Oba Rufus A. Adejugbe Vs Engr. Joseph Akanbi Ologunja (2004)
LAWGLOBAL HUB Lead Judgment Report
PATS ACHOLONU, JSC
The main points in contention in the case are who of the 2nd Appellant and the Respondent should occupy the relatively minor Chieftaincy stool of Edemo of Ado-Ekiti. Following the procedure of appointment by way of election conducted by the 1st Appellant as against the advice of Elerebi the Eldest of their people the 2nd Appellant won the contest and was duly recognized as Edemo, the two contestants having come from the same Aduloju Ruling House.
The Respondent then applied to the High Court and sought for an order of certiorari and prohibition against the Appellants. He equally claimed other reliefs and injunction restraining the 1st Appellant from appointing the Appellant. The gravamen of his complaint was that the procedure used in the presentation of the 2nd Appellant as Edemo was not in accord with their tradition. In the affidavit in support of his prayers in the High Court, he indicted the 1st Appellant for refusing to recognize him in spite of all entreaties by the members of the Aduloju Ruling House, and referred to a letter from the four people who had hitherto vied the position with him but who later withdrew and canvassed for his appointment. Evidence revealed that the 1st Appellant took umbrage at the fact that the Aduloju family had rejected the candidature of the 2nd Appellant because he was said to be a descendant of a slave, one late Opokiti. His anger against the 1st Appellant the Ewi of Ado Ekiti in particular was that in his palace the Ewi himself had pleaded with the ruling house of the Aduloju not to refer to the 2nd Appellant as a son of a slave. The Respondent had queried the procedure of making the appointment by way of election which he lampooned as being contrary to the tradition and custom of appointing or nominating an Edemo. In the High Court, the learned trial Judge dismissed the application stating that the procedure by way of conducting an election to determine the preference of the candidate of the ruling house was in order and that the appointment of the 2nd Appellant was sequel to the majority votes he garnered in the ruling house. On appeal, the Court below allowed the appeal and set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division.
The Appellants now on record appealed to this Court by filing 12 grounds of Appeal from which they framed 5 issues for determination. These issues distilled from the grounds of Appeal are as follows: PAGE| 3 1. Whether the misconstruing of the Appellants’ case by the lower Court did not occasion a miscarriage of justice when the facts stated to be undisputed between the parties which were disputed formed the kernel of the decision of the lower court to the detriment of the Appellants’ case. 2. Whether the lower Court was right to have totally abandoned the relevant, pungent and straight forward issues formulated by the parties but instead raised new issues suo motu that were not covered or circumscribed by the grounds of appeal filed in the case. 3. Whether the lower Court was right in the way it applied the decision in the case of Ekpendu V. Erika when the decision was totality irrelevant to the case put forward by the parties and this led to a miscarriage of justice against the Appellants. 4. Whether the Court below was right in the view it look of the provisions of section 13(4) of the Chiefs Laws of Ondo State applicable to Ekiti State when it held that there was no dispute on the Edemo stool to warrant the invocation of the said sub section and when it held that there was valid nomination and presentation of the Respondent to the Appellant by the Aduloju family when this was not so. 5. Whether the lower Court was right to have allowed the appeal before it by granting all the reliefs claimed in the originating process by the Respondent when many of the reliefs had been abandoned by the Respondent and whether from the totality of the facts of the case the respondent was entitled to judgment.
The Respondent who cross-appealed framed 5 issues in his brief which apparently took care of the main brief and the cross-appeal as well: to wit 1. Whether the lower Court’s view that the material facts in this case are not in dispute is a proper inference from the evidence on record. 2. Whether the principal and the sub-issues formulated by the Court of Appeal properly arose from the grounds of appeal before the Court. 3. Whether reference to the principle in Ekpendu V. Erika by the Court of Appeal on the importance of the concurrence of the family head in the sale of family land as an analogy in defining the importance of the role of the family head in the nomination exercise by a ruling house has not occasioned a miscarriage of justice. 4. Whether the lower Court was right in its conclusion that the 1st Appellant exceeded his jurisdiction under Section 13(4) of the Chiefs Law of Ondo State. 5. Whether the lower Court was right in allowing the Respondents’ appeal and granting the reliefs sought by the Respondent. On the 1st issue the learned Counsel for the Appellants submitted that contrary to the holding by the Court of Appeal that the material facts in the case are not disputed, there is abundant evidence that much was disputed. He referred to the letters by Elerebi to the 1st Appellant dated 30 November, 1992 and 24 February, 1993 one of which the Court of Appeal described as a nomination when in fact it was not one of that, it was a letter “written by the Elerebi in which he explained his roles in the selection of a successor to the Edemo Stool”, They further argued that the facts which the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal said were not in dispute are the very kernel of the case between the parties.
