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DOCTRINE OF LACHES AND ACQUIESCENCE BARS A PERSON

Dictum

The doctrine of laches and acquiescence are equitable defences which operate to bar a person who has slept over his right for a long period of time from asserting his said right against an innocent party. The Courts have always refused aid for stale demand, where a party slept over his right. See Alhaji Oduola and Ors. v. Ibadan City Council and Anor. (1978) 4 SC 59; Igbum v. Nyarinya (2001) FWLR (pt.67) 950 at 975. It is trite principle of law that any party relying on the defence of laches must state the fact in his pleadings.

— T. Akomolafe-Wilson, JCA. Alabi v Audu (2017) – CA/A/494/2014

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DEFENCES TO LACHES & ACQUIESCENCE

Essentially the equitable defences of acquiescence and laches involve a loss of time and substantial delay in asserting the right being claimed of. Either of the defences will only apply if:- i. there is evidence of an agreement by the plaintiff to give up or release his right; ii. the delay to enforce the right has resulted in the destruction or loss of evidence by which the claim might be rebutted; iii. the claim is to a business for the plaintiff for which he should not be allowed to adopt the attitude of wait and see the business if it would prosper; iv. the plaintiff has not done any thing as to induce the defendant to alter his position on the reasonable belief that the claim has been released or abandoned.

– Wali JSC. Kayode v. Odutola (2001)

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SITUATION WHERE LACHES WILL NOT APPLY

In Kaiyaoja and Ors. v. Lasisi Egunla (1974) All NLR 913, a situation which is not completely dissimilar to the one at hand, in considering the applicability of the doctrine of acquiescence and laches this court held – “3. that the doctrine of laches and acquiescence was wrongly applied to this case. 4. that mere lapse of time is not enough to justify the defence of laches unless such lapse of time is coupled with the existence of circumstances which make it inequitable to enforce the claim; 5. that, though there may be acquiescence without undue delay, yet the acquiescence which will deprive a man of his legal rights must amount to a fraud. 6. that the appellant’s conduct in the present case was such that they could not be said to have slept upon their rights.”

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FACTORS THAT WILL ENABLE THE GRANT OF LACHES

A person may not be deprived of his legal rights on grounds of acquiescence or laches unless it will be inequitable and unjust to grant him such a right because he has done by his conduct that which might fairly be regarded as equivalent to a waiver of it or he has by his conduct or neglect put the other party in a position where it will not be reasonable to place such other party if the remedy were to be asserted. Two factors are always taken into consideration in granting the remedy sought and these are – (i.) the length of the delay; and (ii.) the nature of the acts done during the interval which might affect either party and cause a balance of justice or injustice in so far as it relates to the grant of the remedy.

– Wali JSC. Kayode v. Odutola (2001)

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EQUITABLE DEFENCE OF LACHES

The concept of Statute of Limitation is to allow a defendant take advantage of the equitable defence of laches where the plaintiff is guilty of unreasonable and prejudicial delay in commencing the suit. Where in a situation such as this, the suit was commenced within time and due to no fault of the Plaintiff the case was at the Supreme Court struck out for lack of jurisdiction on the part of the court of first instance, it would amount to grave injustice when the suit is re-filed at the appropriate court to allow the defendant plead Statute of Limitation.

– Iyizoba, JCA. SIFAX v. MIGFO (2015)

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CONDUCT THAT WILL AMOUNT TO LACHES & ACQUIESCENCE

Equitable estoppel thus bears some relationship to the equitable doctrine of laches. The type of conduct that will amount to laches and acquiescence will be such that will be repugnant to equity and good conscience.

– Oputa JSC. Gbadamosi v. Bello (1985)

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