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

Dictum

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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PARTIES BOUND BY CONTRACTUAL TERMS IN ABSENCE OF FRAUD

The well laid down position of the law is that Courts do not rewrite contact for the parties where the terms of the contract are clear. In the absence of fraud, duress and undue influence, misrepresentation, the parties are bound by their contract. It is only parties to a contract that can sue and be sued on it.

– Rhodes-Vivour JSC. Alade v. Alic (2010)

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OFFER & A COUNTEROFFER

An offer must be unconditionally and unqualified by accepted. Any addition to or subtraction from the terms of the offer is an alteration to the terms and amounts to a total rejection of the offer by the offeree. The terms embedded in the rejection may form the basis for the formation of a new agreement. This is what amounts to a counter-offer. An offer is impliedly rejected if the offeree instead of accepting the original offer makes a counter-offer which varies the terms proposed by the offeror. Hyde v. Wrench (1840) 3 Kear. 334.

— Adekeye, JSC. Best Ltd. v. Blackwood Hodge (2011) – SC

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ILLEGALITY OF A CONTRACT VIS-À-VIS PLEADINGS

In Northern Salt Co. v. Electroytic Alkaki Co. (1914) A.C. 461, Viscount Haldane, L.C., stated this rule at page 469, thus: “My lords, it is no doubt true that where on the plaintiff’s case it appears to the court that the claim is illegal, and that it would be contrary to public policy to entertain it, the court may and ought to refuse to do so. But this must only be when either the agreement relied on is on the face of it illegal, or where, if facts relating to such an agreement are relied on, the plaintiff’s case has been completely presented. If the point has not been raised on the pleadings so as to warn the plaintiff to produce evidence which he may be able to bring forward rebutting any presumption of illegality which might be based on some isolated fact, then the court ought not to take a course which may easily lead to a miscarriage of justice. On the other hand, if the action really rests on a contract which on the face of it ought not to be enforced, then, as I have already said, the Court ought to dismiss the claim, irrespective of whether the pleadings of the defendant raise the question of illegality.”

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SUCCEEDING IN BREACH OF CONTRACT

In BEST NIGERIA LTD. v. BLACKWOOD HODGE NIGERIA LTD. (2011) LPELR-776(SC) (P.42, Paras.D-E) Per Adekeye, J.S.C. thus: “For a claimant to succeed in an action for breach of contract, he must establish not only that there was a breach but also that there was in existence an enforceable contract which was breached.”

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CONSTITUTING A BINDING CONTRACT: OFFER, ACCEPTANCE, CONSENSUS AD IDEM

In law, to constitute a binding contract between parties, there must be a meeting of the mind often referred to as consensus ad idem. The mutual consent relates to offer and acceptance. While an offer is the expression by a party of readiness to contract on the terms specified by him by which if accepted by the offeree gives rise to a binding contract, the offer only matures into a contract where the offeree signifies a clear and unequivocal intention to accept the offer. An offer can be accepted in such a manner as may be implied, such as doing an act which the person expecting acceptance wants done. On the other hand, an invitation to treat is simply the first step in negotiations between the parties to a contract. It may or may not lead to a definite offer being made by one of the parties to the other in the negotiation. In law therefore, an invitation to treat is thus not an agreement or contract. See Meka BAB Manufacturing Co. Ltd v. ACB Ltd (2004) 2 NWLR (PT. 858) 521. See also Unitab Nigeria Ltd v. Engr. Oyelola and Anor (2005) All FWLR (Pt. 286) 824 @ pp. 829-830; Okugbule and Anor v. Oyegbola and Ors (1990) 4 NWLR (pt. 147) 723; See also Afolabi v. Polymera Industries Ltd (1967) 1 All NLR 144; Nneji v. Zakhem Construction Nig. Ltd (2006) 12 NWLR (Pt. 994) 297; BFI Group Corporation v. Bureau of Public Enterprises (2012) LPELR-9339 (SC).

— B.A. Georgewill JCA. Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc V. Longterm Global Capital Limited & Ors. (CA/L/427/2016, 9 Mar 2018)

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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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