The Respondent in his contra argument as reflected in his brief contended that what the PAGE| 5 Appellate Court stated in its judgment as to facts not in dispute was the correct statement of the matter. Indeed a careful reading and understanding of the import of the letter by the Elerebi, Pa Matthew Faje shows that he was informing the Ewi of Ado-Ekiti of the name submitted. In the letter of 24th February, 1993 he stated among other things; “You will only permit your Royal Highness to repeat that Engr. Joseph Akanbi Ologunja is the choice of his people and would wish you to give his appointment due consideration”. In this first letter that was dated 30th November, 1992 the Elerebi ended the letter in this manner: “I have also the opinion that I have exhausted all avenues necessary to carry out the assignment given by your Royal Highness and to say that Engr. Akanbi Ologunja is the choice of Adeloju Ruling house and is hereby recommended for your consent and consequent appointment. It is in your wisdom and God’s guidance that you gave me the privilege as Elerebi to advice you on this issue and pray that you would live long enough to enjoy good things of the world’. My understanding of these letters is that they represent the advice given by the Elerebi who merely was requested to make a representation to the Ewi of Ado Ekiti who may or may not accept the recommendation. It was not and did not mean a final representation by the Ruling house. It must be understood that the Respondent had alluded to a statement credited to the 1st Appellant that the respondent and his supporters should cease describing the 2nd Appellant as a son of a slave.
There was a dispute as to who was really the nominee of the family. PAGE| 6 In the affidavit sworn on 21st March, 1994 the Respondent deposed as follows: 1. That at the meeting there were six contestants and four of them withdrew in my favour while the 2nd Respondent (the 2nd Appellant of course) insisted on contesting. 2. That as a result of the unwieldy nature of the general meeting of the ruling house it was agreed to delegate to a committee of nine the task of selecting a candidate. 3. That nobody raised any objection to this procedure. 4. That six members of the nine-member committee nominated me while three supported the 2nd Respondent. 5. That the head of Aduloju family then presented me to the Elerebi who in turn presented me to the 1st Respondent. 6. That the 2nd Respondent’s faction also presented him to the 1st Respondent. 7. That as a result of this the 1st Respondent directed the Elerebi to go back home to resolve the matter and present him with only one candidate. Further down in that affidavit he deposed at paragraph “That the basis of the objection of Aduloju ruling house to the candidature of the 2nd Respondent is that he is only the descendent of late Opokili one of the slaves of Aduloju the ancestor of Aduloju ruling house who as a great warrior” In reaction to some portions of the affidavit sworn to by the Respondent the 2nd Appellant, countered with these facts; 1. That I know as a fact that the committee of nine set up by the family compromised its position by accepting gratification from the applicant who gave to the committee five hundred naira, two cartons of beer and one bottle of schnapps before the committee look any decision at all. 2. That I know as a fact that when the other members of the Aduloju family heard this, the committee was immediately dissolved and disbanded and the whole house resumed its duty of picking a candidate. 3. That I know as a fact that the membership of the committee was factionalized due to the bribe offered by the Applicant and accepted by some of the members of the committee. 4. That I know as a fact that at the resumed sittings of the family I was selected by majority of the members and my name was forwarded to the kingmakers who also ratified my selection.
