➥ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Oko v. A.G. Ebonyi State (2021) – SC
by PipAr Chima
Supreme Court – SC.565/2015
➥ JUDGEMENT DELIVERED ON:
Friday, June 04, 2021
➥ AREA(S) OF LAW
Right of action;
Cause of action.
➥ NOTABLE DICTA
⦿ PROLIFERATION OF ISSUES IS DEPLORABLE
Undoubtedly, the Appellants have disposed themselves to the unpardonable practice of proliferation of issues. Proliferation of issues is highly deplorable. In drafting grounds of appeal and issues for determination, counsel must at all times avoid proliferation of issues and this is done by distilling a sole issue from one or more grounds of appeal, thereby avoiding multiplicity of issues from the same ground. – Saulawa, JSC. Oko v. Ebonyi State (2021)
⦿ WHAT IS A CAUSE OF ACTION?
Literally, the noun ’cause’ simply means to bring about or effect. A ’cause of action’ invariably denotes a combination (group) of operative facts thereby resulting in one or more bases for suing. In a sense, a cause of action is a factual situation that entitles one person to a remedy in Court from another person. An action brought outside the prescribed period offends against the provision of the section and does not give rise to a cause of action. A cause of action means the factual situation stated by the Plaintiff, if substantiated, entitle him to a remedy against the defendant. – Saulawa, JSC. Oko v. Ebonyi State (2021)
⦿ ACCRUAL OF RIGHT VS CAUSE OF ACTION
That accrual of rights is not the same thing as accrual of cause of action or accrual of right of action. The implication is that an unviolated right does not confer on the holder of right, any rights of action because there is no cause of action. In my humble view therefore, right of action and cause of action can be coterminous but accrual of right per se stands alone. It follows that accrual of right under the Constitution entitles the holder of the right to call in aid the judicial powers of the Court under our statutes. It is the infringement of that right which is the cause of action and gives the holder the right of action to activate the judicial powers of the Court under Section 6 (6) (a) & (b) of the CFRN 1999 as amended. – M. Peter-Odili, JSC. Oko v. Ebonyi State (2021)
⦿ JUDICIAL POWERS IS UNAVAILABLE FOR RIGHTS NOT INFRINGED
It is only when the civil rights and obligations of a person fall for determination because of infringement or incursion by another person or authority, the Courts of the country have a right of adjudication. That is to say, in the face of accrued rights which had not been violated, tampered with or alleged to be violated or tampered with, the judicial powers of the Courts of Nigeria remain latent in the face of naked accrued rights. – M. Peter-Odili, JSC. Oko v. Ebonyi State (2021)
⦿ ACCRUAL OF RIGHT VS ACCRUAL OF CAUSE OF ACTION
As I had earlier stated, there is a difference in accrual of right from accrual of cause of action, even though it is a very thin line of demarcation between them. When a right accrues, it is the duty of the beneficiary of that right to make moves to claim his right. When the move is made without success or a favourable response from the other party, there is nothing more to infer than that that refusal to respond is tantamount to a denial. At this point, the cause of action has accrued and is now enforceable through the instrumentality of a judicial process. – M. Peter-Odili, JSC. Oko v. Ebonyi State (2021)
⦿ RIGHT SLEPT ON IS WAIVED
In this instance the appellants having slept on their rights are deemed to have waived them and this Court is bound to give effect to the law, harsh as it may seem to the appellants. – M. Peter-Odili, JSC. Oko v. Ebonyi State (2021)
1. Hon. Francis Aluu Oko
2. Hon. Joseph O. Chukwu
3. Hon. Ama O. Uche (For Themselves And On Behalf Of All Councillors Of Ebonyi State Who Served For The Period Of 1999-2002 And Whose Certificates Of Return Are Hereto Annexed)
Hon. Attorney-General of Ebonyi State
➥ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
Ibrahim Mohammed Musa Saulawa, J.S.C.
⦿ FOR THE APPELLANT
– Dr. ME Ajogwu, SAN.
⦿ FOR THE RESPONDENT
– Hon. Augustine Nwonkwagu Esq., AG Ebonyi State.
➥ CASE HISTORY
The Appellants had the singular privilege of serving as the pioneer democratically elected councillors in the Ebonyi State Local Government system from 1999 to 2002. In the course of their tenure as councillors, the Appellants were duly paid their entitlement/allowances due thereto. However, the Appellants were allegedly denied some entitlements for which they severally complained albeit after the expiration of the tenure thereof.
Not unexpectedly, the Respondent vehemently objected to the competence of the Appellant’s suit. By the Notice of preliminary objection thereof, dated and filed on 15/06/2012, the Respondent urged upon the trial High Court for the following fundamental reliefs: 1. An Order striking out this suit for want of jurisdiction. 2. And such other order or orders as the Court may deem fit to make in the circumstance.
