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Nigeria’s Supreme Court Now Has Full Bench As Senate Confirms 11 New Justices

Tinubu had asked the Senate to confirm the nominees, who were recommended by the National Judicial Council.

Nigeria’s Senate on Thursday, confirmed the appointment of 11 new justices of the Supreme Court appointed by President Bola Tinubu to fill vacancies at the apex court.
With the confirmation of the 11 justices, the Supreme Court now has the full complement of 21 justices on its bench, as required by law.

The confirmation followed the consideration and adoption of a report by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, during plenary.
Tinubu had asked the Senate to confirm the nominees, who were recommended by the National Judicial Council (NJC) to fill vacant positions following death and resignation of some justices.

Those confirmed were Justice Haruna Tsammani (North-east), who chaired the Presidential Election Petition Court, Justice Moore Adumein (South-south), Justice Jummai Sankey (North-central), Justice Chidiebere Uwa (South-east), and Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme (South-east).
Others were Justice Obande Ogbuinya (South-east), Justice Stephen Adah (North-central), Justice Habeeb Abiru (South-west), Justice Jamilu Tukur (North-west), Justice Abubakar Umar (North-west), and Justice Mohammed Idris (North-central).

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters,, Senator Tahir Monguno (APC, Borno), while presenting his panel’s report, said the nominees possessed the requisite qualifications and experience to occupy the position and there was no petition against them.
Monguno, therefore, recommended their confirmation.
However, some senators, who spoke before the confirmation, expressed concern over the delay in the appointment of justices for the Supreme Court bench.
Senator Seriake Dickson (PDP, Bayelsa) advised that in the event of subsequent vacancies, a provision should be made for immediate replacement.

Dickson said, “Anytime these vacancies occur, they should be filled immediately. I want to draw that to the attention of the president. There shouldn’t be delay so that we don’t become a laughing stock.”
The Senate Leader, Michael Opeyemi Bamidele (APD, Ekiti), said it was important to screen and appoint those next in line immediately as vacancies occurred at the apex court.
Senator Orji Uzor Kalu (APC, Abia) stressed that the funds allocated to the Supreme Court in the 2024 budget should be reviewed upward to ensure its effectiveness.

Kalu said, “The Senate should look at the budget of the judiciary because even the state courts are in a mess. How can they give good justice? This is not the way it was before; we were doing better.”
The red chamber in plenary, which was presided by Senate President Godswill Akpabio, adjourned to Friday next week, after Thursday’s plenary, to enable members celebrate Christmas and Boxing Day with their families and constituents.

Through the Lenses of Their Judgments

The appointments of the 11 new Supreme Court justices, who completed the bench of 21, spoke largely to their contributions to the judiciary and the development of democracy, through some of their landmark judgments. Some of their key cases below would suffice.

Justice Haruna Simon Tsammani

In a landmark decision on whom lies the evidential burden to establish non-compliance with the Electoral Act; effect of failure, Justice Tsammani, quoted authorities and following precedents, held in APC v. INEC & ORS (2019) LPELR-48909(CA).
“Now, the appellant’s complaint before the tribunal centred on various acts of improper/non-accreditation of voters, improper and non-use of the Smart Card Reader, inflation (and reduction of votes), alteration of results, etc; which the appellant contend are acts of non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and the manual and guidelines for the conduct of the election.

“It is now settled by statute and case law, that the burden of proof lies on the party, who wants the court to give judgment in his favour. This is because, it is that party who asserts the existence of facts, who would fail if no evidence at all were given on either side.”
On the nature of a banker/customer relationship, he held:”Now, as pointed out earlier in the course of this judgment, the relationship between the appellant and the 1st and 2nd respondents is that of a banker and its customer(s). That relationship is therefore contractual.

“The relationship is primarily that of a debtor and creditor, though the ordinary rules of debtor and creditor may not entirely apply. That banker/customer relationship is saddled with some rights and responsibilities the parties owe each other. Thus, in the course of performing its banking business, the banker enters into several contractual relationships and performs other roles on behalf of its customers.”

Justice Moore Aseimo Adumein

On the extent of the role of the lower court in arbitral matters, Justice Adumein, in a landmark decision, held that,“where parties opt for arbitration, instead of civil litigation, they are at liberty to choose how the arbitration is conducted; the duty of the court is to respect and pronounce upon the wishes of the parties, and ‘not to make a contract for them or rewrite the one they already made for themselves.”

