You have the right to comment freely on matters of public interest in Nigeria

Din v. African Newspapers Ltd [1990] 3 NWLR (Pt. 139) 392 at 408-409 paras. H-A, per Karibi-Whyte, J.S.C:

“The right to comment freely on matters of public interest is one of the fundamental rights of free speech guaranteed to the individual in our Constitution. It is so dear to the Nigerian and of vital importance and relevance to to the rule of law which we so dearly treasure for our personal freedom. It is conceded that the right to discuss matters of public concern does not confer liberty to make defamatory statements; however honestly made.”

Blogger’s Note:

Full Judgment is available here.
 
The above position further goes to preserve the fundamental right of freedom of speech constitutionally guaranteed. In this era of social media presenting people with the platform to comment on various matters of public interest to the notification and knowledge of many, the pronouncement of the Supreme Court becomes even more relevant. However, in exercising this qualified freedom of expression, one must bear in mind the last sentence which appears in the above statement of the law, to wit, ‘…the right to discuss matters of public concern does not confer liberty to make defamatory statements; however honestly made.’ Defamatory statements are statements capable of lowering a person in the estimation of right-thinking persons in the society; ridiculing a person’s personality or discrediting him. See the case of Ekong v. Otop [2014] 11 NWLR (Pt. 1419) 549 SC.

Decision of a Chief Judge refusing to transfer a case is not appealable to the Court of Appeal

Tijani v. FBN Plc [2016] 12 NWLR (Pt. 1525) 83 at 103-104, per Oseji, JCA:


“It follows therefore that any exercise of the right of appeal as guaranteed by the Constitution must emanate or be identifiable with the decision of a court or tribunal and such must be within the definition of section 318 of the Constitution… It seems to me therefore that a letter written by a Chief Judge from the comfort of his office refusing a request by a party to a suit for the transfer of the suit from one court to another and which request was also through a letter by that party cannot fall within the category of the decision of a court as contemplated by the Constitution. It will therefore be naive to accept that a party to a suit before a trial court can appeal against an administrative act done by the Chief Judge and not while presiding over the matter in court…”


The Chief Judge does not owe a party a duty to hear him prior to the order of transfer. See Aliyu v. Ibrahim [1992] 7 NWLR (Pt. 253) 361 at 373 cited in Tijani v. FBN Plc [2016] 12 NWLR (Pt. 1525) 83 at 103 paras. F-G.

Blogger’s Note:

While it is acceptable that an administrative decision of a Chief Judge as in the above case cannot be appealable to the Court of Appeal, how will a party ventilate his grievance against such decision where same is reasonably overreaching? Firstly, the main reason for the request for transfer of the case may form a valid ground of appeal if ignored. For instance, if a party believes that the presiding Judge was being a judge in his own cause, then there is a breach of fundamental right to fair hearing. In some other cases, a report, if absolutely necessary, may be made to the National Judicial Council for appropriate action.

You cannot challenge the jurisdiction of court with a letter

Usani v. Duke [2006] 17 NWLR (Pt. 1009) 610 at 654 paras. A-B, per Ngwuta, JCA (as he then was):


“The letter of 6/5/05 on the conduct of a member of the Tribunal and the bailiff attached thereto does not amount to a challenge to the jurisdiction of the Tribunal. It may well raise the issue of bias but it clearly does not challenge the jurisdiction of the court…”

Blogger’s Note:

You can read the full Judgment here.
The principle is that an issue of jurisdiction can be raised at any time (even for the first time on appeal), by any means including orally. See, Petrojessica Enterprises Ltd. v. Leventis Technical Co. Ltd. (1992) 5 NWLR (Pt.244) 675 at 693, per, Belgore JSC.

In the above case, the Appellant wrote a letter addressed to the President of the Court of Appeal protesting the conduct of a member of the Election Tribunal and the bailiff attached to the Tribunal. The Court rightly held that the letter cannot be held to have validly challenged the jurisdiction of the Tribunal. It is not for the President of the Court of Appeal to decide the issue of jurisdiction. The law is that a court or tribunal seized of a matter has the jurisdiction to decide whether it has jurisdiction. See Obiuweubi v. CBN [2011] 7 NWLR (Pt. 1247) 465 at 509, para E, per Adekeye JSC. The Supreme Court in this case further held that “jurisdiction cannot be assumed in the interest of justice”.

 

Sin of counsel can be visited on litigant.

Lasaco Assurance Plc v. Deserve Savings & Loans Ltd. [2012] 2 NWLR (Pt. 1283) 95 at 116, paras. E-G, per Pemu, JCA:


“In Onyemelukwe v. W.A.C.C. Ltd. (1995) 4 NWLR (Pt. 387) page 44 at 49 ratio 9, it was held that where grave injustice will be done to the adverse party or where the mistake of counsel affects the court’s jurisdiction, the mistake of counsel cannot assist the party whose counsel has committed the mistake.
 

See also Erinfolabi v. Oke [1995] 5 NWLR (Pt. 395) 296 at 302-303, paras. A-B, where the court stated that the “rule that the court will not normally prosecute a litigant for the mistake or negligence of his counsel is not a “universal talisman”, the waiver of which will act as a panacea in all cases. Before the court accepts it, it must be satisfied not only that the allegation of fault of counsel is true and genuine, but also that it is availing, having regard to the circumstances of the particular case.”

