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High court has unlimited jurisdiction in chieftaincy matters (4)


SC. 92/2005

THE court also proceeded to make a consequential order that a fresh election be made for the stool of the village head of Somji and that the selection is to be restricted to the Neha ruling house alone.

For all intent and purpose, there could not have been a different conclusion expected on the outcome of this appeal. In other words and as rightly submitted by the counsel for the 1st Respondent. All the orders made by the court below are a consequence of the finding of the trial high court that Neha is a ruling house in Somji for the purpose of the stool, of village head of Somji and the stool is rotational among the ruling houses of Somji. If Neha is a ruling house and the stool is rotational, equity demands that they take their turn; and if it is their turn, Nees ruling house cannot, while it is the turn of Neha ruling house select and present a candidate to occupy the stool of village head of Somji. The reliefs ordered by the Court of Appeal in the circumstance, are a natural consequence of the finding of the trial court that Neha is a ruling house and which has not been appealed against. It is therefore binding on all the parties. The cornerstone of the Plaintiffs/Respondent’s case was the findings by the trial court that Neha is a ruling house and is eligible to produce a candidate to occupy the stool of village head of Somji. That fact cannot now be erased but is very well established.

Contrary to the contention held by the learned counsel for the Appellant, all the reliefs claimed in the Court of Appeal are as a consequence of the reliefs partially granted by the high court; they are not independent and different but came sequentially as a result of the trial court failing to make the order in respect thereof, had proper consideration been given to the case. Put differently, the orders are natural having flowed as a result of the outcome of the case presented before the trial court.

Furthermore and even in the face of Order 47 Rule 1 of the Plateau State High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 1987, it is open to the court in all causes and matters to make any order which it considers necessary for doing justice whether or not such order has been expressly asked for by the person entitled to the benefit there from. The error made by the trial court was appropriately remedied by the lower court in invoking the provision of Order 47 Rule 1 of the High Court (Civil procedure) Rules supra. Contrary to the wrong contention conceived by the Appellant’s counsel, the order made, did not amount to making a new case for the parties; rather, they were made, to do justice in the circumstance of the case, which is the foundation and cornerstone of our judicial system and the Constitution.

Even in the face of repetition, it has been declared in the course of this judgment that rotation applies and Neha ruling house should take its turn to present a candidate to occupy the stool; the consequential effect is that the selection of 1st Defendant/Appellant from the Nees ruling house is not proper. In my view and as rightly held by the lower court, and I also hold, the justice of this case will best be served that his purported selection and installation should be, and is hereby nullified so that Neha ruling house can take its turn in accordance with the established custom. The orders made by the Court of Appeal are not a departure from the claims of the Plaintiffs on the amended statement of claim and do not also amount to making a new case for the parties. The submission by the Appellant’s counsel in that respect is grossly misconceived. Issues 2 and 3 are therefore resolved against the Appellant.

The 4th and last issue challenges the findings of the lower court, which the Appellant submits as perverse, that the kingmakers or selectors of the stool of the village head of Somji are the council of elders of the ruling houses. The Appellant’s counsel, for purpose of substantiating the foregoing issue submitted emphatically that there is nothing from the evidence of the defence witnesses to show that the elders of the ruling houses select the Chief; it is therefore difficult to ascertain which evidence the lower court relied on for its conclusion, that “the kingmakers or selectors are the council of elders of the ruling houses.”

In summary, it is the submission of counsel that the Plaintiffs’ evidence was inconsistent and contradictory as to how the next ruling house produced the village head of Somji. Also that the Plaintiffs did not plead or lead evidence to establish who the traditional selectors to the stool of the village head of Somji are; that the Plaintiffs/Respondent’s evidence of the selectors in one breath supported that of the Defendant/Appellant and in another breath contradicted each other.

The counsel submits finally that the selection of the 1st Defendant/Appellant was in accordance with the customary law of the people of Somji. In contradicting the Appellant’s submission, the 1st Respondent related to a portion of the trial court’s judgment which accepted the method of selection as described by D.W.1. The Plaintiffs were unhappy with that decision and appealed successfully to the lower court which allowed same and reversed the decision of the trial court, and held that the real kingmakers or selectors are the council of elders of the ruling houses. In summary, it is the submission of counsel therefore that, contrary to the Appellant’s contention, the finding of the Court of Appeal relating the kingmakers of Somji as council of elders (supra) is not perverse as same is supported by the admissible evidence placed before the trial court. He urged in favour of dismissing this appeal and affirms the decision of the lower court in its entirety.

At Page 211 of the record of appeal the lower court held and said:- “When the evidence led by the Appellants is considered along with the conflicting evidence led by the Respondents witnesses, it seems to me and I so hold that the real kingmakers or selectors are the council of elders of the ruling houses who select one among princes and present same to the so called six (6) title holders as a candidate for installation, whereby the village head of Bolkon and the Sim Wari would present the candidate with traditional spear (i.e. staff of office) and the tradition costumes.” It is pertinent to note that the lower court arrived at its decision as a result of its findings that the Appellant before it and now Respondent before us presented consistent and credible evidence before the trial court as against the Respondent before it who is now the Appellant before us, whose evidence was characterized as conflicting. The determination of this issue calls for a review of the evidence by the witnesses of both parties, given before the trial court.

The law is well positioned that where there are material contradictions in the evidence adduced by a party, the court is enjoined to reject the entire evidence as it cannot pick and choose which of the conflicting versions to follow. The entire evidence must be rejected. See: Mogaji v. Cadbury (1985) 7 S.C. (Reprint) 31. The lower court, I hold, was right, when, having reviewed the entire evidence, it rejected that of the Defendant/Appellant and preferred those of the Plaintiffs/Respondent on the issue of the kingmakers and the king-making process of Somji. It is not true, as wrongly submitted on behalf of the Appellants, that there were material contradictions in the evidence of the Respondents on this point.

The court does not reject the evidence of a party simply on minor contradictions. This is more so especially in situations where proof is based on evidence of traditional history, as it is in the case at hand; there are bound to be slips in the evidence of witnesses; absence of such would certainly give reason for casting doubts on the credibility and the truth of the witnesses. Traditional history of witnesses cannot come out in mathematical exactness or exactitude. See Ezekwesile v. Onwuangu (1998) 3 NWLR (Pt. 541) 217 at 245 CA.

The Court of Appeal was on a sound footing and could not be faulted when it preferred the evidence of the Plaintiffs/Respondent on this issue as against that of the Defendant/Appellant. In the same vein, and like the sum of issues 1, 2 and 3 (supra), issue no. 4 is also devoid of any merit and is hereby dismissed accordingly.

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