IN THE NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT OF NIGERIA
IN THE YENAGOA JUDICIAL DIVISION
HOLDEN AT YENAGOA
BEFORE HIS LORDSHIP HON. JUSTICE BASHAR A. ALKALI
DATE: JULY 1, 2019. Suit No: NICN/YEN/49/2018.
IBUAKEVWE OVAYARO ISAAC
NWAJIUBA CHUKS REGINALD CLAIMANTS
MR. ELIAS AMADI
JOHN PAUL NNANYELUGO OMEONU
MR. EYO E. EYO DEFENDANTS
MR. DAVID O.
Mr. A. Kam Esq for the Defendants/Applicants.
Mr. C.A Alubi Esq for the Claimants/Respondents.
The Claimants instituted this action for themselves and on behalf of other stakeholders of National Association of Scrap and Waste Dealers Employers of Nigeria (NASWDEN) vide a complaint dated 6th day of December, 2018. The Claimants claims against the Defendants are as follows:
AN ORDER directing the 1st Defendant to render the account of his stewardship from April, 2017 when he was appointed as the Delta State Chairman of NASWDEN, Delta State Chapter by the National Executive of the Union in April, 2017 to September, 2018 when he was removed.
AN ORDER directing the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Defendants who worked closely with the 1st Defendant to hand over all union’s documents and properties in their possession to the stakeholders.
AN ORDER directing the 1st Defendant to stop parading himself as the Chairman of NASWDEN, Delta State Chapter.
AN ORDER directing the 1st Defendant to produce his Statement of Account in First Bank Nigeria Plc and Zenith Bank Nigeria Plc from the period he assumed office till date which is the account he lodged monies belonging to the union.
AN ORDER directing the 1st Defendant to pay interest at the rate of 21% per annum for all monies belonging to the union in his personal account or possession.
AN ORDER directing the Defendants to pay the sum of N2, 000, 000. 00 (Two Million Naira) only in favour of the Claimants for the cost of litigation.
The Claimants alongside filed Statement of Facts, Witness Written Deposition on Oath, List of Witnesses and List of Documents to be Relied Upon in the cause of Trial.
THE DEFENDANTS/APPLICANTS NOTICE OF PRELIMINARY OBJECTION
The Defendants filed their Memorandum of Appearance dated 24th January, 2019 alongside also filed Statement of Defence, List of Witnesses, Witness Written Deposition on Oath, List of Documents to be Relied Upon in the cause of Trial. The Defendants also filed a Motion on Notice within which to regularized the processes which were filed out of time. The said motion was moved and granted on the 28th February, 2019.
The Defendants further filed a Motion on Notice dated 24th January, 2019 and filed on the same date. The motion is brought pursuant to Order 30 Rule 18 of the Rules of this court. The application sought for an Order of this court setting down for hearing the points of law raised by the Defendants/Applicants in paragraph 11 of their Statement of Defence. The motion was moved and granted on the 28th day of February, 2019; and this court ordered parties to file their respective written addresses. The Defendants/Applicants filed their address on the 15th March, 2019.
The Defendants vide paragraph 11 of their Statement of Defence raised three points of law to wit:
The Claimants have no locus to initiate this suit.
The Claimants have no cause of action.
The Claimants are not a juristic body.
In the Written Address Learned counsel for the Defendants formulated three issues for determination namely:
Whether in the light of the pleadings, the claimants have the locus standi to institute this case.
Whether the Claimants have a cause of action against the Defendants.
Whether the Claimants are juristic body.
On the first issue of whether in the light of the pleadings, the Claimants have the locus standi to institute this case, it is the submission of the Defendants in this case that the Claimants lack the requisite locus standi to institute this action. That its trite that before a Claimant can sue, he must have the locus to sue. It is also trite that the court has no jurisdiction to hear a matter, where the Claimant has no locus to institute same. Referred to the case of INAKOJU VRS ADELEKE & ORS (2007) LRCN VOL. 143 PG 1 RATIO 22.
