which the
defendant alleged falsely and maliciously of and concerning the plaintiff in
the presence of most of the editors and reporters of the national newspapers in
Port Harcourt and headed 'MY LIFE IS IN DANGER' the following:
of the Press, lam happy for your honouring my invitation today the 16th day of
April, 1982. It is my wish to brief you this morning of insecurity of some of us
in Rumueme Community especially the threat of our leader to eliminate me and any
aspiring youth and the members of Rumueme welfare organisation by our community
late, our lives are in danger. He has been organising meeting announcing to them
that very soon some of us could be found dead at night.
0. N. Nsirim has also giving (sic) a special message through one Grace
Nworgumati to be delivered to me that he has given me and one Mr. Lawson Chinda
the last warning, that anything can happen to us any moment from now and nobody
is going to talk of it as far as this State is concerned.
threat comes from a big man and I feel any big man can do anything at any time
because they say money is the root of all evils.
some time now, the Chief has been chasing me from pillar to post using his
wealth and position to influence the police and Nigerian Security Organisation
to harass me almost everyday and the youth of this community.
of this I have written series of letters to the Chief and copied to the
Commissioner of Police, Governor and the Attorney-General informing them of the
danger I have been placed upon.
up to this point of briefing you, I have I
neither heard anything from the police nor the Government. In other words, if I
have been killed before, nobody would have been held responsible.
is in view of this that I have decided to invite you to tell the world through
your media the danger facing me.
will be recalled that the rule of law in a civilised world like ours is not in
existence in this our community Rumueme because of our leader who claim that he
has right to do whatever he likes.
the leader of this community has announced to the people of this community
sometime in November last year that he has decided a state of emergency in this
community, from that day, things have been falling apart almost every day in
this community which resulted that on the 2nd day of January, 1982, a house
being built by one Vincent Ehule, a final year student in U.S.A., who is due to
be back by June this year was bulldozed down by the Chief.
matter was reported to the Police, but was in silence up till today.
Youths are no longer given farm lands because of their opposition to injustice in Rumueme. On Monday the 12th day of April, 1982, some group of people acting by the
of the Chief broke and entered into my Estate and knocked down one of the flats
in the Estate for which the Chief sued me in the High Court, Port Harcourt.
wonders why the rule of law is not in practice in this part of the State.
would like to take you round to the site for which you members of the Press to
see things for yourselves.
am calling on every Nigerian particularly the Law Enforcement Agencies to come
to my aid. Firstly, to give me protection for my life because my life is really
chief has vowed to kill me at all costs and nobody will talk of it.
I told you before, any big man can do anything at any time and get out of it.
say ‘prevention is better than cure' by that I mean, it will be better to
prevent my life (being taken) rather than to set up enquiry into circumstances
surrounding the death.
gentlemen. help to deliver my message to the people of this country for their
information and to alert them that we here are living under Autocratic Rule.
Sgd. Mr. E. A. Nsirim
is said at the Press Conference was in a typewritten document copies of which
were circulated and distributed to those present at the Conference. The
plaintiff will at the trial rely on the said document signed by the defendant.
The natural and ordinary meaning in that publication is that the plaintiff is a
man of very doubtful character, dishonest and undemocratic in the way he
carries on the affairs of Rumueme. Furthermore, he does not encourage
competitive progress in Rumueme community. He is oppressive and a criminal.
5. The defendant was understood to mean by those to whom the words were published of and concerning that the plaintiff is a dishonest man and plaintiff is of dubious character, oppressive and undemocratic in all his ways and a criminal.
his statement of defence, he denied the above paragraphs of the statement of
claim as well as paragraphs 6 and 8 not reproduced herein.
defendant denied publication of the said defamatory statement and went on to
plead in paragraph 3 and 4 of his statement of defence as follows:
The defendant denies paragraph 3 of the statement of claim and would at the
trial put the plaintiff to the strictest proof of all the H averments in that
In further answer to the said paragraph the defendant would state as follows:
that there was no press conference held by him at any time and at any place;
that in fact a press conference was contemplated and for which purpose the said
publication was prepared by him, but on a second thought, the idea was shelved;
that the said publication was therefore not published to anyone but was rather
kept in his office under lock and key;
that as a result of trouble between the plaintiff and the defendant over
certain piece of land at Rumueme and over the running of O.C.C. Nigeria Limited,
the plaintiff on several occasions and especially on 26th April, 1982, broke
into the defendant's private business premises and removed several documents
including the said publication;
that it was the plaintiff himself who published the contents of the said
intended press briefing if at all.
