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Home » Nigerian Cases » Supreme Court » Naboth Okwuagbala & 3ors V Margret Ikwueme & 2ors (2012) LLJR-SC

Naboth Okwuagbala & 3ors V Margret Ikwueme & 2ors (2012) LLJR-SC

Naboth Okwuagbala & 3ors V Margret Ikwueme & 2ors (2012)

LAWGLOBAL HUB Lead Judgment Report

S. N. ONNOGHEN, J.S.C.

This is an appeal against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Holden at ENUGU in appeal No. CA/E/152/2000 delivered on the 28th day of May, 2003 in which the court dismissed the appeal of the present appellants against the ruling of the High Court of Anambra State, Holden at Nnewi in suit Nos. HN/180/97; HN/181/97 and HN/183/97 delivered on the 16th day of July, 1999 in which the court consolidated the said suits for trial and determination.

The facts of this case include the following:-

The respondents in this Court instituted suit NOS. HN/180/97; HN/181/97 and HN/183/97 as plaintiffs against the appellants as defendants claiming damages jointly and severally, arising from an alleged violation of their rights. Pleadings were filed and exchanged between the parties after which the respondents, as plaintiffs, filed an application for an order consolidating the three suits for trial and determination. The parties to the actions are the same and are represented by same counsel. The three suits still pends before the Nnewi Division of the High Court of Anambra State. There was no counter affidavit to the affidavit in support of the motion for consolidation of the suits.

After conclusion of argument by both counsel, the learned trial judge granted the prayers in its said ruling which ruling was affirmed by the lower court in the judgment on appeal which is the subject of the instant further appeal.

Learned Counsel for the appellants, CHIEF H. B. ONYEKWELU, in the appellants’ brief of argument filed on 9th April, 2004 and adopted in argument of the appeal on the 28th day of September, 2010, has identified the following issues for determination:-

“1. Whether the subject-matter of three consolidated suits were not the respective plaintiff where the dispute is whether the respective plaintiffs were unlawfully arrested and detained, if not, was consolidation of the three suits in any event right, in the circumstance

  1. Whether the mere failure to reply to the issue raised in the respondents’ preliminary objection was fatal to issue No. 2 of the appellants’ Brief of argument in the Court of Appeal.
  2. Whether the same defence is available to the appellants in all the suits.
  3. Did the plaintiffs/respondents claim the same relief against the appellants

It should be noted at this stage that the appellants did not file any counter affidavit to challenge the facts deposed to in support of the application for consolidation which facts were found proven by the trial court in its ruling on the matter. Secondly, the lower court affirmed the findings and holdings of the trial court in its judgment now on appeal. This means that in respect of the facts relevant to the consideration of an application for consolidation, there is concurrent findings by the lower courts.

The learned counsel for the respondents T. U. OGUJI ESQ in the respondents brief of argument deemed filed and served on 27/9/2006 has raised a preliminary objection against grounds 1 and 3 of the grounds of appeal and issues 1, 3 and 4 formulated by learned counsel for the appellants. The objection has been argued in the respondents brief. Learned counsel for the appellants has however not filed a reply brief in this appeal.

It is the submission of learned counsel for the respondents that though grounds 1 and 3 of the grounds of appeal have been christened “Error in Law” they are in fact grounds of facts only or at best, of mixed law and fact and as such they require the leave of either the lower court or this court to be competent grounds of appeal, that appellants failed to obtain the requisite leave of court as a result of which the said grounds are incompetent and liable to be struck out, relying on Igwe vs Kalu (2002) 5 NWLR (pt. 761) 678 at 711; that the application of the appellants for leave filed on 19th April, 2004 was dismissed by this Court on the 23rd day of February, 2005; that issues 1 and 3 were formulated from the said incompetent grounds 1 and 3 and consequently liable to be struck out.

It is the further submission of learned Counsel for the respondents that issue 4 is equally incompetent the same having been formulated from an invalid ground of appeal, particularly as there are only three grounds of appeal herein as can be verified at page 124 of the record and that the said issue 4 is not formulated from any of the said three grounds of appeal; that the issue is consequently incompetent and liable to be struck out, relying on Alli vs Alesinloye (2000) 6 NWLR (pt. 669) 177 at 190.

See also  Chief Emmanuel Olatunde Lakanmi V Peter Adebayo Adene & Ors (2003) LLJR-SC

As stated earlier in this judgment, the learned Counsel for the appellants, in his wisdom, failed/neglected to file a reply brief to the respondents brief in which he would have answered or reacted to the points raised in argument on the preliminary objection by virtue of which this Court would have benefited from his argument.

