SKYFIELD PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT LTD VS MRS. MERCY IFEANYI NWACHUKWU
suit no: CCA/L/1224/2015
Legalpedia Electronic Citation: (2021) Legalpedia (CA) 65111
Areas Of Law:
Constitutional Law, Court, Fundamental Right, Judgment And Order, Jurisdiction, Law Of Evidence, Practice And Procedure, Words And Phrases.
Summary Of Facts:
The Respondent, a businesswoman, took possession and occupation of the Appellant’s shop No. 168, at an annual rent of N320, 000.00. She paid the one-year rent to Skyfield Savings & Loans Limited – a parent/holding company of the Appellant. She carried on supermarket business thereon. On 20th September, 2012, the Appellant locked up the premises for no just cause.
The Respondent challenged the Appellant’s act in the Magistrate’s Court of Lagos State, which gave judgment in her favour.
The Appellant did not obey the orders of the Magistrate’s Court; rather its officers broke into the premises and carted away her goods therein.
The Appellant proceeded to write a petition to the Commissioner of Police, Special Fraud Unit, Lagos wherein it alleged that the Respondent forged the deposit slip, which was used to pay for the rent.
The police, on the strength of the petition, arrested and detained the Respondent for ten (10) days under degrading circumstances. After her release, she was being hunted for with further threats to arrest and detain her indefinitely.
The Respondent viewed the petition as one made in bad faith. Sequel to these, the Respondent beseeched the Federal High Court, via an originating summons filed seeking some reliefs against the Appellant and other Respondents, jointly and severally. In reaction, the Appellant joined issue with the Respondent and denied liability by filing a counter-affidavit and preliminary objection. Both were accompanied by written addresses.
The Appellant’s co-Respondents filed processes too.
The Respondent filed rejoinder to the Appellant’s processes.
The suit was duly heard by the lower court. In a considered judgment, the lower court dismissed the Appellant’s preliminary objection and granted the Respondent’s claim, wherein it claimed a declaration that the trial Court lacks the Jurisdiction to hear and determine the Application in respect of which the Judgment appealed against was given and an order setting aside the Judgment of the court, directing the Appellant to pay a cost of N3,500,000.00 (Three Million, Five Hundred Thousand Naira) in connection with the validity of teller No. 0398960.
ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION
Ø Whether the trial court was right to have assumed jurisdiction to hear and determine a fundamental right enforcement issue flowing from a subject matter outside the provision of section 251 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
Ø Whether the trial court was right when it held that the Appellant acted in bad faith, by reporting a case of forgery to the Police.
“The law compels the courts to accord premier attention to issue of jurisdiction, which is numero uno in adjudication, when raised in any proceedings, see Okwu v. Umeh (2016) NWLR (Pt. 1501) 120; Brittania-U (Nig.) Ltd. v. Seplat Pet. Co. Dev. Ltd. (2016) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1503) 541; Oni v. Cadbury Nig. Plc. (2016) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1516) 80; Diamond Bank Ltd. v. Ugochukwu (2016) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1517) 193; PDP v. Umeh (2017) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1579); APC v. Ndual (2018) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1602) 1; Adama v. Maigari (2019) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1658) 26; APC v. Lere (2020) 1 NWLR (Pt. 1705) 254. I will obey this legal commandment so as not to insult the law”.
“Jurisdiction, a mantra in adjudication, connotes the authority/power of a court to determine a dispute submitted to it by contending parties in any proceeding, see Ajamole v. Yaduat (No. 1) (1991) 5 SCNJ 172; Mobil Pro. Co. Untltd. v. LASEPA (2002) 18 NWLR (Pt. 798) 1; Ndaeyo v. Ogunnaya (1977) 1 IM SLR 300; Ebhodagbe v. Okoye (2004) 18 NWLR (Pt. 905) 472; Garba v. Mohammed (2016) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1537) 144; A.-G., Kwara State v. Adeyemo (2017)1 NWLR (Pt. 1546) 210; Isah v. INEC (2016) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1544) 175; Angadi v. PDP (2018) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1641) 1; Nduul v. Wayo (2018) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1646) 548”.