It will be contended at the trial that the defendant did not publish or procure
the publication of the words referred to in the statement of claim.
was therefore a serious issue joined on publication.
issue went to trial and the learned trial Judge, Jacks, J., found in favour of
the plaintiff/appellant and awarded him general damages in the
of N100,000.00 with N200.00 costs. The defendant appealed to the
of Appeal and won.
of N100,000.00 with N200.00 costs. The defendant appealed to the
of Appeal and won.
of Appeal and won.
the issue of publication. the learned trial Judge said -
witness, Tons Fetepigi, who is not an interested wit-ness and at the material
time the Group News Editor of the Nigerian Tide Newspaper has given evidence to
the effect that one of the reporters brought a copy of the press release to them
on 20th April, 1982 and that defendant later went to him to solicit publication.
I have no hesitation in believing his evidence. Therefore plaintiff could not
have removed defendant's file including what he called the intended press
release after 20th April, 1982. 1 therefore find as a fact that the offending
press release was published by defendant on 20th April. 1982. In addition,
Exhibit 'A' which is a copy of the press release confirms this fact.
this issue of publication, the Court of Appeal had a lot to say. Akpata,
the lead judgment concurred in by Aseme, J.C.A. and Ogundare, J.C.A.) said:
the lead judgment concurred in by Aseme, J.C.A. and Ogundare, J.C.A.) said:
is clear that the learned trial Judge rejected the defence of appellant that the
publication was done by the respondent himself. The issue therefore is whether
he was right in holding as he did that the offending document was published by
the defendant on 20th April, 1982.
The learned trial Judge up to this point of the judgment, avoided or inadvertently omitted to state where the document was published and to whom …………………………...................
is nothing to suggest in the judgment of the learned trial Judge that he
accepted the case for the respondent that the publication was at the press
crown the whole folly, the respondent concluded his case without calling as a
witness one of the reporters to whom copies of Exhibit A was published.
I find myself unable to accept the contention of the respondent's counsel that the evidence of the respondent himself which has not been shown to have been believed by the trial Judge or the fact that the appellant approached P.W.1 with a copy of Exhibit A to solicit its publication which is inadmissible in evidence established his claim against the appellant as pleaded by him. The fact that the learned trial Judge rejected the defence of the appellant is no proof that he published Exhibit A and copies thereof at the press centre on 20th April, 1982.
far, I have based this judgment on the ground that it was not established by the
respondent that the appellant published the offending document at the press
importantly, it is wrong to show the inference of publication from the contents
of a libellous matter. Another faux pas in the judgment of the trial
Judge is the erroneous sweeping statement that
law the writer of a libel is responsible for its publication’………................................
is only left for me to say that publication to P.W. I was not pleaded .....................………
issue in this appeal is not so much whether there was publication at all but
whether there was publication as pleaded. Parties are bound by their
……….The observation of the learned trial Judge that
The plaintiff in the present suit
has discharged his onus (to prove publication)' is erroneous.
appeal therefore succeeds.
plaintiff was dissatisfied with the decision of the Court of Appeal and brought
this appeal to this court on 3 grounds. These 3 grounds of appeal read (without
The learned Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law by allowing and or permitting arguments on any or all the grounds of appeal when all the grounds offend the law:
of Error Omitted
The learned Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law by holding that the onus of proof of the publication of the libel Exhibit 'A' was not discharged by the plaintiff/appellant in that the latter did not say where or to whom the same was published when the law says the contrary, a decision which has occasioned a miscarriage of justice.
The learned Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law by reevaluating well considered evidence of the trial court when the conditions for the exercise explicit in Chief Frank Ebba V. Warri Ogodo  1 SCNLR 372; (1984)4 S.C. 84 at p.99 for such reevaluation were not present.