I have gone through pages 124 to 126 of the record of appeal and have confirmed that learned Counsel for the appellants filed only three grounds of appeal in the notice of appeal copied at these pages of the record.

From the issues formulated by learned Counsel for the appellants and earlier reproduced in this judgment, it is clear that a total of four (4) issues were formulated from the three grounds of appeal, a situation frowned upon by the law as it is settled law that though a counsel can formulate an issue out of a ground of appeal, he is not allowed to formulate two or more issues out of a ground of appeal and that where more than an issue is formulated out of a ground of appeal the issues are incompetent. It is known as the rule or principle against proliferation of issues in an appeal.

I have carefully looked at issue 4 as formulated and the grounds of appeal filed in this appeal and it is clear that the said issue cannot be said to have arisen from any of the three grounds. The said issue is therefore without a supporting ground of appeal and therefore incompetent and liable to be struck out.

On the first leg of the preliminary objection which deals with the competence of grounds 1 and 3 of the grounds of appeal, it is necessary to reproduce the said grounds. The grounds read as follows:

”3.GROUNDS OF APPEAL:

(I) Error in law: The learned Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law by holding that the subject-matters of the disputes were not the separate three plaintiffs in the respective suits.

Particulars: (i) The complainant/plaintiff (HN/180/97; HN/181/97, HN/183/97) is the subject-matter of the dispute in his or her own case.

(ii) The dispute is the alleged unlawful detention, which is the cause of action.

(2) Error in law: The Learned Justices erred in law when they held that failure to reply to the point raised in the respondents’ preliminary objection implied a concession to the point raised and negative issue no. 2 of the appellants’ Brief and thereby made that issue incompetent.

Particulars: (i) It is not the law, as assumed by the Court of Appeal, that failure to reply a point of law, automatically vests correctness to the point taken against the silent party.

(ii) A court is bound, nevertheless, to see if the legal point is well taken.

(iii) It is not true that neither of the two issues advanced by the appellants is formulated from any of the two grounds of appeal.

(3) Error-in-law: The Learned Court of Appeal erred when it held that the defences of the defendants are not different.

Particulars: The only common question of law in the three separate suits aforesaid, was unlawful arrest and detention arising from a disputed land, coupled with the question in law as to who directed the arrest.”

From the reproduced three grounds of appeal, it is very clear that they are either grounds of fact or mixed law and fact for which appellants needed the leave of either the lower court or of this Court before they can be validly raised in this Court. I have confirmed that appellants never obtained the leave of either the lower court or of this court before filing the three grounds of appeal and that an application for leave to appeal filed in this Court was dismissed by the court on the 23d day of February, 2005.

The above being the true state of affairs, I agree with the submission of learned Counsel for the respondents that grounds 1 and 3 and issues 1, 3 and 4 are incompetent and liable to be struck out. I hereby order accordingly. This now leaves us with appellants’ issue No. 2 for consideration.

See also  Aneji Irek V. The State (1976) LLJR-SC

The surviving issue 2 is hereunder reproduced again:-

“Whether mere failure to reply to the issue raised in the respondents’ preliminary objection was fatal to issue No. 2 of the appellants’ Brief of argument in the Court of Appeal.”

In arguing the above issue, learned Counsel for the appellants submitted that the lower court was in error in holding that failure of Counsel for the appellants to file a reply brief or offer oral argument in reply to the preliminary objection as to the competence of ground 2 of the grounds of appeal amounted to a concession of the points raised in the objection particularly as the particulars of error or misdirection given in ground 2 of the notice of appeal in question at pages 65 to 66 of the record satisfy the requirement of Order 3 Rules 2(2) of the Court of Appeal Rules 2002 and therefore competent.

It is the further submission of learned Counsel that it is not always that a failure to reply to a preliminary objection would sustain the objection as it is the duty of the court to go into and determine the merit of the objection; that the respondents filed the respondents’ brief with the argument on objection therein before filing the notice of preliminary objection and that contrary to the decision of this Court in Oforkire vs. Maduike (2003) 5 NWLR (pt.812) 166 at 178 – 179; Odeyegbe vs. Odejegba (2004) 2 NWLR (pt. 858) 566 at 580, the respondent needed to seek the leave of the court to move the notice of objection before the oral hearing of the appeal and that since the respondents did not move the objection, the objection is deemed abandoned and ought to have been ignored.

