MRS. ESTHER I. ADESIGBIN & 8 ORS v MILITARY GOVERNOR OF LAGOS STATE & ANOR (2017)

MRS. ESTHER I. ADESIGBIN & 8 ORS v MILITARY GOVERNOR OF LAGOS STATE & ANOR

(2017) LCN/4565(SC)

In the Supreme Court of Nigeria

Friday, February 17, 2017


Case Number:SC.68/2006

 

JUSTICES:

OLABODE RHODES VIVOUR

MUSA DATTIJO MUHAMMAD

CLARA BATA OGUNBIYI

CHIMA CENTUS NWEZE

APPELLANTS

1. MRS. ESTHER I. ADESIGBIN2. MAGISTRATE ADIO ADESIGBIN3. L.B. AGUSTO4. ALH. A.A OJIKUTU,5. IMOH BRAIMOH6. ALHAJA AEELIAS7. K.A KOTUN8. A.R WILLIAMS9. J.BALOGUN?

 

RESPONDENTS

1. MILITARY GOVERNOR OF LAGOS STATE2.ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF LAGOS STATE

JUDGMENT OLABODE RHODES-VIVOUR, JSC: In 1958 there were no States in Nigeria. Nigeria was divided into three Regions. The North, West, and East. The Government of Western Nigeria acquired a vast area of land measuring 5000 acres for public purposes. The land acquired was within Badagry, Ikeja and the Colony (i.e Lagos). The acquisition was Gazetted in the Western Regional Notice of Nigeria Gazette No. 28 Vol.7 of 24/4/1958. Lagos State was created in 1967. The area of land acquired which fell within Lagos State was an area amounting to approximately 929.6 acres. In 1979 the Government of Lagos State filed an Originating Summons before the Lagos State lands Tribunal (i. e. suit No. LT/LS/IS/79. The issue was for the Tribunal to decide the amount of compensation to be paid to the claimants and those of them entitled to it.   In a well considered judgment delivered on 10/11/1981 the Tribunal considered evidence of valuers, experts and listened to submission of counsel and concluded that compensation for the 929.6 acres is Nl,141,631.20. The Tribunal went on to say that the amount is to be paid to 34 claimants. The amount to be paid to each of the 34 claimants can be seen on pages 23, 24 of the Record of Appeal. No compensation was paid, by the Lagos State Government, and the Government did not appeal against the judgment of the Lands Tribunal. So, on 27/12/1985 the   Akingbaiye   Family   and   23   others   filed an Originating Summons against the Military Governor of Lagos State and the State Attorney-General of Lagos State for the following reliefs:

1.    Declaration that the Defendants, that is the Military Governor of Lagos State and the Attorney-General of Lagos State have no legal justification for refusing or failing to settle, since the 1st day of December, 1981, the judgment debt of N1,141,631.20 payable to the 34 successful claimants in Suit No. LT/LS/IS/79 when the Lagos State Lands Tribunal Lad delivered judgment against them on 10 November, 1981 in the  said Suit No. LT/LS/IS/79.

2.    Declaration that the Defendants that is the Military Governor of Lagos State and the Attorney-General of Lagos State have committed a contempt of Court/Tribunal by refusing or failing to pay to the 34 Claimants in Suit No LT/LS/IS/79 the judgment debt of N1,141, 631.20 contrary to the injunction in the judgment in the said suit No. LT/LS/IS/79.

3.    Declaration that the Defendants, that is the Military Governor of Lagos State and the Attorney-General of Lagos State are liable in Law to pay to the 34 Claimants  in suit No LT/LS/IS/Z9 the sum of N436,652.40 being the interest payable on the judgment debt of Nl,141,631.20 for a period of four years from 1 December, 1981 to 30 November, 1983 at the rate of 10% per annum pursuant to section 6 of the Public Lands Acquisition (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1979 and the judgment in suit No.LT/LS/IS/Z9.

4.    Declaration that the Defendants, that is the Military Governor of Lagos State and the Attorney-General of Lagos State are liable in Law to pay to the 34 claimants in suit No.LT/LS/IS/79 as listed in exhibit “B” attacked, the sum of N1,598,283.75 being the judgment debt of N1,141,63120 and interest thereon at the rate of 10% per annum payable from the 1st day of December, 1981 to the 30th day of November, 1985 pursuant to the judgment in suit No.LT/LS/IS/79 and section 6 Of the Public Lands Acquisition (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1976.

5. Declaration that the Defendants, that is the Military Governor of Lagos State and the Attorney-General of Lagos State can be served with Form Nos. 48 and 49 pursuant to section 63 and Order 9 Rule 13 of the Sheriff and Civil Process, judgment enforcement Rules Cap. 127 Volume 7, Laws of Lagos State, 1973 in order to try them for contempt of court for disobedience to the mandatory injunction in the judgment in suit No.LT/LS/IS/79 dated 10 November, 1981 that the Lagos State Government should pay the judgment debt of N1,141,631.20 without any further delay from 10 November, 1981.