Particulars of Error Omitted
The parties filed their briefs of argument in this appeal and their counsel at the oral hearing adopted them.
the appellant formulated 5 issues for determination in this appeal, I found
that the main issue for determination is whether publication of the libel
complained of was proved as pleaded. The importance of this issue lies in the
fact that if publication is not pleaded, there is no cause of action disclosed
in the statement of claim and if publication is pleaded and not proved, the
action must fail and the claim dismissed. The issues formulated by the appellant
in his brief are five-fold as follows:
Was the Court of Appeal right in law to have allowed the defendant/appellant
respondent argue his grounds of appeal in the said Court when objection was
promptly taken on grounds of law against the said grounds of appeal which
objections, if sustained, would have determined the appeal?
Was it proper in law for the Court of Appeal to have totally ignored in its
judgment objections taken against the validity of the ground of appeal when such
objections were raised in argument in the brief of argument of one of the
Has a plaintiff who conclusively proves that a document which is libellous of
him was published to a "third party" even if not specifically named
not discharged the onus of proof of publication placed upon him?
Where a party proceeds to explain how a libellous document written by him and
also kept by him at all times "under lock and key" got to a third
party; but the explanation collapses and is disbelieved by the trial court,
would the court not be right to accept the only alternative explanation on
version placed before it?
v. In a case like this in which the defendant/appellant/respondent admits the writing and authorship of the libellous document, on whom does the onus for the proof of publication or absence of it lie?
The respondent formulated the issues for determination in his brief differently. He formulated four issues as follows:
Whether the Court of Appeal was right to have allowed the respondent to argue
his grounds of appeal when an objection to those grounds was only raised in the
appellant's brief but was not argued on the date of hearing.
2. If the answer to (1) is in the negative, whether those grounds of appeal argued at the Court of Appeal are incompetent.
3. Whether, having regard to the pleading filed in this case and the evidence led, the plaintiff has the onus of proving publication.
4. Whether in all the circumstances of this case, the Court of Appeal was right in reversing the judgment of the trial court.
The appellant and the respondent are agreed on the first and second issues although differently worded. It is therefore common ground that the appellant took an objection albeit in the brief to all the 4 grounds of appeal. I have examined the record of proceedings and found that the appellant did raise the objection in the following terms:
(b) OBJECTION. All the 4 grounds of appeal filed did
raise or allege MISDIRECTION' OR ERROR OF LAW against the trial Judge. But under
none did the appellant provide particulars of error of misdirection as required
by Order 3 Rule 3(2) of the Court of Appeal Rules, 1981.
(c) The respondent humbly urges on their Lordships to strike out these grounds of appeal or that the appellant should not be allowed to argue these grounds.
These issues raise the important questions of the procedure of raising preliminary objections to grounds of appeal.
Is it sufficient to set out the objection in the brief without moving the court at the oral hearing?
The Rules of the Court of Appeal 1981 as amended provides the answer. The objection was raised under Order 3 Rule 2(2) which reads
If the grounds of appeal alleges misdirection or error in law the particulars and the nature of the misdirection or error shall be stated.
If any ground of appeal is incompetent the court has power to strike it out. If all the grounds of appeal are incompetent thereby making the notice of appeal a nullity, the Court of Appeal has power to strike out the Notice of Appeal under Order 3 Rule 2(7) of the Court of Appeal Rules, 1981. This sub-rule reads:
The court shall have power to strike out a notice of appeal when an appeal is not competent or for any other sufficient reason.
Sub-rule 2 of Rule 2 empowers the Court of Appeal to strike out any ground of appeal which is vague or general in terms or which discloses no reasonable ground of appeal on its own motion or on the application by the respondent. The manner in which the application can be made is set out by Order 3 Rule 3(1) which reads:
Every application to the Court shall be by notice of motion supported by affidavit. It shall state the rule under which it is brought and the ground for the relief.
The respondent in the instant appeal has contended that although the objection was stated in the brief the court was not moved at the oral hearing of the appeal to strike out the grounds for failure of particulars of error. He therefore submitted that the appellant herein should be taken to have abandoned the objection more so as it was not an issue for determination in the appeal before the Court of Appeal.
In my opinion, there is substantial merit in the contention of the respondent. Being a preliminary objection, the objection should have been by motion or notice before the hearing of the appeal so that arguments on it can be heard by the court. While notice of objection may be given in the brief, it does not dispense with the need for the respondent to move the court at the oral hearing for the relief prayed for.
