N. ANUNOBI (PLAINTIFF)
NIGERIAN NATIONAL PRESS LIMITED & ANOTHER (DEFENDANTS)
 1 All N.L.R. 423
Division: High Court, Lagos
Date of Judgment: 10th January, 1964
Case Number: LD/46/63
Before: Onyeama, Ag. C.J.
The plaintiff, a well known trade unionist in Nigeria, brought this action against the first defendant and its editor, claiming £50,000 damages for libel in that the defendants, on 11th July, 1962, falsely published in their issue of the Nigerian Morning Post a photostat copy of a letter which purported to be written by the plaintiff in his capacity as a trade unionist; the publication which was captioned "Tettegah subversion drama flares up again "Secret Letter to Ghana" Document sent to police" was followed by a report depicting the plaintiff as the author of the letter; the letter standing by itself, without the headlines and the report, contains nothing capable of lowering the author in the estimation of right thinking people; but since the letter was found to be a forgery and the report false, the claim of libel, in its ordinary meaning, was clear.
At the trial, the plaintiff relied entirely on the publication complained of and did not supply any extrinsic facts to support any extended meaning of the publication; but nevertheless, the plaintiff attempted, by inferences, to raise seven grounds of innuendoes to sustain his claim of damages. The question is whether the plaintiff can add to his clear claim of libel, in its ordinary meaning, seven further extensions or embellishments, each of which technically constitutes a separate cause of action, and can theoretically claim a separate award of damages. The defendants pleaded fair comment and privilege and argued that the plaintiff's version of the facts was published on the day following the publication of the offending article.
(1) The innuendoes pleaded, not being supported by any evidence of facts extrinsic to the publication, and being inferences which the plaintiff drew from the natural and ordinary meaning of the publication, are not true innuendoes.
(2) The plea of fair comment fails since the essential fact on which the comment is based, namely that the plaintiff wrote the letter, is entirely false. Although it is true that some innocuous facts in the report were true; for instance, that the plaintiff is a member of the Coal Corporation and that he is the secretary of the P.Z. African Workers' Union, the libellous allegations contained in the letter and the report having been disproved, a plea of fair comment cannot avail a defendant who has invented his facts.
(3) The plea of privilege only applies to publication of the reports or matters set out in Part II of the Schedule of the Defamation Act of 1961, and the publication complained of in this case, not being such a report or matter, the plea of privilege fails.
Cases referred to:-
Monson v. Tussaud (1894)1 Q.B. 671.
Watkin v. Hall (1868) L.R. 3 Q.B. 396.
Grubb v. Bristol United Press Limited (1962) 2 All E.R. 380.
Lewis v. Daily Telegraph Limited (1963) 2 All E.R. 151.
Act referred to:-
Defamation Act, 1961 section 9(2).
Okafor, for the Plaintiff.
Atandare, for the Defendants.
Onyeama, Ag. C. J. of Lagos:-This is an action for damages for libel. On the 11th of July, 1962, the defendants published in the issue of the "Nigerian Morning Post" of that date a photostat copy of a letter which purported to be written by the plaintiff and which read:
N. Anunobi, 35 Falolu Road,
Surulere, Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria.
1st May, 1962.
J.K. Tettegah Esq.,
Ghana Trades Union Congress,
I have to thank you for the inspiring conversation I had with you during your short visit to Nigeria. First of all, I must thank you for the help you gave me for the preparation of our Ibadan Labour Unity Merger Conference.
As I said during our conversation, I am now working hand-in-hand with the NTUC for the complete eradication of these imperialists who come here under the guise of Labour. I can assure you that we shall be victorious at the merger conference. I have gladly accepted the nomination for the post of Treasurer. I quite agree with you that our Industries must be nationalised so as to free ourselves from the grip of the Imperialists and Neo-colonialists, but our weak government is fighting shy of this major issue. Please note sir that any further assistance I shall need should be sent to me through the Chase Manhattan Bank who are my bankers. I would prefer this to getting it through a second person as this might be dangerous. I hope you understand my position as a Board member, while thanking you again.
"P.S. Please do not forget me when you open your office for the AATUF in Nigeria."
Heading the published photostat copy were heavy print captions which read:
"Tettegah subversion drama flares up again SECRET LETTER TO GHANA Document sent to the police."
These captions were followed by a report which linked the plaintiff with authorship of the letter and stated, inter alia:-
"Last month, the Nigerian Foreign Minister, Mr Jaja Wachuku, accused Ghana of engaging in subversive activities against Nigeria, and cited Tettegah's visit to Lagos during the labour peace talks.
