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Law reports and our judicial system

By Gbolahan Gbadamosi
22 November 2016   |   2:11 am
As a member of the Hon. Justice Salihu Modibbo Alfa Belgore (GCON) led National Committee on the Reform of the Law of Evidence, I can easily appreciate the Supreme Court Judgment in evidence cited as S .C. J. E.


One of the legacies of Hon. Justice Mohammadu Lawal Uwais GCON as Chief Justice of Nigeria between 1995 and 2006 was the “creation of an environment, through his liberal policy, which supports the struggle for the environment of competent law reporting installations in Nigeria.”

The above phrase was culled from “The Art & Place of Law Reporting” written by a Lagos lawyer and a law publisher, Mr. Taiwo Kupolati.

Against this background the efforts at re-inventing the old culture of publishing law reports by Alexander Payne Co. Limited edited by another Lagos lawyer, as its publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Bamidele Adeleye can be appreciated.

To date, the company has in its stable, Supreme Court Judgments on Evidence (7 volumes spanning from 1951 -2011; Supreme Court Judgments on Lands (6 volumes) from 1907-2013; Intellectual Property Law Reports (6 volumes) from 1917-2011 and Nigerian Company Law Cases, also in 6 volumes from 1957-2016).

As a member of the Hon. Justice Salihu Modibbo Alfa Belgore (GCON) led National Committee on the Reform of the Law of Evidence, I can easily appreciate the Supreme Court Judgment in evidence cited as S .C. J. E.

In the case of Aaron Akpan v The State, reported on pages 646-652, The Supreme Court on April 14 1972 before their Lordships Elias, Lewis and Udoma laid the principles of law on sworn evidence of a child.

The facts of this case were that the appellant was tried and convicted at the High Court, Uyo of the murder of one Grace Aaron (his wife) and sentenced to death. The ten years old of the deceased was the only eyes witness to the killing and he gave evidence at the trial of the appellant. Immediately after the deceased died, the appellant went to the police station and made some confessional statement that he killed her. However, at the trial, he denied making the statement and raised up a different defense entirely –that the deceased was killed by an unknown person.

Citing Akpan v The State (1967) N. M. L. R 185 and P. V Campbell (1958) B. 432, Justice Lewis JSC who read the leaving judgment dismissed the appeal on the ground that the evidence of the 3rd P. W (The child) was enough to dismiss the appeal.

On its Intellectual Property Law Reports (I. P. L. R) cases, with six volumes started from 1957 -2016 aptly quoted the golden words of Belgore J. (as he then was) in Exxon Corporation v Exxon Nominees Industries Ltd cited as (1977 -1989) 2 I. P. L. R thus: “But the tribute the mediocre can pay to the genius by limitation has a limit. He does not extend to the genius by boundary of injuring the name the reputation or the business of the genius; not at least when the genius has protected himself by the provision of the law”

Land law, which is the one of the earliest areas of law in our jurisprudence, for example in Vol. 2 (1980-1993) in honour of the first female Chief Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar GCON is worth considering.

A cursory look at the case of Chief Obi Oniah V Louis Oniah & Ors delivered on February 10 1989 before Their Lordships: Justice G. Karibi-Whyte, Andrew O. Obaseki, Chukwudifu Oputa, Abubakar B. Wali and Salihu M. Alfa Belgore made pronounced dictum on Customary tenancy, Proof of Possession; Ascription of Possession to person with superior title; Trespass, forfeiture and Reliefs from forfeiture.

On determination of Customary Tenancy, the Supreme Court held that, “Forfeiture is the usual mode for determining a customary tenancy.The real basis of the misconduct or misbehavior which renders the tenancy liable to forfeiture in the challenge to the title of the overload. This may be alienation of part of the land, under claim of ownership, refusal to pay the tribute due or indeed, direct denial of overlord’s title in the customary tenant himself, in the instance case.

Facts of the case, according to Justice Karibi Whyte who read the lead judgment was that, the plaintiff/respondents claimed to have granted the defendant specific and clearly delineated specific and clearly delineated area verged Blue and Yellow in plan No. MWC. 893/76 and known as Aniolu and Aniocha lands as customary tenants. However, the defendants/Appellants entered into other lands belonging to the Respondents and claimed ownership of the entire lands. The plaintiffs relied on several judgments in support of their claim. The defendant/Appellant on their own part denied that they have at anytime been the tenants of the plaintiff. They claimed that the entire Aniolu and Aniocha land belong to their ancestor from time immemorial, who first settled in those lands and did not belong to plaintiffs ancestors as claimed.

