Grace Amanambu V Alexander Okafor And Chukwinlo Ulasi (1966) LLJR-SC

Grace Amanambu V Alexander Okafor And Chukwinlo Ulasi (1966)

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ONYEAMA, J.S.C.

The plaintiff claimed to be the widow of one Stephen Olisadebe Amanambu who died as a result of injuries he received in a motor accident which occurred on the 6th of March, 1960, between Lokoja and Okene in Northern Nigeria, and brought an action to recover damages for herself and other persons said to be dependants of the deceased.

The action was commenced in the High Court at Onitsha in Eastern Nigeria and was for ‘damages under the Fatal Accidents Law, Northern Region, 1956.’ The particulars of the persons for whose benefit the action was brought and of the nature of the claim in respect of which damages were sought were ‘pursuant to the Fatal Accident Law, N.R., 1956:’ (meaning Northern Region.)

The defendants were the driver and the owner of the offending vehicle, the drivers address was given as Cable Point, Asaba, in Mid-Western Nigeria and the owners as 64 Iweka Road, Onitsha, in Eastern Nigeria.

None of the parties resides in Northern Nigeria. The defendants in their Statement of Defence, raised the question of the jurisdiction of the High Court at Onitsha ‘in respect of an accident that happened in the Northern Region which was brought under the Fatal Accident Law Northern Region, 1956.’ The plaintiff then applied to the court and obtained leave from Reynolds, J. on the 24th of May, 1961 to amend the Statement of Claim so as to allege that the claim of damages was brought under the Fatal Accident Law, 1956 of Eastern Nigeria. There is no record that the application was opposed or that any arguments were advanced on it.

The action came up for hearing before Betuel, J. on the 10th of November, 1961, who heard arguments on the question of jurisdiction, after it had been established by evidence that the accident occurred in Northern Nigeria and that the deceased died there.

It was submitted to the learned trial judge on behalf of the defendants that the order granting leave to amend the Statement of Claim was invalid, . and that since the claim was brought under the Fatal Accidents Law of Northern Nigeria, a law enacted by the Northern Legislature, the proper course was for the plaintiff to withdraw his action and bring a fresh one.

For the plaintiffs it was argued that the order of one judge cannot be reopened by another of the same court, and that since one of the defendants was resident within the jurisdiction of the High Court at Onitsha the action could be brought in that court by virtue of 0.7, r.4 of the High Court Rules.

Betuel, J. decided that he was entitled to regard the order of Reynolds, J. granting leave to amend the Statement of Claim as a nullity, and that he had no jurisdiction to hear the suit.

We think that Betuel, J. erred in treating the amendment made by Reynolds, J. as a nullity: for it was made in the presence of both parties, and Betuel, J. had no power to review it as if he were sitting on appeal from that order of amendment. Therefore the case must be looked at as a claim for compensation founded on the Fatal Accidents Law of Eastern Nigeria, in accordance with that amendment, in respect of an accident which occurred in Northern Nigeria.

In our view that Law of Eastern Nigeria confers a right to sue for compensation in respect of a fatal accident which occurred in Eastern Nigeria and not outside it: for the Legislature of Eastern Nigeria could only legislate for compensation in regard to such an accident. Therefore the claim, which is based on the Fatal Accidents Law, Eastern Nigeria, cannot stand, and the appeal must be dismissed.

Had the claim as originally based on the Fatal Accidents Law, Northern Nigeria, been left unamended, then we would have had an opportunity of considering whether it could have been brought in the High Court of Eastern Nigeria, and of going into questions of private international law and the possibility of enforcing in Eastern Nigeria a claim founded on a fatal accident in Northern Nigeria in respect of which compensation was being claimed under the Fatal Accidents Law, Northern Nigeria. But we can not do that in the present case: for here the plaintiff insists that he can found his claim on the Fatal Accidents Law, Eastern Nigeria, and with that we cannot agree.

In dismissing this appeal we wish to make it clear that we do not agree with the reasoning of Betuel, J. There will be no order as to costs.


Other Citation: (1966) LCN/1310(SC)

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