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Home » Nigerian Cases » Supreme Court » Nigerian Agricultural Co-operative Bank Limited Vs Mr. Lewechi Ozoemelam (2016) LLJR-SC

Nigerian Agricultural Co-operative Bank Limited Vs Mr. Lewechi Ozoemelam (2016) LLJR-SC

Nigerian Agricultural Co-operative Bank Limited Vs Mr. Lewechi Ozoemelam (2016)

LAWGLOBAL HUB Lead Judgment Report

NWALI SVLVESTER NGWUTA, J.S.C.

By way of Originating Summons issued on 14/12/1998 in the Registry of the High Court of Justice of Kaduna State, Kaduna Judicial Division, the Respondent (then Plaintiff) raised the following questions:

  1. Whether the refusal of the defendant in this suit to release the title documents in respect of Plot No. Katuru Road, Sabon Tasha, Kaduna does not amount to a breach of the agreement entered into between the plaintiff and the defendant.
  2. Whether the plaintiff is entitled to a refund of the money he paid to the defendant if the defendant is no longer interested in giving effect to the agreement entered into by both parties.”

Upon the anticipated favourable answers to the two questions posed, the plaintiff prayed the Court for:

“An order of Court compelling the defendant to release forthwith to the plaintiff all the title deeds in its possession in respect of plot No. 2, Katuru Road, Sabon Tasha, Kaduna.

ALTERNATIVELY:

An order of Court compelling the defendant to refund to the plaintiff all the monies paid to the defendant Bank by the plaintiff as reflected in

1

annexure 6 and 7 attached to the supporting affidavit together with general damages for breach of the agreement between the plaintiff and the Bank.”

Below is a brief summary of the facts leading to the suit in the trial Court. The Respondent (then plaintiff) bought a piece of property from a third party, one Apolus Chikezie, his predecessor-in-title. After the Respondent had taken possession of the property, he became aware of the fact that his predecessor-in-title had mortgaged the property to the appellant, then defendant. The Respondent paid off the outstanding debt and the accrued interest and thereafter demanded the release of the title deeds to him.

Rather than release the title deeds to the Respondent, the defendant (now appellant) demanded some form of authorisation from his predecessor-in-title before the documents could be released to him.

Aggrieved, the Respondent, as plaintiff, took out the Originating Summons reproduced above.

The appellant (as defendant) was duly served and the matter was fixed for hearing on 1/2/1999. The appellant did not respond to the processes served on it and was neither present in Court nor represented

2 by Counsel on the date fixed for hearing, 1/2/1999. There was no excuse for the absence of the appellant/Counsel in Court on 1/2/1999. The trial Court on oral application of Counsel for the respondent (then plaintiff) heard the matter on the day it was fixed for hearing ,1/2/1999 in absence of the appellant (as defendant) and reserved its ruling to 19/2/1999. The ruling was not delivered as scheduled but was eventually delivered on 28/5/1999.

On 21/12/2000, the Respondent attached the property of the appellant in execution of the judgment in his favour. On 28/12/2000, the appellant filed a motion on notice praying the trial Court for enlargement of time within which to apply to set aside the judgment of 28/5/1999, an order to set aside the judgment or order staying execution of the judgment, particularly sale of appellant’s vehicle and or order to release the said vehicle to the appellant before or at the hearing of the application.

The affidavit evidence consists of a five-paragraph supporting affidavit and a counter-affidavit of 11 paragraphs.

In its considered ruling delivered on 12/2/2001, the trial Court concluded thus:

3 “Having considered the facts presented before me in this application, I find that the application has no merit and same must be dismissed. The entire application is accordingly dismissed.”

On 14/2/2001, the appellant filed another application in which it prayed the Court to stay further execution of the judgment particularly the sale of the appellant’s bus Reg. No. AJ 969 DKA pending the determination of the appeal against the ruling of the trial Court of 12/2/2001 and an order to release the vehicle pending the hearing of the appeal. On 3/8/2001, the trial Court denied the application and pursuant to Order 45 Rule 2 (2) of the Kaduna State High Court Rules ordered the appellant to deposit the judgment sum in the account of the High Court pending the determination of the appeal before the Court of Appeal.

On 14/2/2001, appellant appealed with leave of Court the trial Court’s ruling of 12/2/2001. The lower Court dismissed the appeal on 16/7/2004. Appellant appealed to this Court on 4/10/2004 and also asked for stay of execution of the judgment or in alternative an order restraining the Deputy Sheriff High Court of Justice Kaduna State (joined as 2nd

4 Respondent) from releasing the judgment debt pending the determination of the appeal to this Court.

On 3/5/2005, the Court below dismissed the appellant’s application for a stay of execution of the judgment of the High Court of Kaduna State and injunction to restrain the 2nd Respondent from releasing the judgment debt pending the determination of the appeal before this Court.

