A Review  of the Supreme court’s stance on Technicalities viz-a viz the Decision on Adeleke V. Oyetola: A Disinternment or Sui Generis


It was with mixed reactions the Supreme Court’s decision on the much publicized case of Adeleke V. Oyetola was curtseyed.

The differences in reaction is not one we are new to, as is the custom there are always too sides in every suit (Plaintiff/Appellants and Defendant/Respondents), and those in whose favour the judgment goes waste no time in delving into unrestrained frolic and gaiety in a bid to whist the other end of the coin who often pour out vituperations on whomsoever they are inclined to not excluding the judicial system.

However, in this instant case unlike the bandwagon of others, eyebrows have equally been raised by those who can be said to be neutral parties; from the layman to learned jurists, not a few have claimed to be bewildered at the judgment insinuating the gamut of that decision was one embedded with certain inconsistencies though not alien to our judicial system.

Well, this writer must state that simply paying punctilious attention most especially to the fulcrum of the judgment will avail answers to any logical man not blinded by sheer sentimental propensities and predilections questioning the resounding dissent that greeted the decision from our most venerable judges of The Apex Court.

At this juncture, it is Apposite to bring to glare the facts of this case for those who may still be oblivious of that judgment, this writer would therefore re-state in a nutshell what has been the root of the varying opinion of Laymen and Jurist alike.

In that case,Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour who read the Lead judgment of The Court held that the absence of Justice Peter Obiorah who read the Lead judgment of the tribunal from one of the hearings had renderd the entire proceedings of the said tribunal and its judgment a nullity.

This was the crux of the judgment. From the above fact, it is really debatable What is adopted as the ratio of this judgement .

Is it justice or technicality?

So, without gilding the Lily, let us Sojourn to defining the word ‘technicality’ in the legal milieu.

In Nneji V. Chukwu (1988) LPELR-2058(SC) the erudite Oputa J.S.C said thus:

What is Technicality? A technical error is one committed in the course of a trial, but without prejudice to a party. It is an error which is purely abstract and harmless for practical purposes. Technicality relates to details rather than principle. Furthermore in Yusuf V. Adegoke (2007) LPELR-3534(SC) Niki Tobi J.S.C in his unique legal patois described technicality in the following words “A technicality in a matter could arise if a party is relying on abstract or inordinate legalism to becloud or drown the merits of a case.”

From the preceding, we can infer that technicality is more often than not insidious to substantial justice, as Niki Tobi puts it, it beclouds and drowns the merits of a case. Now one question that behooves around this friction between substantial justice and technicality is “what should the court do when confronted with a conflict between technicality and substantial justice?”

In Oloruntoba-Oju V. Abdul-Raheem (2009) LPELR-2596(SC), O.O Adekeye, J.S.C enthused quite clearly: “I must repeat the clarion call that courts nowadays denounce judgment by mere technicality. Courts are set up to do substantial justice and in the pursuit of this all forms of technicalities which will act as a detriment to the determination of the substantial issues between litigants must be shunned.

While recognizing that rules of the court should be complied with by parties to a suit, it is also in the interest of justice that parties should be afforded a reasonable opportunity in appropriate circumstances for the claims to be adequately investigated and properly determined on merit.

As stated earlier,many persons; especially the legally trained, and those in training, apparently were left disturbed at The Court’s ruling for the sole reason that it seemed to circumvent on the Supreme Court’s moratorium to move beyond the epoch of technicalities in our jurisprudence. In a plethora of cases The Court have affirmed and re-affirmed its credo on esteeming substantial justice over technicalities.

This writer has attempted to enlist a few of them. In Amako V. The State (1995) LPELR-451(SC) ADIO, J.S.C on P.13, paras. C-D stated “Cases should be decided, wherever possible, on merit. They should not be decided on the basis of technicalities”. In Jeric (Nig) Ltd V. UBN PLC (2000) LPELR-1607(SC), it was held inter alia “…this court has long moved away from sticking to technicalities as opposed to the determination of parties’ rights on merits and substantial justice”.

In Adelusola V. Akinde (2004) LPELR-120(SC), it was unequivocally held thus: “…the attitude of the courts nowadays is to do substantial justice without undue adherence to technicalities. Justice can only be done if the substance of the matter is examined. Reliance on technicalities leads to injustice”.

In Odeh V. FRN (2008) LPELR-2205(SC) it was held inter alia that “the attitude of the courts has been that cases should not be decided on the basis of technicalities”. Most recently The Court reaffirmed in John V. The State (2019) LPELR-46936(SC) “It has also become trite that our courts have long departed from the era of technicalities to doing substantial justice between parties”.

This writer apologizes for the hums and haws, but the questions that begs for answer is “Comparing the long line of axioms by impeccable jurists of The Apex Court overtime with the decision on Adeleke’s case, has the Supreme Court changed its ideology on technicalities and substantial justice? Or is this case just a sui generis, and if so why?” Whilst this writer cannot put forward answers to the question, it is also expedient he absolves himself of suggesting that the rules of the court be unapologetically flouted by Counsels but he adopts the dictum of Nimpar,J.C.A in Folorunsho V. FRN (2017) LPELR-41972(CA), the learned judge posits; “Rules of Court are meant to be obeyed, they are made to be a guide and to help parties and the court to fairly and quickly determine matters. In order to balance between technicality in rigidy applying rules and the duty to ensure justice in the determination of matters, courts have been admonished not to allow the Rules of Court to stop the court from determining matters in the interest of justice. The Court is enjoined to use the rules as aid to the court in arriving at justice and not defeat it”.

Also see Fidelity Bank Plc V. Chief Andrew Monye (2012) LPELR-7816(SC), Chrisdon Ind.co.ltd V Aib Ltd (2002) 8 NWLR (PT.768) 152, Chime V. Chime (2001) 3 NWLR (PT.701) 527.

The purport of these judgments is that technicalities should not be allowed to act as a manacle to the determination of parties’ substantive issues in a suit as has been done in the instant case. The aforementioned judgments which are more recent than the 1962 case of Madukolu V. Nkedimili which the apostles of technicalities hinge on have tacitly blurred the strict conditions set in the latter case for a court to be said to be competent.

It is also imperative to note that technicalities customarily can only be invoked against counsels who break the hedge by disregarding wittingly or otherwise the procedural rules of the court and not for the undoing of a judge, as a counsel cannot and should not be held accountable for a judge’s conduct.

It is therefore not logical that a party in a suit be reprimanded and punished for a judge’s omission.

This is concomitant to rubbing the sins of Peter on Paul, and such bohemian practice ought to have been expunged from our jurisprudence long ago as it is a mismatch not even obtainable in other climes with whom we share judicial ties with, and it is inimical to the principles of fairness and equity.

Though The Court’s decision is sacrosanct, it is also pertinent that for the sake of clarity the Supreme Court elucidate on why Adeleke had to suffer for the misdoing of Learned Justice Peter Obiora. Was there not a way the hallowed temple of justice would have thrown away the bath water without simultaneously throwing the baby? Other pressing questions on the mind of this writers are; “Is this decision the ground breaking of another amplitude in our jurisprudence”? Is this a disinterment of technicality and its cumbrous paraphernalia? Or is Adeleke’s a sui generis? This writer sincerely wishes to provide answers to this question, but he is grossly bereft of them, hence he drops his pen at this juncture and wish our judicial system wisdom as we attempt to redress the numerous incongruities colligated in her as at now.

Kelechi P Nwodo is a student of the University of Benin, Faculty of Law.

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