In the case of Lawan v. Zenon Petroleum & Gas Ltd & Ors (2014) LPELR-23206 (CA), he held on the issue of when legislative immunity clause will/will not be applicable to protect a lawmaker that, “The immunity provided by Section 3 of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act, Cap L. 12, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, heavily relied on by the appellant, covers only words spoken or written before a Legislative House or a committee thereof in the course of bona fide exercise of legislative duties by a legislator. The immunity cannot reasonably be expected to apply to words spoken or written by a legislator in the pursuit of an illegitimate business of the lawmaker.”

Justice Jummai Hannatu Sankey

Justice Sankey once held that, “The decision in the case of Magit v University of Agric, Makurdi (supra) relied on by the appellant is no doubt good law. However, it must be distinguished from the facts of this case as it is trite law that a case is only an authority for what it decides.”
On whether court, parties and counsel are bound by the record of proceedings, it was held by Justice Sankey in Suleman v. Adamu (2016) LPELR-40316 (CA) “Be that as it may, it is an accepted principle of legal practice that the court and obviously all parties are bound by the record of proceedings, which are conducted in court.”

Justice Chidi Nwaoma Uwa

While delivering judgment on whether a case is solely an authority for what it decides, Justice Uwa , in the case of WAEC v. Obisesan (2008) LPELR-8500 (CA), held that, “An employment with statutory flavour arises where the body employing the man is under some statutory or other restriction as to the kind of contract which it makes with its servants and the grounds on which it can dismiss them.
“Where an appointment is regulated by statutory provision, such an appointment is said to enjoy statutory protection or statutory flavour. Olaniyan v. University of Lagos (1985) 2 NWLR (Pt 9) 599; Shitta-Bey v. Federal Civil Service Commission (1981) 1 SC 40. Before an employment could be said to have statutory flavour, the statute must expressly make it so, otherwise, the employment will be treated on the basis of the common law principle of master and servant.”

On the issue of conditions that must be fulfilled before a master can be held vicariously liable for the acts of his employee and the effect of failure, in the case of Bonghe Microfinance (Nig) Ltd v. Savannah Sugar Co. Ltd & Ors (2022) LPELR-57103(CA), he held that, “It has not been proved that the 2nd – 5th respondents were employees of the 1st respondent.
“On the other hand, assuming they were, there are conditions that must be met before their employer or master could be held responsible for acts or torts committed by their supposed employee or servant. It must be pleaded and proved that: (a) There was at the time the relationship of employer/employee between the supposed employee and the party sort to be held responsible for their acts.

“(b) The tortfeasor must be found liable through evidence. (c) The act must have been in course of employment or within the authority/command of the master or principal. The appellant has not fulfilled these conditions. The 2nd – 5th respondents were not called to testify to confirm their relationship with the 1st respondent as their employer/master. The appellant totally failed to establish the relationship between those that vandalised their property and the 1st respondent.”

Justice Chioma Egondu Nwosu-Iheme

Justice Nwosu-Iheme held in the case of Motorcycle Transport Union of Nig & Ors V. Delta State Motorcyclist Association & Ors (2010) LPELR-4503(CA) that “It is trite that the best evidence of the juristic personality such as the 1st appellant and the 1st respondent as incorporated persons is the production of their Certificate of Registration or Incorporation.”

Furthermore, in the case of Olatunbosun v. Annenih (2008) LPELR-8582(CA) she held that “Where a party to a suit has been accorded a reasonable opportunity of being heard in a manner prescribed by law as in this case, and for no satisfactory reason or explanation he fails or neglects to attend the sitting of the court, he cannot later be heard to complain of fair hearing.”

Justice Obande Festus Ogbuinya

Justice Ogbuinya held on the function of a recital in Golden Construction Company Ltd. v. Stateco Nig. Ltd. & Anor (2013) LPELR-22832(CA) that in law, recitals are used in construing documents, see Amuroti v. Agbeke (1991) 6 SCNJ 54.
In Olaifa v. Adeniji & Ors (2017) LPELR-42708(CA), he held on the meaning of trade dispute: “By virtue of Section 54, the definition clause of it, trade dispute means: any dispute between employers and workers, or between workers and workers, which is connected with the employment or non-employment, or the terms of employment or conditions or work of any person.”

