➥ CASE SUMMARY OF:
The Military Governor of Lagos State & Ors. v. Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu & Anor. (1986) – SC
by PipAr Chima
Supreme Court – SC.241/1985
➥ JUDGEMENT DELIVERED ON:
Friday, the 14th day of February, 1986
➥ AREA(S) OF LAW
Contempt of court;
Disobedience to Court order;
Stay of execution.
➥ NOTABLE DICTA
⦿ IT IS A SERIOUS MATTER TO FLOUT A POSITIVE ORDER OF COURT
I think it is a very serious matter for anyone to flout a positive order of a court and proceed to taunt the Court further by seeking a remedy in a higher court while still in contempt of the lower court. It is more serious when the act of flouting the order of the court, the contempt of the court, is by the Executive. – Eso, JSC.
⦿ SELF-HELP CANNOT NOT OPERATE WHERE RULE OF LAW OPERATES
In the area where rule of law operates, the rule of self help by force is abandoned. Nigeria being one of the countries in the world even in the third world which proclaim loudly to follow the rule of law, there is no room for the rule of self help by force to operate. Once a dispute has arisen between a person and the government or authority and the dispute has been brought before the court, thereby invoking the judicial powers of the state. it is the duty of the government to allow the law to take its course or allow the legal and judicial process to run its full course. – Obaseki, JSC.
⦿ COURT ORDER TREATED WITH LEVITY REDUCES CONFIDENCE OF CITIZEN IN JUDICIAL PROCESS
If Governments treat court order with levity and contempt the confidence of the citizen in the courts will be seriously eroded and the effect of that will be the beginning of anarchy in replacement of the rule of law. If anyone should be wary of orders of court it is the authorities; for they, more than anyone else, need the application of the rule of law in order to govern properly and effectively. – Uwais, JSC.
⦿ MOTION – WHAT AN AFFIDAVIT SHOULD NOT CONTAIN
A motion for a stay of execution is usually accompanied by an affidavit deposing to facts (not law, not speculation) which will persuade and incline the court to grant a stay … Paragraphs 14, 15 and 17 reproduced above offend all known rules relating to affidavits. One of those rules is that “an affidavit shall not contain extraneous matter, by way of objection, or prayer, or legal argument or conclusion”. – Oputa, JSC.
⦿ PARTY TO OBEY COURT RULING UNTIL REVERSED
It is true that the present Applicants appealed against the above Ruling of the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court. That appeal has not yet been heard. It is only the Supreme Court that can validly pronounce on the correctness or otherwise of the Appeal Court’s Ruling and Order. The present Applicants are bound whether they like it or not, to abide by the ruling and comply with the order of the Court of Appeal until reversed. – Oputa, JSC.
⦿ SOME PRINCIPLES ON THE NATURE OF A COURT’S JUDGMENT
1. A judgment or ruling of a competent court ought not to be illusory, but ought to have its consequences. One consequence of the Order of the Court of Appeal dated 13/11/85 is the restoration of Chief Ojukwu to his residence at No. 29 Queen’s Drive. The applicants by their delaying tactics have so far made that order illusory. 2. A judgment once given should be accepted as correct until the contrary is proved. This can only be done by and in an appropriate higher Court of Appeal – in this case the Supreme Court. This Court has not yet over-ruled or set aside the Order of the Court of Appeal of 13/11/85. 3. He who is in defiant disobedience of the law – here an Order of court – cannot appeal to the same law to help him continue in his disobedience. 4. The Applicants in this Motion are asking the court to exercise its discretion in their favour. The exercise of discretion is equitable and the function of equity is to supplement the law never to counteract or contradict the law. – Oputa, JSC.
⦿ THE LAW IS NO RESPECTER OF PERSON
I can safely say that here in Nigeria even under a Military Government, the law is no respecter of person, principalities, government or powers and that the courts stand between the citizens and the government alert to see that the state or government is bound by the law and respects the law. Under our law, it is the court that has the jurisdiction and power to declare the Respondent, Chief Emeka Ojukwu a trespasser on the premises situate at No. 29 Queen’s Drive Ikoyi after due hearing on relevant evidence. – Oputa, JSC.
➥ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
⦿ FOR THE APPELLANT
Chief Williams, S.A.N.
⦿ FOR THE RESPONDENT
Adetosoye A. Solicitor-General (Lagos State).
➥ CASE HISTORY
On 10th October 1985 an ex-parte application made by Emeka Ojukwu Respondent in this Court came before the High Court of Lagos State (Omotosho J) seeking interim injunction restraining the Military Governor of Lagos State, the Commissioner of Police Lagos State, and the Attorney-General Lagos State from ejecting the said Emeka Ojukwu, who hereafter will be referred to simply as Ojukwu in this Reasons for Ruling, and members of his family from No. 29 Queen’s Drive, Ikoyi, which he referred to in his application as his house.