A sole issue was raised by the Respondent for the determination of the said preliminary objection: Whether the combined operation of the Limitation Law (Cap. 102) and Ebonyi State (ApplicabIe laws) law (Cap. 40), laws of Ebonyi State of Nigeria, 2009 does not divest this Court of jurisdiction to hear and determine this action as presently constituted, same having been filed well over five years after the accrual of the cause of the action.
On November 9, 2012 at the close of counsel’s address, the trial High Court delivered the vexed ruling in regard to the Respondent’s objection to the conclusive effect: “It is the view of this Court that Sections 18 and 42 of the Limitation Law of Ebonyi State and the Ebonyi State (Applicable Laws)(CAP.40) Laws of Ebonyi State which bar al (sic) other actions against Ebonyi State Government on the effluxion of five years from the accrual of the cause of action are applicable in this matter and that being the case, since this suit was instituted on 6/12/11 and the cause of action arose on (sic) 2002 immediately after the end of the tenure of the plaintiffs in 2002, the period is well over 5 years and thereby this suit is statute barred. Whether or not the cause of action arose as a result of any Federal order or an Act will not insulate it from the relevant Limitation Laws. Therefore, having held that this suit is statute barred, the suit is struck out for want of jurisdiction by the Court to entertain it.”
Not unnaturally, the Appellants were utterly dissatisfied with the ruling of the trial High Court. Thus, they appealed to the Court below, the court below dismissed their appeal.
➥ ISSUE(S) & RESOLUTION
I. Whether or not the Court of Appeal, Enugu Judicial Division was right when it held that “the cause of action clearly accrued as at the time the appellants left office at the expiration of their tenure of office as councillors in 2002” thereby resulting in dismissing the Appellants appeal on the ground that their suit was statute barred.
I.A. The Court below equally alluded to Exhibits E and F (pages 133 – 134 dated 23th and 27th of May, 2008), to the effect that: “[T]he appellants were aware of their right to their earned salaries and allowances that were not paid to them perhaps, if the appellants had sued qua timet on their entitlement and nevertheless, contemporaneously engaged in correspondences and negotiations, they would not have lost their right of action on this matter. …what a pity for crying “wolf” when the head is off!”
I.B. I agree with learned counsel for the respondent that from the foregoing analysis, there is no gainsaying the fact that the last of these rights — Severance Allowance — became ripe in 2002, all the duties enabling them to earn the allowances having been performed and concluded.
In my considered view, the foregoing findings of the Court below are cogent, unassailable and duly supported by the pleadings of the respective parties and evidence on record.
➥ MISCELLANEOUS POINTS
➥ REFERENCED (STATUTE)
Section 18 of the Limitation Law, Cap 102, Laws of Ebonyi State, 2009.
➥ REFERENCED (CASE)
⦿ RIGHTS ARE QUALIFIED
IN AMERICAN BANK & TRUST CO. VS. FEDERAL RESERVE BANK OF ATLANTA (1921) 256 @ 500 US. 350, 358, 41 SC et 499 @ 500, the US Supreme Court aptly held: “[T]he word ‘right’ is one of the most deceptive of pitfalls; it is so easy to slip from a qualified meaning in the premise to an unqualified one in the conclusion. Most rights are qualified.”
⦿ WHAT IS A LEGAL RIGHT?
In the case of AG of Lagos State Vs. AG FEDERATION (2004) LPELR – SC 70/2004, this Court aptly postulated: What is legal right? A legal right in my view, is a right recognisable in law. It means a right recognised by law and capable of being enforced by the plaintiff. It is a right of a party recognised and protected by a rule of law, the violation of which would be a legal wrong done to the interest of the plaintiff; even though no action is taken. The determination of the existence of a legal right is not whether the action will succeed at the trial but whether the action denotes such a right by reference to the enabling law in respect of the commencement of the action. Per Niki Tobi, JSC @ 97-98 paragraphs G — B.
➥ REFERENCED (OTHERS)
⦿ DEFINITION OF A CAUSE OF ACTION
According to the 19th century erudite jurist, a cause of action: [M]ay be defined generally to be a situation or state of facts thereby entitles a party to maintain an action in a judicial tribunal. This state of facts may be — (a) a primary right of the plaintiff actually violated by the defendant; or (b) the threatened violation of such right, which violation the plaintiff is entitled to restrain or prevent, as in the case of actions or suits for injunction; or (c) it may be that there are doubts as to some apparent adverse right or claim which the plaintiff is entitled to have cleared up, that he may safely perform his duty, or enjoy his property. See Edwin E. Bryant: THE LAW OF PLEADINGS UNDER THE CODES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE (1899) 2nd edition @ 170