(2021) Legalpedia (CA) 85131
In the Court of Appeal
HOLDEN AT LAGOS
Tuesday, June 29, 2021
Suite Number: CA/L/1440/2017
OBANDE FESTUS OGBUINYA
FATIMA OMORO AKINBAMI
ABDULLAHI MAHMUD BAYERO
OBA SEJORO OLALEKAN JAMES || PRINCE JESUYON ZOKORO
AREA(S) OF LAW
JUDGMENT AND ORDER
PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE
STATUTE OF LIMITATION
SUMMARY OF FACTS
There has been a long-standing dispute over the Aholu of Kweme Chieftaincy in Badagry Local Government of Lagos State. The disputation is between the Appellants, who are members of Anagbo ruling house, and the 1st – 5th Respondents of Akanmaghogbe and Agonkome ruling houses in Kweme Kingdom. The Lagos State Government referred the dispute to the Standing Tribunal of Inquiry (the tribunal) into Chieftaincy Matters. The contending parties submitted memoranda. The tribunal and the Review Panel (the panel), in their reports, ruled in favour of the Appellants. The 1st Appellant was nominated, selected and presented to the 6th Respondent for appointment as the Aholu of Kweme. On 25th May, 2007, the 6th Respondent recognised the 1st Appellant as the Aholu of Kweme. The 1st – 5th Respondents confronted the recognition with a stiff disagreement. Sequel to these, the 1st – 5th Respondents beseeched the High Court of Lagos State, via a writ of summons, and tabled some declaratory, executory and injunctive reliefs against the Appellants and the 6th – 8th Respondents. In reaction, the Appellants joined issue with the 1st – 5th Respondents and denied liability to the claim by filing a defence. Subsequently, on 15th May, 2017, the Appellants filed a preliminary objection on the ground that the suit was statute-barred, grossly incompetent and the lower court lacked the jurisdiction to hear the matter. The preliminary objection was duly, heard by the lower court. In a considered ruling, the lower court dismissed the preliminary objection. The Appellants being dissatisfied with the decision have filed a Notice of Appeal to the court praying for an order allowing the Appeal by setting aside in its entirety the Ruling of the trial court; and an order of this Honourable Court striking out and or dismissing the Claimants/Respondents’ suit in its entirety.
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ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION
Whether 1st, 2nd & 3rd Defendants/ Respondents are Public Officers that renders section 2 (a) Public Officers Protection Act applicable to this suit so as to make the suit liable for dismissal for being statute-barred. Whether the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th & 5th as Claimants/Respondents’ suit is not statute-barred depriving the lower court of jurisdiction to entertain same having been filed more than three years after the act complained of contrary to the mandatory statutorily stipulated three (3) months period; by virtue of section 2 (a) Public Officers Protection Act
CAUSE OF ACTION – WHEN IS A CAUSE OF ACTION STATUTE BARRED?
“By way of prefatory observations, where a statute prescribes a time-bar within which an action should be commenced, such legislation bears the name of limitation law. If an aggrieved person exhibits tardiness by suing his wrong doer outside the statutorily allowed time-frame, his action is usually declared as statute-barred. Thus, a cause of action is statute-barred when no proceedings can be brought to enforce it because the period laid down by the limitation law has expired by effluxion of time, see Egbe v. Adefarasin(No. 2) (1987) 1 NWLR (Pt. 47) 47; Nasir v. C.S.C., Kano State (2007) 5 NWLR (Pt. 1190) 253;CotecnaInt’ Ltd. v. Churchgate (Nig.) Ltd. (2010) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1225) 346; A-G., Adamawa State v. A-G., Fed. (2014) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1428) 515; Mulima v. Usman (2014) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1432) 160; Ibrahim v. Lawal (2015) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1489); N.R.M.A & F.C. v. Johnson (2019) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1656) 247; Daniel v. Ayala (2019) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1703) 25”.
