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‘STARE DECISIS’ IS TO STAND BY THINGS DECIDED

Dictum

This appeal illustrates the fundamental importance of the principle of stare decisis in our jurisprudence. “Stare decisis” is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th Edition, at Page 1443 thus: “to stand by things decided. The doctrine of precedent under which it is necessary for a Court to follow earlier judicial decisions when the same points arise again in litigation. ….. “The rule of adherence to judicial precedent finds its expression in the doctrine of stare decisis. The doctrine is simply that, when a point or principle of law has been once officially decided or settled by the ruling of a competent Court in a case in which it is directly and necessarily involved, it will no longer be considered as open to examination or to a new ruling by the same tribunal, or by those which are bound to follow its adjudication, unless it be for urgent reasons and in exceptional cases. ….” It is settled law that for the doctrine to apply, the facts of the two cases must be the same or similar. The adherence to precedent provides for certainty of the law. See: Adegoke Motors Ltd. v. Adesanya (1989) 3 NWLR (Pt. 109) 250; Mailantarki v. Tongo (2017) 5 – 6 SC (Pt. II) 132; University of Lagos v. Olaniyan (1985) LPELR – 3419 (SC) @ 26 C – F.

— K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun, JSC. State v. Andrew Yanga (SC.712/2018, 15 Jan 2021)

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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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A CASE PRECEDENT PROPERLY DISTINGUISHED CANNOT APPLY IN PRESENT CASE

Where the reliance on a precedent case is challenged in a proceedings on the basis that the facts are distinguishable from those of the present case, the court must determine if the facts of the two cases are the same or not. It cannot gloss over that issue and proceed to simply rely on the precedent case on the ground only that the law applied in that case is the same law that is sought to be invoked or applied in the precedent case. A law can be applied in various factual situations. So upon a challenge that the factual situation in which a law was applied in a previous case is different from the factual situation in a present case and therefore cannot apply to it, it becomes necessary to determine the factual basis for the application of that law in the precedent case so as to determine if the precedent case applies to the present case. If the factual basis of the application of the law in the precedent case is different from those in the present case, then the precedent is successfully distinguished from the present case and cannot apply to it on the relevant point.

— Emmanuel Akomaye Agim, JSC. Lagos State Govt. v. Abdul Kareem (2022) – SC.910/2016

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THE CASE OF UCHE NWOSU DOES NOT APPLY TO THIS

So, for the decision of this Court in Uche Nwosu’s case to apply mutatis mutandis, the fourth Respondent, who the Appellant contends has offended the law, would need to have contested two Primary Elections, emerged winners of both, and had his name forwarded by both Parties as their respective candidates for the 2023 General Election. Did he purchase a second nomination form to warrant stepping into the Appellant’s shoes in Uche Nwosu V. APP (supra), and thus, invite the same pronouncement thereat on himself? No; the fourth Respondent was not required to buy any nomination form. He was the second Respondent [APC]’s candidate at the election into the Office of Senator representing the Borno Central Senatorial District. But before the election could hold, he was nominated as the third Respondent’s associate, who is to occupy the office of Vice-President. The fourth Respondent did not buy a nomination form for the said office, and most importantly, did not contest any primary election in order to emerge as APC’s Vice-Presidential candidate. Given these acute dissimilarities, can the facts of the two cases be the same? Can such a scenario come within the parameters of Section 35 of the said Act? I think not; this cannot be the intention of the lawmaker as that will lead to absurdity. It is the law that statutes should be given their natural meaning, except to do so will lead to absurdity Toriola V. Williams (1982) 7 SC 27/46, Nonye V. Anyichie (2005) 2 NWLR (Pt. 910) 623, (2005) 1 SCNJ 306 at 316.

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

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STARE DECISIS MAKES THE LAW CERTAIN

It is a policy of Courts to stand by established precedent for the certainty of the law. Agreed, no two cases have identical facts. Where, however, the facts of the decided case are substantially the same with the case at hand, the principle of stare decisis enjoins a Court to follow the earlier judicial decisions when the same points arose again in litigation. It is also a rule of law that ensures certainty in the state of the law and its application.

– E. Eko JSC. Mailantarki v. Tongo (2017) – SC.792/2015

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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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STARE DECISIS ON SIMILAR FACTS

It is settled that Courts, including this Court are bound by the earlier decisions of the apex Court on same or similar facts determined on the basis of same or similar legislations in their subsequent determination of cases in respect of same or similar facts and on the basis of same or similar legislations. See ATOLAGBE & ANOR V. AWUNI & ORS (1997) LPELR – 593 (SC) and DR. UMAR V. ADMIRAL MURTALA NYAKO & ORS (2014) LPELR – 22878 (SC).

– M.D. Muhammad JSC. Odey v. Alaga (2021) – SC.9/2021

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