Differences Between Fighting and Self Defense 

Differences Between Fighting and Self Defense 

Differences Between Fighting and Self Defense



There is a thin line dividing fighting and self-defense under the law; the circumstances of each case may determine this. While fighting makes both parties liable under the law, self-defense remains a complete defense, exculpating the accused person from all forms of liability. There lies great difficulty in distinguishing the two concepts. This results from human interactions often leading to a fight or circumstances that may warrant a person to protect himself from imminent danger. This article provides a complete analysis of the differences between fighting and self-defense.


Difference Between Fighting and Self-Defense

According to the Cambridge Dictionary  Fighting means to argue with or use force against another person or a group of people, or to oppose something. For Longman, it means to take part in a war or battle. For Britannica, it means to use weapons or physical force to try to hurt someone, to defeat an enemy, etc. According to Collins English Dictionary Fighting is a battle, struggle, or physical combat. 

Fighting in this context involves a physical attack on a person resulting from a prior argument or misunderstanding. In all fighting, there exists the actus physical act (actus reus) of self-defense. Parties who engage in a fight exhibit some level of resistance and defense of the parties involved.

During fights, parties must have had some level of confrontation that warranted or led to their physical struggle, no matter how slight. An immediate attack on a person where there existed a prior argument in the past would not be classified as fighting but an attack that warrants self-defense by the other. For example, when Mr. Okoro had an argument with Obi, and Mr. Okoro later attacked Obi on a later date without Obi seeing Okoro coming or without notice, Obi’s defense would not be regarded as fighting but self-defense if the attack was immediate and life-threatening.

Fighting is an offense punishable under the Criminal Code Act. Section 83 provides that any person who takes part in a fight in a public place is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for one year. The punishment for adult fighting is more severe than when adults get involved in a fight. much younger people may not face criminal sanctions for fighting because the law takes into consideration the age of the parties. From the definitions above, we could easily deduce that all fighting has elements of self-defense. Let us find out what truly constitutes self-defense under the law.


Self-defense involves employing force or violence to safeguard oneself or another individual from imminent harm. Essentially, it refers to a situation where the person under threat reasonably perceives an immediate risk of imminent death, physical injury, or severe bodily harm.

Section 288 of the Criminal Code Act in Nigeria. provides that In any case in which it is lawful for any person to use force in any degree for the purpose of defending himself against an assault, it is lawful for any other person acting in good faith in his aid to use a like degree of force for the purpose of defending such first‐mentioned person.

Self-defense is a complete defense under the law. It completely exculpates anyone who successfully raises and proves such defense from both criminal and civil liability.

For A Successful plea of self-defense, certain elements must be present.

  1. There must have been Imminent Threats or Danger
  2. The Evidence Must Be Consistent
  3. The Defense must be immediate
  4. The Force Must be proportionate.

Imminent Threats or Danger:  The person making the defense must have been threatened in a way that he or she must have perceived danger likely to claim his life or the life of another. Where a person attacks another with a machete, imminent danger could be inferred from this scenario as the law permits the other to do everything reasonably necessary to defend himself from the person. where death results from such defense this particular element would be of utmost consideration.

The Evidence Must Be Consistent and Compelling: The successful plea of self-defense is dependent on the nature of the evidence available before the court, as was held in the case of EHOT v. THE STATE (1993) LPELR-SC.106/1990. To use self-defense as an argument, the evidence presented must be believable and make sense in the context of the overall evidence presented in court, as stated in SAHEED v. STATE (2018) LPELR-CA/L/808C/2015.

The Defense must be immediate: The defense must be immediate and not in the form of retaliation. In a situation where there is a chain of events that does not occur immediately but breaks at some point, any attack done at that point would not be considered self-defense under the law. For example, if a man was attacked by another with a gun and successfully escaped such a threat, attacking the same man at a later date for what happened previously would not be considered self-defense because the event must occur at the heat of the moment.

The Force Must be proportionate: The person raising the defense must have applied force proportionate to the perceived danger. In a situation where a person is attacked with a broom, it would not be considered self-defense for the other to use a machete to defend himself. However, it may be considered proportionate when a person who is attacked with a machete uses a gun to defend himself.


While self-defense is a complete defense, exculpating those who successfully raise and prove it, the courts should continue to examine critically the available material evidence provided in the case. When relying on the defense of self-defense, we should also bear in mind that death resulting from a fight not categorized under the four elements above would be considered murder, not self-defense.

Differences Between Fighting and Self-Defense.

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