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CASES SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN TO APPLY WHERE THE FACTS ARE DIFFERENT

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It is an age-old principle that it is the facts and circumstances of each case that determines judicial authorities that Counsel ought to cite in support of their argument Adegoke Motors v. Adesanya (1989) 3 NWLR (109) 250, S.A.P. Ltd v. Min., Petroleum Resources (2018) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1616) 391. This principle is time-tested to the extent that it has assumed a sacred and inviolable status. In Siry v. Pilot (1625) Popham 166, a 398 years old case, Crewe, CJ, enthused that “in our law every case hath its stand or fall from a particular reason or circumstance”. 342 years ago, Sir F. Pemberton reiterated the principle in L.C.J, Fitzharris’ case (1681) 8 How. Tr. 280 that “every case stands upon its own bottom”, and in Fisher v. Prince (1763) 3 Burr. 1364, Lord Mansfield, who spoke 260 years ago, very aptly held in that case that “the reason and spirit of cases make law; not the letter of particular precedents”. In Nigeria, Oputa, JSC embossed the following evergreen restatement of the law when he stated in Okafor V. Nnaife (1987) 4 NWLR (Pt.64) 129 that: “Justice and fairness demand that the ratio of any case should not be pulled in by the hair of the head and made willy nilly to apply to cases where the surrounding circumstances are different”.

— A.A. Augie, JSC. PDP v INEC (2023) – SC/CV/501/2023

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THERE ARE TIMES WHEN DEPARTURE FROM PRECEDENT IS IN THE INTEREST OF THE LAW

✓ In Bucknor Maclean v. Inlaks Limited (1980) 8-11 S.C. 1, the decisions overruled were clearly shown to become vehicles of injustice and this Court could not allow such state of affairs to continue and my late learned brother, Idigbe, J.S.C. fully gave expression to this when reading the lead judgment at page 25, he said. “I share the view of Lord Morris in Conway v. Rimmer that “though precedent is an indispensable foundation on which to decide what is the law, there may be times when a departure from precedent is in the interest of justice and the proper development of the law.” . . . I see no more justification for perpetuating recent error than for retaining any uncorrected error in much older decisions of this court.”

✓ In Golak Nath v. State of Punjab Air (1967) S.C. 1643, Subba R. CJ. (on behalf of himself, Shah, Sikri, Shelat and Vaidialingam, JJ. said at page 1670: “A final appeal is made to us that we shall not take a different view as the decision in Sankari Prasads case (1952) SCR 89-AIR 1951 S.C. 458 held the field for many years. While ordinarily this court will be reluctant to reverse its previous decisions, it is its duty in the constitutional field to correct itself as early for otherwise the future progress of the country and the happiness of the people will be at stake. As we are convinced that the decision in Sankari Prasad’s case 1952 SCR 89-(AIR 1951 S.C. 458) is wrong it is pre-eminently a typical case where the court should overrule it.

✓ Instances of this are to be found in the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. In Planny v. Ferguson (1896) 163 V.S. 537, the Court, in a segregation case, held that once, in public facilities accommodation was separate but equal it was constitutional to compel segregation of races in the use thereof. In Brown v. Topeka (1954) 347 V.S. 483, that is sixty years later, the court gave a decision in direct opposition to its view in Planny v. Ferguson. Times had changed and the court’s view was that attitude must change with them.

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LACK OF A PRECEDENT ON A POINT CANNOT DENY JUSTICE

What is the argument on the other side? Only this: that no case has been found in which it has been done before. That argument does not appeal to me in the least. If we never do anything which has not been done before, we shall never get anywhere. The law will stand still whilst the rest of the world goes on: and that will be bad for both. – Packer v Packer [1954] P 15 at 22

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THE SUPREME COURT IS BOUND BY PRECEDENT

This Court is bound by precedent when the facts of the previous decisions have similar material facts with the case before the Court. See DALHATU v. TURAKI (2003) 15 NWLR Pt. 843 Pg. 310, NOBIS-ELENDU v. INEC & ORS (2015) LPELR-25127 (SC), DR. UMAR ARDO V. ADMIRAL MURTALA NYAKO & ORS (2014) LPELR-22878 (SC),NIGERIA AGIP OIL COMPANY LTD v. CHIEF GIFT NKWEKE (2016) LPELR 26060 (SC) and most importantly, the pronouncement of MUHAMMAD, JSC in the case of NWABUEZE v. THE PEOPLE OF LAGOS STATE (2018) LPELR-44113 (SC) where his Lordship held thus: “It is therefore settled that a Court … is bound by its own or the ratio decidendi of a higher Court in an earlier case, if the issues of fact and the legislation the Court considers subsequently are same or similar … where the lower Court, as in the instant case, holds itself bound by the decision… on the same or similar facts, Appellant’s grudge against the lower Court’s decision cannot therefore, be taken seriously…”

