Today marks Nollywood Icon Richard Mofe-Damijo aka RMD’s 51st birthday. I had the privilege of meeting him in person many years ago in Lagos, Nigeria when I was visiting the country. I am 6ft 2in and usually tower most men and women I run into. But, when I met Mr. Mofe-Damijo, I felt so tiny and could understand how some people feel, sometimes, standing next to me :). I am still wearing my heels though which puts me at 6ft 4 or 5. 😉
In any event, RMD an icon in Nigeria’s film industry, a film executive (owns film production company), lawyer and politician celebrated 51years old today.
Linda’s Alleged Sin/Crime
Choosing to celebrate his birthday publicly with him, Nigerian blogger Linda Ikeji shared the following post with her audience:
“The actor was born July 6th 1961. Wishing him many more beautiful years ahead. Meanwhile the actor has acquired a palatial home said to be worth about N250 million in Asaba, Delta State, where he is the Commissioner for Arts and Culture.” – Linda Ikeji
RMD was less than thrilled with the part of “N250million.” He ignored the good faith attempt at a congratulatory message and had the following subsequent response via twitter.
“It has been brought to my attention that one Linda Ikeji character, who I understand is a gossip, has put up a story about my N250m [house].
“ordinarily, I will never dignify her type with a response. But with the calls, texts and BBMs I have received, I’d like to sound a warning to her (Ikeji) to desist from fabricating stories about me and get a life.[K]nowing the worth of a property is not rocket science. If you find a dignified career path and work hard at it, you will be too busy and successful to spread unfounded lies about people.”
First, this is not the first time I have discussed bloggers (non-Nigerians and Nigerians) and their responsibility in the news they share. We all, myself included, have a responsibility in how we filter and share news. I do understand many bloggers and those who comment on their sites believe anything goes, so long as you can garner comments. I disagree with this view. Especially as an American (American born Nigerian), I recognize the importance of free speech and the freedom of the press and believe wholeheartedly in these constitutional rights. However, I don’t believe the legal liabilities that flow or could flow supports the “anything goes” mentality.
Nevertheless, in this case, I disagree with RMD’s position and condescending statements hurled at Ikeji. Indeed, I am unsure Ikeji’s statements in her post can be said to be a situation of “fabricating stories.” That some of her audience have chosen to interpret her note to mean they have a pass at attacking RMD’s character, integrity and credibility and accusing him of being one of many politicians who “loot money” from Nigerians to live extravagant lifestyles, arguably, has no bearing on Ikeji.
Indeed, if RMD is that vexed, he can go after the commenters for internet libel. Indeed social media and the law is a new concept that all, even the legal court system, law enforcement and attorneys here are grasping to understand and deal with. Nevertheless, make no mistake that the trend will be towards holding people accountable for their comments and actions on blog sites et al. Indeed, a recent case out of the USA on Internet Law shows what the future trends hold for “anonymous” commenters who spit vitriol against persons they know nothing about.
Internet/ Social Media Libel Case that Gives a Glimpse of the Future
A Texas lawyer and his wife have been awarded $13.8 million in a libel suit against online commenters who accused the couple of sexual perversions, molestations and drug dealing.
Tarrant County jurors awarded the money to Mark and Rhonda Lesher on Friday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and ABC News report. The judgment sets a record for Internet libel, according to the couple’s lawyer, Meagan Hassan, the Star-Telegram says.
The four defendants had written anonymously at Topix until a judge ordered the online company to turn over their Internet Protocol addresses. One of the defendants is a former legal client who had accused the Leshers and their ranch hand of sexually assaulting her. The Leshers and their employee were acquitted in the assault case in 2009. . .” – ABA Journal.com
So, if RMD likes, he can set legal precedent in Nigeria and go after Ikeji’s commenters. But, again, I am unsure how that has a bearing on what Ikeji actually wrote. To me, there is a distinction with saying a home is “said to be worth about” N250 million versus saying that home is in fact worth N250million.
The first is speculative and is not being reported as a fact. It makes room for the fact that the home could be worth less or more. The latter is making a definitive factual statement that the home is worth a certain fixed value. So, I fail to understand, given the speculative nature of her comment which clearly underscores that she is unsure of the value, why RMD would attack her character, socio-economic class and means of employment. Blogging, albeit gossip blogging, which I personally detest (gossiping), is a job. Welcome to the 21st century and feel free to log on to Bossip.com, theybf.com, among many successful fully functional gossip media companies. Telling Ikeji to “get a life,” or that he does not “talk to her type” and referring to her as “this character” . . . is not only immature and reactionary, it undermines his attempt to show he has what appears to be more class than Ikeji.
In fact, given RMD claims not to talk to her “type,” he could have shown more maturity by emailing Ikeji and asking her to amend the latter part of her statement, without volunteering the value of his home, if it meant that much to him. Clearly I am not down with the personal attacks against Ikeji, although I understand the uncomfortable position her post placed him given almost all Nigerians have issues with persons who acquire wealth and are involved in politics; even if they acquired such wealth independent of their political employment.