At the end of the trial, the court granted the plaintiffs claimed in part. Dissatisfied, both parties appealed and both the defendants later withdrew their appeal and same was accordingly dismissed. The plaintiffs appeal at the Supreme Court, while the plaintiffs cross-appealed.

Volume 6 of the Supreme Court Judgment on Lands which covered 2010-2013 has 31 cases, 78 subject matters and 316 referred cases.

The Nigeria Company cases boasts of over 6000 pages of Appellate courts’ cases with robust and fine executive briefs.

The Nigeria Company Law cases cited as NCLC in its 6th volume spans 2011-2016 and has 20 cases.

One of the cases deserve for review is the case of Olubunmi Oladipo Oni V Cadbury Nigeria Plc (SC 546 / 2013) delivered by the Supreme Court on January 22 2016 now cited as NCNC (2011-2016), vol. 6 350.

The apex court was confronted with the removal of a director and jurisdiction of the Federal High Court to ascertain same.

The panel of the Supreme Court are: Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad; M. S. Muritala – Coomassie; Bode Rhodes-Vivour; Clara BataOgunbiyi and Chima Centus Nweze who delivered the lead judgment.

The fact of this cases is as follows; At the High Court of Lagos State, The Claimant /Appellant challenged his termination of employment noting that there was no valid meeting of the Directors of Cadbury Nigeria Plc.

This was refuted by the Defendant which also counter- claimed. At the close of evidence, judgment was delivered. Claimant / Appellant’s claim succeeded in part while counter claimed dismissed.

Both parties appealed, Court of Appeal affirmed the High Court’s decision and dismissed both Appeals. Both filed appeal at the Supreme Court and Defendant / Respondent for the first time raised the issue of jurisdiction.

The only issue for determination is: Whether the state High Court has the jurisdiction to entertain suits in relation to removal of company directors.

While holding that the appeal lacked merit, Justice Nweze on p. 670 of the report said “ In effect, contrary to the submission of the counsel, the Appellant’s impeachment of the procedure for his removal, (via the meeting which he impugned in paragraph 8 (a) and (e) of the pleadings)” – a matter governed by actions 262 and 266 of CAMA was the pivot of his complaint at the lower court. As such, by virtue of sections 257 (1) (e) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) the proper forum for the ventilation of that complaint should have been the Federal High Court, see Longe v First Bank of Nigeria Plc (2010) 6NWCR (pt. 1189) 1.

Yalaju Amage v A.R.F.C Ltd (1990) 4 NWLR(pt. 145) 422”. Justice Nweze also backed his reasons with cases like; Babington – Ashaye v E. M.A General Enterprises (Nig.) Ltd (2011) 10 NWLR (pt. 1256) 479, 522; Njikonye V MTN Nig. Comm. Ltd (2008) 9 NWLR (pt. 1092) 339, Cotecna International Ltd v Ivory Merchant Bank Ltd (2006) 9 NWLR (PT. 985) 275; Madukolu&Ors v Nkemdilim (1962)2 NSCC 374 among others.

In conclusion, Justice Nweze held that:“I find that this appeal isunmeritous and is therefore struck out for want of jurisdiction of this court as well.NDIC v CBN (pt. 706) 300; Oloriode v Oyebo (1984)1 SCNCR 390.1984 5 SC 1. Parties to are to bear their cost.

The prints of the reports were well laid out, lucid language, reader friendly fonts, high quality printing and attractive. The added advantage is that it contains index of Table of Cases Reported, Index of subject matter and Index of Cases Referred to.

I agree with Mr. Adebayo Sowemimo who while reviewing the NCLC described it as “a veritable research material for academic lawyer because it covers judgments of courts from the colonial era to the Independence era to the Republican era to the Military era to now. For lawyer in practice, it is quite useful. The judgments are cited as authorities to their support their legal positions. In those solicitors find NCLC very useful while writing legal opinions”.

Mr. Sowemimo’s candid opinion is true of all the law reports from the stable of Alexander Payne & Co.

At this juncture, the entry of these law reports is the reminder of what Kupolati who caught his publishing feet from Chief Gani Fawehinmi’s Nigerian Week Law Report (NWLR) that “Notwithstanding this parlours reminder the private entrepreneurial import have resuscitated the beauty and glory of law reports… In fact as law reports are run in England and Wales as practical enterprise, nothing is amiss with adopting the same in Nigeria.”

It is in this category that Adeleye’s effort in private law reporting must be appreciated.

Gbadamosi practises law in Lagos.