From the contents of the two affidavits by the contending or feuding parties it cannot be said that there was not a dispute in respect of the factual situation. It is therefore not correct to state that the parties were ad idem in respect of the material facts. The issues in controversy are; (a) Which of the two was the nominee of the family i.e. representing the opinion or view of the ruling house. (b) Whether the method finally adopted by the Ewi to know the true opinion of the ruling house by conducting election to know the real view of the majority of the ruling house is correct. There existed a controversy – nay a dispute. I do not subscribe to the opinion expressed by the Court of Appeal in its holding that there was no dispute. In the event I hold there existed a dispute in the material facts. On the second question to be answered by this Court, the grouse of the Appellants is that the lower Court sort of abandoned its former stand that it would rely on the issues formulated by the Appellants, (Otherwise the Respondents in the Court below) and suo motu framed an issue which tended to crystalise the issues hitherto formulated and indeed made a summary of what it conceived as the issues to be determined by that Court. The Appellants argued that the Court below thereafter based its decisions on its own issues, and this they contended led to the miscarriage of justice. The learned Counsel for the Appellants submitted that the Appellate Court cannot formulate issues “suo motu” outside the grounds of appeal filed, adding further that where the appellate Court assumes the duty of framing its own issues such issues must be related to the grounds of appeal. In this connection it is his contention that issues formulated by the Court below fell outside the purview, contemplation or intendment of the grounds. He cited Oro V. Falade (1995) 5 N.W.L.R. (Pt. 396) 385 at 402, irom V. Okimlia(1998) 3 N.W.L.R. (P1.540) 19 at 25 and Fabiyi V. Adeniyi (2000) 6 N.W.L.R.(P (. 662) 532 at 546. PAGE| 9 The Respondent replicando submitted that the dispute in which the first Appellant intervened was over nomination at the ruling house level. The main point said to have been the bulwark or the plank on which the Court below relied to take a decision was as to whether there was a dispute as to who ought to be nominated and therefore appointed. Customarily and traditionally the road or the channel to the Ewi who was to make the ultimate appointment was the Elerebi who incidentally must be eldest person in that place. The supplication of Elerebi clearly made manifest in his letters to the 1st Appellant showed him as a humble subject given the onerous duty to present to the Ewi whoever was the choice of the ruling house for the appointment. it is evident from the facts that the 1st Appellant did not put all his reliance on the Elerebi to ascertain who should be the Edemo.
This might not be unconnected with reference to the 2nd Appellant as the son of a slave. Elerebi’s duty appeared merely advisory which may or may not be taken by the 1st Appellant. Let us consider this extract from the letter dated 30th November, 1992. “Your Royal highness with all above and with the support of the Ruling House and its head Mr. Joseph Ojo Aduloju and in serious consideration of the fact that the major supporters of Mr. Bamidele William do not belong to Aduloju Ruling House I have no doubt in my mind that the choice of Engineer Akanbi Ologunja is more than proper. I have also the opinion that I have exhausted all avenues necessary to carry out the assignment given by your Royal Highness and to say that Engr. Akanbi Ologunja is the choice of Aduloju Ruling House and he is hereby recommended for your consent and consequent appointment. PAGE| 10 It is in your wisdom and God’s guidance that you gave me the privilege as Elerebi to advise you (italics is mine) on this issue and pray that you would live long enough to enjoy good things of this world.” Long may you reign over us Your obedient citizen, PA MATTHEW FAJE THE ELEREBI IDEMO” Indeed, from the letter dated 24th February, 1993, and set down below the impression gained is that the 1st Appellant is the all and all in determining who would be the Edemo
The Elerebi Idemo Quarters Ado-Ekiti 24th February, 1993 “His Royal Highness, Oba Rufus Adejugbe Aladesanmi The Ewi of Ado-Ekiti EDEMO CHIEFTAiNCY TUSSLE MATTERS OF THE MOMENT I wish to refer to my letter dated 30th November, 1992 to which your highness has not reacted. This comes to remind you on the need to have a second look at my submissions which in essence would assist you in giving your most valuable consent to the right choice of the Ruling House. I recall your invitation when you asked if the letter was written by me and my reply confirming same. It was at that invitation you gave your decision not to use the Nine-man committee. This is very welcome. Equally was your decision that day not to use the purported Chiefs was out of great wisdom. I remember you went further to say that Engr. J. A. Ologunja has greater support of the people in consideration of those that came to you on behalf of the two contestants. This comment is definitely not misplaced. I have since called on you to know when you would invite me to again present Engr. J. A. Ologunja, if that was still necessary, but had not been lucky enough to meet you. You will only permit me your Highness to repeat that Engr. Joseph Akanbi Ologunja is the choice of his people and would wish you to give his appointment due consideration. I am making this plea as the Elerebi who is of age and could pass away anytime. I cannot mislead you. Thank you and Cod bless. PAGE| 12 Your obedient citizen, Pa Matthew Faje, The Elerebi Idemo”. To the submission that the reframing or summarizing of the issues made by the lower Court fell outside the mainstay of the grounds of Appeal, my answer to that is in the negative. That issue framed by the Court is on the nature of the question in controversy, to wit whether there was dispute to the extent that the 1st Appellant had to conduct an election within the precincts of the Ruling House to determine who was the choice. It should be borne in mind that the Respondent and his supporters had sought to exclude the 2nd Appellant from calculation on the ground that he was a descendant of a slave. To the 1st Appellant this smacked of discrimination which can no longer be tolerated in a decent society. In other words the Respondents’ supporters had sought to disqualify the 2nd Appellant. This stand cannot obviously be tolerated bearing in mind the position of Chapter 4 of the 1979 Constitution then extant, and the African Charter on Human Rights. In this day and age I believe that the only way the 1st Appellant could arrive at the truth of the matter is by way of election. It will be a travesty of justice for the 1st Appellant to be swayed by a puerile or primordial concept or practice that pervaded the society in the past in influencing him in making an appointment.