Nevertheless, assuming it can be argued that Ikeji’s speculative comment is in fact libelous i.e. Ikeji is “fabricating stories” which would warrant the “warning” issued by RMD; then it certainly raises the question of what is Libel under Nigerian law? AML USA readers, please reference discussions on defamation/libel etc. in the Sherryl Sherrod case here.
AML Nigerian bloggers, journalists et al., below is an idea of how a libel analysis would flow. It is a republished AML archived discussion on libel suits.
NOTE: You want to hire a lawyer in your respective states/countries where you are slammed with a libel lawsuit or receive a demand letter accusing you of libelous acts against someone. Your lawyers can help prevent the problem, defend and countersue (i.e. slap the other side with a lawsuit also where the facts call for such action) in your behalf. Just put aside your lawyer money. Lawyers aren’t cheap. But y’all already knew that.
If you are in RMD’s situation, revisit AML Uche Jombo archived case dealing with false statements on the internet and how to deal with them.
Republished Excerpt from the AML Charly Boy v. Mirror Newspaper case discussing Libel.
According to the (Nigeria’s) Supreme Court, “The tort of defamation is either libel or slander.”
The essential ingredients of libel are:
1. The words complained of must have been written;
2. The publication must be false
3. The words must be defamatory or convey defamatory imputation;
4. The words must refer to the plaintiff;
5. I t must be the defendant who published the words;
6. The onus is on the plaintiff to prove he was the one referred to in the alleged libel.”
NOTE: If you want to prove your libel case in Nigeria, the law requires an actual reproduction of the entire article you say is libelous.
“For the plaintiff to succeed in a case of Libel he must reproduce verbatim the whole of the article or the particular passage he complains of in his pleadings.” -See Guardian Newspaper v. Pastor Rjei (note the parties are listed the way they are because the case was appealed by the Guardian newspaper. In the lower trial court when the case was first filed, it would be listed as Pastor Rjei v. Guardian.)
Damages/Money You Win
If the court finds that a Plaintiff wins his/her case, what next? The court has to tell the Plaintiff how much s/he won.
“In libel cases, once the offensive article is found to be libelous of the plaintiff, damages follow and the damages awarded is general damages. On the other hand where there is direct pecuniary benefit from the offensive publication punitive damages are awarded. See Awolowo v. Kingsway Stores Ltd & Anor.”
NOTE: Punitive damages is awarded to punish a person.
When the court is awarding damages, it must consider the following factors when exercising (its) discretion:
(a) The standing of the plaintiff in society
(b) The nature of the Libel
(c) The mode and extent of the publication
(d) The refusal to retract or render an apology to the plaintiff
(e) The value of the local currency
See Mayange v. Panoh Nig Ltd 1994 7NWLR pt .358 p. 570, Ziks Press Ltd v. Alvan Ikoku 13 WACA p.188
Defendants can claim qualified Privilege or Fair Comment, among others, as a defense. Often, “Fair Comment” is used as a defense.
A couple of things on “fair comment.” When you file a lawsuit in Nigerian courts for defamation including libel and slander, there is a presumption of a “technical malice” as the Supreme Court has been quoted in saying in other similar defamation cases. This means it is presumed that the Defendant acted with Malice. Once the defendant, the person you sued i.e. media says, “your honor it was a “fair comment!” that presumption is rebutted and now, you must make a claim and showing of “actual malice” if you want punitive damages aka (punishment money).
In the USA, we get to a malice analysis if celebrity/public figures are involved. That is because the US Supreme Court in the 1964 New York Times Co. v. Sullivan did away with the common law use of “Fair Comment.” The Court reasoned that the US values the freedom of the press which includes freedom from punishment just because you publish a story. When public officials/celebrity figures act, their conduct is in the public interest, and as such, the public has the “right to know.” Therefore, the standard is a lot tougher to defeat when a celebrity sues a newspaper/blogger etc. for defamation.
Finally, what is “fair comment?” I like this Wikipedia definition which almost seems like a play on the malice doctrine, although it discusses US law.
“In the United States, the traditional privilege of “fair comment” is seen as a protection for robust, even outrageous published or spoken opinions about public officials and public figures. Fair comment is defined as a “common law defense [that] guarantees the freedom of the press to express statements on matters of public interest, as long as the statements are not made with ill will, spite, or with the intent to harm the plaintiff”
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Ms. Uduak is also a Partner and Co-Founder of Ebitu Law Group, P.C. where she handles her law firm’s intellectual property law, media, business, fashion, and entertainment law practice areas. For over seventeen years, as an attorney, she has litigated a wide variety of cases in California courts. She has also handled a variety of entertainment deals for clients in the USA, Africa, and Asia. Her work and contributions to the creative industry have been recognized by numerous organizations including the National Bar Association, The American University School of Law and featured in prestigious legal publications in the USA including ABA Journal and The California Lawyer Magazine.
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