— H.M. Ogunwumiju, JSC. UBA v Triedent Consulting Ltd. (SC.CV/405/2013, July 07, 2023)

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LOWER COURT IS BOUND BY THE DECISION OF HIGHER COURTS

Dalhatu Vs Turaki & Ors. (2003) LPELR – 917(SC) @ 41 – 43 C – F, thus: “The doctrine of Judicial precedent otherwise known as stare decisis is not alien to our Jurisprudence. It is a well settled principle of Judicial policy which must be strictly adhered to by all lower courts. While such lower courts may depart from their own decisions reached per incuriam, they cannot refuse to be bound by decisions of higher courts even if those decisions were reached per incuriam. The implication is that a lower court is bound by the decision of a higher court even where that decision was given erroneously.”

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THE IMPORTANCE OF STARE DECISIS IN OUR ADJUDICATORY SYSTEM

The most fundamental methodology of administration law in our country, as in most legal systems particularly the common law based systems, is stare decisis, the policy or legal principle which requires courts to follow judicial precedents established by previous decisions. Courts are mandatorily bound to follow the decisions of superior courts that are higher than them in the judicial hierarchy. All courts are bound to follow Supreme Court decisions in cases that are similar to the ones before them. It will amount to a very serious error of law for a court to refuse to follow the judicial precedent of a superior court higher in the judicial hierarchy in a case whose facts are obviously basically similar to the facts of the case before it. It is the kind of judicial attitude that is viewed, across jurisdictions, as a deliberate refusal to follow the law. Whatever different views a judge may hold as to how the law was applied to the facts in the precedent case, he or she is bound to follow the judicial precedent of the Supreme court or in the absence of a Supreme Court precedent, that of a superior court higher in the judicial hierarchy, provided the facts of the present case and that of the precedent case are basically similar. The mandatory duty to follow judicial precedent is in the public interest. It ensures that the adjudicatory process is organized and orderly. It ensures that the judicial application of law to facts is orderly and consistent and thereby makes the law more certain, predictable and responsive to the changed circumstances and expectations of the society. It helps to harmonize judicial opinion and ensure an orderly change of such opinion. The great success of the policy of stare decisis as a very reliable adjudicatory process for centuries, has attracted its application even in Roman Dutch based legal systems in varying degrees. In any case our indigenous traditional adjudicating system is precedent based. It will be dangerous to encourage derogations from the principle of stare decisis. The dis-equilibrating effects can better be imagined. Suffice it to say that it will certainly result in the failure of the judicial process, a failure of the legal system and the resulting collapse of the state structure. These consequences which may appear remote can occur as a direct result of such derogations.

– E.A. Agim, JCA. Ogidi v. Okoli [2014] – CA/AK/130/2012

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[DS] IT IS EMBARRASSING FOR A LOWER COURT TO SET ASIDE A DECISION OF A HIGHER COURT

It is also not in dispute that following the order of 19 th March, 09 which had been carried out, the respondents appealed to this court against the grant of same and followed up with an application for an injunction restraining the receiver appointed from acting in that office. It is when this application and the appeal were in existence that the respondents orally applied to have the Court of Appeal order of 19/3/09 discharged. Thus when this order was discharged on 1/7/09 it completely rendered ineffective and nugatory the motion and the appeal pending before the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. This situation, with tremendous respect to the learned senior counsel to the respondents’ is extremely embarrassing to our judicial system and the order of seniority of the court of record in Nigeria. In the first place, the trial court is bound by the orders of the Court of Appeal and I therefore wonder where the trial court conjured its jurisdiction to discharge the higher court’s order, not being a court of co-ordinate jurisdiction without any reference to the higher court. This is to dis-organise the constitutionally well arranged seniority of courts Hierarchy of courts and staire decises brushed aside. My Lords, a trial court may not be satisfied with the orders or findings of the Court of Appeal, there is nothing it can do about it, its constitutional and judicial role is either to obey or enforce that order, any act or process challenging the said order would have to be referred to the Court of Appeal any act to the contrary would amount to a breach of the constitutional provisions of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The same applies to the Court of Appeal where the Supreme Court’s order is in question. By granting the order of discharge not made by it but by a higher court the trial court has in effect knocked off the substratum or lis of the appeal against the grant of that order now pending before this court.

— Mutaka-Coomassie, JSC. Shinning Star Nig. Ltd. v. AKS Steel Nigeria Ltd. (2011) – SC. 101/2010

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