“A court of law is invested with jurisdiction to hear a matter when: “1. it is properly constituted as regards numbers and qualifications of members of the bench, and no member is disqualified for one reason or another; and 2. the subject matter of the case is within its jurisdiction, and there is no feature in the case which prevents the court from exercising its jurisdiction; and 3. the case comes before the court initiated by due process of law, and upon fulfillment of any condition precedent to the exercise of jurisdiction”, see Modukolu v. Nkemdilim (2006) 2 LC 2081961) NSCC (vol. 2) 374 at 379, per Bairamian F. J., Tukur v. Taraba State (1997) 6 SCNJ 81; Daro v. UBN (2007) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1029) 164; Okereke v. Yar’Adua (2008) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1100); Saraki v. FRN (2016) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1500) 531; Oni v. Cadbury Nig. Plc. (2016) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1516) 80; Diamond Bank Ltd. v. Ugochukwu (2016) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1517) 193; Okpe v. Fan Milk Plc. (2017) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1549) 282; Bello v. Damisa (2017) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1550) 455; Osi v. Accord Party (2017) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1553) 387; Nworka v. Ononeze-Madu (2019) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1672) 422; Adeleke v. Oyetola (2020) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1721) 440. The three ingredients must co-exist in order to infuse jurisdiction into a court”.
“Where a court is drained of the jurisdiction to entertain a matter, the proceeding germinating from it, no matter the quantum of diligence, dexterity, artistry, sophistry, transparency and objectivity injected into it, will be trapped in the intractable web of nullity, see Elugbe v. Omokhafe (2004) 18 NWLR (Pt. 905) 319; Lokpobiri v. Ogola (2016) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1499) 328; Garba v. Mohammed (supra); Isah v. INEC (supra).
“Interestingly, the case-law has endorsed, in toto, a statement of claim as the major barometer to be used by the court to measure the presence or absence of its jurisdiction, see Akine v. Edjerode (2001) 18 NWLR (Pt. 745) 446; A.D.H. Ltd. v. A.T. Ltd. (2006) NWLR (Pt. 989) 635; Oni v. Cadbury (2016) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1516) 80; Ladoja v. Ajimobi (2016) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1519) 87; B.B. Apugo & Sons Ltd. v. O.H.M.B. (2016) 13 NWLR (Pt. 1529) 206; Yar’adua v. Yandoma (2015) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1466) 213; Akpamgbo-Okadigbo v. Chidi (No. 2) (2015) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1466) 124; Isah v. INEC (supra); Lau v. PDP (supra); Azubuogu v. Oranezi (supra); Agi v. PDP (2017) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1595) 386; A.-G, Fed. v. A.-G., Anambra State (2018) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1615) 314; Roe Ltd. v. UNN (2018) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1616) 420; F.U.T., Minna v. Olutayo (2018) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1617) 176; A.-G., Lagos State v. Eko Hotels (2018) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1619) 518.
‘Nota bene, in an action commenced by dint of an application or originating summons, as in the case in hand, the affidavit in support serves as the statement of claim, see Ahmed v. Ahmed (2013) 12 SCM (Pt. 2) 55; Elelu-Habeeb v. A.-G., Fed. (2012) 3 SCM 74; Akande v. Adisa Arowolo v. Olowookere (2011) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1278) 280; Bakare v. Ajose-Adeogun (2014) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1403) 320; Uwazuruonye v. Gov., Imo State (2013) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1355) 28; PDP v. Ezeonwuka (2018) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1606) 187; Lau v. PDP (2018) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1608) 60; Owuru v. Adigwu (2018) 1 NWLR (Pt. 1599) 1; CBN v. Aribo (2018) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1608) 130; Mainstreet Bank Capital Lt. v. Nig. RE (2018) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1640) 423; Zailani v. Gumau (2020) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1709) 452. Relief, too, is one of the available parameters to gauge the presence or absence of jurisdiction of court, see Onwudiwe v. FRN (2006) 10 NWLR (Pt. 988) 382; Garba v. Mohammed (2016) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1537) 114; PDP v. Oranezi (2018) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1618) 245; Gbileve v. Addingi (2014) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1433) 394.