This preliminary objection not having been raised and argued at the oral hearing the Court of Appeal cannot be condemned as having erred in allowing the then appellant (now respondent) to argue his appeals. Be that as it may, the question may be asked if the objection would have been upheld?
I have examined the five grounds of appeal and I find that each of the grounds was framed or couched in an unorthodox style. They all contain particulars of misdirection or errors and their nature. The particulars were incorporated into the body of the ground of appeal and not set out under the usual heading of PARTICULARS in bold letters as is now the normal practice.
It cannot therefore be said that the respondent (then appellant) failed to supply the particulars and nature of error of misdirection so alleged in the said grounds. If the said grounds had contained no particulars and nature of errors and misdirection they would have been liable to be struck out under the Rules. This course of action is supported by a long line of authorities. See Okeke Anadi v. Okeke Okoli (1977) 7 S.C. 57 at 63; Mba Nta v. Anigho (1972) 5 S.C. 156 at 164; Osawaru v. Ezeiruka (1978) 6-7 S.C. 135; and Okorie v. Udom (1960) 5 FSC 162 at 164.
The respondent relied on Ajide V. Kelani (1985)3 N.W.L.R. (Pt.12) 248; (1985) Vol.16 NSCC. 1296 to show that where notice of preliminary objection is given in the brief it was to be argued in open court to call for a decision. The respondent further contended that the use of the word may in 'may be struck out' in the Rule shows that it is not mandatory that the ground without particulars must be struck out. However, the grounds are not incompetent because they contained the particulars and nature of the errors and misdirection complained of - Atuyeye v. Ashamu (1987)1 N.W.L.R. (Pt.49) 267 at page 282; (1987) Vol.18 NSCC. 117. Grounds I and 2 fail and the 1st and 2nd issue must be resolved in favour of the respondent since the said grounds contain the nature and particulars of errors. See Atuyeye v. Ashamu (1987) Vol. 18NSCC. 116; (1987)1 N.W.L.R. (Pt.49)267at282.
now go to the main issue in this appeal which is the issue of publication of the
libel. An action for libel must fail if publication of the defamatory matter
is not proved. This proof must be given by admissible evidence as it is the
publication that gives a cause of action. The material part of the cause of action
in libel is not the writing, but the publication of the libel. See Hebditch
V. Macilwaine & Ors. (1894) 2 Q.B. 54 at 61 per Lord Esher, M.R., per
Davey, L.J., at p.64; Bata V. Bata (1948) WN 366; Thomson V. Lambert (1938)
2 DLR 545 (S.C. Canada). The act of publishing the libellous matter Constitutes
the cause of action. Keefe V. Walsh (1903) 2 I.R. 706.
What then is meant by 'Publication'? By publication is meant the making known of the defamatory matter to some persons other than the person of whom it is written.
The writing of a libel to the person or party libelled does not constitute publication for the purposes of a civil action. Thus, the publication to the appellant of the libel complained of does not constitute publication to found an action for libel.
Learned counsel for the appellant submitted on this issue of publication that the appellant pleaded that the libellous document Exhibit 'A' was circulated to press men at the Press centre by the respondent and by the defendant to all and sundry. Re then contended that it cannot be said that publication to p.w.1 was not pleaded. Re then cited Pullman V. Hill & Co. (1891)1 Q.B. 524 at 527. It is observed that the pleading did not mention the name of any person to whom the statement 'A' was delivered.
It is the reduction of libellous matter to writing and its delivery to any person other than the person injuriously affected thereby that is publication. The name of the person to whom delivery of the libellous document was made must be pleaded.
evidence of p.w.1 that one of the reporters brought Exhibit 'A' to him is of no
probative value. This is more so having regard to the evidence of the respondent
that he did not make any photocopy of the document. The reporter who gave
Exhibit 'A' to p.w.1 never testified. The evidence of the appellant in his
Defendant circulated some document after reading it to the crowd. This was at the Press Conference
P.W. 1 in his testimony in chief said:
Sometime on the 20th April, 1982 one of my reporters brought to me a press release which was signed by the defendant for the purpose of publication in the Nigerian Tide. I see Exhibit A. It is the press release that was brought to me…….. ......I made a study of Exhibit A meticulously and……….. I therefore declined to publish it.