PLEA OF LIMITATION LAW – EFFECT OF A SUCCESSFUL PLEA OF LIMITATION LAW
“It is a trite elementary law that an issue of limitation law falls, squarely, within the wide four walls of substantive jurisdiction of a court. In the eyes of the law, a successful plea of limitation law, as a shield in a case, by an opposing party occasions two harmful effects against a claimant’s action. Firstly, he becomes a destitute of the right of action and judicial relief. In a word, it extinguishes his cause of action, see Egbe v. Adefarasin (No.2) (supra); Nasir v. C.S.C., Kano State (supra); Abubakar v. Nasamu (No. 1) (2002) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1330) 407; INEC v. Ogbadibo LG. (2016) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1498) 167; Buremoh v. Akande (2017) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1563) 74; Okafor v. B.D.U., Jos Branch (2017) 5 NWLR (Pt. 1559) 385. Secondly, the court ceases to be crowned with the requisite jurisdiction to entertain his action, see Owners of the MV “Arebella” v. NAIC (2008)10 NWLR (Pt. 1097) 182; Olagunju v. PHCN Plc. (supra); JE.C. Inv. Ltd. v. Brawal Line Ltd. (2010) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1225) 495; INEC v. Enasito (2018) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1602) 63; Toyin v. Musa (2019) 9 NWLR (Pt.1676) 22”.
CAUSE OF ACTION – WHETHER THE LAW, WHICH SUPPORTS A CAUSE OF ACTION, CO-EXIST WITH THAT WHICH CONFERS JURISDICTION ON A COURT, WHICH ENTERTAINS THE SUIT FOUNDED ON THAT CAUSE OF ACTION
“Admirably, the case-law, in its infinite wisdom, has created a wide dichotomy/gulf between the laws applicable to both situations/circumstances, id est, cause of action and jurisdiction of court. In Ada v. NYSC (2004) 13 NWLR (Pt. 891) 639 at 647-648, Uwaifo, JSC, drew the yawning gap between them in these eloquent and illuminating words: The appellant appears to me to have misconceived the essence of a court’s jurisdiction. It ought to be understood that the law which supports a cause of action is not necessarily co-existensive with the law which confers jurisdiction on the court which entertains the suit founded on that cause of action. The relevant law applicable in respect of a cause of action is the law in force at the time the cause of action arose whereas the jurisdiction of the court to entertain an action is determined upon the state of the law conferring jurisdiction at the point in time the action was instituted and heard.… Thus when a court is denied jurisdiction at a time the cause of action arose, it cannot assume jurisdiction when action is instituted later in respect of the subject-matter even if its jurisdiction to similar matters is then restored.… Similarly, when a court had jurisdiction over a subject-matter at a time of the cause of action but loses jurisdiction at the time actions is instituted, it cannot entertain such action. This magisterial pronouncement has remained the inelastic position of the law on the point in that it has been re-echoed, by the Supreme Court, in a galaxy of ex-cathedra authorities, see Utih v. Onuyivwe (1991) 1 SCNJ 25; Aremo II v. Adekanye (2004) 13 NWLR (Pt. 891) 572; Okonkwo v. Okonkwo (2004) 5 NWLR (Pt. 865) 87; Olutola v. Unilorin (2004) 18 NWLR (Pt. 905) 46; C.G.G. (Nig.) Ltd. v. Ogu (2005) 8 NWLR (Pt. 927) 366; Olaniyi v. Aroyehun (1991) 5 NWLR (Pt.194) 652; Owata v. Anigor (1993) 2 SCNJ1/(1993) 3 NWLR (Pt. 276) 380; Rossek v. ACB Ltd. (1993) 18 NWLR (Pt. 312) 387; SPDC (Nig. Ltd. v. Tiebo VII (2005) 9 NWLR (Pt. 931) 439; NURTW v. RTEAN (2012) 10 NWLR (1307) 170; Onuekwusi v. RT CMZC (2011) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1243) 341; PDP v. INEC (2012) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1300) 538; Olaleye-Ote v. Babalola (2012) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1297) 574; L.S.B.P.C v. Purification Tech. (Nig.) Ltd. (supra); Nwora v. Nwabueze (2013) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1379) 1; Sun Ins. (Nig.) Plc v. U.E.C.C. Ltd. (2015) 11 NWLR (Pt. 1471) 576; SPDCN Ltd. v. Anaro (2015) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1472) 122; Essi v. Nigeria Ports Plc. (2018) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1604) 361; N.R.M.A & F.C. v. Johnson (2019) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1656) 247; Gusau v. APC (2019) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1670) 183; Nwora v. Nwabueze (2019) 7 NWLR (Pt.1670) 1; Zubair v. Kolawole (2019) 11 NWLR (Pt.1682) 66; N.C.C. v. Motophone Ltd. (2019) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1691) 1”.