“In the eyes of the law, an injunctive claim has no independent life of its own. Its success or failure is parasitic on that of a declaratory relief, see Fagunwa v. Adibi (2004) 17 NWLR (Pt. 903) 544. Put differently, those reliefs bear/wear the hallmark of tributary relief that are tied to the apron strings of the main claim. A court that is equipped with jurisdiction to hear the main claim is clothed with the vires to try the auxiliary relief and vice versa. This traces its pedigree to the Latin Maxim. Accesoruim non-ducit sedsequitussuum principale, id est, that which is incidental does not lead, but follows its principal, see Tukur v. Govt of Gongola State (1989) 4 NWHR (Phill 7) 517.
“My noble Lords, it is now settled law, beyond any per adventure of doubt, that the High Court of a State and the Federal High Court share concurrent jurisdiction in matters bordering on enforcement of fundamental rights as donated and ordained by section 46 (1) of the Constitution, as amended, irrespective of the parties therein, see Jack v. UNAM (2004) 5 NWLR (Pt.865) 208; F.U.T, Minna v. Olutayo (2018) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1617) 176. Recently, in EFCC v. Wolfgang Reinl (2020) 9 NWLR (pt. 1730)489 at 514 and 515, the Supreme Court, per Kekere – Ekun, JSC, incisively, re-echoed the inelastic position of this law in these illuminating words: …So long as the enforcement of the applicant’s fundamental right is the main claim in the suit and not an ancillary claim, the Federal High Court and State High Courts, including the High Court of the FCT, concurrent jurisdiction to entertain it See Tukur v. Government of Gongola State (supra).
“In the spirit of emphasis, a fundamental right action is peculiar and special with its own rules for its adjudication, see Onyekwuluje v. Benue State Govt., (2015) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1484) 40 per Peter-Odili, JSC. Put differently, it is, to a large extent, sui generis. The jurisdiction donated to the lower court by the prescription of section 46 (1) of the Constitution, as amended, displayed earlier, is classified as a special jurisdiction while the one under section 251 (1) of the selfsame Constitution, as amended, is categorised as a general jurisdiction. It is a notorious principle of law, known for its antiquity, that where there is a special provision in a statute/legislation, a later general provision, in the same law, is not to be interpreted as derogating from what has been specially provided for individually save an intention to do so is unambiguously declared. In the Latin days of the law, it was encapsulated in the Maxims: Generali specialibus non derogrant: general things do not derogate from special things; or Specilia generalibus derogrant- special things derogate from general one, see Schroder& CO. v. Major& Co. Ltd.(1989) 2 SCNJ 210/(1989) 2 NWLR (Pt. 101) 1; Tukur v. Govt., of Gongola State (supra) Abubakar v. Nasamu (No. 1) 2012) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1330) 40; Adebayo v. PDP (2013) 17 NWLR (pt. 1382) 1; A-G, Lagos State v. A-G. Fed. (2014) 1 NWLR (Pt. 1412) 217; Ardo v. Nyako (2014) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1416) 591; Jumbo United Co. Ltd. v. Leadway Ass. Co. Ltd. (2016) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1536) 439; PDP v. Umeh (2017) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1579) 272; A.-G., Bauchi State v. A.-G., Fed (2018) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1648) 299.
“Fundamental rights have been defined as “the rights one holds by virtue; solely of being human person, that is to say, right naturally inhering in the human being”, Prof. B. O. Nwabueze, Constitutional Democracy in Africa Vol. 3 (Ibadan: Spectrum Book Ltd., (2004) 1. They are “rights attaching to man as a man because of his humanity”’ Mustapha v. Governor of Lagos State (1987) 2 NWLR (Pt. 58) 53 at 589, per Oputa, JSC. They have been described as standing above ordinary laws of the land and a primary condition for a civilised existence, Kuti v. A. –G. Fed. (1996) 41 LRCN 200; Odogwu v. A. –G., Fed. (1996) 9-10 SCNJ 51. Thus, they occupy a kingly position in the residence of human rights. Fundamental rights fall within the specie of negative rights as against positive rights: economic, social, cultural and environmental rights – A Borokinu “The impact of Military Rule on Fundamental Human Rights in Nigeria” in Okpara Okpara (ed) Human Rights, Law and Practice in Nigeria, vol 1 (Enugu: Chenglo Ltd., 2005) 353. Entrenchment of fundamental rights provisions in the Nigeria Constitutions traces its paternity to the Willink’s Commission of 1957: C. C. Nweze, JSC, The New Regime of Human Rights Litigation in Nigeria: Old Rights; New Enforcement Strategies in C. C. Nweze, A. J. Offiah and A. O. Mogboh (Jnr) (eds.), Beyond Bar Advocacy: Multidisciplinary Essays in Honour of Anthony Okoye Mogboh, SAN (Umuahia: Impact Global Publishers Ltd., 2011) 394. The evolution of fundamental rights was “greatly influenced by the European Convention for Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms…which, in turn, was influenced by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948″, see Nweke v. State (2017) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1587) 120 at 144 per Nweze, JSC; Kalejaiye v. L.P.D.C. (2019) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1674) 365”.