I do not think that the issue framed by the Court below fell outside the grounds of Appeal. In the recent case of Neka B. B. Manufacturing Co. Ltd. V. African Continental Bank Appeal No. SC. 32/1997 (unreported) [reported (2004) 1 SCM ] and decided on 16th January, 2004 this Court held thus; “It is not in all occasions that a Court must inevitably accept the issues framed by the Appellant as though they are immutable particularly when the issues formulated by the Respondent address the points in consideration or in controversy much more squarely. Indeed the Court may decide in an appropriate case to suo motu frame issues which though do not and ought not in any way depart from the contents or purport and ramifications of the issues already framed by the parties, and distilled from the grounds of appeal, but are much more succinct, precise and readily understandable.” I do not subscribe to the view that the Court of Appeal in summarizing or putting in a precise form the issue to be determined which to my mind is within the precincts of the grounds of Appeal, was wrong or has occasioned a denial of justice. In respect of issues No. 3 and 4 which I take together, the Appellants had referred to the observation of the Court below that the nomination of the Appellant was not in consonance with the decision in Ekpendu V. Erika (1959) 4 S.C. 79. To this the Respondent countered that there is no merit in the submission.
The Court of Appeal had opined thus: “The situation in my view is akin to the position of the law relating to disposition or alienation of Family property where an act of sale carried out by the Family head without the concurrence of the principal members is not void but only unavoidable while an act of sale carried out by the principal members of the family without the concurrence of the family head is void ab initio. See Ekpendu V. Erika Supra cited by learned Counsel to the Appellant”. Now in the judgment of the Court below the learned Justices held as follows: “The first Respondent ought to have approved the candidate duly nominated by the family with concurrence of the Elerebi and not otherwise and I so hold. The 1st Respondent by doing otherwise created non-existing dispute which he purported to settle. In the circumstance I hold that the 1st Respondent exceeded his jurisdiction by approving the appointment of the 2nd Respondent. See Ekpendu V. Erika There is no way this case can in anyway be likened to Ekpendu V. Erika Supra. In this case the Elerebi is a mere messenger to the 1st Appellant. I had earlier on referred to the supplicative nature of his writings to the 1st Appellant. His letters show to my mind, that it is the decision of the 1st Appellant that held sway and that is the authority. Elerebi’s duty was merely to convey to the 1st appellant whoever the ruling house had chosen. He was powerless beyond that. In respect to alienation of family land, any sale is void without the consent of the head of the family. Why is this so? Because, in a land matter the head of the family holds the land in trust for the other members. In this case he is not a trustee. He was merely the eldest member of the family whose duty was to convey to the 1st Appellant whoever was selected or nominated by the ruling house. I must point out that when the Ewi was of the opinion that an attempt was being made to exclude a potential contestant unjustly, he used his awesome powers even recognized and acknowledged by the Elerebi to effect a more appropriate method that was in accord with fairness and rationality barring other eventualities to find who was the true choice of the people. In their judgment the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal said:. “Section 13(4) of the Chiefs Law of Ekiti State as amended gave the 1st Respondents a discretion and power to determine any dispute arising from the appointment of person into a minor chieftaincy like that of Edemo. From the above provision of the Chiefs Law, the 1st Respondent as the prescribed authority for the Edemo Chieftaincy PAGE| 15 would seem to be quite aware that the condition precedent to the exercise of his power under section 13(4) of the Chiefs Law Supra had not arisen”. With greatest respect to the opinion held by the Court of Appeal on this matter I beg to disagree. The Elerebi had not been able really to resolve the dispute as to who was chosen. Certain letters as the one supposedly written by the so called Aduloju Descendants to the 1st Appellants on 5/1/93 and contained at P.18 of the Record and signed by Mr. Ojo Aduloju and Madam Felicia Omolusi naturally were distractions that would make it difficult to have a fair dealing. In the letter under reference, the allegation that the 1st Appellant is a son of a slave was made the main issue. It was manifestly evident that something must give, i.e. that the 1st Appellant had to intervene to settle the imbroglio once and for all. The circumstances that were in existence warranted an intervention. He did not meddle unduly in the matter. I do not agree that in this instance the 1st Appellant exceeded his jurisdiction. To emphasize the fact that the first Appellant did not exceed his power, my view is strengthened by the provision of section 13(4) of the Chiefs Edict, which states as follows: “Where there is a dispute as to whether a person has been appointed in accordance with customary law to a minor chieftaincy the prescribed authority may determine the dispute and the person concerned shall be notified of the decision”. Every Conceivable effort as indeed adumbrated by the Appellants was made to settle the matter but all eforts proved futile. The Court of Appeal appears to me to have given a skewed interpretation to section 13(4) Supra. I hold that the words are manifestly clear and explicit in their intendment; that the authorized body could in an appropriate case hold an election.
