August 6, 2022
Libel vs Slander: What is the difference

In this post, we’d briefly discuss what every Nigerian at some point contemplates especially when it seems their good name is being dragged in the mud. It is the law on defamation (Libel vs Slander). And we’d keep it simple and short.

First, let’s start with some basic housekeeping –

The Law on Defamation

What is defamation?

Defamation has been defined as any unjustified expression (spoken or written) which destroys the reputation of a person in the eyes of right-thinking members of the society.  

This definition is sufficient for our discussion in today’s piece but I should mention that a man who has no good reputation, there is nothing the law can protect for him.  

To begin our discuss, you should know that the law protects every man’s right to his good name or reputation. At the same time the law gives every man the freedom to express himself. But both rights are not absolute (that is without any form of limitations).

This is where the law on defamation comes in. While the law is ideally aimed at not stopping free speech, no one should use free speech as an excuse to ruin the good reputation of another person without any basis whatsoever. And this is exactly what the law on defamation aims at curbing.

The law on defamation helps you protect your good name from the unfounded negative imputation of others so that your estimation is not reduced in the eyes of right-thinking members of the society[1].

Libel vs Slander: Two friends gossiping

Libel vs Slander; Do you know the Difference?

Libel is written or visual while slander is spoken or oral defamation.

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More elaborately, Slander is an unjustifiable statement made in a non-permanent form such as by speech or gestures. If you believe that you have been slandered, you will be required have to prove that the harmful statement has caused some loss to you, which could be financial or moral.

Libel is an unjustifiable statement made in a permanent or written form such as books, newspapers, letters, paintings, photographs, film, radio or television broadcast. In a law suit for libel, you don’t have to prove that you suffered any loss.

With our definitions out of the way, I will mention a few take aways, you need to keep in mind when it comes to the law on defamation –

  • The defamatory words or expression must be based on untruth or falsity. This is because truth is a complete defence to defamation. So, if someone says something you consider could reduce your estimation before others, if it true, you have no remedy at law.
  • It is necessary to know that Defamation is also a crime – Section 373 of the Criminal Code; Section 24 of the Cybercrimes Act 2015, Sections 391 to 395 of the Penal Code for northern states and the FCT Abuja. 
  • Not every vulgar or offensive word amounts to defamation. For example, uncouth words said during a heated argument or quarrel are generally not considered to amount to defamation.
  • Companies can also be defamed in Nigeria[2]. Therefore, a company can sue a blogger, individual or other entity it believes has unjustly disparaged its business, the management of its business or unjustly stated that the affairs of the company are conducted in a dishonest manner.
  • Where a person successfully sues another for defamation, he or she maybe awarded monetary compensation by the Court.
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In a subsequent piece, we will revisit other aspects of this same aspect of the law that jealously guards your beautiful or hard-earned reputation. As usual, remember that nothing I have said here amounts to legal advice and when necessary, seek legal counsel from a lawyer of your choice.

Welcome to a new week.

Written By Frederick Nkobowo LLB, BL


[1] In its civil form, defamation seeks to protect for a man during his life-time the untainted smearing of his reputation and good name. It is therefore a wrongful act in the eyes of the law for a man to directly impress in the mind of another person a matter that is not only untrue but is likely in the ordinary and natural course of things to substantially injure the reputation of a third party. The successful institution of a suit for the tort of civil defamation may attract the award of damages in favour of the person wronged’.See https://www.mondaq.com/nigeria/libel-defamation/988198/the-importance-of-third-party-evidence-in-action-for-civil-libel-the-current-nigerian-jurisprudence#:~:text=The%20words%20must%20be%20defamatory%20or%20convey%20defamatory%20imputation%3B&text=The%20words%20must%20refer%20to%20the%20claimant%3B&text=It%20must%20be%20the%20defendant,to%20in%20the%20alleged%20libel.

[2] Zenith Plastics Industry Ltd. v. Samotech Limited (2007) LPELR-8260(CA) at Pp.37-38, Paras. F-B, Bassey Edem v Orpheo Nigeria Ltd (2003) 13 NWLR (Pt 838) 537

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