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THE RIGHT TO FINAL ADDRESS IS PROTECTED BY THE CONSTITUTION

Dictum

Now, it is undeniable that Section 294 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria consecrates the right to final addresses. Sodipo v. Lemminkainen Oy [1985] 2 NWLR (pt 8) 547; Mustapha v. Governor of Lagos State (1987) 2 NWLR (Pt. 58) 539; Ijebu Ode v. Balogun and Company Ltd. (1991) LPELR 1463 (SC) 31-32; F-A; Okeke v. State (2003) LPELR-2436 (SC) 19-20; F-A. The said expression “final addresses” means the last or ultimate speech or submission made to the Court in respect of the matter before it, before the delivery of the judgment. Put simply, it is the last address before the delivery of the judgment. Sodipo v. Leminkainen Oy (supra); Mustapha v. Governor of Lagos State (supra); Ijebu Ode v. Balogun and Company Ltd (supra); Okeke v. State (supra). It [final address] is the penultimate part of the three most important portions of the trial period; the first, being the hearing of the evidence; while the last is the judgment, Okeke v. State (2003) LPELR-2436 (SC) 19-20; F-A. Such is its pedestal in the administration of justice that when counsel or a party is denied this right [that is, of address], the trial Court is equally deprived of its enormous benefits. Its inevitable consequence is that a miscarriage of justice has been occasioned. Okafor and Ors v. A.G., Anambra and Ors (1991) LPELR-2414 (SC) 28; A-C; Obodo v. Olomu (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt. 59) 111; Adigun v. A-G of Oyo State (supra). This explains why a party must have the same right as given to his adversary to offer, by his counsel, the final address on the law in support of his case. Ndukauba v. Kolomo and Anor (2005) LPELR-1976 (SC) 12; A-D. It would thus seem obvious that the draftsperson of this section [Section 294] had in mind the eloquent views of a distinguished American Jurist, Dillon, who observed in his Laws and Jurisprudence of England and America that; “I feel reasonably assured of my judgment where I have heard counsel, and a very diminished faith where the case has not been orally argued, for mistakes, errors, fallacies and flaws elude us in Spite of ourselves unless the case is pounded and hammered at the Bar…”

— C.C. Nweze JSC. Onuwa Kalu v. The State (SC.474/2011, 13 Apr 2017)

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THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO FINAL ADDRESS

My Lords, I had the opportunity of addressing this type of anomaly in Kalu v. State (2017) LPELR – 42101 (SC). Speaking for this Court, I held that: “… it is undeniable that Section 294 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria consecrates the right to final addresses, Sodipo v. Lemminkainen Oy [1985] 2 NWLR (pt 8) 547; Mustapha v. Governor of Lagos State [1987] 2 NWLR (pt 58) 539; Ijebu Ode v. Balogun and Company Ltd (1991) LPELR – 1463 (SC) 31- 32; F-A; Okeke v. State (2003) LPELR – 2436 (SC) 19 -20; F-A. The said expression ‘final addresses’ means the last or ultimate speech or submission made to the Court in respect of the matter before it, before the delivery of the judgment. Put simply, it is the last address before the delivery of the judgment, Sodipo v. Lemminkainen Oy (supra); Mustapha v. Governor of Lagos State (supra); Ijebu Ode v. Balogun and Company Ltd (supra); Okeke v. State (supra). It [final address] is the penultimate part of the three most important portions of the trial period; the first, being the hearing of the evidence; while the last is the judgement, Okeke v. State(2003) LPELR -2436 (SC) 19 -20; F-A. Such is its pedestal in the administration of justice that when counsel or a party is denied this right [that is, of address], the trial Court is, equally, deprived of its enormous benefits. Its inevitable consequence is that a miscarriage of justice has been occasioned, Okafor and Ors v. A.G., Anambra and Ors (1991) LPELR -2414 (SC) 28; A-C; Obodo v. Olomu [1987] 3 NWLR (pt.59) 111; Adigun v. A-G of Oyo State (supra). This explains why a party must have the same right as given to his adversary to offer, by his counsel, the final address on the law in support of his case, Ndukauba v. Kolomo and Anor (2005) LPELR -1976 (SC) 12; A-D. It would thus seem obvious that, the draftsperson of this section [Section 294] had in mind the eloquent views of a distinguished American Jurist, Dillon, who observed in his Laws and Jurisprudence of England and America that: “I feel reasonably assured of my judgment where I have heard counsel, and a very diminished faith where the case has not been orally argued, for mistakes, errors, fallacies and flaws elude us in spite of ourselves unless the case is pounded and hammered at the Bar…” [Italics supplied for emphasis] Now, prior to the evolution of brief writing in various Rules of our Courts, counsel, actually, ‘pounded and hammered [their arguments] at the Bar.’ In place of that practice which has now fallen into desuetude, one of the new features introduced by these rules is the concept of advocacy in writing, that is, brief writing, whose main purpose is to curtail the time that should have been wasted in lengthy oral arguments, Onifade v. Olayiwola and Ors (1990) 7 NWLR (pt 161) 130, 160: oral arguments in which verbose counsel beat out the bush, Omojasola v. Plison Fisko Nig.Ltd and Ors (1990) 5 NWLR (Pt 151) 434, 441. Thus, although oratorical prowess was previously a great asset in advocacy, due to the great changes which have been wrought in the Court rules, proficiency in the presentation of briefs has taken the place of brilliancy in oral advocacy, Gaamstac Eng. Ltd and Anor v. FCDA (1988) 4 NWLR (pt 88) 296, 305-306. [per Nweze, JSC in Kalu v. State (supra) 9 et seq].

