In Odiba v. Azege (1998) LPELR-4465 (SC), the Supreme Court opined on the purposes of damages and when to award exemplary or punitive damages: “…The primary object of an award of damages is to compensate the plaintiff for the harm done to him or a possible secondary object is to punish the defendant for his conduct in inflicting that harm. Such a secondary object can be achieved by awarding, in addition to the normal compensatory damages, damages which go by various names to wit: exemplary damages, punitive damages, vindictive damages, even retributory damages and comes into play whenever the defendant’s conduct is sufficiently outrageous to merit punishment as where it discloses malice, fraud, cruelty, insolence, flagrant disregard of the law and the like. [See 15, B-F] Exemplary damages, in particular, also known as punitive or vindictive damages can apply only where the conduct of the defendant merits punishment…But exemplary damages, to some extent, are distinct from aggravated damages whereby the motive and conduct of the defendant aggravating the injury to the plaintiff would be taken into consideration in the assessment of compensatory damages…Accordingly, aggravated damages in this type of case can do most, if not all of the work that could be done by exemplary damages…” [See 25-26, D-B]
Exemplary damages are awarded with the object of punishing the defendant for his conduct in inflicting injury on the plaintiff. They can be made in addition to normal compensatory damages and should be made only: a) In a case of oppressive, arbitrary or unconstitutional acts by government, servants; b) Where the defendant’s conduct had been calculated by him to make a profit for himself, which might well exceed the compensation payable to the plaintiff, and c) Where expressly authorized by statute – CBN Vs Okojie (2015) 14 NWLR (part 1479) 231 at 242 243. See also Lagos State v Ojukwu (1986) 1 NWLR (part 18) 621 and Alele Williams Vs. Sagay (1995) 5 NWLR (part 396) 441. For exemplary damages to be awarded, it need not be specifically claimed, but facts to justify it must be pleaded and proved. Thus, once facts in the pleadings support the award of exemplary damages, the Court should award it since the adverse party is in no way taken by surprise.
— T.Y. Hassan, JCA. EMTS Ltd. (Etisalat) v. Godfrey Nya Eneye (2018) – CA/A/724/2014