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Home » Nigerian Cases » Supreme Court » Ilokson & Co. (Nig) Ltd V. Union Bank (2021) LLJR-SC

Ilokson & Co. (Nig) Ltd V. Union Bank (2021) LLJR-SC

Ilokson & Co. (Nig) Ltd V. Union Bank (2021)

LAWGLOBAL HUB Lead Judgment Report

UWANI MUSA ABBA AJI, J.S.C.

The Appellant was a customer of the Respondent with a current account at its Otukpo Road branch, Makurdi. On 21/9/1994, the Respondent granted an export financing credit facility in the sum of N6,000,000.00 to the Appellant. In all, the Respondent granted the Appellant the principal sum of N8.5 million, which interest rose to N15,073,341.00 as at 30/6/1998. Thus, the claim of the Respondent against the Appellant was N15,073,341.00 with 25% interest from 30/6/1998 till judgment and after judgment, when the whole sum is liquidated.

The Appellant however denied receipt of N8.5 million but only N7.5 million, which it over paid the Respondent, evidenced vide Exhibit 00. Under the condition of the grant of the credit facility, the proceeds of the foreign businesses whereof the facility was granted were to pass through the account of the Appellant, kept by the Respondent. The Appellant counter-claimed the sum of N26,170,370.00 and $161,604.39 from the Respondent or the sum of N42,333,009.74. The Respondent fielded PW1 to PW3 as its witnesses with documents in proof of its case while the Appellant forwarded DW1, to prove its case.

On 6/11/2002, the trial Court gave judgment in favour of the Respondent and dismissed the counter-claim of the Appellant. On appeal to the lower Court, the Appellant lost, hence this appeal. The Appellant has distilled these issues for the determination of the appeal:

  1. Whether the Court below acted without jurisdiction when it affirmed the judgment of the learned trial Judge which awarded the sum of N15,073,341.00 against the Appellant as principal sum and interest on an overdraft said to have been granted to the Appellant by the Respondent when the originating processes that initiated Suit No: MHC/124/98 were signed by law firms instead of legal practitioners as required by law.
  2. Did the Respondent prove its entitlement to the sum of N15,073,341.00 being the alleged principal overdraft and the interest thereon, having regard to the totality of the evidence on the printed record and was it the duty of the Appellant to prove that the Respondent granted her an overdraft of N8.5 million.
  3. Did their lordships of the Courts below evaluate the evidence before them, before entering judgment for the Respondent in the sum of N15,073,341.00 being the alleged principal overdraft and interest thereon?
  4. Was the Appellant indebted to the Respondent in the sum of N15,073,341.00 as at 30/6/98 for their lordships to award the said sum to the Respondent having regard to the totality of the evidence adduced on the printed record?
  5. Was Exhibit ‘Q’ an admission by the Appellant that it was owing the Respondent the sum of N10,349,704.00 as at 2/10/96 and indeed was their lordships right when they relied on Exhibit N, an absolutely inadmissible document to give judgment to the Respondent?
  6. Did their lordships appreciate the case of the Appellant both on the pleadings and evidence in support of the counter-claim, and did they in fact properly evaluate the said evidence before dismissing the counter-claim of the Appellant?
See also  Tajudeen Adisa Vs The State (2018) LLJR-SC

The Respondent having adopted the Appellant’s prolific issues, I shall consider issue one first which has been made a jurisdictional issue by the Appellant that may determine the fate of this appeal one way or the other.

ISSUE ONE:

  1. Whether the Court below acted without jurisdiction when it affirmed the judgment of the learned trial Judge which awarded the sum of N15,073,341.00 against the Appellant as principal sum and interest on an overdraft said to have been granted to the Appellant by the Respondent when the originating processes that initiated Suit No: MHC/124/98 were signed by law firms instead of legal practitioners as required by law.

The Appellant’s learned Counsel submission is that the application for the issuance of the writ of summons was signed by Godwin A. Igbarago and Company. See pages 2-3 of the record. Thus, both application for the writ and the writ of summons being originating processes not signed by a legal practitioner are incompetent and robbed the Court of its jurisdiction. He relied on OKAFOR & ORS V. NWEKE (2007) LPELR-2412 SC, YUSUF V. MOBIL OIL NIG PLC (2020) 3 NWLR (PT.1710) AT 14-15. He urged this issue to be resolved in his favour.