— Chima Centus Nweze, JSC. State v. Andrew Yanga (SC.712/2018, 15 Jan 2021)

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DENIAL OF PARTY TO GIVE FINAL ADDRESS MAY RENDER ENTIRE PROCEEDING VOID

In the case of Ndu v. State (1990) 7 NWLR (Pt. 164) 550 at 560, it was held that the hearing of address from counsel before delivery of judgment is an important exercise in the judicial proceedings in our courts and the denial of that right to a party may render the entire proceedings a nullity if a miscarriage of justice occurs. It is my very view that the judgment entered in favour of the respondent against the appellant without the latter closing its case and presenting through its counsel its final address is a serious violation of the appellant’s right to fair hearing, which renders the entire proceedings a nullity. This being the position, it is not necessary to consider whether the damages awarded can be justified.

— Opene JCA. United Bank for Africa (UBA) v. Samuel Igelle Ujor (CA/C/134/99, 20 FEB 2001)

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FAILURE TO FILE A FINAL ADDRESS IS NOT FATAL

In Ndu vs. The State (1990) Part 164 page 550, the Supreme Court held that: “The right of address given to a party or his counsel does not confer on him the right to do so at his pleasure. A party or counsel may forget or be taken to waive his right of address if he fails to address when called upon by the Court to do so at the close of evidence. It was further held that there are however occasions when addresses from Counsel are a matter of formality. They may not diminish or add to the strength or weakness in a party’s case. The facts and the law applicable in such cases speak loudly for themselves to require address.”

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FINAL ADDRESS OF COUNSEL IS ALWAYS RELEVANT

Learned counsel for the respondent had argued that a trial Judge can in certain circumstances dispense with final addresses and that one of such circumstances is where, as in this case, the facts are straightforward and in the main not in dispute. Reference was made to: Niger Construction Company Ltd. v. Okugbeni (1987) 11/12 SCNJ 135 at 139; Donatus Ndu v. The State (1990) 12 SCNJ 50 at 60. Nemi and Ors. v. The State (1994) 10 SCNJ 1. He submitted that in the present case, the facts are straightforward and that the evidence of the plaintiff is undisputed and that addresses in the circumstances would have been a mere formality and that there is nothing to show that the appellantsuffered a miscarriage of justice as a result of the counsel not addressing the court. I have read the cases cited by the respondent’s counsel and it appears to me that those cases are not in line with the current decisions of the Supreme Court and this court as well. This case is not straightforward as the respondent’s counsel had submitted. I must observe that a trial court does not call for addresses just for a fun or as a matter of course. An address is a part and parcel of the trial and its immense and enormous value is unquantifiable and its absence can tilt the balance of the trial court’s judgment as much as the delivery of an address after the conclusion of evidence can. It will be therefore erroneous on the part of the court to hold that a case is straightforward, that an address is not necessary or that even if an address was delivered, that the decision could not be different as this is nothing more than a mere speculation.

— Opene JCA. United Bank for Africa (UBA) v. Samuel Igelle Ujor (CA/C/134/99, 20 FEB 2001)

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FINAL ADDRESS IS AN IMPORTANT STAGE BEFORE JUDGEMENT DELIVERY

There is no gainsaying the fact that the provision donates to litigating parties the right to render final addresses at the closure of evidence and before judgment. Final address connotes “the last or ultimate speech or submission made to the Court in respect of issue before it, before the delivery of judgment. It is the last address before the delivery of judgment”. see Ijebu-Ode L.G. v. Adedeji Balogun & Co. (1991) 1 NWLR (Pt. 166) 136 at 156, per Karibi-Whyte, JSC, Sodipo v. Lemminkainen Oy (1985) 2 NWLR (Pt. 8) 547; Mustapha v. Governor of Lagos State (1987) 2 NWLR (Pt. 58) 539; Kalu v. State (2017) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1586) 522. The caustic effect of denial of addresses to parties vis-a-vis proceedings is wrapped in Ndu v. State (1990) 7 NWLR (Pt. 164) 550, (1990) 21 NSCC (Pt. 3) 505. Therein Akpata, JSC, succinctly, stated: It is generally accepted that the hearing of addresses from counsel before delivery of judgment is an important exercise in judicial proceedings in our Courts. The entire proceedings may be declared a nullity if a counsel is denied the right to address the Court at the close of evidence. See also, Obodo v. Olomu (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt. 59) 111/(1987) 2 NSCC, vol. 18, 824 at 831; Niger Construction Co. Ltd. v. Okugbeni (1987) 11/12 SCNJ 113/(1987) 4 NWLR (Pt. 67) 787; Ayisa v. Akanji (1995) 7 NWLR (Pt. 406) 129; Kalu v. State (supra).

— O.F. Ogbuinya JCA. Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc v. Longterm Global Cap. Ltd. & Ors. (September 20 2021, ca/l/1093/2017)

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FINAL ADDRESSES ARE TO ASSIST THE COURT – THEY ARE DISPENSABLE

It was in this light that Supreme Court per Oputa, J.S.C., in Niger Construction limited vs. Okugbeni (1987) 4 NWLR Part 67 pages 787 at page 792; “Addresses are designed to assist the Court. When, as in this case, the facts are straightforward and in the main not in dispute, the trial Judge would be free to dispense with final addresses. Cases are normally not decided on addresses but on credible evidence. No amount of brilliance in a final speech can make up for the lack of evidence to prove and establish or else disprove and demolish points in issue.”

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