“Fundamental rights are now warehoused in Chapter IV which encompasses sections 33 45 of the Constitution, as amended. Section 46 of the Constitution, as amended, allocates to every citizen whose fundamental right is, or being, harmed, even quia timet, to approach the court to prosecute his complaint and obtain redress, see Sea Trucks (Nig.) Ltd. v. Anigboro (2001) 2 NWLR (Pt. 695) 159; Fajemirokun v. C. B. Nig. Ltd. (2009) 5 NWLR (Pt. 1135) 588; W.A.E.C. v. Adeyanju (2008) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1092) 270; Lafia Local Govt. v. Gov., Nasarawa State (supra); Tukur v. Government of Gongola State (1989) 4 NWLR (Pt. 117) 517; Jack v. UNAM (2004) 5 NWLR (Pt. 865) 278; Gafar v. Government of Kwara State (2007) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1024) 375; Amale v. Sokoto Local Govt. (2012) 5 NWLR (Pt. 1292) 181; Jim-jaja v. C.O.P., Rivers (2013) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1350) 225; Denton-West v. Jack (2013) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1377) 205; Emeka v. Okoroafor (2017) 11 NWLR (Pt. 1617) 92; F.B.N. Plc. v. A.-G., Fed. (2018) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1617) 121; F.U.T., Minna v. Olutayo (2018) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1617) 176; EFCC v. Diamond Bank Plc (2018) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1620) 61; A. – G., Cross River Sate v. FRN (2019) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1681) 401; EFCC v. Reinl (2020) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1730) 489. The accepted procedure for such a redress is encapsulated in the Rules, 2009, see Onyekwuluje v. Benue State Govt. (2015) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1454) 40.
“Incontestably, the burden of proof (onus probandi) of breach of fundamental right of a citizen resides in an applicant, id est, the respondent in this appeal, see Fajemirokun v. C.B. Nig. Ltd (supra); Lafia Local Govt. v. Gov., Nasarawa State (supra); Jim-Jaja v. C.O.P, Rivers State (supra). The standard of proof is on the balance of probability or preponderance of evidence, see Arowolo v. Olowokere (2012) All FWLR (Pt. 606) 398”.
“It is now an elementary law that a person who files a complaint of commission of crime with the police, a duty incumbent on citizens, cannot be guilty of an infringement of a fundamental right of one named in the complaint. In Fajemirokun v. C.B. Nig. Ltd (supra), Ogebe, JSC, confirmed that: Generally, it is a duty of citizens of this country to report cases of commission of crime to the police for their investigation and what happens after such report is entirely the responsibility of the police. The citizens cannot be held culpable for doing their civic duty unless it is shown that it is done mala fide. See also, Duru v. Nwangwu (2005) 5 SC (Pt. III) 70; Oguebie v. FRN (2020) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1715) 531.