Counsel contends that in the instant case, the Claimants vide their Statement of Facts averred in paragraphs 1, 2 and 8 that they are current stakeholders of National Association of Scrap and Waste Dealers Employers of Nigeria (NASWDEN), Delta State Chapter and that the stakeholders are represented by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Claimants. And that a critical examination of the Constitution of NASWDEN will disclose the fact that there is no such organ or body known as the stakeholders of NASWDEN or in any of its chapter, including the Delta State Chapter. That Rule 5 of the constitution listed the different organs of the Association. Therefore, any meeting, decision or action of any person or group of persons purportedly acting for and on behalf of a non-existent or unconstitutional body of the Association is without locus standi. The stakeholders can not act or purport to act for the Association without the consent and authority of the said Association.
It is also the submission of counsel that the Defendants in paragraph 4 of their Statement of Defence avers that the Claimants are not members of NASWDEN, having been expelled by the Association vide a letter dated the 29th day of January, 2018 which the Claimants acknowledged same vide a letter dated the 29th day of January, 2018. That the Claimants having been expelled lacks the locus standi to institute this action and urged this court to so hold.
On the second issue of whether the suit disclosed a reasonable cause of action, it is the submissions of the applicants that a cause of action arises from circumstances containing different facts that give rise to a claim which can be enforced in court. And thus leads to the right to sue a person responsible for the existence of such circumstances. That there must therefore be a wrongful act of a party i.e. the party sued, which has injured or given the plaintiff a reason to complain in a court of law. Refers to ARABAMBI VRS A.B.I. LTD (2005) VOL. 136 LRCN PG 1078 RATIO 1. Therefore, it is the contention of the applicants that the Claimants not being members of the Association and the “stakeholders” not being an organ of the Association, and also the Claimants having not been authorized by the Association to bring this suit for and on behalf of the Association, the Defendants are not bound to render any account to the Claimants. And the Claimants have also not established how the actions of the Defendants had affected them. And urged this court to hold that this suit or the claimant had failed to establish any reasonable cause of action against the Defendants.
On the third issue of whether the Claimants are a juristic person. It is the submission of the Learned counsel to the applicants that the stakeholders of National Association of Scrap and Waste Dealers Employers of Nigeria (NASWDEN) is not a juristic person, so it can not sue or be sued whether for or on behalf. Cited the authorities of KALU ATAGUBA & COMPANY VRS GURA NIGERIA LTD (2005) ALL FWLR (PT. 256) PG 1219; SHARON PAINT AND CHEMICAL COMPANY LTD. & ORS VRS E. O EZENWAKA & ORS (2001) NWLR (PT. 43) AT PG 312 RATIO 1.
Finally, the learned counsel urged this court to resolve all the issues in favour of the Defendants/Applicants and strike out this matter.
REPLY ON POINTS OF LAW FILED BY THE CLAIMANTS/RESPONDENTS
The Claimants/Respondents filed a Reply on Points of Law on the 4th April, 2019 to the issues set down for hearing by this court.
On the first issue on whether in the light of the pleadings, the Claimants have the locus standi to institute this case. It is the submission of the counsel that the term locus standi connotes the legal capacity to institute an action or commence an action in a competent court of law without any impediment, inhibition or obstruction from any person or anybody whatsoever. That a party is said to have a locus standi if he has shown a sufficient interest in the action and the civic right and obligation have been or are been endanger. Refers to the authorities of AIRTEL NETWORK LTD VRS GEORGE & ORS (2014) LPELR 22951 (CA).
The learned counsel further submitted that from the Claim and Statement of Facts before this court, the Claimants have demonstrated enough interest in this matter as to entitle them to have a standing to sue. Refers paragraphs 6 – 15 of the Claimants’ Statement of Facts, and urged this court to resolve the first issue in favour of the Claimants.
On the second issue of whether the Suit/Claimants have disclosed reasonable cause of action against the Defendants. Counsel submits that a cause of action is the bundle of aggregate of facts which the law recognizes as giving the plaintiff a substantive right to the claim for the reliefs or remedies being sought. Referred to COOKEY VRS FCMB (2005) 15 NWLR (PT. 947) PG 182; NEPA VRS OLAGUNJU (2005) 3 NWLR (PT. 413) PG 602.
It is the submission of the learned counsel that from the reliefs as set out in paragraph 17 of the Statement of Facts one can see that the Claimants have sufficiently demonstrated the fact that they have a clear cause of action against the Defendants. That the crux of the Claimants’ complaint against the Defendants is that the 1st Defendant in concert with the 2nd and 3rd Defendants refused to render the account of their stewardship while serving as the executives of NASWDEN. Also that the 1st Defendant is no longer the Chairman of NASWDEN, Delta State Chapter but he purportedly installed the 2nd and 3rd Defendants as the executives of NASWDEN without adhering to due process. And that all these issues can only be resolved in the cause of trial. Counsel urged this court to resolve the second issue in favour of the Claimants.
