⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Joseph Odogu v. Attorney-General Of The Federation & Ors. (1996) – SC
⦿ LITE HOLDING
Where the damages awarded is manifestly too low or high, an appellate court would interfere to set the damages in a reasonable light.
⦿AREA OF LAW
– Administrative Law.
– Personal liberty.
Attorney-General of The Federation & Ors.
(1996) JELR 35476 (SC)
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
* FOR THE APPELLANT
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
⦿ FACT (as relating to the issues)
The applicant, Joseph Odogu, now appellant in this appeal, was arrested by the Police on 4th August 1980 at Festac Town and charged with the offence of armed robbery. He denied the charge. He was taken into custody.
On 17th December 1980 he was arraigned before a magistrate’s court where a formal charge of armed robbery was preferred against him. He was remanded in prison custody and taken to Ikoyi Prison. Between that date and 1983 he was taken a number of times to the Magistrate’s court but was on each occasion further remanded because the prosecution told the court that the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions was yet to be obtained.
On 19th December 1983, the charge against him was withdrawn by the prosecution and the court struck out the charge and ordered his release. He was released from Ikoyi prisons on that date but was promptly re-arrested by the Police and detained at the Panti Street Police Station.
On 27th March 1984 he was moved to the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prisons where he was held until 7th July 1986 when again he was taken back to the Panti Street Police Station and thereat detained.
On 11th July 1986 he was arraigned yet again before the Magistrate’s Court Yaba, Lagos on a charge of armed robbery and was again remanded in prison custody where he remained until the proceedings leading to this appeal commenced in 1987.
In December 1987 the Civil Liberties Organisation commenced proceedings in the name and on behalf of the applicant, claiming, pursuant to Orders 2, 3, 4 and 6 of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 1979. Claiming, inter alia, “A declaration that the continued detention of the applicant at Ikoyi Prisons is unconstitutional, unlawful, illegal, null and void.”
The learned trial Judge, in assessing damages, observed: “In assessing the compensation payable to the applicant, I take into consideration the pain, suffering and deprivation of personal liberty resulting from the interference with the person of the present applicant by the Police, as well as the indignity, emotional stress, disgrace and humiliation arising from the long incarceration or remand in Prison Custody and Police Stations in the Lagos State. It seems to me that a sum of N2,000.00 would be a fair and reasonable compensation to the applicant.”
He awarded that amount to the applicant. The applicant was unhappy with the award and appealed to the Court of Appeal.
1. Whether the damages awarded by the lower court is inadequate?
⦿ RESOLUTION OF ISSUE(S)
1. ISSUE 1 WAS RESOLVED IN FAVOUR OF THE APPELLANT BUT AGAINST THE RESPONDENT.
i. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and increased the award of compensation the applicant was entitled to N75,000.00. In reaching this decision, the court below, per Ayoola, J.C.A. after restating the principle that guides an appellate court in an appeal against award of damages, observed: “In this case, notwithstanding the blanket pronouncement of the learned Judge that the amount he awarded would be fair and reasonable compensation, it seems to me clear from the judgment that he completely ignored a relevant factor which he should have taken into consideration in his assessment of compensation. That factor is the financial loss which flowed directly from the appellant’s prolonged incarceration about which there was uncontroverted evidence. Besides, although the learned Judge made reference to the ‘ordeal and deprivation’ suffered by the applicant during the period of his arrest on 4th August 1980 and his release on 31st March, 1988 and he mentioned a few other things which he said he took into consideration, which had been alluded to earlier in this judgment, it is manifest that the amount awarded as compensation for deprivation of liberty of such obvious enormity with consequential personal and sentimental impact as profound and grave as the learned Judge himself mentioned, was so grossly low as to be an erroneous estimate. Where interference with a right is of substantial proportions and real damage has been shown, as in this case, it is erroneous to award in the name of compensation an amount which is almost contemptuous and derisory. In this case, I feel no hesitation in holding that this is a case in which this court should interfere with the amount of compensation awarded by the court below. Whatever compensation is awarded in such cases as this should truly reflect not only the actual pecuniary loss of the victim but also the abhorrence of Society and the law for such gross violation of human rights, particularly the right of personal liberty, as in this case, An unwitting trivialisation of a serious matter by an inordinately low award should be avoided. Personal liberty of the individual is a commodity of an inherently high value.”
