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WHAT IS BREACH OF CONTRACT?

Dictum

Breach of contract arises in a situation wherein a party to an agreement, fails to perform his own obligations, thereby causing damages to the other party or parties to the agreement, who have taken certain steps on the basis of the agreement. In order to prove breach of contract, the party asserting must clearly show what actions or omissions the defaulting party is guilty of that constitutes the breach.

– Tukur JCA. Odulate v. FBN (2019)

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FORMING A CONTRACT – MUTUAL ASSENT

The nature of the plaintiffs/appellants’ claim, as averred in their amended Statement of Claim, which of course they failed to prove, was that there was a subsisting contract between the parties. Whether or not there is a semblance of a legally binding agreement between the parties, that is, a situation where the parties to the contract confer rights and impose liabilities on themselves, will largely depend on whether there exists a mutual assent between them. Where there is doubt on whether the parties have concluded a legally binding agreement, the court has the responsibility to analyse the circumstances surrounding the alleged agreement and determine whether the traditional notion of ‘offer’ and “acceptance” can be distilled from the purported agreement. The mutual assent must be outwardly manifested. The test of the existence of such mutuality is objective. See Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society v Price (1943) AC 455 at 463. When there is mutual assent, the parties are said to be ad idem. Now the two items, “offer” and “acceptance”, earlier referred to, call for some explanation in order to recognise whether or not the parties are ad idem. An ‘offer’ is an expression of readiness to contract on the terms specified by the offeror (i.e. the person making the offer) which if accepted by the offeree (i.e. the person to whom the offer is made) will give rise to a binding contract. In other words, it is by acceptance that the offer is converted into a contract.

— Achike, JSC. Sparkling Breweries v Union Bank (SC 113/1996, 13 July 2001)

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PARTIES ARE BOUND BY AGREEMENT ENTERED INTO

Parties are bound by the terms of the agreement they have voluntarily entered into. The only function of the court is to interprete the agreement in enforceable terms without more.
[Kurubo v. Zach-Motison (Nig.) Ltd (1992) 5 NWLR (Pt. 239) 102; National Salt Co. (Nig.) Ltd v. Innis -Palnier (1992) 1 NWLR (Pt. 218) 422; Union Batik of Nigeria Ltd. v. Ozigi (1994) 3 NWLR (Pt. 333) 385; Shettiniari v. Nwokoye (1991) 9 NWLR (Pt. 213) 60]. – L.A. Ayanlere v. Federal Mortgage Bank of Nig. Ltd. (1998) – CA/K/186/96

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FAILURE TO PERFORM WITHIN TIME IS BREACH OF CONTRACT

Finally the law is that time is of essence where the parties have expressly made it so, or where circumstances show that it is intended to be of essence or where a definite time is fixed for execution of a mercantile and the contract even though time is not expressly made of the essence, thus failure to perform the contract within the limit will constitute a breach. Performance must be rendered within a reasonable in the absence of any specification as to time in the contract itself.

– Adekeye JSC. Nwaolisah v. Nwabufoh (2011)

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WHAT IS A FUNDAMENTAL TERM OF A CONTRACT

Niger Insurance Company Ltd v Abed Brothers Ltd & Anor (1976) LPELR-1995 (SC), thus:- “A fundamental term of a contract is a stipulation which the parties have agreed either expressly or by necessary implication or which the general law regards as a condition which goes to the root of the contract so that any breach of that term may at once and without further reference to the fact and circumstances be regarded by the innocent party as a fundamental breach and thus is conferred on him the alternative remedies at his option”.

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WHEN INTERPRETING A CONTRACTUAL DOCUMENT THE WHOLE DOCUMENT SHOULD BE TAKEN CONSIDERATION OF

I am in full support of the submission of appellant’s counsel that it was a misdirection for the lower court in consideration of whether the land, the subject matter in controversy, was bare land or included the structures thereon to have relied on only clauses 3 and 6 in the entire lease agreement to arrive at its conclusion. The learned Justices of the lower court were clearly in error because it is a fundamental rule of construction of instruments that its several clauses, must be interpreted harmoniously so that the various parts of the instrument are not brought in conflict to their natural meaning. Emphasising the same point, the learned authors of Halsbury’s Laws of England. Vo1.12, (4th ed.) para. 1469) stated tersely but pointedly: “The best construction of deeds is to make one part of the deed expound the other, and so make all the parts agree. Effect must, so far as possible, be given to every word and every clause.” The same principle was approved by this Court in Lamikoro Ojokolobo & Ors. v. Lapade Alamu & Anor. (1987) 7 SCNJ 98, (1987) 3 NWLR (pt.61) 339. Surely, a fragmentary interpretation of the various clause of the lease agreement without recourse to the entire Lease Agreement would do violence to the content in which the controversial terms “premises” and “land” were employed and therefore the ascertainment of the parties’ intention in relation to these two terms was bound to be distorted and erroneous and consequently unacceptable.

— Achike, JSC. Unilife v. Adeshigbin (2001) 4 NWLR (Pt.704) 609

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