In that way the spirit of the law would be made manifest. See Ununmwangbo V. Okojie An. (1989) 5 N.W.L.R. (Pt. 122) 470 at P. 490, Ojokolobo and Ors. V. Alamu and ors. (1987) 3 N.W.L.R. (Pt. 61) 377. In my view nothing can be more demonstrably fair, honest and above reproach than subjecting the selection of the contestants to the peers of the ruling house by way of election. This court was equally referred to the case of Adefulu V. Oyesile (1989) 5 N.W.L.R. (Pt. 122) 377 at 421 to the effect that the nomination or the selection of a candidate was at the ruling house level while appointment should be by king makers. The case of Adefule V. Oyesile supra is a chieftaincy matter. There was a chieftaincy vacancy on the death of the Olofin of Ilishan Remo. At the meeting of the ruling house 4 people were nominated and 2 were mentioned. The all six people were presented to the kingmakers who selected the 1st defendant. The plaintiff and the supporters went to court to nullify the appointment. The High Court dismissed their case. On appeal to the Court of Appeal, The judgment of the High Court was reversed. On further appeal to the Supreme Court, the Court in considering the case commented as follows amongst other things: “The king makers of Ilishan Remo considered other candidates not nominated by the Agaigi Ruling house and not only that, they (king makers) went further to select one of the nominated candidates to be appointed and was appointed as the Olofin”. in his Judgment in respect of the manner of the choice as to who would be the Olofin, Uwais JSC (as he then was) reading the lead Judgment said: “The Agaigi Ruling house as a body entitled to nominate candidates for appointment to the stool of Olofin of Ilishan-Remo can in my opinion only act or perform that function through a majority of its members ………………Our society being a democratic society, it cannot be said that a legislation requiring such a body to perform an act is complied with if a minority of the members of the body performs the act….. In a democratic society it is the intention or will of the majority that prevails”.
We would be regressing into the past if we should allow ourselves to spurn the beautiful and edifying philosophy and ethos underlying the concept of democratic ideals and principles only to take refuge or shelter in archaic tradition that seeks to emasculate or disenfranchise or discriminate the majority of the right thinking members of a community or for that matter any society. I really wonder whether the 5th issue is any issue at all but assuming. It is, the resolving of the 4th issue hither to attended, makes the 5th issue an academic exercise or at least “ex abundantia cautela” The sole reason advanced by the respondent in the candidature of the 2nd Appellant is that he was a descendant of a slave. No sane person in our society having regards to the provision against discrimination made patently clear in the 1979 and 1999 constitutions would support the nihilistic and obtuse stand of the Respondent that the Appellant was ineligible to contest because of the stigma attached to his name. Such insipid and cruel utterance is negativistic and abhorrent in a modern society. This Court should strike down any attempt by anybody or institution to deny anyone of his rights, interest, privileges or benefits on the altar of any concept or practice that tends to consign a fellow citizen to a second class position or make him a non person. I once again reinforce the method adopted by the 1st Appellant to find a solution to the problem that tasked the aged Elerebi and seemed to have given him sleepless nights and as Shakespeare said; “Makes his seated heart knock at his ribs against the use of nature” In his cross-appeal the Respondent submitted that the right route to the prescribed authority was the Elerebi. I have shown that the Elerebi was a mere messenger, a harbinger. He was an adviser but when his advice went awry then the 1st Appellant had to step in.
There is no way the cross-appeal could make any dent in the case as presented and PAGE| 18 argued and as finally considered by this court. As I said this has been effectively covered in considering issues 3 and 4. In the final analysis the appeal succeeds and is allowed. The cross- appeal fails and is dismissed and the judgment of the Court of Appeal is set aside. There shall be costs to the Appellants assessed at N10,000.00 in this court, and N5,000.00 in the court below.