In summary, there are two appeals from the judgment/ruling of the Court below:

(1) Appeal No. 1 arose from the ruling of the Court below on 3/5/2005, and

(2) Appeal No. 2 arose from the judgment of the lower Court delivered on 16/7/2004.

Having demonstrated the common origin and background of the two appeals, I will take them seriatim.

In appeal No. 1 against the ruling of the Court of Appeal delivered on 3/5/2006, the appellant appealed to this Court on three grounds from which the following two issues were distilled for determination:

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“1. Whether the Court of Appeal was correct when it held that the strength of Section 24 of the Supreme Court Act that only the latter Court was vested with exclusive jurisdiction to entertain an application for stay of

5 execution pending the determination of appeal by the said Court and that the Court of Appeal lacked jurisdiction once there was no longer an appeal pending before it against the judgment of the High Court

  1. Whether on the merit, the Court below was not in error when it refused the prayers for stay of execution and injunction pending appeal in the light of the facts and materials before the Court”

In his wisdom, learned Counsel for the Respondent chose to frame three issues, purportedly, from the appellant’s three grounds of appeal. The three issues are reproduced hereunder:

“1. Whether on a proper consideration of the facts and materials placed before it, the discretion of the Court of Appeal in refusing the reliefs sought could in any way be faulted.

  1. Whether the Court of Appeal, on the strength of the provisions of Section 24 of the Supreme Court could still proceed to entertain the appellant’s application when an appeal in respect of the matter is already pending in the Supreme Court.
  2. Whether the Court of Appeal is vested with the jurisdiction to stay the execution of the judgment of the Kaduna State High Court when there

6is no longer an appeal pending before it.”

I am constrained to observe here that the Respondent’s issues for determination are equal in number to the appellant’s grounds of appeal from which the issues were said to have been framed. I do not recommend this practice. The principle that guides the formulation of issues for determination in appeal is that a number of grounds of appeal would, where appropriate, be formulated into a single issue running through them. See Labiyi v. Anretiola (1992) 10 SCNJ 1 at p.2.

Issues for determination are not formulated to coincide with the number of grounds of appeal. See Nwidenyi & Ors v. Aleke (1996) 4 NWLR (Pt.442) 349.

A more fundamental vice bedevilling the Respondent’s issues is the marriage of the said issues with the appellant’s three grounds of appeal. Issue 1 is said to be a product of grounds 2 and 3 of the Notice of Appeal while issues 2 and 3 are framed from appellant’s grounds 1 and 3.

Ground 3 of the Notice of Appeal is therefore split into three to form issues 1, 2 and 3. Since one issue is framed from one, but usually a combination of grounds of appeal, it is manifestly wrong to split

7 one ground of appeal into three issues as the Respondent has done. It is undesirable to split an issue in appeal. See Labiyi v. Anretiola (supra). It is equally not appropriate to split a ground of appeal in the formulation of issues.

A Respondent may decide to cry more than the bereaved by framing issues in excess of appellant’s issue but he cannot do that in breach of the appellate principle of formulation of issues in an appeal. I will reject the Respondent’s issues and adopt the issues formulated by the appellant in the determination of this appeal.

Arguing issue 1 in his brief of argument, learned Senior Counsel for the Appellant stated that it is a traditionally held principle that the Court from which appeal is laid and the Court to which appeal lies have concurrent jurisdiction to preserve the subject matter of the appeal which he said is the sum of N254,000 judgment debt, deposited with the Chief Registrar of the High Court for payment into an interest yielding account to pend the determination of the appeal.

Learned Senior Counsel referred to the comparison between Section 24 of the Supreme Court Act and Section 18 of the Court of

8 Appeal Act and argued that the lower Court was wrong in its ruling that the application does not fall under Section 18 of the Court of Appeal Act. He relied on M. Shodeinde v. Registered Trustees of Ahdmadiyya Movement in Islam (1980) All NLR Reports 64 at 75/77; Nzeribe v. Dave Eng. Co. Ltd (1994) 8 NWLR (Pt.361) p.124 at 142 and United Spinners Limited v. Chartered Bank Limited (2001) FWLR (Pt.66) p.640 at 654 and submitted that the Court that delivered the judgment and the Court to which appeal against the said judgment is brought have concurrent jurisdiction to preserve the res pending appeal. He urged the Court to resolve issue one in favour of the appellant.