"Mr Tettegah, during his stay here, persistently denied that his visit had anything to do with the conference at Ibadan.
"The denial was also echoed by the Ghana High Commission in Lagos, which was also accused of encouraging acts of subversion against Nigeria and also later by the Ghana Government itself, in reply to Mr Wachuku's accusations.
"But the alleged letter which was handed to the police, states that Tettegah had given help towards the Ibadan conference."
The report then set out part of the letter and continued with a photograph of Mr John Tettegah under which were written:-
"Mr Tettegah, who is Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary in Ghana, is also secretary of the Ghana Trades Union Congress. He paid two visits to Nigeria shortly before the Ibadan trade union merger conference and was here while the conference lasted. It was alleged during the conference that he came here with £7,000 to 'help his allies.'
"Mr Anunobi is general secretary of the PZ African Workers' Union and is also a member of the Nigerian Coal Corporation."
The letter upon which this report appears to have been based was proved a forgery. It was not written by the plaintiff.
The plaintiff's Statement of Claim set out the letter and the accompanying report, and pleaded thereof, in paragraphs 8 and 9:-
8. By the publication of the words set out in paragraph 4 hereof the defendants portrayed the plaintiff as a despicable character whose letter has confirmed Ghana's subversion of Nigeria, and grossly libelled him.
9. By the words set out in the said paragraph 4 the defendants meant and were understood to mean:
(i) That the plaintiff was a tool of Ghana in subverting Nigeria, and was a traitor to his country.
(ii) That the plaintiff received money from Ghana to sabotage or influence the Conference called to unite Nigerian workers at Ibadan, and therefore was a hypocritical and insincere trade unionist unfit to lead the workers.
(iii) That the plaintiff was a subversive character.
(iv) That the plaintiff was a mendicant trade unionist who had no selfrespect, and therefore was unfit to be a trade union leader or secretary.
(v) That the plaintiff was a person given to running down the reputation of his own Government before foreigners and therefore was not a patriotic Nigerian.
(vi) That the plaintiff favoured nationalisation of Industries which is contrary to Government policy, and was therefore a person given to sabotaging Government's economic plans and therefore was not fit to serve on a Government Board.
(vii) That the plaintiff was a dishonest, untrustworthy character, not fit to be a trade union secretary or to be entrusted with any responsibility."
The plaintiff was at the time of the publication general secretary of the P.Z. African Workers' Union of Nigeria. He was also the general secretary of BEWAC African Workers' Union of Nigeria and of Mainland Hotel African Workers' Union of Nigeria. He was, in addition, the Nigerian representative of the Pan African Workers' Union for the English-speaking countries in Africa and of the International Federation of Christian Trade Unions and general secretary of the Union of Textile Workers of Nigeria. The plaintiff was also a member of the Nigerian Coal Corporation.
It is clear from this impressive array of offices held by him that the plaintiff was closely concerned with trade unionism in Nigeria.
According to the evidence, the trade union movement in Nigeria was split and the Government sponsored a meeting in Ibadan of the opposing factions with the aim of resolving outstanding differences and merging the two factions into one central labour union. The plaintiff was at the Ibadan conference and was a supporter of the faction led by a man called Adebola. This faction was the Trade Union Congress and it emerged from the unsuccessful conference as the United Labour Congress. The other faction, the Nigerian Trade Union Congress, led by one Imuodu, became the Independent United Labour Congress.
The gravamen of the libel lies in the publication of the forged letter which, on the face of it, appeared to be written by the plaintiff. The defendants were in effect saying, "this is a letter written by the plaintiff." The plaintiff's claim postulates that any one who wrote the letter in question was deserving of hatred, ridicule or contempt either by reason of what it contained or in the circumstances in which it was written.
The letter itself is couched in servile, begging tones, but I do not think it contains anything (apart from its tone) which would lower the author in the estimation of right thinking people. One might not stoop to begging for assistance and favours oneself, but it is a mode of approach which commends itself to some people. If I had to judge on the letter standing by itself I would have had difficulty in finding libel proved.
The headlines and report which flanked the letter in the publication complained of, however, put a very different complexion on the letter and, in my view, invest it with a possible defamatory purport. The headlines link the letter with "subversion" and describe it as "secret." The letter itself as published was not marked secret; and it is obvious that the words chosen for the headlines were such as to create a cloak and dagger atmosphere about the letter, its author and Tettegah.
