➥ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Quo Vadis Hotels Limited v. Commissioner of Lands (1973) – SC
by “PipAr” Branham-Paul C. Chima.
Supreme Court – SC.20/1973
➥ JUDGEMENT DELIVERED ON:
Friday, the 15th day of June, 1973
➥ AREA(S) OF LAW
Approval to foreigner;
Locus standi of government departments.
➥ PRINCIPLES OF LAW
⦿ COMPETENCY TO INSTITUTE AN ACTION IS A VITAL FACTOR
It is fundamental that a person who institutes an action in court must be competent to do so and in the case of Ajao v. Sonola and another delivered on the 10th May, 1973 [See pante] this Court observed thus with respect to the issue of competence:- “We think it is settled that competency to institute an action is an essential or indeed a vital factor in deciding the competency of the action itself, and if challenged by a defendant, the plaintiff has the onus of establishing it. “See also Lawal and others v. Younan and Sons and Co.  All N.L.R. 245 at p. 254. — G.B.A. Coker, JSC.
⦿ WRONGFUL PROCEDURE – FIGHT BETWEEN BOSS & AGENT
We point out that the participation of the first defendant in this action, whilst not illegal, leaves quite a great deal to be desired in view of the way and manner in which his case had been framed. He was the landlord of the second defendants and it is surprising that he has fought this case throughout on the basis that his own acts were illegal and void and in absolute disregard of the established principle of law that he might not derogate from his own grant. The high water mark of the questionability of his mode of participation is reflected in paragraphs 4 and 5 of his statement of defence (which we have set out earlier on in this judgment) and the evidence he gave in support of them; and, any fair appraisal of his manner of participation in the case must leave room for considerable doubts about the honesty of any purpose which he had set out to achieve. Still more startling is the fact that the Commissioner of Lands had thought it fit to sue the Registrar of Deeds-an official in his Department-to court. We were not even told that this officer is capable of suing or of being sued; and it is distressing to see from his pleadings that the Registrar of Deeds was putting his boss, the Commissioner of Lands, to the “strictest proof’ of averments of invalidity of a deed which the former contended was duly registered in accordance with the law. — G.B.A. Coker, JSC.
➥ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
G.B.A. Coker, J.S.C.
⦿ FOR THE APPELLANT
⦿ FOR THE RESPONDENT
➥ CASE FACT/HISTORY
The present appellants, Quo Vadis Hotels and Restaurants Ltd., were the second defendants in an action instituted by the Commissioner of Lands, Mid-Western State (now first respondent) in the High Court, Benin City. The first defendant to the action is one Chief Francis Edo-Osagie and the third defendant is the Registrar, Lands Registry, Benin.
The plaintiff’s writ is endorsed as follows:- ”Plaintiff claims:- 1. A declaration that the deed of Sublease made 1st day of November, 1968 between the first and second defendants regarding No. 1A Reservation Road, Government Reservation Area Benin City and registered as No. 16 at page 16 in Volume 54 of the Lands Registry Benin City is void and of no legal effect. 2. A declaration that any purported occupation of No. 1A Reservation Road, Government Reservation Area Benin City pursuant to the said deed of Sublease of 1st November, 1968 between the 1st and 2nd defendants is unlawful. 3. Possession of the said land at No. 1A Reservation Road, Government Reservation Area Benin City.”
Judgement was given in Plaintiff’s favour. This is an appeal by Defendant.
➥ ISSUE(S) & RESOLUTION(S)
I. That the plaintiff has no locus standi to maintain the present action?
RULING: IN APPELLANT’S FAVOUR.
A. THAT DEPARTMENTS OF GOVERNMENT ARE LIABLE AND CAN SUE FOR ACTS GRANTED BY STATUTE
“Learned Solictor-General had submitted then that the Commissioner of Lands was competent to maintain this and indeed any type of action before a competent court. No authority was produced or cited to us for this submission since it is universally recognised that the Departments of Government are not, unless specifically provided by statute, entitled to sue or liable to be sued in respect of official acts done by them in their respective official capacities. If that were not so the Commissioner of Police or the Superintendent of Prisons or the Director of Surveys or indeed any other head of a Government Department would be entitled at the suit or at the expense of government to take out civil actions, against citizens in respect of any cause or causes of action. We are satisfied that this would lead to monstrous consequences and we are not surprised that it was impossible to produce any authority in support of such a submission.”
B. THAT THE COMMISSIONER OF LANDS DOES NOT HAVE THE LOCUS STANDI
“The Commissioner of Lands has, under common law, no rights to institute any form of proceedings except those conferred upon him by statute; and if those are exhausted the Commissioner of Lands has no other grounds to fall upon. We are satisfied that section 6 of the Native Lands Acquisition Law contemplates only the criminal proceedings created by section 4 (2) and the civil proceedings envisaged by section 5 (1) and those are the only two courses open to the Commissioner of Lands. It may well be argued that the Attorney-General by virtue of the provisions of section 2 of the Petitions of Right Law, Cap. 90 is entitled to institute proceedings for any cause of action but we are not concerned in this case with that matter and do not attempt to decide it. The present proceedings were instituted by the Commissioner of Lands for the declarations sought by it-declarations to redeclare what the statute itself has already so declared-and we are clearly of the view that the Commissioner of Lands was incompetent to institute such proceedings for such claims. We are ourselves not unaware of the illogicality of an argument which supports the institution of declaratory proceedings in respect of matters already so declared by statute and we cannot but disagree with such argument on the grounds both of principle and common sense. The relevant sections of the Native Lands Acquisition Law have already declared that particular type of occupation unlawful. Indeed section 5 (2) which deals with proceedings for ejectment puts the onus of proving otherwise on the respondent. In those circumstances we can see no room for any doubts as to the intention of the legislature-an intention to remove from the Commissioner of Lands the necessity or the burden of seeking the very types of declaration which are sought in the present proceedings. We are satisfied that the arguments for the second defendants on the first point of appeal are sound and we accept them.”
II. The High Court was wrong on the facts in finding that the plaintiff has successfully established that there was no approval granted as required by the Native Lands Acquisition Law and that accordingly the occupation by the second defendants of the land in dispute was unlawful?
A. THAT THE GOVERNOR GAVE APPROVAL
“if then the endorsement on (Ex. E) indicates the approval of the Governor under section 3 (1) then clearly there is a presumption that the necessary procedure for obtaining such an endorsement had been pursued. The document (Ex. E) as already stated by us bears on its face the “approval” of the Govemnor and the Registrar of Deeds had suggested this in his pleadings thereby joining issues with the plaintiff on the point that the deed was duly registered in accordance with the provisions of the Land Instruments Registration Law, Cap. 56.”
“The judgment of the High Court, Benin City in suit No. B/116/71 dated the 30th September, 1972 (Obaseki J.) including the orders for costs is set aside. We order that the plaintiffs case be dismissed with costs and this shall be the judgment of the court. We also order that the plaintiff must pay the costs of the second respondents fixed in the court below at N100 and in this court at N250. We make no order for costs in favour of or against the other defendants who are respondents before us.”
➥ MISCELLANEOUS POINTS
➥ REFERENCED (STATUTE)
sections 4, 5 and 6 of the Native Lands Acquisition Law Cap. 80.
➥ REFERENCED (CASE)
➥ REFERENCED (OTHERS)