I agree entirely with the passage above.
ii. There was a definite finding of the trial Judge that the period of unlawful detention spanned a period of about eight years. That finding was not challenged by either party in the appeal before the court below. It was, therefore, not open to that court to review that finding with a view to arriving at a different period of unlawful detention. That court, with respect, is clearly in error in this regard. The finding of N20,000.00 per annum as reasonable compensation for the applicant’s collapsed business is in line with the applicant’s claim. Therefore, the proper amount that ought to be awarded to the applicant in respect of the compensation for the collapse of his business would be N20,000.00 multiplied by 8 years and that is N160,000.00 I have considered the award of N25,000.00 general damages made by the court below in favour of the applicant. Considering the findings of the two courts below on the treatment meted out to the applicant during the period of his incarceration, I think an award of N40,000.00 general damages ought to be made in his favour.
From all I have been saying above, the conclusion I reach is that this appeal succeeds and it is hereby allowed. The award of N75,000.00 made by the court below is increased to N200,000.00 (two hundred thousand Naira). I award to the applicant/appellant a sum of N1,000.00 as costs of this appeal.
⦿ SOME PROVISION(S)
⦿ RELEVANT CASE(S)
⦿ CASE(S) RELATED
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
This court has held that where there is no appeal against the quantum of damages, the court cannot interfere with the award. – Onu, J.S.C. Odogu v. Federation (1996)
Exemplary damages are usually awarded whenever the defendant’s conduct is sufficiently outrageous to merit punishment, as where it discloses malice, fraud, cruelty, insolence, flagrant disregard of the law and the like. – Ogundare, J.S.C. Odogu v. Federation (1996)
Our attention was drawn at the oral hearing to the case of Shugaba Abdulrahman Darman v. Minister of Internal Affairs (1981) 2 NCLR 459 where the court awarded exemplary damages. The distinction lies in the fact that in that case aggravated and exemplary damages were specifically claimed and pleaded. In the matter before us, there was no such claim made for exemplary damages. I think it will be wrong in the circumstance to award it, even though, on the facts, the case was made out for its award, had it been claimed; exemplary damages must be claimed and proved before they can be awarded. – Ogundare, J.S.C. Odogu v. Federation (1996)
This country has a written Constitution guaranteeing certain fundamental rights. A fundamental right is a right guaranteed in the Nigerian Constitution and it is a right which every person is entitled, when he is not subject to the disabilities enumerated in the Constitution, to enjoy by virtue of being a human being. They are so basic and fundamental that they are entrenched in a particular chapter of the Constitution. One of them is the right to personal liberty which is guaranteed by section 32(1) of the Constitution. Section 32(6) of the same Constitution makes provision for a sanction in case of any breach of section 32(1) as any person who is unlawfully arrested or detained is entitled to compensation and public apology from the appropriate authority or person. The Nigerian Constitution also provides guidelines for the law enforcement agents in relation to the exercise of their powers. The aforesaid guidelines make it possible to maintain balance between law enforcement on the one hand and giving due regard and recognition to human rights on the other. It is in the light of the foregoing comments that one can appreciate the sort of shabby treatment given to the appellant in this case. At one stage the circumstances were such that the appellant should have been released straightaway. He did not constitute a security risk. His further detention was really no longer necessary because the appropriate authority handling the prosecution of the charge preferred against him had made it quite clear that the charge should no longer be pressed as it could not be sustained. Accordingly, the court discharged the appellant. However, instead of accepting the order of discharge and letting the appellant go away, he was re-arrested and his detention was continued. Eventually, and at long last he had to be released after further detention without trial for any criminal offence. – Adio, J.S.C. Odogu v. Federation (1996)