Justice Stephen Jonah Adah

Justice Adah, while delivery judgment on the nature and basis of the doctrine of vicarious liability, held in Adah v. FCMB (2018) LPELR-45180(CA) that, the issue of vicarious liability was usually specifically pleaded. It could not be conjured or subjected to conjecture. Vicarious liability is a matter of law. Facts must be adduced to ground same and the relief must be specifically sought. It cannot be a consequential order.
Also in Okidegbe v. Mohammed & Ors (2021) LPELR-55191(CA), he held general rule of equity with regards to the issue of priority that, “In equity, the first in time ranks higher in priority. See Zaccala v. Edosa (2018) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1616) 528.”

Justice Habeeb Adewale Olumuyiwa Abiru

On the duty of the police to investigate criminal allegations and how same should be discharged it was held in Isah v. State (2022) LPELR-57411 (CA) by Justice Abiru ruled that, “Once criminal allegations are made against a citizen, it is a constitutional and statutory duty of the police to investigate it and investigations of crimes by the police, particularly of serious capital offences, which are to be prosecuted in law courts must be professional, thorough and diligent.”

The judge also held in FBN PLC v. Ghanny Int’l Ltd & Anor (2022) LPELR-58083 (CA) on the meaning and nature of libel thus: “Libel, is a statement reduced into writing, by one about the other, which statement has been published to a third party and has the effect or tendency of lowering the addressee in the eyes of right thinking members of the society generally. Particularly, the statement causes its victim to be regarded with ill-feelings, fear, ridicule or disdain.”

Justice Jamilu Yammama Tukur

In Agbabiaka & Ors V. Das & Ors (2015) LPELR-49857(CA), Justice Tukur relying on Bankole & Ors Vs Dada 2002 LPELR CA/1/3/98, held on the duty of the plaintiff to establish the identity of the land in dispute and how same can be discharged thus: “The law is trite that it is the duty of the plaintiff who seeks declaration of title, to identify the land in dispute with definitive certainty by filing a composite plan to show the relative positions of the areas claimed by either side.”

On the requirement of the law on service of a notice in forfeiture, he relied on his previous judgment in Council of Legal Education v. Dange & Ors (2019) LPELR-50497(CA) and held: “With regards to forfeiture, the law also requires the service of a notice, informing the lessee of the covenant breached and giving him an opportunity to remedy such breach before seeking an order in court for forfeiture and re-entry.”

Justice Abubakar Sadiq Umar

One of Justice Umar’s landmark judgment was in the case of Agom-Eze V. Umahi & Ors (2022) LPELR-58785(CA), where he held that the time frame within which pre-election matters can be entertained by the court has been provided in Section 285(9) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
He added that notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Constitution, every pre-election matter shall be filed not later than 14 days from the date of the occurrence of the event, decision or action complained of in the suit. From the above provision, it means any pre-election matter brought after 14 days of the event complained of in the suit, such matter will be deemed statute barred.

On the issue of who has the duty to render account of the estate of a deceased, Justice Umar held in the case of Adesola & Anor v. Lawrence & Ors (2023) LPELR-60439(CA) that It is trite that the duty to render account of the estate of the deceased is on the executors, administrators or other named agents of the estate and not on the children of the deceased.

Justice Mohammed Baba Idris

Justice Idris, in the case of Bamgbopa & Ors V. Stallion Property & Dev. Co. Ltd (2020) LPELR-51368 (CA) held that, “It is a settled principle of law that any acceptance, which is made subject to a condition, is invalid and unbinding. An offeree may make his/her acceptance conditional on some happenings. If the acceptance is subject to a condition, there is no binding agreement until that thing is done.
In Best (Nig.) Ltd Vs. B. H (Nig.) Ltd (2011) 5 NWLR (PT. 1239) 95 at 126, the Supreme Court held as follows, “Where a contract is made subject to the fulfillment of certain specific terms and conditions, the contract is not formed and not binding unless and until those terms and conditions are complied with or fulfilled.”

On the law as it relates to libel, Justice Idris in the case of Sunrise Estate Development Ltd v. Abdulrahman & Ors (2021) LPELR-52827(CA) held that, “…The law as it relates to libel is that it is the gist of the libel that is the most important consideration. Once the gist of libel has been proved and the defence of justification has also been successfully established, it is not necessary for the defendant to prove the truth of each word comprised in the alleged publication.
“It is the broad and general impression conveyed by the publication complained of that is considered and construed as a whole. It is therefore enough that the main substance of the statement is true and the defendant need not justify statements which do not add to the gist of libel.”

•Materials were sourced from ‘Law Reports by Law pavilion’

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