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FOR LACHES TO SUCCEED, THERE MUST BE KNOWLEDGE TOO

Dictum

The law is trite that delay alone is not enough to prove laches. It must be proved that the owner of the house had knowledge of the sale and by his act or inaction, he encouraged the adverse party to expend money on the property. See Akanni v. Makanju (1978) 11 NSCC 526 at 533-534. In the instant case, the appellant totally failed to establish these attributes of the defence of laches.

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

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NATURE OF LACHES & ACQUIESCENCE

Accordingly, it has been said that if a stranger begins to build on another’s land supposing it to be his own and the real owner, perceiving his mistake, abstains from setting him right and leaves him to persevere in his error, a court of equity will not allow such real owner afterwards to assert his title to the land on which the stranger has expended money on the supposition that the land was his own. It considers that the owner saw the mistake into which the stranger had fallen and that it was the duty of such owner to be active and to assert his adverse title; and that it would be dishonest in the owner to remain willfully passive on such an occasion, in order afterwards to profit by the mistake which such owner might have prevented. See Ramsden v. Dyson (1866) L.R.H.L. 129 at 140. One vital point has, however, been made. This is the fact that laches and acquiescence which will deprive a man of his legal rights must amount to fraud. It is added that a man must not be deprived of his legal rights unless he has acted in such a way as would make it fraudulent for him to set up those rights. See Willmot v. Barber (1880) 15 Ch. D. 96 at 105 and Abbey v. Onenu (1954) 14 W.A.C.A. 567 at 568.

– Iguh 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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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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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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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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