Learned Counsel to the Respondent has submitted that it was the Principal Attorney, G.A. IGBARAGO ESQ that signed the writ of summons although the name of the company, G.A. IGBARAGO & COMPANY appeared before it. Thus, that this should be treated as an irregularity since also the Appellant’s objection to the Court’s jurisdiction is belated to be considered. He placed reliance on HERITAGE BANK LTD V. BENTWORTH FINANCE NIG. LTD (2018) 9 NWLR (PT. 1625) AT 420. He prayed therefore for the resolution of this issue in favour of the Respondent.

See also  M. J. Evans Vs S. A. Bakare (1973) LLJR-SC

The belatedness of a jurisdictional issue has no place in our judicial system since you cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand. It is settled that the issue of jurisdiction can be raised any time, even before this Court for the first time. Per OBASEKI, JSC, in CHIEF DANIEL AWODELE OLOBA V. ISAAC OLUBODUN AKEREJA (1988) LPELR-2583(SC) (PP. 17-18, PARAS. F-D), comprehensively handled this matter thus:

…It is therefore an exhibition of wisdom to have the issue of jurisdiction or competence determined before embarking on the hearing and determination of the substantive matter. The issue of jurisdiction being a fundamental issue, it can be raised at any stage of the proceedings in the Court of first instance or in the appeal Courts. This issue can be raised by any of the parties or by the Court itself suo motu…There is no justice in exercising jurisdiction where there is none. It is injustice to the law, to the Court and to the parties so to do.

It is on record at pages 2 and 3 of the record that on the writ of summons and the application for writ of summons, the Respondent’s originating process was issued and signed thus:

(Sgd)

G.A. IGBARAGO & COMPANY

(LEGAL PRACTITIONERS)

39, J.S. TARKA WAY,

GBOKO,

PRINCIPAL ATTORNEY: G.A. IGBARAGO ESQ

LEAD COUNSEL

I certainly do not need a microscope to decipher that the said process was signed by the legal firm and not by a legal practitioner, contrary to the provision of Sections 2(1) and 24 of the Legal Practitioners Act.

…the effect of signing a process in a name other than that of a legal practitioner…this Court elevated the position to the level of substantive law beyond procedural technicalities…it has decided that the provisions of Sections 2(1) and 24 of the Act affect the jurisdiction of the Court as a matter of substantive law and not as a matter of procedural law…it is now settled that all Court processes….must be signed in the manner as prescribed by the Act, that is to say, by a person qualified as a legal practitioner and enrolled in the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Any Court processes signed in the business names of a firm’s name…having been rendered incurably defective ab initio are liable to be struck out… There is nothing technical in applying the provisions of Sections 2(1) and 24 of the Legal Practitioners Act as it is drafted by the Legislature… The implication of all I have said above is that the said defendant/appellant’s pleading, signed by “PP: Olatoke and Co.,” is unknown to our law.

See also  Bank Of The North Limited v. Central Bank Of Nigeria (1972) LLJR-SC

See Per NWEZE, J.S.C, in SALAMI V. MUSE (2019) LPELR-47038(SC) (PP. 8-19, PARA. B).

This is a very simple case under the undefended list procedure. However, the learned Counsel to the Appellant prepared a 55-page brief and 9-page reply!!! This must be irritating, cumbersome and herculean to anyone that will handle it. The lawyer confronted with the task of preparing a brief would do well to remember what may be called the A. B. C. of all legal writing, namely Accuracy, Brevity and Clarity. See Per OPUTA, JSC, in ENGINEERING ENTERPRISE OF NIGER CONTRACTOR COMPANY OF NIG V. AG KADUNA STATE (1987) LPELR-1143(SC) (PP. 71-74, PARAS. A-B). A good brief should be brief and short to cover the main subject matter. It is a fitted garment and not an overflowing one. Counsel must learn to make their briefs straight to the point. I think that it is because there is no penalty by the Registry before accepting such briefs or refusing such windy, inelegant, voluminous and verbose briefs, which is the reason why Counsels do not care to make their briefs brief.

This issue is therefore resolved in favour of the Appellant and the appeal is allowed on issue one. All the accompanying issues must abate and expire. I set aside the judgment of both the trial and lower Courts as nullity. Parties are to bear their costs.


SC.69/2009

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