6. An order that the Defendant,. that is the Military Governor of Lagos State and the Attorney-General of Lagos State should forthwith pay to the thirty-four claimants in suit No. LT/LS/IS/79 as listed in exhibit “B” attacked to the Affidavit in support of this Originating Summons the judgment debt of N1,598,203.75 which includes the interest payable as at 30 November, 1985 in the said suit No. LT/LS/IS/79.

7. Any further order or other orders that this Honourable Court may consider necessary to make in favour of the 34 claimants in suit NO. LT/LS/IS/79 as listed in exhibit “B” in the interest of justice. Affidavit and counter affidavit were filed. Counsel addressed the court, and in a considered Ruling delivered on 21 March, 1986, Agoro J (as he then was) of a Lagos High Court made the following orders:

1. It is ordered that all awards not exceeding seven thousand Naira (N7,000.00) shall be paid or settled in full by the Defendants not later than 30 April, 1986.

2.    It is also ordered that fifty percentum (50%) of all awards exceeding seven thousand naira (N7,000.00) shall be paid or settled by the Defendants not later than 30 April, 1986.

3.    It is also ordered that the second set of payment being Twenty-five percentum  (25%)  of  each award exceeding seven thousand naira (N7,000.00) shall be paid or  settled by the Defendants between the months of May and August 1986.

4.    It is also ordered that the third set of payment being Twenty-five percentum (25%) of each award exceeding seven thousand naira (N7,000.00) shall be paid or settled by the Defendants between the months of September and December1986.

5.    It is further ordered that the instalmental payments to be effected by the Defendants to the Plaintiffs shall be in accordance with the payment schedule attacked to the counter-affidavit and marked exhibit “C”

