Zik Enterprises Ltd. & Ors V. The Hon. Obafemi Awolowo (1955)
Torts—Libel—Whether article refers to plaintiff—Whether language supports innuendo or extrinsic evidence proves it.
Appeals in Civil Cases—Test of intervention in damages.
Damages—Test ofintervention on appeal.
The respondent as plaintiff brought two suits for libel against the respective appellants as defendants; they were consolidated, and the judgment was in his
The first suit alleged two libels. The first one read:—
“Action Group threatens crisis to win over the Government. Political observers believe that the motive behind the delegation to the Government concerns the Iga Idunganran Civil Case, the Ilorin boundary and other issues affecting directly or indirectly the Action Group.
It is believed also that the party may endeavour to use power politics to enable the Government to yield to certain demands which the Action Groupers feel must be conceded in order to avert a constitutional crisis. Apart from the walk-out threat reliable sources believe also that Action Group Ministers may resign en bloc in order to effect the demands of the party over the issues at stake.
Meanwhile, it is understood that the Government will be represented in the proposed parley with Government by (names).”
The innuendo alleged was (briefly) that the plaintiff and the other Ministers held the conference with Government in order to interfere with the course of justice in the case mentioned in the article. On appeal two points were taken: that the words complained of did not refer to the plaintiff as an individual but to the Action Group as a whole; also that the innuendo was not proved.
Both those points were also taken in regard to the second Ebel alleged in the first suit. The article was headed “ Government turns back Action Group with No to all demands It stated:—
“The Ikenne trial also re-echoed in the parley, but the Government felt that it was an issue for the Legal Department and the Court, and not the concern of the Governor. On this matter the Governor refused to make a statement.”
The innuendo alleged was (briefly) that the plaintiff (to whom there were references in the article) and the other Ministers had asked the Governor to interfere in the course of justice in the conviction of someone then on appeal.
The plaintiff called evidence to prove the innuendoes he alleged in regard to the two articles, but none spoke of knowledge of any special facts which caused him to form his opinion. It seemed from the judgment that the Judge was affected by the third article, which formed the subject of the second suit; but the third article did not contain any reference to the two earlier articles (those in the first suit).
The third article, which was complained of in the second suit, referred to the plaintiff,, the leader of the Action Group and Minister of Local Government, and the innuendoes pleaded were that he and the other Ministers had planned to get Government to interfere in the two cases mentioned in the two earlier articles, and were unfit to hold their offices.
(The third article is rather long; the text is given at p. 702.) Evidence was called to establish the innuendoes.
The two points raised on appeal in regard to the second suit were the same as those raised in regard to the first suit. A third point about both suits related to the damages awarded (£2.000 in the first suit and £500 in the second suit).
(1) As regards the first article, in the first suit; Upon a reasonable construction it could not be regarded as referring to the. plaintiff; it aimed at the policy of the Action Group as a party, not at any particular individual: therefore the claim in regard to the first article failed.
(2) As regards the second article, in the first suit:—
(a) It was capable of referring to the plaintiff and it was reasonable for the witnesses to think that it did; but
(b) The plaintiff had the onus of proving that the article conveyed to the mind of a reasonable person the imputation he pleaded, but the inference suggested by the innuendo was not such as a reasonable person would draw: therefore the claim in regard to the second article failed.
(3) As regards the third article, the one complained of in the second suit;—
(a) There were references to the plaintiff and the words complained of, in conjunction with the relevant circumstances, made it reasonable for the witnesses to think that the article referred to the plaintiff; and
(b) There were passages in the article which supported the innuendoes alleged, and, further, the two earlier articles provided evidence of circumstances entitling reasonable men who knew them to understand the third article in the defamatory sense alleged by the plaintiff: therefore the judgment in regard to the second suit was right.
Held also: It was not shown that the trial Judge had acted upon any wrong principle in assessing damages, and the damages awarded in respect of the second suit would not be interfered with (any more than those in respect of the first suit if the judgment in that respect had been upheld).
Obiter: As regards the first article in the first suit: the imputation alleged in the innuendo was not one which a reasonable man would draw.
Appeal allowed in respect of the first suit but dismissed in respect of the second suit.