Under cross-examination, part of his testimony reads
The Exhibit A was shown to me. The defendant also came to my office with a counterpart of Exhibit A soliciting publication.
is observed that Exhibit A was produced and tendered in evidence by the
plaintiff. The only witness called by the plaintiff Tons Fetepigi was never at
the press conference. He was shown Exhibit A by his reporter. The reporter was
never named and not called to testify. The defendant never gave a copy when he
went to him to solicit publication. The evidence was therefore not a proof of
facts pleaded and went to no issue. The facts pleaded were
What was said at the Press Conference was in a type-written document copies of which were circulated to those present at the Conference. The plaintiff will at the trial rely on the said document signed by the defendant.
The plaintiff has not pleaded that he was at the Press Conference. Re has also not pleaded that Tons Fetepigi was at the Press Conference. In the circumstances, I agree with Akpata, J.C.A., when he said;
Contrary to the finding of the learned trial Judge, it cannot be said, on the totality of the evidence, that the publication by the appellant pleaded in paragraph 3 of his amended statement of claim,
Parties are bound by their pleadings. See George V. Dominion Flour Mills Ltd. (1963)1 All N.L.R. 71. National Investment and Properties Co. Ltd. v. The Thompson Organisation Ltd. (1969)1 All N.L.R. 138 and evidence of facts outside the pleadings must be jettisoned as they go to no issue.
If the pleadings of the appellant had shown that the respondent published the defamatory matter to Tons Fetepigi, p.w.1, the evidence of p.w.1, on the issue would have been admissible. If also the pleadings of the appellant had averred that the respondent showed Exhibit A, the defamatory matter to P.W. 1, the evidence would have been relevant and admissible. But these facts were not pleaded. Finally and most importantly, it is clear from Exhibit A that the Conference was held on the 16th day of April, 1982 not on the 20th day of April, 1982 as pleaded and testified to. This is fatal to the case of the appellant.
The appeal fails and I hereby dismiss it with N500.00 costs to the respondent.
Judgment delivered by
I have a preview of the judgment just delivered by my learned brother, Obaseki, J.S.C. and I entirely agree with hi~ reasoning and conclusions.
It is trite now that publication is an essential ingredient which must be proved if an action for libel is to succeed. The appellant seems to have foundered on this. His witness, Mr. Fetepigi claims that he got the allegedly libellous document from a reporter he sent to cover the appellant’s alleged press conference. The reporter did not give evidence. The respondent admits being the author of the offending document but insists he did not publish it to anybody. Rather he says he locked it up in his drawer.
I am of the view that the Court of Appeal was right in holding that there was no publication. I too do dismiss this appeal. I endorse the order for costs in the lead judgment.
Judgment delivered by
I have read the judgment of my learned brother Obaseki, J.S.C., in this appeal. I agree with the reasoning and conclusion that this appeal should fail. I also will dismiss and hereby dismiss the appeal.
Appellant shall pay N500 to the Respondent.
Judgment delivered by
read in advance, in draft form, the judgment of my learned brother, Obaseki,
J.S.C., with which I am in full agreement. The cardinal principle of libel in
law is that there must be publication of libellous matter to a third person
other than the person libelled; this is because a person's reputation is not
based on the good opinion he has of himself but the estimation in which others
hold him. In the present appeal, could it be said there was a publication? Tom
Fetepigi, News Editor of "Nigenan Tide", never testified that the appellant
actually delivered the defamatory matter to him. he merely mentioned that he
received it from a reporter – whether named or not is not relevant - who was
not called as a witness. Fetepigi's testimony, at best, is hearsay evidence
which is inadmissible by the rules of evidence. Apart from this there was no
publication; and in law this is no evidence of publication for purposes of
libel. Publication directly to a man defamed, without more is no publication [Pullman
V. Hill (1891)1 Q.B. 527.]
is for the foregoing reasons and fuller reasons in the judgment of Obaseki, J.S.C.
(which I adopt as
mine) that I find no reasons to disturb the decision of the Court of Appeal. I
also dismiss this appeal with N500.00 costs to the respondent.
Judgment delivered by
have had the opportunity of reading in advance the judgment read by my learned
brother, Obaseki, J.S.C. I agree with his reasoning and the conclusion that the
appeal lacks merit and it should be dismissed. It is for those same reasons in
the lead judgment which I hereby adopt as mine that I too dismiss this appeal
with N500.00 costs to the Respondent.