The interim order sought from the High Court was meant to operate only until there was a reasonable opportunity to have the matters in issue before the High Court dealt with Ojukwu swore to an affidavit before the High Court that the house belonged to his father after whose death he, Ojukwu became the owner of the house. He went on further and deposed on oath that during the period of the Civil War which lasted from 1967 to 1970, and which war he led against Nigeria, from an enclave he termed Biafra, the house remained unoccupied.
After the Civil War, Ojukwu resided in the Ivory Coast and though that war ended in 1970, Ojukwu came back to Nigeria, only in 1982, after he had been granted a full pardon by the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Ojukwu then said he moved to the house having paid the sum of N90,000.00 to the Lagos State Government for “expenses incurred by the said Government in keeping the house.” And that all the members of his family had been residing in the house before the present trouble. The learned Judge granted the interim order for injunction on the grounds of his ownership of the house and impending threat to evict him.
The matter then moved to one of notice to the Lagos State. Ojukwu would appear, at that stage, to have changed front. He now said the property belonged to Ojukwu Transport Company owned by his late father and that the N90,000.00 which he paid was paid to Agents in charge of the property for the purpose of securing a lease of the property. The learned trial Judge refused equitable relief of injunction against the Lagos State Government on the ground that the property is all abandoned property and that Ojukwu had failed to show that he had a legal right to or interest in the property.
The learned Judge also said that Ojukwu had not come to Equity with clean hands.
Ojukwu then appealed the trial court decision. At the time his appeal was pending before the Court, he was evicted from the said house by the 150 men ordered by the government.
The Court then ordered that Ojukwu be reinstated into the property, following the forcible ejection which the Lagos State Government termed self-help. The Lagos State Government refused to comply with this order of the Court of Appeal. Or, to put it mildly, did not comply with the order.
In this suit, the Appellant/Applicant has sought a stay of execution of the lower court’s order of not ejecting Ojukwu.
➥ ISSUE(S) & RESOLUTION
I. Whether this Court should grant the stay of execution filed by the Applicant/Appellant?
RULING: IN RESPONDENT’S FAVOUR.
A. With the contempt of the Court of Appeal by the Applicants still subsisting, it would he inequitable for this Court to give a consideration to the application of the Applicants. Let the Lagos State Government purge itself of this serious contempt, of this apparent violation of the Constitution even as amended by Decree No. 1 of 1984 before coming to seek the favour of the Court. Another very important matter emanating from the act of the applicants. They have no right to take the matter into their own hands once the court was seised of it. The essence of rule of law is that it should never operate under the rule of force or fear. To use force to effect an act and while under the marshall of that force, seek the court’s equity, is an attempt to infuse timidity into court and operate a sabotage of the cherished rule of law. It must never be.
II. I will be doing injustice to the cause of the rule of law if I grant this application and allow the eviction of the respondent to stand. The Nigerian Constitution is founded on the rule of law the primary meaning of which is that every thing must be done according to law. It means also that government should be conducted within the frame-work of recognized rules and principles which restrict discretionary power which Coke colourfully spoke of as ‘golden and straight metwand of law as opposed to the uncertain and crooked cord of discretion’ (see 4 Inst. 41). More relevant to the case in hand, the rule of law means that disputes as to the legality of acts of government are to be decided by judges who are wholly independent of the executive.
➥ MISCELLANEOUS POINTS
➥ REFERENCED (STATUTE)
➥ REFERENCED (CASE)
⦿ WHEN SUIT IS PENDING – TEMPORARY INJUNCTION
J. Edward Jones v. Securities and Exchange Commissioner 80 L. Ed. 1015 298 US 1.33. There the second head note reads: “After a defendant has been notified of the pendency of a suit seeking an injunction against him, even though a temporary injunction be not granted, he acts at his peril and subject to the power of the court to restore the status wholly irrespective of the merits as may be ultimately decided.”
⦿ PARTY SHOULD NOT ANTICIPATE AN ORDER OF A COURT
In Daniel v. Ferguson (1891) 2 Ch 27 – CA; suit had been brought to restrain the defendant from building so as to darken plaintiffs’ lights. Notice of motion for a temporary injunction to be made upon a designated date was served on the defendant. After receiving notice, the defendant put on a large number of men and proceeded with his building running a well up to a height of about 39 feet from the ground before the injunction was granted. The court without regard to the ultimate rights of the parties held that the wall thus run up by the defendant should be torn down at once, as an attempt to anticipate the order of the court.
⦿ EVADING COURT PROCESSES TO CONTINUE WITH BUILDING RES
In Von Joel v. Hornsey (1895) 2 Ch 774 – C.A. In that case, the evidence showed that the defendant had repeatedly evaded attempts to serve him with process, and in the meantime had gone on with the building. Again without regard to the ultimate rights of the parties, the court directed the defendant to pull down that part of the building thus erected.
➥ REFERENCED (OTHERS)
⦿ DEFINITION OF SELF-HELP
In Black’s Law Dictionary 5th Edition at page 1220, Self-Help is defined as:- . “Taking an action in person or by a representative with legal consequences, whether the action is legal or not; for example, a “self help eviction” may be a landlord’s removing the tenant’s property from an apartment and locking the door against the tenant.”