APPLICABILITY OF THE STATUTE OF LIMITATION – WHETHER THE STATUTE OF LIMITATION OFFERS PROTECTION TO PUBLIC OFFICERS IN THE SERVICE OF A STATE
“Indubitably, statute of limitation applies to chieftaincy matters, see Okere v. Amadi (2005) 14 NWLR (Pt. 945) 546; Ibrahim v. Lawal (supra). In other words, chieftaincy action, like the one in hand, is submissive to limitation law. However, the scary and dreaded POPA, which is a classic exemplification of a statute of limitation, enacted/deemed enacted by the bicameral National Assembly, does not apply to state public officers. Recently, this view point has received the blessing of the Supreme Court in CIL Risk & Asset Management Ltd. v. Ekiti State Government (2020) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1738) 203 at 243 and 244 where Eko, JSC, incisively declared: The respondents appear to me to have taken shelter under section 2(a) of the Public Officers Protection Act, Cap. P41 2004, LFN (up dated up to the 31st day of December, 2010). This Act enacted pursuant to Item 53 of the Exclusive Legislative List and section 4(2) & (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, applies only to protect public officers in the “public service of the Federation”. It has no general application such as to apply or offer protection to public officers in the service of Ekiti State or any other State in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
CAUSE OF ACTION – WHEN DOES A CAUSE OF ACTION BEGIN TO RUN?
“For the purposes of limitation statutes, a cause of action begins to run when a party becomes aware of an erosion of his right and there exists a person to be sued (the violator) to protect the encroached right, see Woherem v. Emenuwa (supra);Owie v. Ighiwie (2005) 5 NWLR (Pt. 917) 184; UBN Plc v. Umeoduagu (2004) 13 NWLR (Pt. 890) 352; Okafor v. B.D.U., Jos Branch (2017) 5 NWLR (Pt. 1559) 385; Asaboro v. Pan Ocean Oil Corp. (Nig.) Ltd. (2017) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1563) 42; Zubair v. Kolawole (2019) 11 NWLR (Pt. 1682) 66”.
REPEALED LEGISLATION – STATUS OF A REPEALED LEGISLATION
“A repealed legislation ceases to have life of its own and becomes defunct save for matters or transactions past and closed, see Olafisoye v. FRN (2004) 4 NWLR (Pt. 864) 580; Ugwu v. Ararume (2007) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1048) 367; Ayida v. Town Planning Authority (2013) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1362) 226; Abubakar v. B.O. & A.P Ltd. (2007) 147 LRCN 109/(2007) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1066) 319; Jumbo United Co. Ltd. v. Leadways Ass. Co. Ltd. (2016) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1536) 439”.
ACADEMIC SUIT – ATTITUDE OF COURTS TO ACADEMIC SUIT
“In Plateau State v. A-G., Fed (2006) 3 NWLR (Pt. 967) 346 at 419, Tobi, JSC, incisively, explained the term, thus: A suit is academic where it is merely theoretical, makes empty sound, and of no practical utilitarian value to the plaintiff even if judgment is given in his favour. A suit is academic if it is not related to practical situation of human nature and humanity. It is settled law, beyond any peradventure of doubt, that a court is divested of the necessary jurisdiction to adjudicate over academic disputes. This is so even if their determination will enrich the jurisprudential content of the law. Such academic questions are divorced from live issues which engage the adjudicative attention of the courts, see A.-G., Anambra State v. A.-G., Fed. (2005) 9 NWLR (Pt. 931) 572; Ugba v. Suswan (2014) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1427) 264; Salik v. Idris (2014) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1429) 36; FRN v. Borishade (2015) 5 NWLR (Pt. 1451) 155; Danladi v. T.S.H.A. (2015) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1442) 103; FRN v. Dairo (2015) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1452) 141; Daniel v. INEC (2015) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1463) 113; Odedo v. Oguebego (2015) 13 NWLR (Pt. 1476) 229; Dickson v. Sylva (2017) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1573) 299; Olowu v. Building Stock Ltd. (2018) 1 NWLR (Pt. 1601) 343; Anyanwu v PDP (2020) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1710) 134.
ACADEMIC ISSUES – WHETHER COURTS HAVE JURISDICTION TO ADJUDICATE ON ACADEMIC ISSUES
“It is an elementary law that courts are not clothed with the jurisdiction to adjudicate over academic issues”.
STATUTES REFERRED TO
Public Officers (Protection) Law, Cap P26, Laws of Lagos State, 2003|Law Reform (Torts) Law, Cap. L82, Laws of Lagos State, 2015|
Martins O. Oyigbo, Esq. for the appellants.|Lawal Pedro, SAN. (with him, O. A. Adekunle , Esq.) for the first – fifth respondents.|O.O. Okpe, Esq. for the sixth – eighth respondents.|
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