In issue two, learned Senior Counsel argued that in essence the motion before the Court of Appeal was to keep matters in status quo pending the determination of the appeal, a prolongation of the order made by the High Court on 3/8/2001. He referred to page 196 of the record and argued that though the Court below restated the law on the subject matter correctly, its failure to exercise its discretion properly or fairly within the ambit of the facts, circumstances and the applicable law is

9 erroneous.

He said that what was before the Court below was an order to continue the retention of the funds as ordered by the High Court until the determination of the appeal. He conceded that there had been some form of execution as the appellant had parted with the funds as far as the High Court is concerned. In the alternative, he said that the appellant had a conditional stay of execution. He contended that the Court below was not entitled to come to the conclusion that the money had been released to the Respondent but then he curiously argued that the Court did not reach such a conclusion.

Learned Counsel argued that from the materials placed before the Court below, it ought to have exercised its discretion in favour of the applicant, since there were arguable grounds on the jurisdiction of the Court. He relied on Trans Nals Ltd v. Joseph (1997) 5 NWLR (pt. 504) 176 at 182; Amuda v. Adedokun 1994) 8 NWLR (Pt.360) 23; Abacha v. State (2001) 7 NWLR (Pt.713) 551 at 555; and Okin Biscuits Ltd v. Oshe (2001) 6 NWLR (Pt. 709) 369 at 381.

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He argued that the grounds of appeal annexed to the application raise issue of jurisdiction. He relied

10 on Yekini v. Etamo (1995) 40 NWLR (Pt.387) 28 at 41 42 and Martins v. Nicannar Foods Co Ltd & Anor (1988) 2 NWLR (Pt. 174) p.75 in his argument that issue of jurisdiction constitutes special circumstance for the grant of application to stay execution of judgment.

He argued that nondisclosure in the applicant’s affidavit of the manifest inability of the Respondent to repay the sum should the appeal succeed pales into insignificance in the face of serious issue of jurisdiction. He urged the Court to resolve the issue in favour of the appellant.

Having summarised his brief, learned Senior Counsel urged the Court to allow the appeal, set aside the ruling of the Court below and grant an order directing the High Court to retain the amount paid into her deposit account by the applicant.

I have rejected the three issues formulated by the Respondent as incompetent as ground 3 of the appellant’s grounds of appeal was split and shared by the three issues formulated by the Respondent inhis brief. The issues framed from split ground 3 of the Notice of Appeal are incompetent and so is the argument proffered in each issue. I will determine

11 the appeal on appellant’s issues.

In the Motion from which this appeal arose, the Applicant (now Appellant) prayed the Court below for:

“(i) Stay of execution of the judgment of Kaduna State High Court as affirmed by this Honourable Court in this proceeding pending the determination of the appeal by the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

(ii) Alternatively, injunction restraining the 2nd Respondent from releasing the judgment debt deposited in the Registry of the Kaduna State High Court pending the determination of the appeal in the Supreme Court of Nigeria.”

The enrolled order in the judgment of the Court of Appeal which affirmed the judgment of the trial Court reads:

“(1) That the appeal fails and is hereby dismissed.

(2) That the decision of the learned trial Judge is hereby affirmed.

(3) That there is costs assessed at N5,000.00 to the Respondent.”

The 1st and 2nd arms of the enrolled order of the Court below cannot be stayed and the application for stay does not relate to the 3rd arm which is the award of costs. From the above, it follows that though the appellant asked for stay of the execution of judgment of the the High

12 Court “as affirmed by this Honourable Court”, the application does not in real terms relate to the judgment of the Court below.

In my humble view, based on the record, the appellant sought an order to maintain the status as at 3/8/2001 in relation to the judgment debt of N254,000 when the trial Court ordered as follows:

“(1) I hereby order that the applicant deposit the judgment sum in Court.

(2) The judgment sum should be paid within 3 weeks from the date of making this order.

(3) The money shall be paid to the Chief Registrar who shall keep the money in the deposit account of the High Court pending the determination of the appeal before the Court of Appeal.

(Underlining mine).

The issue here relates to the interpretation and application of Section 24 of the Supreme Court Act which is in pari materia with Section 17 of the Court of Appeal Act. Both are hereunder reproduced:

Supreme Court Act:

” S.24 : An appeal under this Part shall not operate as a stay of execution but the Supreme Court may order a stay of execution either conditionally or upon the performance of such conditions as may be imposed in accordance

13 with the Rules of Court.”

