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DEFINITION OF CAUSE OF ACTION

Dictum

The Supreme Court in the case of A.G. OF ADAMAWA STATE & ORS v. A.G. OF THE FEDERATION (2014) LPELR-23221(SC) (P. 28, paras. C-F) Per PETER-ODILI, J.S.C, defined cause of action thus: ”The definition that has been followed on cause of action is that cause of action is the fact or facts which establish or give rise to a right of action. It is the factual situation which gives a person a right to judicial relief. Thus, when an action is said to be statute-barred, what it connotes is that the plaintiffs may have an actionable cause of action, but their recourse to judicial remedy is voided. No proceedings could be brought to prosecute the action. Muhammed v Military Administration, Plateau State (2001) 16 NWLR (Pt.740) 510 at 544 – 545; Egbe v Adefarasin (1985) 1 NWLR (Pt. 3) 1; Yusuf v C.C.B. Ltd (1994) 7 NWLR (Pt.359) 676.”

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WHAT IS A “DISPUTE”

As to what constitutes a “Dispute”, Uwais, CJN, (Rtd) in his Ruling in the case of Attorney-General of the Federation v Attorney-General of Abia State & 35 others (supra), stated as follows:- “What constitutes a dispute under section 212 subsection (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1979, which has exactly the same provisions as section 232 subsection (1) in question, had been considered by this Court in the cases of Attorney-General of Bendel State v Attorney-General of the Federation & 22 others (1981) 10 SC 1 and Attorney-General of the Federation v Attorney-General of Imo State & 2 others (1983) 4 NCLR 178. In Attorney-General of Bendel State’s case , Bello, JSC, (as he then was), stated as follows on pages 48 to 49 thereof:- ‘To invoke the original jurisdiction of this Court there must be a dispute as so qualified between the Federation and a State or between States. The issue of jurisdiction was contested on three grounds, firstly, that there is no dispute which affected the interest of the Federation and Bendel State between the plaintiff (Bendel State) and the Federation. Secondly, . . . I think the first point may be easily disposed of from the definition of the word “dispute”. The Oxford Universal Dictionary defines it as ‘the act of arguing against, controversy, debate, contention as to rights, claims and the like or on a matter of opinion . . .’
Ogbuagu JSC also held as follows on page 320 thereof:- “It is well established principle of the interpretation of constitution that the words of a constitution are not to be read with stultifying narrowness – United States v Classic 313 U.S 299 and Nafiu Rabiu v The State (1980) 8-11 SC 130. The word ‘dispute’ in section 212(1) should therefore be given such meaning that will effectuate rather than defeat the purpose of that section of the Constitution. Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary (2ed), provides that ‘dispute’ is synonymous with controversy, quarrel, argument, disagreement and contention”. (Relied on in AG Kano State v AG Federation (2007) – SC 26/2006)

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ACCRUAL OF RIGHT VS ACCRUAL OF CAUSE OF ACTION

As I had earlier stated, there is a difference in accrual of right from accrual of cause of action, even though it is a very thin line of demarcation between them. When a right accrues, it is the duty of the beneficiary of that right to make moves to claim his right. When the move is made without success or a favourable response from the other party, there is nothing more to infer than that that refusal to respond is tantamount to a denial. At this point, the cause of action has accrued and is now enforceable through the instrumentality of a judicial process.

– M. Peter-Odili, JSC. Oko v. Ebonyi State (2021)

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ASCERTAIN WHEN CAUSE OF ACTION ACCRUED

It is also trite that in order to ascertain the time when the cause of action accrued, for the purpose of the limitation law, the courts only looks at the writ of summons and the statement of claim which ordinarily ought to contain averments of facts as to when the wrong committed by the Defendant took place and compare it with the date when the writ of Summons was filed.

– Oseji, JCA. SIFAX v. MIGFO (2015)

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DETERMINE A CAUSE OF ACTION

In OPIA v. INEC & ANOR (2014) LPELR-22185(SC) (P. 20, paras. D-F) Per GALADIMA, J.S.C, held thus: ”A cause of action is determined by reference to the plaintiff’s statement of claim. The immediate materials a Court should look at are the Writ of Summons and averments in the statement of claim.”

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THE LAW FOR DETERMINING A CASE IS THE LAW AS AT THE TIME CAUSE OF ACTION AROSE

The injury complained of by the Claimant occurred on 14th July 2012. This means that the cause of action arose on that said date. By OBIUWEUBI V. CBN [2011] 7 NWLR (PT. 1247) 465 the law for determining a case is the law as at the time the cause of action arose. This means that the law for determining the instant case is the Employee’s Compensation Act 2010 which replaced the Workmen’s Compensation Act.

— E.N. Agbakoba, J. Igenoza v Unknown Defendant (2019) – NICN/ABJ/294/2014

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DETERMINING THE EXISTENCE OR NONEXISTENCE OF A CAUSE OF ACTION

In determining the existence or non-existence of a cause of action in a suit, the Court is to consider the Writ of Summons and the statement of claim. And what distinguishes a claim which discloses cause of action from the one that does not is that where a statement of claim discloses some reasonable cause of action on the facts alleged in it, it is where the claim has some chances of success and once it raises some issues of law or fact calling for determination by the Court. Put differently, it is irrelevant to consider the weakness of the plaintiff’s claim but whether it raise some questions fit to be decided by a Court. And for a statement of claim to be said to disclose no cause of action it must be such as nobody can understand what claim he is required to meet.

– Shuaibu JCA. Diamond Bank v. Mocok (2019)

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