“The connotation of the term mala fide was, graphically and eloquently, weaved by Tobi, JSC, in Akaninwo v. Nsirim (2008) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1093) 439 at 475. The Law Lord proclaimed: Mala fide is the opposite of bona fide. It simply means bad faith as opposed to bona fide which is good faith, mala fide projects sinister motive designed to mislead or deceive another. Mala fide is more than bad judgment or mere negligence. It is a conscious doing of a wrong arising from dishonest purpose or moral obliquity. Mala fide is not a mistake or error but a deliberate wrong emanating from ill-will. And so when a trial Judge comes to the conclusion that an application…is mala fide, he will not grant it. Curiously, I am unable to locate, even with every meticulosity and prying eagle-eye of an appellate court, where the appellant deposed to facts to deflate/neutralise the veracity of the allegation of mala fide levelled against the petition by the respondent. The appellant’s failure to controvert those critical averments, that the petition wore a badge of bad faith, is a costly one. It has caustic consequence on the appellant’s case. The legal effect is that those depositions, which convicted the petition on the altar of bad faith, were unchallenged. The law grants to the court, trial or appellate, the unbridled licence to act on unchallenged affidavit, Olofu v. Itodo (2010) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1225) 545; Udinma v. Izunaso (No.2) (2011) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1275) 30; Eyiboh v. Abia (2012) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1325) 51; Tukur v. Uba (2013) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1343) 90; Inegbedion v. Selo-Ojemen (2013) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1356) 211; Danladi v. Dangiri (2015) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1442) 124; APC v. INEC (2015) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1462) 531; Ezechukwu v. Onwuka (2016) 5 NWLR (Pt. 1506) 539; Owuru v. Adigwu (2018) 1 NWLR (Pt. 1599) 1; Modibo v. Usman (2020) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1712) 470. The appellant’s conduct, non-refutation of the killer charge of mala fide against the petition, is a classic exemplification of admission. By the undiluted admission, it conceded, on its own volition, that the petition was activated by bad faith.
“That is not all, the lower court found, precisely at page 140, lines 6-9, of record, that the Magistrate’s Court gave judgment in favour of the respondent and exculpated her of forgery of the deposit slip, as showcased in exhibit M3, which has been the casus belli between the feuding parties. That solemn finding remains binding on the parties as it was not appealed against, see Nwaogu v. Atuma (2013) 11 NWLR (Pt. 1364) 117; Gundiri v. Nyako (2014) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1391) 211; Enterprise Bank Ltd v. Aroso (2014) 3 (Pt. 1394) 256; Anyanu v. Ogunewe (2014) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1410) 437; Akoma v. Osenwokwu (2014) 11 NWLR (Pt. 1419) 462; Ukachukwu v. PDP (2014) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1435) 134; Awodi v. Ajagbe (2015) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1447) 578; Kayili v. Yilbuk (2015) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1457) 26; Agbaje v. INEC (2016) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1501) 151; Emeka v. Okoroafor (2017) 11 NWLR (Pt. 1577) 410; Poroye v. Makarfi (2018) 1 NWLR (P. 1599) 91; Ekwuruekwu v. State (2020) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1713) 114.
“The law, in its wisdom, has saddled on the appellant the bounden duty/obligation, under pain of punishment, to obey any subsisting order of courts. It is not at the discretion of a party to obey order of court. It is of no moment that the order was wrongly made or without jurisdiction. The moment an order of court, of any cadre/stratum, is alive and extant, it must be obeyed to the letter. Disobedience to court order constitutes an affront to the rule of law-the soul of democracy. It is a mockery of administration of justice – man’s greatest interest in the universe. It breeds, nurtures and grooms anarchy, chaos or totalitarianism which erode on the peaceful co-existence in a society. It is a trample on the integrity and sanctity of the court and temple of justice. It renders the court a paper tiger and a toothless bulldog in the realm of adjudication.
“Personal liberty is a commodity of an inherently high value, see FBN Plc v. A.-G, Fed. (2018) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1617) 121. Personal liberty is precious and priceless so that the preservation of the liberty of citizens must always be paramount in every society, see Benson v. C.O.P (2016) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1527) 445. Hence, the courts are enjoined to protect rights to personal liberty and freedom of movement for enjoyment by the citizenry, see DSSS v. Agbakoba (1999) 3 NWLR (Pt. 595) 314; Azuh v. UBN Plc (2014) 11 NWLR (Pt. 1419) 580. No wonder, the law has directed the courts to display judicial activism and dispatch in determining fundamental right actions, see Fidelity Bank Plc. v. Monye (2012) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1307) 1; Laffia Local Govt. v. Gov., Nasarawa State (2012) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1328) 94; Benson v. C.O.P. (2016) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1524) 445”.
Statutes Referred To:
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
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