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NEPA v. Inameti

NATIONAL ELECTRIC POWER AUTHORITY

V

CHIEF ETIM INAMETI

COURT OF APPEAL

( CALABAR DIVISION )

DENNIS O. EDOZIE, JCA (Presided and Read the Lead Judgment)

OKWUCHUKWU OPENE, JCA

SIMEON OSUJI EKPE, JCA

CA/C/44/2000

THURSDAY, 22ND NOVEMBER, 2001

ACTION - Undefended action - Duty of plaintiff therein to prove his case Whether can be dispensed with

APPEAL - Findings of trial court which negate truth - Whether appellate court can reject

APPEAL - Grounds of appeal - Failure to relate same to any issue for determination - Effect of

APPEAL - Issue for determination - Whether can arise from more than one ground of appeal - Need for to be supported by or related to grounds of appeal

COURT - Appellate court - Powers of to review evidence erroneously evaluated by trial court

COURT - Trial Court - Award of damages thereby - Need for to state reason for arriving at damages awarded

COURT - Trial Court - Duty on to accept and act on unchallenged and uncontradicted admissible evidence of witnesses

COURT - Trial court - Findings of trial court which negate truth - Whether appellate court can reject

DAMAGES - Assessment of damages - Factors for consideration in assessing and awarding appropriate damages in action for defamation

DAMAGES - Award of damages - Award based on wrong principles - Power of appellate court to review

DAMAGES - Award of damages - Need for trial court to state reason for arriving at damages awarded

DEFAMATION - ‘Defamatory statement’ - Meaning of

DEFAMATION - Assessing and awarding appropriate damages in action therefor - Factors for consideration

DEFAMATION - Libel - Action therefor - Onus on plaintiff therein

DEFAMATION - Libel - Alleged defamatory statement - Duty of trial Judge to determine whether it refers to plaintiff and whether it conveys defamatory meaning

DEFAMATION - Libel - Alleged defamatory statement - Need for plaintiff to expressly plead

DEFAMATION - Libel - Alleged defamatory statement - Test for determining whether it conveys defamatory meaning

DEFAMATION - Libel - Defamatory publication - Meaning of

DEFAMATION - Libel - Excessive or inflated electricity bill - Whether can be defamatory of the customer

DEFAMATION - Libel - Publication - What amount to in an action for libel - Essence of publication

DEFAMATION - Libel - Publication of defamatory statement - Importance of

DEFAMATION - Libel - Publication of defamatory statement - Plaintiff given his consent to publication - Whether will deny him his right of action

DEFAMATION - Libel - Words complained of - Onus on plaintiff to prove innuendo

DEFAMATORY - Libel - Alleged defamatory statement -  Need to be published - Failure to prove publication - Effect

EVIDENCE - Evaluation of evidence - Evidence erroneously evaluated by trial court - Power of appellate court to review same

EVIDENCE - Evidence at variance with pleaded facts - Effect of

EVIDENCE - Proof - Onus of proof in civil case - On whom lies - Need for plaintiff to succeed on the strength of his case

EVIDENCE - Witnesses - Unchallenged and uncontradicted admissible evidence of - Duty on trial court to accept and act thereon

PLEADINGS - Libel - Alleged defamatory statement - Whether must be expressly pleaded

PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE - Undefended action - Duty of plaintiff therein to prove his case - Whether can be dispensed with

WORDS AND PHRASES - ‘Defamatory publication’ - Meaning of

WORDS AND PHRASES - ‘Defamatory statement’ - Meaning of

Issues:

1.            Whether the plaintiff’s/respondent’s case of defamation was proved having regard to the pleadings, evidence adduced before the court and the law.

2.            Whether the learned trial Judge failed to evaluate the evidence and whether such failure did not affect the decision arrived at, thus occasioning a miscarriage of justice.

3.            Whether assuming the plaintiff/respondent’s case was proved the damages awarded were not arbitrary and excessive having regard to all the circumstances of the case.

Facts:

The respondent as plaintiff at the Calabar High Court sought against the appellant as defendant in that case N200,000 damages for defamation of his character and perpetual injunction. The plaintiff/respondent was a customer of the defendant/appellant. The defendant was supplying electricity to the plaintiff in his house at 13, Inyang Street, Calabar where a meter was installed for that purpose. The meter installed at the premises of the plaintiff had consistently been showing four digits after every reading until November 1993  when it suddenly increased to five digits. Thus, the bill for the month of November, 1993 recorded 71212 instead of 7121; indicating the consumption of 64,243 units of electricity instead of 152 units. Consequently, the sum payable by the plaintiff was inflated to N12,500 instead of N34.00. The plaintiff and his solicitor wrote letters of protest against the inflated bill sent to him.

Inspite of the protest letters, the defendant continued to send bills computed based on the defective figures read and by May 1994 and April 1995  the amounts shown to be due for payment as arrears were N28,982.54k and N24,206.04k respectively. This action was consequently instituted as the plaintiff contended the bills of May, 1994 and April 1995 were scandalous and defamatory of his character portraying him as grossly irresponsible and not fit to command the respect he enjoys in the eyes of right-thinking members of the society.

However, in spite of the service of the writ on the defendant, it either refused or neglected to file a statement of defence to the plaintiff’s claim. At the conclusion of the plaintiff’s case and address of his counsel, the learned trial Judge enter judgment in favour of the plaintiff in terms of his claims.

Dissatisfied with the judgment of the trial court, the defendant as appellant has lodged the instant appeal.