Blogger’s Note:

In the above case, Counsel to the Appellant was found to be grossly negligent and tardy in the prosecution of the Appellant’s case at the trial Court. The Court of Appeal was compelled to do justice in the matter by ensuring that the Respondent reaps the fruits of his Judgment.
The Court of Appeal, per Pemu, JCA, at p. 117, paras. G-H, further stated the principle that “abuse of court process can obtain in situations where even counsel is tardy in the prosecution of his case. You do not expect the court to wait at your beck and call. You do not just dump any application on the court and withdraw same at will. You do not inundate the court with spurious applications. All these too, in my view, constitute an abuse of the process of court as it is harassing to it.”
This case further necessitates the advice to litigants to properly monitor the progress of their cases in court.

 

It is unethical for counsel to appear in court without the relevant case file


 

 

Madu v. Okeke [1998] 5 NWLR (Pt. 548) 159 at 164 per Tobi, JCA (as he then was and now of blessed memory):

 

“…it is like a carpenter going to his workshop without the relevant wood. As the carpenter cannot carry out his function of carpentry, so also will the advocate not be able to carry out his function of advocacy. That is bad, very bad indeed.”

Blogger’s Note:

Where a counsel realises that for any reason he is not in court with the relevant case file, he may possibly reach a prior agreement with the other counsel to have the matter stood down to enable him get the file or make copies of relevant processes in the possession of the opposing counsel.
Be that as it may, failure to come to court with the relevant case file does not present counsel involved in good light.

Oral evidence of the description of the situation of a land in dispute may serve as sufficient proof of identity

Atanda v. Iliasu [2013] 6 NWLR (Pt. 1351) 529 at 555, paras. E-F, per Ogunbiyi, JSC:


“It is also significant and trite to state herewith that oral evidence of the description of the situation of a land in dispute will serve as sufficient proof of identity and which will dispense with the need to tender a site plan. This is especially where the court have visited the locus in quo.”

Blogger’s Note:

Indeed, where the court has visited the locus in quo (that is, the main place, being the subject matter of dispute), the court would be comfortable with such oral evidence as the visit is taken to help the court with the issue of identity.

The signature of a legal practitioner must not be on the roll

Adeneye v. Yaro [2013] 3 NWLR (Pt. 1342) 625 at 632, para. H, per Jauro, JCA:


“By a combined effect of the aforementioned (sections 2(1) and 24) of the Legal Practitioners Act, it is clear that the person who is entitled to practice as a legal practitioner must have had his name on the roll. It does not say that his signature must be on the roll but his name”.

Blogger’s Note:

The above position is supported. By the Act, what is important is the name of the legal practitioner and not on his signature.

 

Requirement where a counsel is signing for and on behalf of another

Adeneye v. Yaro [2013] 3 NWLR (Pt. 1342) 625 at 633, paras. B-C, per Jauro, JCA:

“The proper thing to do where a counsel is signing a process for and on behalf of another, the counsel signing must indicate his name, immediately below the signature. By indicating the name on the process, it establishes that the signatory is a legal practitioner whose name is on roll of practitioners and reduces the chances of abuse whereby clerks, messengers or watchmen signing processes on behalf of their principals”.

Blogger’s Note:

See also the Supreme Court case of F.B.N. v. Maiwada [2013] 5 NWLR (Pt. 1348) 444.


On whether Court of Appeal can deliver judgment and adjourn for reasons in a governorship election matter

C.P.C. v. Yuguda [2013] 7 NWLR (Pt. 1354) 450 at 460, paras. F-G, per Peter-Odili, JSC:

 


“…it is not for the Court of Appeal to deliver a judgment so called and adjourn for reasons, since it is not the final destination in an appeal over the Governorship disputed election nor can such a reason be made available beyond the 60 days within which the Court of Appeal can hear and dispose of the appeals from the trial tribunal.”

Blogger’s Note:

The facts of the above case is interesting. Judgment was delivered by the Tribunal. The Appellants appealed to the Court of Appeal which affirmed the Judgment of the Tribunal and dismissed the appeal. The Court of Appeal did not only fail to deliver its Judgment within the required 60 days, it also failed to give reasons for its Judgment, reserving same for a later date. Aggrieved, the Appellant appealed to the Supreme Court urging the apex Court to invoke section 22 of the Supreme Court Act to rehear the appeal and enter Judgment in its favour. The Respondents filed a  preliminary objection against the appeal on the ground that there was no valid Judgment that could lead to a valid appeal. The Supreme Court sustained the objection and struck out the appeal.
The above case presents us with a classic example where the conduct of the Court of Appeal in relation to the case brought serious hardship upon the Appellants.

 

It is abomination to kill innocent people in God’s name

Ezeugo v. State [2013] 9 NWLR (Pt. 1360) 508 at 588 paras. D-F, per Saulawa, JCA:

“Paradoxically, the current reign of terror unleashed by the notorious Boko Haram insurgents upon the hapless people (most especially in the Northern part of this country) in God’s name, is antithetic to the well cherished Islamic teachings and values…”

Blogger’s Note:

For the Judgment of the Supreme Court on this case, click here.