. 6.    There will be no order as to costs. The plaintiffs/appellants were dissatisfied with the judgment only on the issue of interest, and so filed an appeal. The appeal was heard by the Court of Appeal, Lagos State Division. On 22 July, 2002 that court affirmed the decision of the Lagos High Court and dismissed the appeal with costs of N5,000 to the respondents. This appeal is against that judgment. In accordance with rules of this court, both. sides filed and served briefs of argument. The appellants’ brief filed on 31 May 2016 was deemed duly filed and served on 21 November 2016, while the respondents’ brief was filed on 28 June, 2016. Learned counsel for the appellants formulated four issues from the grounds of appeal. They are: 1.    Whether interest at the rate of 10% per annum is payable on the judgment debt of N1,141,631.20 in the sum of N456,652.40 for a period of four years from 1st day of December, 1981 to the 30th day of November, 1985. 2.    Whether the use of an Originating Summons procedure at the High Court to seek the award and payment of interest was proper in the circumstances of this case.   3.    Whether the Preliminary Objection of Respondents complied with Order 10 of the Rules of the Court of Appeal for the Court of Appeal to rely thereon. 4.    Whether the judgments of the two lower courts are not a nullity. On the other side, learned counsel for the respondents formulated two issues for determination of the appeal. 1.    Whether interest at the rate of 10% per annum is payable on the judgment debt of N 1, 141,631.20 in the sum of N456,652.40 for a period of four years from the 1st day of December 1981 to 30 November 1985? 2.    Whether the suit was competent having been commenced by way of Originating Summons? At the hearing of the appeal on 21 November learned counsel for the appellants’ Mr. LAO. Nylander adopted the appellants’ brief filed on 31 May 2016 but deemed duly filed on 21 November 2016. He urged this court to allow the appeal for compensation and interest.  Learned counsel for the respondents’ Mr. K. Kassim adopted the respondents brief filed on 28 June 2016 and urged us to dismiss the appeal. To my mind the only issue worth considering is Issue No.4 formulated by the appellant. It reads: Whether the judgments of the two lower courts are not a nullity. In a bid to enforce the decision of the Lagos State Lands Tribunal the appellants’ filed an originating summons before a Lagos High Court for reliefs earlier alluded to in this judgment but principally that the compensation awarded by the Tribunal at the rate of 10% per annum from 1 December, 1981 to 30 November, 1983 be paid to them. The High Court ordered that compensation be paid to the appellants but declined to order the payment of interest.   The Court of Appeal agreed with the High Court. In his submissions learned counsel for the appellants observed that failure of the respondents to disclose at the trial court in suit No. M/260/85 before Agoro J (as he then was) and also at the Court of Appeal that the Lands Tribunal made a mandatory order that the respondents should pay the judgment debt of N1,141,631.20k without further delay amounted to suppression of facts which nullify the judgment of the High Court and Appeal Court. Reliance was placed on Vulcean Gases Ltd v Cesel Sheff for Industries (2001) 9NWLR (Pt.719)p.610. Learned counsel for the respondents did not respond to the above. When a court conducts proceedings in which it has no jurisdiction over the cause of action, the judgment given at the end of proceedings has no legal consequence, it binds no one. It is void without effect, a nullity. See Okafor v Attorney General Anambra State (1991) 6 NWLR(Pt200)p.659 Kalu v Odili (1999)5 NWLR(Pt240)p.l30 Jurisdiction is thus fundamental. It is the authority which a court has to decide matters and it is well spelt out in the Constitution or a specific statute. Jurisdiction is simply the legal right by which the courts exercise their authority. Jurisdiction is so important in that it can be raised in the trial court, on appeal, or in the Supreme Court for the first time and all that is necessary before it is heard on appeal is for the adverse party to be put on notice. I must emphasize once again that when a court delivers judgment when it does not have jurisdiction the whole proceedings no matter how well conducted and decided would amount to a nullity. See further Sen. Anyanwu v Hon. Ogunewe & 2ors (2014) 1-2SC (Pt.ii)p.49 YarAdua & 9 ors v Yandoma & 13 ors (2014) 12 SC (Pt.III)p.64 Jev & anor v Iyortyom & 2 ors (2014) 5-6 SC (Pt.III) P.82 On 10 November, 1981 the Lagos State Lands Tribunal in its judgment awarded the appellants the sum of N1, 141,631.20k (One million, one hundred and forty-one thousand, six hundred and  thirty-one naira, twenty kobo) for their land acquired by the respondents. The Tribunal also ruled that the appellants were not entitled to interest. The Public Lands Acquisition (Miscellaneous Provision) Act 1976 is the statute that confers exclusive jurisdiction on the Lands Tribunal to decide issues in respect of compensation payable on lands acquired by the Government and the payment of interest on delayed compensation. It is the lands Tribunal that has jurisdiction to determine the amount of compensation and those entitled to it. Section 16 of the Public Lands Acquisition (Miscellaneous Provision) Act 1976 states that: “An appeal shall lie from the decision of any lands Tribunal as if suck decision were the decision of the High Court of a State. It is clear that the Public lands Acquisition (Miscellaneous Provision) Act 1976 confers exclusive jurisdiction on the Lands Tribunal to decide the issue of compensation payable to the appellants for their land acquired by the Government, and also the payment of interest in deserving cases. It follows that the Ruling of a Lagos High Court in suit No. M/250/85 delivered on 21 March, 1986, was delivered without jurisdiction and the judgment of the Court of Appeal which affirmed that decision was also given without jurisdiction. You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand. Both judgments are null and void. Appeals lie from the judgment of the Lagos State Lands Tribunal to the Court of Appeal. It is now over thirty-five years since the Tribunal delivered judgment. There was no appeal by any of the parties. Since there was no appeal. The judgment of the Lagos State lands Tribunal delivered on 10 November, 1981 in suit NO. LJ/LS/IS/79 is inviolate until set aside. The judgment of the Lagos State Lands Tribunal, as with all courts of competent jurisdiction take effect immediately upon delivery and the Tribunal has inherent jurisdiction to proceed to enforce such judgment forthwith. This jurisdiction of the Tribunal can only be suspended by a stay of execution provided there is an appeal. The appellants were wrong to come to a High Court to seek the award of interest on the judgment debt and payment of judgment debt. They ought to nave set in motion the process to enforce the judgment and appeal for interest rather than come by way of originating summons. Filing a fresh action after judgment has been delivered to enforce the judgment and seek interest is unknown under any principle of law. The land compulsorily acquired by the Government in 1958 along Ilasamaja/Oshodi Expressway was over the years developed and is now Isolo Industrial Estate and Matori Industrial Estate. On 10 November, 1981 the Lagos State Lands Tribunal ordered the Lagos State Government to pay the sum of N1,141,631.20k (One million, one hundred and forty-one thousand, six hundred and thirty-one naira, twenty kobo) to  the  appellants’  as  compensation  for  their land compulsorily acquired by the Government (the respondents). The Tribunal, also ruled that the appellants were not entitled to interest. .Since there was no appeal from this judgment of the Lands Tribunal, it remains correct, and the parties are satisfied with it. In the circumstances both judgments of the Lagos High Court and the Court of Appeal are  nullities. Appeal dismissed. For the avoidance of doubt, I must state that: 1. the appellants are entitled to compensation assessed by the Lands Tribunal as N1, 141,63120k 2.    the appellants’ are not entitled to interest. 3.    The Ruling of the Lagos .High Court in suit No: M/250/85 delivered on 21 March, 1986 and the judgment of the Court of Appeal in CA/L/300/99 delivered on 22 July,2002 are null and void. CHIMA CENTUS NWEZE, JSC: My Lord, Rhodes-Vivour, JSC, obliged me with the draft of the leading judgement just delivered now. I, entirely, agree with the reasoning and conclusion. I abide by the consequential orders in the said leading judgement

