There is no doubt that one of the rights guarantee under the 1999 of Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended is the Right to Freedom of Expression and the Press. It is provided under Section 39 of the said Constitution as follows:
(1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinion and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions. Provided that no person, other than the Government of the Federation or of a State or any other person or body authorized by the President on the fulfillment of conditions laid down by an Act of the National Assembly, shall own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for any purpose whatsoever.
(3) Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justified in a democratic society
(a) For the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence ,maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony , wireless broadcasting ,television or the exhibition of cinematography films;or
(b) Imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a State, members of the Armed Forces of the Federation or members of the Nigeria Police Force or other Government security services or agencies established by law.”
I have gone to this length in quoting extensively the Constitution to buttress the issues for discussion here. The freedom of expression is universal in the sense that the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Article 19 had also declared that:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression .This right includes freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek to receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontier.”
One thing that is very apparent from the position of law as quoted from both the Constitution and the Universal Declaration above is that various forms of mediums in place today would largely claim that they derived their source of powers and authorities from the said provisions. In as much as the law guarantees the freedom of expression to every individual, such freedom at the same time is not absolute because in the exercise of such rights there must be a serious caution in order not violate the right of others. Any person who on the pretense of exercising his freedom of expression and in the process injures the character of another person through libel or defamation without any justification is inviting problem to himself.
Prior to the advent of the social media, the conventional press be it, Newspapers, Magazines, Radios or Television Stations usually exercise serious great caution on what they publish or broadcast to the public. As in the other professions, there is also what is called ETHICS in the Press Profession or Journalism. In the book titled: JOURNALISM IN NIGERIA, a publication of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Lagos State Council published in 1996, one Mr. Lanre Idowu wrote under what he called “The Ethical Imperative” that :
“Over time, the settled role society has assigned to journalists is to give an intelligible ,non-fictional account of happening around them .The pursuit of truth in bringing meaning to bear on subjects of journalistic enquiry thus represents the minimum ,irreducible ethical concern expected of a journalist .To pass fictional writing for journalistic practice is to unleash a grave assault on the soul of journalism as a credible account of daily happenings.To be sure , there are penalties in the statutes which punish falsehood especially where they damage a person ‘s integrity as in slander and libel . But because not all quarrels needs end in the law court, not all misunderstandings or infractions in the press are of malicious and criminal bent, it is settled that journalism –being both a vocation and a profession-has rules of the trade which need to be observed for the good health of society.Where they are breached an unethical conduct is said to have been displayed,”
With the advent of the social media, virtually everyone on the internet today has become “a news reporter”, “editor” and “photographer”. Many people today publish and share things that are very irrational on Facebook and whats apps among other social media platforms.Although it can not be contested that the social media has its advantages but its disadvantages or ugly side seem to have over shadowed its advantages or beautiful side. Some people in annoyance have left the Facebook or a whats app group because they cannot stomach a lot of things that go on on those platforms. I recently had a course to make an intervention when a colleague protested to a comment made by another colleague on a particular whats app group platform as follow:
“…Please tread carefully .This anger can be better expressed.How can you say the President of the country feasts on human blood .Please, stop insulting our sensibilities.”
In my intervention, I said:
“I don’t know you are taking notice of the method of expression of ….and some other lawyers on this platform as well as other platforms .Most time I just decide to ignore them and refuse to join issues with them .I personally detest the style of their expression .There are ways you can express yourself witout being insultive to other. Even if we hate or you don’t like a person ,we must still be fair to him in our comments on him as lawyers .This was the advice given to lawyers by our great Hon. Justice Ademola Johnson, a former Chief Judge of Lagos State when he said ‘I must say that the beauty of language particularly among members of this noble profession is the restraint exercise in its use.It is the tool of our profession and we must show leadership in the caution with which we blend and use it’.”
In the campaigns for the 2018 NBA ELECTIONS of national officers, I became so worried about the expressions (HATE SPEECHES) being employed by lawyers on the social media that I wrote in an article titled: NBA ELECTIONS, LAWYERS AND HATE SPEECHES that:
“My own word of advice to every one of us is that as lawyers, we should please desist from trying to bring one another down. The way we play politics in NBA should be model to the others to emulate .We should play this politics with the spirit of sportsmanship. We need not castigate any aspirant unnecessarily .Everyone should vote for the candidate of his or her choice.”
