Some days in the life of a Nigerian Lawyer

As shared by Patrick Etim Esq:

 

Recently, a Judge of the National Industrial Court delivered a judgment in a matter where I represented the Attorney General of the Federation as an external lawyer. Judgement was delivered on 14th February, 2018 and His Lordship confirmed to us that the judgment would be ready for collection on Friday, 16th February, 2018.

On Friday, I sent my junior colleague to pick up the judgement and the Registrar informed him that it was not ready and we should check back. We called this week and again he informed us that the judgment was not ready.

This morning my junior colleague told me he called again and got the same response. I asked him not to bother, that I am sure the judgment is ready but I think the man wants us to give him “something”. We don’t intend to appeal the judgment and the only reason we needed the judgment was to enable us write formally to the AGF and then demand for the balance of our professional fees, something I know is not likely to happen in the next 3 years. A matter I did for the AGF’s office several years ago, is yet to be paid for , despite several demands and despite the fact that they reduced the balance from N3m to N2m, which I accepted without argument as I was tired of writing reminders. Incidentally, the present AGF is my Callmate and my colleagues in the office thought it will now be easy to get the money but it is the same old story-no money.

Anyway, I digress. So, few hours after I asked my colleague not to bother calling the Registrar again, the bailiff came with a process to serve our office. It was a Notice of Appeal and Motion for Stay of Proceedings by the 1st and 2nd Defendants. Behold, the judgment we were told was not ready was exhibited. I knew the judgment was ready because His Lordship said it would be ready. Moreover, in these days of monthly returns, most Judges ensure the judgments are typed, proofread and given to Counsel.

The interesting about the judgment was that the court agreed with me that the joining the AGF as 5th Defendant was necessary and improper as no claim was made against the AGF. I have made this argument severally and each time I was overruled. This was the first time a court agreed with me. The Claimant had relied on AG Anambra State vs AG Federation (2007) All FWLR (Part 379) page 1218 and Elelu-Habeeb vs National Judicial Council to the effect that can be sued in all civil matters which a claim can be properly made against the FGN or any of her agencies.

Our position was that a party against whom there is no cause of action cannot be made a defendant in action and it does not matter whether the party is the AGF. Once a cause of action has not been disclosed against a defendant, the proper order is either to strike out before hearing or to dismiss after hearing. We relied particularly on Afolayan vs Ogundire (1990) 1 NWLR (pt 127) 369.

I know that lawyers are divided on this issue and most judges dismiss such objections with a wave of hand but I think it should be elementary that you cannot join anyone as a defendant for whom you have no claim and when there is nothing in the Statement of Claim linking the defendant with a claim. In the instant case, the only statement in the Statement of Claim was that the AGF is the Chief Legal Adviser to the FGN and nothing more. The main defendant is a body corporate with powers to sue and be sued in its name.

 

Patrick Etim Esq is an Abuja based legal practitioner



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