MUSA DATTIJO MUHAMMAD, JSC: Having read before now the lead judgment of my learned brother Rhodes-Vivour JSC just delivered, I agree with his lordship’s reasoning and  conclusion that this appeal is incompetent and stands dismissed. I rely on the summary of the facts contained in the lead judgment to comment on the issue the appeal raises purely by way of emphasis. It is evident from the printed record of this appeal that the trial court, the Lagos State High Court, being a court of coordinate jurisdiction with the Lands Tribunal in Lagos State which earlier determined the suit of the parties herein, lacks the jurisdiction of re-litigating the same matter. It is settled that no judge can or is entitled to reverse vary or alter the order or decision by another judge of co-ordinate jurisdiction. See Amanabu V. Okafor (1966) 1ANLR 205. The decision of the trial court in Suit No. M/250/85 from which this appeal arose remains a nullity. Section 16 of the Public Lands Acquisition (miscellaneous provision) Act 1976 disentitles the trial court from determining any matter earlier determined by the Lands Tribunal. The Section provides:- “An Appeal shall lie from the decision of any Lands Tribunal as if such decision were the decision of the High Court of a State.” My lords, by virtue of Section 240 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, read in conjunction with Section 16 of the Public Lands (Miscellaneous Provision) Act supra, any appeal from the decision of the Lands Tribunal is determinable by the lower court to the exclusion of any other court of law in Nigeria. The Court of Appeal exercises its appellate jurisdiction only in respect of valid decision from those courts and tribunals specified by the Constitution or any such law as the Public Lands (Miscellaneous Provision) Act. The lower court and by extention this Court lacks the jurisdiction of entertaining appeals from the decision of the trial court given without jurisdiction. The instant appeal, therefore, being incompetent stands struck out. See Josiah Cornelius Ltd & ors V. Ezenwa (1996) 4 NWLR (Pt 443) 391 and Mustapha V.  Governor of Lagos State (1987) 4 SCNJ143. It is for the foregoing and the fuller reasons in the lead judgment of my learned brother Rhodes-Vivour JSC that I also strike out the incompetent appeal. CLARA BATA OGUNBIYI. JSC: I read in draft the lead judgment of my learned brother Rhodes-Vivour, JSC. I agree that the appeal is devoid of any merit and should be dismissed. The facts of the case are well spelt out in the lead judgment. Central to the determination of the appeal is section 16 of the Public Lands Acquisition (Miscellaneous Provision) Act 1976, which reproduction is very revealing as follows- “An appeal shall lie from the decision of any lands Tribunal as if such decision were the decision of the High Court of a State.” A community reading of the foregoing provision is where the act confers an exclusive jurisdiction on the Lands tribunal in matters of compensation as it is in the case at hand inclusive of interest. For all intents and purposes, the jurisdictional power vested in the lands tribunal is equated squarely with the High Court of a state. Hence the two are deemed courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction for this purpose. As a consequence therefore, the subsequent originating summons filed at the Lagos High Court against the Military Governor of Lagos state and the state Attorney-General of Lagos State on account of interest, was clearly without any jurisdiction. It is elementary to restate that without jurisdiction, the court acts in futility and any proceeding conducted without jurisdiction amounts to a nullity. In the case at hand, the absence of any jurisdiction vested in the High court had automatically rendered the Court of Appeal also impotent to entertain any appeal arising there from. The judgment of the Court of Appeal which endorsed the trial High Court, though concurrent in nature, are however without any foundation. It is unfortunate that the two courts are in great error as they both lacked the jurisdiction to adjudicate the subject matter placed before them. My learned brother Rhodes-Vivour, JSC has dealt exhaustively with the subject matter of this appeal. I adopt his judgment as mine. With the few words of mine and more particularly on the fuller reasoning and conclusion arrived at by my brother in his lead judgment, I will also dismiss this appeal and abide by all the orders made there in the lead judgment.   COUNSEL: L. A.O. NYLANDER for the Appellants’ . A. ADENIJI KASSIM Hon. Attorney- General and Commissioner for Justice Lagos State for the Respondents’ with him are: I. Oshodi Assistant Director Civil Litigation. O. Olanrewaju Chief State Counsel. J. I. Jacob Principal State Counsel. O. Osusanya Senior State Counsel.

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