Appellant ought to appreciate that commercial transactions are not to be blocked; blighted and bloated by technicalities and foisted delays that take their toil not only on their opponent’s time/resources but indeed delays that clog on the administration of justice and dissipates judicial energy and public resources are condemnable. The prolongation of this needless dispute as enacted in this needless appeal and avoidable costs in resources of manpower and material and monetary cost is reprehensible. Sadly, such cases, as in this appeal, abound and litter the courts; and with their undeserving, though sometimes attendant “innocent” criticism and harassment of the judex as being responsible for the delays in the administration of justice! Compelled to hear on the merit, all cases that may be spiteful and undeserving, is nonetheless the injunction of fair hearing under our accusatorial jurisprudence. The cross of the innocent Judge! Lord, the ultimate Judge, apportion your blessings and sanction, as we are guided.

The above was the lamentation of my Lord, Hon. Justice Danjuma, JCA in the case of Obafemi Awolowo University v. Inaolaji Builders Ltd., [2020] 4 NWLR (Pt. 1714) 347 at 372.

The brief facts of the case are that the Respondent (Inaolaji Builders Ltd.) commenced an action against the Appellant (Obafemi Awolowo University) by way of Originating Summons, seeking among other reliefs an order appointing an arbitrator to settle the dispute between the parties as contained in the clause of the bill of quantities and articles of agreement executed by the parties. It happened that after the court had heard the case and appointed an arbitrator, the Appellant sought to frustrate the proceedings by making further applications leading to the instant appeal.

The Court of Appeal had no difficulty dismissing the appeal. From the quoted passage in the Judgment of Danjuma, JCA, we learnt a few lessons. His Lordship acknowledged that commercial disputes deserve to be treated without needless delays; and further highlighted the negative effects of such delays which include waste of time, energy and resources. More so, the learned Justice of the Court of Appeal noted that we have many cases suffering from delay tactics littering our courts.

According to Danjuma, JCA, even more disheartening is the fact that sometimes the judges are being criticized and harassed unnecessarily for the inordinate delays. His Lordship decries this development in that the courts are compelled to hear all grades of frivolous, “spiteful and undeserving” suits on the basis of fair hearing.

Turning to God in grief, his Lordship prayed for God’s blessings on the innocent Judges and sanction on those responsible for the vice of delay. Looking at the prayers of his Lordship in the instant case, it is only advisable that litigants and lawyers must beware.

The opinion has been expressed elsewhere that “The delay in conclusively deciding cases in Nigeria has been a serious problem for the Judiciary. This has significantly caused much decline in the faith of the people in our justice system. A lot has been said concerning what the causes are.  The summary of the findings is that the courts, lawyers, the Government including the litigants all have a hand in the problem.”

The courts are encouraged to continue to play its part by taking bold and firm stands in dealing with incidents of delay tactics. Like detectives, the courts should be alert always and be prepared to wield the big stick against any erring litigant or counsel. Our Judges must step up and begin to deal with frivolous applications on the bench. The idea of over-indulging litigants and their counsel for fear of running foul of fair hearing principles needs to be reconsidered. Trial dates must be respected and should only be vacated on exceptional circumstances.

Our courts should devise a means of discouraging the filing of frivolous appeals. Filing of needless appeals is one method of delaying the effective resolution of disputes. In Alanamu v. Federal Republic of Nigeria [2020] 4 (Pt. 1713) 19 at 44, Saulawa, JCA, described the appeal in that case as a “diabolical delay tactics”. His Lordship explained how filing of frivolous applications and seeking unnecessary adjournments by a lawyer “Creates a sorry figure of the lawyer”. The learned Jurist quoted the dictum of Aniagolu, JSC in Bakare v. ACB Ltd. [1986] 3 NWLR (Pt. 26) 47 thus:

Lawyers may enjoy the splitting of hairs on obtuse legal points but extravagant exercise has the result of weighing heavily on the pockets of litigants and unnecessarily exhausting the energies of the Appeal Courts.

Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has worked with a number of startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.

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