The questions we need to continue to ask are that: To what extent have lawyers show leadership in the caution with which they blend the use of words on the social media or else where? In the conventional press or journalism, how many editors will accept such kind of words or comments for publishing? One is again highly disappointed by the modes of the campaigns for the 2019 Presidential elections, all kinds of crude words, comments and names calling were employed by some lawyer supporters of the two major contenders in the elections i.e ATIKU and BUHARI. To call a spade a spade, many of our colleagues have gone to the extreme in their support for their preferred candidates. Must lawyers behave like market women or taxi drivers because of politics? I have said it before that, there is nothing bad in supporting a particular candidate or have admiration for some politicians but taking it to the point of extremism will be irrational.
Most time some people trade insultive and abusive words on social media platform which has been turned to a forum where old scores are settled or pound of flesh are taken. Any person that wants to be mischievous and mislead people and incite them to violence may post on a social media platform an old film clip of a violent or unfortunate incident that happened in another country and lie to the people that that was what was happening in a certain part of the country. Some people on a social media platform will copy a particular post re-edit it to suit their own selfish desire and resend it to other unsuspecting people to mislead them.
The fact cannot not be denied that the social media is a very interesting innovation in terms of quick dissemination of information; a great development in connecting with people and friends in different parts of the world but the reality on the ground that it lacks to a large extent the proper ethics on which the conventional press or journalism is premised on. While the conventional press is mainly for the professionals who are well grounded the the art and ethic of journalism ,the same thing can not be said about most people that operate various social media platforms which is why most time you come across various kinds of fake news. It was very disturbing recently when the news came up on social media that Professor Yemi Oshinbajo, SAN, the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria resigned his position from government. It was not until when the Professor came out himself to debunk the news that it was discovered that it was fake news. A responsible conventional press can not come out with such news without first carrying out proper investigation which is lacking on social media as most of them are not strictly subjected to a proper control like the regular press.
While one is not out here to completely condemn or stand against the use of social media in our day to day activities in the sharing of genuine news and information, views, opinions, knowledge and wisdom, what one is saying here is that we should all exercise extreme caution in its use.Social media should be positively used rather than being negatively used. Most of those engaging in social media activities may not be trained journalists but there is the need for them to heed the advice of Mr. Lanre Idowu that :
“It is settled that journalism –being both a vocation and a profession- as rules of the trade which need to be observed for the good health of society.Where they are breached an unethical conduct is said to have been displayed,”
LONG WALK TO POLLING UNIT
Apology to the great late Nelson Mandela’s LONG WALK TO FREEDOM. Nigerians on 23rd February 2019 eventually walk to the various polling units in different parts of the country to cast their votes for the candidates of their choices in the Presidential and National Assembly elections.Those that are eventually declared winners by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will pilot the affairs of this country for another four years beginning from 29th May 2019 to the 29th May 2023 when another set of leaders will be elected.
As one of the Nigerian citizens who is always interested in exercising his civic responsibility, I on that day embarked on a long walk to my polling unit of about 5 kilometers from where I presently live to where I used to live and where I registered and obtained my Permanent Voter Card (PVC) prior to the 2015 General Elections. Since there was an INEC directive restricting movement of vehicles and as a law abiding citizen, I engaged in a long walk to the polling unit. Although some election results have been flying here and there but the only election results we can take serious is that of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which we are still waiting for as at the time of dispatching this post . In my own polling unit where I voted, APC scored 33 votes, PDP scored 20 votes while Accord Party scored 11 votes. As we await the final announcement of the Presidential and National Assembly Election results by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmud Yakub, I say God bless Nigeria!
REMARKABLE PRONOUNCEMENT ON PLEA OF FAIR COMMENT OR QUALIFIED PRIVILEGE
“It should be borne in mind that once the plea of fair comment or qualified privilege is made out, as it has been in the present case, the inference of malice is rebutted, and the burden is thrown upon the plaintiff of showing and proving ‘express malice’ against the defendants. This is generally known as ‘malice in fact’ and to be able to discharge this onus at the trial, it is important that the plaintiff should deliver a reply, alleging express malice and giving particulars of the facts from which such malice is to be inferred “.
Per IBEKWE, JSC in Bakare Vs. Ibrahim (1973) 6 SC 205
THE SETTLED PRINCIPLE OF LAW
On what amount to publication to sustain action for libel
“It is well settled that no civil action for libel is maintainable unless the words complained of have been published. In order to constitute publication, the defamatory matter must be published to a third party and not merely to the plaintiff.”
See Nsirim Vs. Nsirim (1990) 3 NWLR (Pt. 138) 285; UKO Vs. MBABA (2001) 4 NWLR (Pt. 704) Pg. 474 Para G
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