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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 RULE AND THE PRINCIPLE – STARE DECISIS

Per Oputa, JSC. in Chief Gani Fawehinmi v Nigerian Bar Association & ors. (No.2) (1989) 2 N.W.L.R. (Pt.105) 558 at page 650. “Our law is the law of the practitioner rather than the law of the philosopher. Decisions have drawn their inspiration and their strength from the very facts which framed the issues for decision. Once made, these decisions control future judgments of the Courts in like or similar cases. The facts of two cases must either be the same or at least similar before the decision in the earlier case can be used in a later case, and even there, merely as a guide – What the earlier decision establishes is only a principle, not a rule. Rules operate in an all or nothing dimension. Principles do not. They merely incline decisions one way or the other. They form a principium or a starting point. Where one ultimately lands from that starting point will largely depend on the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case in hand.”

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CASES ARE AUTHORITIES FOR WHAT THEY DECIDE

It is trite law that cases are authorities for what they decide such, that it is not helpful to flog authorities where the facts and circumstances of cases are different. See PDP VS INEC (2018) LPELR-44373 (SC) AND OLLEY VS TUNJI (2015) 10 NWLR (PT. 1362) 374.

— A. Osadebay, J. APC v INEC & Ors. (EPT/KN/GOV/01/2023, 20th Day of September, 2023)

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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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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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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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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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