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EQUITY AIDS THE VIGILANT

Dictum

Whoever seeks equitable remedy like specific performance must show that he is vigilant and does all that was required of him to have clear hand to enforce the contract. Vigilantibus et non dormientibus jura subveniunt.

– Belgore, JSC. Nlewedim v. Uduma (1995)

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FAILURE OF APPELLANT TO SIGN – EQUITY SEES AS DONE WHICH OUGHT TO BE DONE

Though not mutually executed Exhibit A was regarded by the parties as their binding contract. Equity acts in personam and therefore takes as done that which ought to be done, if from the conduct of the parties such inference can be drawn. In the instant case, such facts abound on which the two Courts below concurrently found that the parties intended to be bound by Exhibit A and that Exhibit A would be the basis of their mutual transaction, whether or not the document was formally executed. Again, Equity acting in personam would look at the intent of the parties and the substance and not at the form. In the instant case, insistence on compliance with all formalities of executing a written agreement will be oppressive to the Respondent. The Appellant, in the Court of Justice, will not be allowed to take advantage of the Respondent on his own iniquity by his ingenious booby trap by which he deliberately withheld his signature while at the same time it made the Respondent go with the impression that the relationship is governed or regulated by Exhibit A. Section 169 of the Evidence Act, 2011, which codified the principle of estoppel by conduct, will not countenance the present posture of the Appellant and allow it resile out of Exhibit A.

— E. Eko, JSC. MTN v. Corporate (2019) – SC.674/2014

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WHERE TWO EQUITIES ARE EQUAL, FIRST IN TIME PREVAILS

The maxim is where two equities are equal the first in time prevails. Where the 2nd respondent and the 4th appellant both traced the ownership of the land to Oluwa family the question arises as to who first acquired the property. The Deed of lease of the 2nd respondent was in January 1976 whereas the 4th appellant purchased the land in August 1976. The two lower courts rightly decided that the right and proper persons to be served with the notice of acquisition was the 2nd respondent. Where a person pays for land, obtains receipts of payment, followed by his going into possession and remaining in possession equitable interest is created for him in the land. The equitable interest can only be defeated by a purchaser of the land for value without notice of the prior equity. Nsiegbe v. Mgbemena (2007) 10 NWLR (Pt.1042) pg.364. Kachalla v. Banki (2006) 8 NWLR (Pt.982) pg.364. Ogunbambi v. Abowaba (1951) 13 WACA pg. 222.

— O.O. Adekeye, JSC. Goldmark & Ors. v. Ibafon Co. & Ors. (2012) – SC.421/2001

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WHAT IS INEQUITABLE CONDUCT

The mere mention of “inequitable conduct” is a pointer to the equitable doctrine “He who comes into equity must come with clean hands”. This maxim will deny a relief to a complainant, who is himself guilty of inequitable conduct in reference to the matter in controversy. This means that the plaintiff must, in the matter of his claim, be free from any taint of fraud or bad faith. The cleanliness of hands must therefore relate to the matter of his claim, to the transaction in controversy. What bars the claim is not a general depravity but one which has an immediate and necessary relation to the equity sued for.

– Oputa, JSC. Adejumo v. Ayantegbe (1989)

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TRIAL JUDGE IMPORTED EQUITABLE CONSIDERATION INTO HIS JUDGEMENT

By importing equitable consideration into his judgment, the learned trial Judge by what I term judicial legislation threw overboard and or repealed Exhibit –D” which is the applicable customary law to the chieftaincy. The court does not have that power. The office of the judge is jus dicere, not jus dare. See Okumagba v. Egbe (1965) All NLR 62 at 67.

— Ogwuegbu, JSC. Ogundare v Ogunlowo (1997) – SC.25/1994

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EQUITY ACTS ON CONSCIENCE

In the case of National Insurance Corporation of Nigeria Ltd. v. Power and Industrial Engineering Co. Ltd. (1986) 1 NWLR (Pt. 14) 1 at 29, Aniagolu, JSC had this to say: “Equity, as we all know, inclines itself to conscience reason and good faith and implies, system of law disposed to a just regulation of mutual rights and duties of men, in a civilized society. It does not envisage sharp practice and undue advantage of a situation and a refusal to honour reciprocal liability arising therefrom; it will demand that a person will enter into a deal as a package-enjoying the benefits thereof and enduring, at the same time, the liabilities thereon.”

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JUSTICE CANNOT BE METED TO SOMEONE WHO HAS HIS HANDS SOILED

This court being a court of justice is a temple of justice adhering to the symbol of a blindfolded woman with a scale on one hand and a sword on the other to render “justice” (not injustice), to all manner of people. Indeed the beauty and greatness nay the purity of justice, in all its consuming allure and essence is to ferret out from the mass of facts and law before it, relevant points in order to give remedy to anyone who comes for that. It is not justice meted to someone who does not deserve it when that person craving for it has his hand soiled, blemished, and besmirched. It is my view that the appellants cannot eat their cake and have it. I believe that it is not only the litigants in this case but millions of our country men with an abiding faith in the nature of our jurisprudence as practised in our courts’ who have access to the courts to seek justice not adulterated justice, or justice shrouded in clouds of euphemisms or where the court would wring its hands and declare that the case does follow a regular or laid down pattern that would benefit from justice founded on law and ethics.

– Pats-Acholonu, J.S.C. Pinder v. North (2004)

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