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A CIVIL FORFEITURE IS NOT A PUNISHMENT FOR A CRIME

Dictum

Let me consider the issue of the Order of the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois that the sum of 406,000 USD in the account of the 2nd respondent be forfeited to the State. It is not in dispute that this is a non-conviction based forfeiture. There is nothing to show that the forfeiture was a punishment for the 2nd respondent’s conviction for any offence. There is no evidence of any conviction of any sort. It is a civil forfeiture made because the source of the money could not be explained. It is trite law that a civil forfeiture is a unique remedy that does not require conviction or even a criminal charge against the owner of the money. A civil forfeiture does not qualify as a fine or punishment for any unlawful activity so the argument that it qualifies as a fine for an offence involving dishonesty or fraud is not correct.

— Agim JSC. Peter Obi & Anor. v. INEC & Ors. (SC/CV/937/2023, Thursday the 26th day of October 2023)

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FAILURE TO PLEAD RELIEF FROM FORFEITURE

Similarly, it is vital to plead the claim for relief from forfeiture contrary to the submission of counsel to the defendants/respondents- Failure to plead either is fatal to the claim. However, where a grantor claims for recovery of possession and pleads the grounds upon which the right to recovery is based, the action is not incompetent because forfeiture was not specifically claimed. As was said in Dabiri v. Gbajumo (1961) 1 ALL N.L.R.225 – “The mere absence of the technical word “forfeiture” from the pleadings cannot be fatal in the circumstances where, as it is here, the nature of the claim is abundantly clear, and it is this respect that this case on appeal is to be distinguished from Lawani v. Tadeyo”

– Karibe-Whyte, JSC. Oniah v. Onyia (1989)

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WAIVER IS A DEFENCE FOR FORFEITURE

Waiver is apparently a defence to forfeiture. Now a man may relinquish a particular line of defence by not pleading it. If therefore the present Defendants failed to plead waiver, they will be deemed to have relinquished that defence. Quilibet potest renunciare juri pro se introducto – Anyone may, at his pleasure, renounce the benefit of a stipulation or other right introduced entirely in his own favour.

– Oputa JSC. Oniah v. Onyia (1989)

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IN CIVIL FORFEITURE, THE PROPERTY IS THE TARGET

On the allegation of sentence of fine against the 2nd Respondent, this Honourable Court in JONATHAN V. FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (2019) 10 NWLR (PT.1681) 533, held that “there is no need to prove any crime in forfeiture of property under section 17 ofthe Advanced Fee Fraud & Other Related. Offences Act, as civil forfeiture is a unique remedy which rests on the legal fiction that the property, not the owner is the target”. This of course was the basis of the lower court’s finding that the orders made in Exhibit PA5 were not in personam against the 2nd Respondent. There is no prove or preponderance of evidence to allow this arm of the Appellants’ issue.

— Uwani Abba Aji JSC. Peter Obi & Anor. v. INEC & Ors. (SC/CV/937/2023, Thursday the 26th day of October 2023)

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GENERAL PRINCIPLE OF FORFEITURE IN LAND

It is important to state very concisely the general principles of law governing the claim for and relief from forfeiture. It is well settled that forfeiture is the usual mode for determining a customary tenancy. The real basis of the misconduct or misbehaviour which renders the tenancy liable to forfeiture is the challenge to the title of the overlord. This may be by alienation of part of the land, under claim of ownership, refusal to pay the tribute due or indeed, direct denial of overlord’s title by setting up a rival title in the customary tenant himself, as in the instant case. Although it has been held in Alade v. Aborishade (1960) 5 F.S.C.167 that the non-payment of rent or tribute is not necessarily inconsistent with the ownership of the overlord, the circumstances and the reasons for the refusal to pay tribute may determine whether there is a denial of the title of the overlord.

– Karibe-Whyte, JSC. Oniah v. Onyia (1989)

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FORFEITURE ARISES WHERE TENANT CHALLENGES LANDLORD’S TITLE

It is a fundamental principle of land tenure that where a tenant turns round to challenge the title of his landlord he automatically forfeits his right to possession, if the landlord asks for it. This has been the position in the instant case.

– Belgore JSC. Oniah v. Onyia (1989)

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