This article seeks to X-ray the concept of locus standi otherwise known as the legal capacity to sue. the settled principle adopted by Nigerian courts and courts in England.
Locus standi literally denotes the place of standing while it technically denotes to mean the legal capacity to sue or to institute an action in a court of law. Locus standi being a legal concept recognised to be the right of a party to litigate was given a comprehensive judicial exposition by the supreme Court in the case of Owodunni Vs Reg. Trustees of CCC(2000)10 NWLR (Pt.675)315. S.C. where the court posited thus:
“locus standi is the legal capacity one has to institute an action in a court of law, standing to sue is not dependent on the merit or success of a case but a condition precedent to the determination on the merit.”
It therefore points to the fact that, standing to sue is quite different from succeeding in a case, in which case standing to sue is a prerequisite condition to the success of a case.
Suffice therefore to say that a person whose rights, interest or civil obligation is a stake is technically conferred with the locus standi to seek remedy in court.
In spite of the above appreciation of this concept (locus standi), the Nigerian courts had however in some instances deliberately deviated from this doctrine thereby leaving a prospective litigant helpless and hopeless in swift contrast to the court of Appeal’s decision in Zakari Vs Alhassan (2003)LPELR. Where his lordship Acholonu JCA reiterated the power of the court to protect the rights of a common man thus;
“in a democratic society like ours, where the rule of law prevails, the court is the last hope of a common man.”
Flowing from the above, it is discernible that the court is meant to protect the inalienable rights of the people devoid of bias, societal influence and even technicalities as demonstrated by the Supreme Court in the case of A.G Enugu Vs Avop PLC (2007) NWLR(Pt.664) 260. wherein the emeritus Tobi in his oft- quoted dictum made the logical analysis thus:
“counsel use technicalities to outsmart their adversaries, it should be borne in mind that the legal profession is not merely made where the system is that of bread and butter but a highly conservative principle. Although, it is the technicalities of the legal profession that makes it what it is, justice is the soul of litigations.”
The above postulate underscores the fact that the soul of litigations is substantial justice, no more, no less, as against the backdrops of trivialities and artificially conceptualized perception.
Down the line of this doctrine, courts had given divergent approaches to the principle of locus standi particularly in respect of political related matters, where the court remain static and neutral without any reasonable fair-play and flexibility having regards to the nation’s impending political fate. The case of Jummai Alhassan & ors Vs Mr Darius Dickson Ishaku & ors .S.C 46/2016; is instructive.
In another quarter, the supreme Court had in the interest of justice and sheer exhibition of sense of maturity broadened the concept of locus standi in the celebrated case of Fawehinmi Vs Akilu (19987) 4 NWLR (Pt 67797. Wherein their Lordships reasoned thus:
“a private person has standing to prefer and prosecute a person before the High court. “
Conversely, the supreme Court adopted one of the most indistinct, nebulous and vague approach to the principle of locus standi wherein virtually all the justices expressed their dissenting opinions in the celebrated case of Adesanya Vs The President (1981)2 NCCLR. It therefore, couldn’t gave clear- cut principle, so to say.
Until very recently that the Nigerian supreme Court somewhat infuses some level of flexibility and fair-play to accommodate and preserve the right of a common man where his pecuniary interest is a stake by broadening the concept of locus standi In the case of Re- Abdullahi (2018) 14 NWLR (pt.639)272. where the application for the substitution of the appellant with his wife and son was granted by the supreme Court on the ground that the appellant passed away while the appeal was pending, hence confers his rights and interest on his survivors.
to this end, the supreme Court was liberal and equitable enough to consider the overriding interest of the parties in conformity with the decision of the supreme Court in the case of Mogaji Vs odofin (1975) LRLR VOl. 1. page 122; where the court equitably posited thus:
“courts should always conform with the established standards of balance and fairness.”
ATTITUDE OF COURTS TO THE PRINCIPLE OF LOCUS STANDI IN ENGLAND
In most jurisdictions, particularly England there is always a distinction between private law cases and public law cases. In private law cases the court looks at the cause of action to see if the plaintiff has locus standi while in public law cases, the test is the existence of sufficient interest. sufficient interest is normally given a broad and liberal interpretation. sufficient interest can be discerned in the English case of R Vs Felixtowe j.j Exparte Leigh. Q.B 583(1987). Where a journalist sought a declaration that the policy adopted by the chair of the justices of not revealing the names of the sitting magistrates for security reasons was unlawful.
In the same vein, the court in R Vs Inspectorate pollution Exparte world movement Ltd (1994) 4 All ER 328. The court allowed Greenpeace ( an organization) to challenge British nuclear fuel’s decision to test its new thermal oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield, Cumbria, in doing so, the court place reliance on the fact that Greenpeace was a highly respected and responsible environmental organization which could mount more focused challenge than an individual .
Also, in R Vs foreign Secretary Exparte world movement Ltd , WLR 386 (1995). A pressure group challenged the decision of the secretary of state for foreign and Commonwealth affairs to grant overseas aid for the purpose of constructing a hydro electric power station in Malaysia.
Likewise in R Vs secretary of state for foreign and Commonwealth affairs Exparte Rees mogg Q.B 552 1994.
Where it was held that a citizen because of his sincere concern for constitutional issues challenged the ratification of a treaty. All these decisions came to court by way of judicial review. summarily, the implication of these cases pointed to the fact that any individual including NGOs that is able to establish a sufficient interest should be allowed to challenge the validity of an act. By extension, under the Gambian legal system a citizen has the locus standi to go to court to challenge an unconditional act. That was the decision of the Gambian supreme Court in the recent case of ” united democratic party. ”
Also, in Ghana, any citizen has the locus standi to bring an action for a declaration of an act unconstitutional. This was the decision of the court in Tuffuor Vs. A.G (1980)GLR where the court reasoned thus:
“one doesn’t have to show how the act affects him personally, once it involves violation of a constitutional provision , any person or organization can challenge the act.”
By conclusion, it can be discerned that some jurisdictions like England, Gambia and Ghana have a more liberal, flexible and equitable approaches to the principle of locus standi in the interest of substantial justice as opposed to the practice and understanding of the concept in Niger Nigeria.
It is therefore suggested that locus standi should be accorded broader, flexible and more accommodating approach in order to preserve, protect and restore the lost hopes of prospective litigants.
Rilwan Saidu Salihu, A law student from BUK, Kano.