On his part, learned Counsel for the respondents submitted that the lower court was right in holding that the failure of the appellants to join issues on the preliminary objection amounted to a concession of the objection to the respondents; that the respondents filed a notice of preliminary objection and argued same in the brief of argument and did draw the attention of the lower court to the above during oral argument of the appeal on 31/3/2003, all in the presence of learned Counsel for the appellants who never objected.

It is the further contention of learned Counsel that ground 2 complained of a misdirection in law without quoting the passage in the judgment where the alleged misdirection occurred nor giving full particulars of same as required by law, relying on Bank of the North Ltd vs Bello (2000) 7 NWLR (pt. 664) 244 at 253; that in the alternative, none of the two issues formulated for determination was formulated from the said ground 2 which means the ground was abandoned relying on Aro vs Aro (2000) 3 NWLR (pt. 649) 443 at 448.

It is not in doubt that the respondents gave notice of objection to ground 2 of the grounds of appeal in the respondent’s brief duly filed in the lower court and that he argued the said objection in the said brief; that this was followed by a notice of preliminary objection duly filed in court long before the date the appeal was heard by the court below. I hold the considered view that the essence of giving the notice of the objection either in the respondent brief or by way of notice of preliminary objection is to notify the appellant of the existence of that objection and the grounds on which it is based so as not to take the appellant by surprise. In the case of Auto Import Expert vs Adebayo (2002) 18 NWLR (pt. 799) 554 at 580, this Court held inter alia as follows:-

“I can see nothing wrong in the procedure the respondent adopted in this appeal by raising their preliminary objection to the appeal in their briefs of argument.”

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and I hold the firm view that that is good law devoid of technicalities particularly as the essence of an objection is to give notice of same to the appellant, before the date fixed for hearing.

From the record of appear particularly the record of 31/3/2003 at page 106 of the record, it is very clear that the attention of the lower court was drawn to the existence of the preliminary objection during the hearing of the appeal. The respondent’s brief together with arguments on the preliminary objection were adopted in argument on that day.

On the sub-issue as to whether ground 2 of the grounds of appeal before the lower court complied with the law relevant to raising a complaint on error of law or misdirection, I herby reproduce the said ground:

  1. MISDIRECTION:

The Learned Trial Judge misdirected himself in law as to when suits could be consolidated. ”

PARTICULARS.

(i) An appellate court will not generally interfere with the exercise of discretion by a trial court except in exceptional circumstances;

(ii) The judge was wrong in not adequately considering the embarrassment the consolidation will place on the defendants, before making the order.

(iii) The evidence to be given by one plaintiff as to the assault on him or her by the appellants, in no way concerns the other plaintiff although the cause of action in all the cases is unlawful imprisonment/detention at different dates and time on the respective Plaintiff.

(iv) The judge had no regard to every-thing that is relevant to the order and therefore the exercise of his discretion in favour of consolidation was wrong.

(v) There was no common question of law or fact bearing sufficient importance in proportion to the rest of the subject-matter of the actions.”

From the above, it is clear that the alleged misdirection complained of in the judgment of the trial court was not quoted or reproduced neither are the relevant particulars relating to the alleged misdirection given in these particulars. I am not saying that appellant never gave particulars in ground 2 but that the alleged particulars have not been shown to be relevant or relating to the alleged misdirection particularly as the passage in the judgment where the alleged misdirection is said to have occurred has not been reproduced in the ground of appeal as required by law, see Mgbede vs Ede (1995) 3 NWLR (pt. 385) 564; Bank of the North Ltd vs Bello (2000) 7 NWLR (pt. 664) 244 at 253 where this Court clearly stated the law as follows:-

“It is settled by a long line of decided cases that when a ground of appeal alleges either an error in law or misdirection in law:

(i) the passage of the judgment where the error or misdirection occurred must be quoted and

(ii) full and substantial particulars of the alleged error misdirection must be given.”

It is obvious that from whatever angle one looks at the issue, it must fail as the lower court was very right in coming to the conclusion it did with regards to the preliminary objection. It is also noteworthy that learned Counsel for the appellants, in what may be termed his characteristic way failed or neglected to file a reply brief in the instant appeal to contest the argument of Counsel for the respondents in relation to the preliminary objections against some of the grounds of appeal in the instant appeal neither did he offer oral arguments to counter same during the hearing of the appeal.

In conclusion, I resolve the surviving issue against the appellant and consequently come to the irresistible conclusion that the appeal is grossly without merit and is therefore dismissed by me with N50,000:00 costs to the respondents.

Appeal dismissed.


SC.226/2003

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