The report quite clearly suggested some sinister link between the plaintiff and Tettegah, who was reported as "engaging in subversive activities against Nigeria." The letter was put forward as refuting Tettegah's denial that his visit to Nigeria had anything to do with the Ibadan conference, a denial "echoed by the Ghana High Commission in Lagos, which was also accused of encouraging acts of subversion against Nigeria."
The report went on to say that this Tettagah came to Nigeria with £7,000 to "help his allies." From the publication it was clear that the author of the letter was one of these allies.
To my mind the natural meaning of the letter, headlines and comments, taken together, is that the plaintiff was the ally of Tettegah and was receiving money from him; and that this Tettegah was engaging in subversive activities against Nigeria. It affords no defence for the defendants to precede their comments and report with the word "alleged", or to attribute the source of certain allegations to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Having published that Tettegah was considered a subversive-element, to associate the plaintiff with him in the way the defendants have done is, in my view, libellous. In Monson v. Tussaud (1894) 1 Q.B. 671, it was held libellous to place the effigy of a person in wax among those of murders and other infamous characters in an exhibition. On principle, it would be equally libellous to group a person in a newspaper report with others said to be carrying on subversive activities. The publication complained of was defamatory in its ordinary meaning.
I now turn to the innuendoes pleaded. The law appears to be that a libel in its natural and ordinary meaning and a libel with a true and proved innuendo constitute two separate causes of action: see Watkin v. Hall (1868) L.R. 3 Q.B. 396 and per Davis, L.J. in Grubb v. Bristol United Press Limited (1962) 2 All E.R. 380, 398; but "a defamatory meaning which derives no support from extrinsic facts, but which is said to be implied from the words which are used is not a true innuendo:" per Lord Morris in Lewis v. Daily Telegraph Limited (1963) 2 All E.R. 151, 160. His Lordship also said (at 159) that an innuendo constitutes a cause of action separate from the libel itself and in respect of which a separate verdict should be returned and separate damages (if to be awarded) should be assessed.
The plaintiff by his Statement of Claim and in the evidence in support of his case relied entirely on the publication complained of and did not pray in aid any extrinsic facts to support any extension of the publication. As I have said the publication was clearly capable of a defamatory meaning, but, to use the words of Holroyd Pearce, L. J., the question is whether the plaintiff can add to his clear claim of the libel, in its ordinary meaning, seven further extensions or embellishments, each of which technically constitutes a separate cause of action, and can theoretically claim a separate award of damages: see Grubb v. Bristol United Press Limited (supra) at 383.
All the witnesses for the plaintiff told me what they understood the publication to mean when they read it. It was not suggested that this was other than the ordinary meaning of the publication.
In my view, therefore, the innuendoes pleaded, not being supported by any evidence of facts extrinsic to the publication, and being inferences which the plaintiff drew from the natural and ordinary meaning of the publication were not true innuendoes. Some of the inferences, videlicet, paragraph 9(ii), (v), (vi) and (vii) of the Statement of Claim appear to me farfetched. The defendants admit publication of the matter complained of and plead' 'fair and bona fide comment on a matter of public interest."
The defendants deny that the publication was capable of bearing any defamatory meaning, and raise an unspecified defence under the Defamation Act of 1961. In the course of Counsel's address it became clear that section 9 of the Act was being relied on. The argument was that the plaintiff's version of the facts was published on the day following the offending article.
In my opinion section 9(2) of the Act only applies to publication of the reports or matters set out in Part II of the Schedule to the Act and the publication complained of in this case is not such a report or matter. This plea fails.
I think the plea of fair comment also fails since the essential fact, on which the comment was based, namely, that the plaintiff wrote the letter, is entirely false. It is true that some innocuous facts in the report were true, for instance, that the plaintiff was a member of the Coal Corporation and that he was the secretary of the P.Z. African Workers' Union. The libellous allegations contained in the letter and the report were however disproved and a plea of fair comment cannot avail a defendant who has invented his facts.
By reason of the foregoing I find that the publication in question was capable of a defamatory meaning and that it was in its ordinary meaning defamatory of the plaintiff.
The plaintiff has claimed £50,000 as damages. I regard this as a ridiculously inflated sum wholly out of proportion to such damage as the plaintiff suffered as a result of the libel. On the other hand, I think the plaintiff did suffer substantial financial damage as he had to resign most of his trade union jobs.
I assess the damages at £250. There will be judgment for the plaintiff for £250 and costs assessed at £73. 10.0d.