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FORMING A CONTRACT – MUTUAL ASSENT

Dictum

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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FOUR WAYS IN WHICH CONTRACT MAY BE DISCARDED

Now, it is settled that a valid contract may be discharged in any of the four ways namely: (a) by performance; or (b) by express agreement; or (c) by breach; or (d) by the doctrine of frustration. See Adedeji Vs Obajimi [2018] LPELR-33712(SC); Tsokwa Oil Marketing Company Vs B.O.N. Ltd [2002] 11 NWLR (Pt 777) 163.

— S.O. Adeniyi, J. Nwabueze v. ABU Zaria (2023) – NICN/KD/34/2021

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THE ILLEGAL PART OF A CONTRACT CAN BE SEVERED FROM THE OTHER LEGAL PART

This is because it is a recognized principle of law that a contract will rarely be totally illegal or void: certain parts may be entirely lawful in themselves, while others are valid. Where the illegal or void parts can be “severed” from the rest of the contract on the well-known principles of severance such will be done and the rest of the contract enforced without the void part. It is permissible for courts to adopt this course where the objectionable part of the contract involves merely a void step or promise and is not fundamental, and it is possible to simply strike down the offending part without re-writing or remaking the contract for the parties and without altering the scope and intention of the agreement; and lastly, the contract, shorn of the offending parts, retains the characteristics of a valid contract. See on these Vol. 9 Hals. Laws of England (4th Edn.) p.297 in paragraph 430. See also Commercial Plastics Ltd. v. Vincent (1964) 3 All E.R. 546, C.A.

— Nnaemeka-Agu, JSC. Adesanya v Otuewu (1993) – SC.217/1989

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REPUDIATION OF CONTRACT CANNOT BE DONE BY ONE PARTY ALONE

Contracts are made by parties and the Court interprets same. Repudiation of contract cannot be done by one party, see ADENIYI VS GOVERNING COUNCIL OF YABA TECH (1993) LPELR-128(SC) held thus; “But repudiation by one party standing alone does not terminate the contract. It takes two to end it, by repudiation on the one side, and acceptance of the repudiation on the other.”

— Nimpar, JCA. Ekpo v GTB (2018) – CA/C/324/2013

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WHEN A CONTRACT IS VOID AB INITIO

The position of the law is that where a statute declares a contract or transaction between parties not only void but also imposes a penalty for violation, that contract or transaction is illegal ab initio. However where the legal sanction is merely to prevent abuse or fraud and no penalty is imposed for the violation of the provision of the statute, the violation is merely voidable and not illegal. See Solanke v. Abed (supra); Oil-field Supply Centre Ltd. v. Johnson (1987) 2 N.W.L.R. (Pt. 58) 265 and Ibrahim v. Osim (1988) 3 N.W.L.R. (Pt. 82) 257 and Pan Bishbilder (Nigeria) Ltd. v. First Bank of Nigeria Ltd (2000) 1 N.W.L.R. (Pt. 642) 684 at 693 where Achike JSC (of blessed memory) clearly stated the position of the law:- “Permit me to digress generally on illegality. It is common ground that illegality and voidness of the loan contract between the parties is the main subject matter of controversy in this appeal. Definition of the term illegal contract has been elusive. The production of clarity of the classification of illegality appears to be almost confounded and rendered intractable primarily because – writers and the Judges have continued to use the terms ‘void’ and ‘illegal’ interchangeably. Halsbury’s Laws of England (3rd ed. vol. 8 p. 126 para. 218) states that – ‘A contract is illegal where the subject matter of the promise is illegal or where the consideration or any part of it is illegal.’ Without getting unduly enmeshed in the controversy regarding the definition or classification of that term, it will be enough to say that contracts which are prohibited by statute or at common law, coupled with provisions for sanction (such as fine or imprisonment) in the event of its contravention are said to be illegal. There is however the need to make a distinction between contracts that are merely declared void and those declared illegal. For instance, if the provisions of the law require certain formalities to be performed as conditions precedent for the validity of the transaction without however imposing any penalty for non-compliance, the result of failure to comply with the formalities merely renders the transaction void, but if a penalty is imposed, the transaction is not only void but illegal, unless the circumstances are such that the provisions of the statute stipulate otherwise. See Solanke v. Abed & Anor. (1962) N.R.N .L.R. 92, (1962) 1 S.C.N.L.R. 371 and P. Kasumu & Ors. v. Baba-Egbe 14 WACA 444.”

— Mohammed, JSC. Fasel v NPA (2009) – SC.88/2003

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CONTRACT OF SERVICE AT COMMON LAW VS IN STATUTORY FLAVOUR

It is important to recognise the distinction between a contract of personal service and a contract of service. There is also the distinction between a contract of service at common law, and a contract with statutory favour. Whereas at common law a contract of personal service is determinable by the master at will without cause a contract of service is determinable by the master on reasonable notice or on the notice stipulated in the contract of the parties. A strict compliance with the statutory requirements for determination is required in contracts re-enforced by Statute or created by statute.

— A.G. Karibe-Whyte, JSC. Olaniyan & Ors. v. University of Lagos (1985) – SC.53/1985

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WHERE CONTRACTUAL NEW TERM CAN BE INTRODUCED

Where parties enter into an agreement and subsequently decide to introduce new terms, they can only do so by specific reference to the earlier agreement to the effect that the later agreement has introduced new terms thereof.

– Niki Tobi JSC. Yaro v. Arewa CL (2007)

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