Court of Appeal Act:

” S.17 : An appeal under this Part of this Act shall not operate as a stay of execution, but the Court of Appeal may order a stay of execution with either conditionally or upon the performance of such conditions as may be imposed in accordance with the Rules of Court.”

With reliance on Shodeinde v. Registered Trustees of Ahamadiyya Movement in Islam (1980) All NLR Reprints 64 at 75-77, learned Senior Counsel for the appellant had argued that where there is appeal from the Court below to the Supreme Court, both Courts have concurrent or co-ordinate jurisdiction in an application for a stay of execution of judgment pending the determination of the appeal.

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I entirely agree with learned Senior Counsel. And as indicated in the case law cited, the application must first be made to the Court from which the appeal emanates before it can be made to the Court in which the appeal lies, though there may be special circumstances making it impracticable to apply to the Court of trial or the Court from which the appeal lies to the Court above. See Comptroller of Nigerian Prison Services v. Adekanye (1999) 6

14 NWLR (Pt. 607) 381 at 388.

An applicant for stay of execution pending the determination of appeal presupposes that an appeal had been filed before or simultaneously with the application. After all, a major consideration in the application is whether or not there are arguable grounds of appeal. Be that as it may, in exceptional or appropriate circumstances, the order for stay may be granted when the appeal had not been lodged upon an undertaking to file the notice of appeal without delay. See NDLEA v. Okorodudu (1997) 3 NWLR (Pt. 492) 221; Fatoyinbo v. Osadeyi (2002) 5 SC (pt. 11) 1.

Now, relating the above principles to the matter at hand, the record shows that the only appeal from the trial Court to the Court below has been disposed of. That order for custody of the judgment debt was made by the trial Court pending that determination of the appeal to the Court of Appeal and so, upon the pronouncement of the judgment of the Court of Appeal the order for custody of the fund was spent.

It is to be noted that there was no appeal against that order. As I said before in this judgment, irrespective of the phraseology adopted and employed

15 by the respected Senior Counsel for the Appellant “… judgment of the Kaduna State High Court as affirmed by this Honourable Court” the application sought a re-enactment, as it were, of the spent order for the custody of the judgment debt. That order was not on appeal to the Court of Appeal and while it subsisted it was and remained an order of the trial Court against which there was no appeal.

In absence of an undertaking to file a notice of appeal against the order of the trial Court, the Court below could not have entertained an application for a stay of execution pending appeal pursuant to S.17 of the Court of Appeal Act.

In the same vein, the Supreme Court cannot invoke its powers under S.24 of the Supreme Court Act to stay the execution of, or revive a spent order of, the trial Court even if there was appeal against that order to the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court exercises its powers under S.24 of the Supreme Court Act in an application for stay of execution of the judgment of the Court of Appeal pending the determination of appeal against that judgment to the Supreme Court.

If there was an appeal against the order to the Court of Appeal

16 and then to the Supreme Court, both Courts would have been competent to stay execution of the judgment. In this case, there was no appeal and neither the Court of Appeal under S.17 of the Court of Appeal Act nor the Supreme Court under S.24 of the Supreme Court Act can exercise its discretion to grant a stay of execution, even though the two Courts have co-ordinate jurisdiction to entertain an application to stay the execution of the judgment of the Court of Appeal on appeal to the Supreme Court even when the Court of Appeal had disposed of the appeal before it.

My Lords, on the facts illustrated in this judgment, Issue 1 is merely academic and though I am constrained to resolve it in favour of the appellant it serves no useful purpose in the determination of the appeal.

Issue 2: The resolution of issue 1 has adequately disposed of issue 2. The application for stay of execution of the Judgment “as affirmed” by the Court of Appeal does not represent the true state of affairs. The order sought to be stayed was made by the trial Court and there was no appeal against that order to the Court of Appeal. That order was made against the judgment of the trial

17 Court against which there was no appeal to the Court of Appeal.

The order is separate and not part of the judgment affirmed by the Court of Appeal. The judgment affirmed by the Court of Appeal was delivered prior to the order sought to be stayed and the order was not incorporated in the appeal.

This being the case, it is in my humble view, another wasteful academic exercise to delve into the merit of the issue which it does not have and the same is resolved against the appellant.

Consequently, appeal lacks merit and is accordingly dismissed. There was no appeal against the order to the Court below or to this Court. The Respondent is entitled to costs assessed at N100,000.00.

Appeal dismissed.


SC.75/2005(NO.1)

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