On the third issue of whether the Claimants/Respondents are juristic person, it is the submission of the learned counsel to the Claimants that juristic persons who may sue or be sued have been recognized to include natural persons (human beings), Companies Incorporated under CAMA, Registered Trade Unions, Partnerships etc. Refers to the authority of FAHWEMI VRS NBA (1989) 2 NWLR (PT. 105) PG 33 – 35. That there is no doubt that the Claimants are all natural persons recognizable by the law. That they have not just sued as stakeholders but rather they instituted this action for themselves and on behalf of other members of NASWDEN, Delta State Chapter who have interest in the affairs of the state chapter of the said union.
And that the word “stakeholders” can be interchangeable with the word “members”. And urged this court to resolve the third issue in favour of the Claimants.
Finally, counsel urged this court to resolve all the three issues in favour of the Claimants and dismissed the application in its entirety.
I have carefully perused at all the processes filed before this court and I have painstakingly read through the arguments canvassed by the Learned counsel to the Defendants and the response filed by the Claimants. The grounds/issues raised by counsel to the Defendants touches on the very foundation of the court’s powers to hear and determine the suit. The law is settled on the relevance of jurisdiction and the need to ascertain the presence or absence of it when challenged, before delving into the substance of the suit. In other words, the court is called upon to drop its armour, retreat and satisfy itself that it is sufficiently clothed with the powers to determine the suit, this court is truly not an errand knight looking for jurisdiction where no one has activated it.
The gamut of the preliminary objection as filed by the Defendants simply is that, this court lacks the jurisdictional vires to entertain this suit on the ground that the Claimants having been expelled from the Union has no locus standi to institute this action, and also that the mode or style adopted by the Claimants on the face of the Originating Processes in bringing this action is unknown to law, there by making them non juristic persons, and also that the suit as constituted does not disclose any reasonable cause of action against the Defendants.
In other to effectually determine all these issues raised, I adopted the issues as raised and formulated by the parties as follows:
Whether in the light of the pleadings, the Claimants have the locus standi to institute this case.
Whether the Claimants have a cause of action against the Defendants.
Whether the Claimants are juristic body.
On the first issue on whether in the light of the pleadings, the Claimants have the locus standi to institute this case, the term locus standi denotes legal capacity to institute legal proceedings in a court of law. It is the right of a party to appear and be heard on a question before a court. In order to have locus standi to commence an action a person must have sufficient interest in the action and as well show that his legal rights or obligations have been or are in danger of being infringed. See MAKINDE VRS ORION ENGR. SERVICES (U.K) LTD (2014) 11 NWLR (PT. 1471) PG 1; PAM VRS MOHAMMED (2005) 16 NWLR (PT. 1112) PG 1. The term entails the legal capacity of instituting or commencing an action in a competent court of law or tribunal without any inhibition, obstruction or hindrance from any person or body whatsoever. See CHARLES VRS GOV. ONDO STATE (2013) 2 NWLR PG. 294; INAKOJU VRS ADELEKE (2007) 4 NWLR (PT. 1025) 423.
It is of legal importance to note that the test for determining locus standi to sue in an action is that, the person must be able to show to the satisfaction of the court that his rights and obligations have been or are in danger of being infringed. There are two tests for deeming if a person has locus standi. They are:
The action must be justifiable and
There must be a dispute between the parties.
And in applying the test a liberal attitude must be adopted. To have locus standi the plaintiff’s Statement of Claim (in this case Claimant’s Complaint and Statement of Facts) must disclose sufficient legal interest and show how such interest arose in the subject matter of an action. See P. M. LTD VRS THE “M.V. DANCING SISTER” (2012) 4 NWLR PG 169 (SC); GOVT. EKITI STATE VRS FAKIYESI (2010) FWLR (PT. 501) 828.
That said, by paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Statement of Facts this court can deduced that the only reason why the Claimants instituted this action is due to the fact they are the current stakeholders of National Association of Scrap and Waste Dealers Employers Association of Nigeria (NASWDEN) Delta State Chapter. And that the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Claimants instituted this action for themselves and on behalf of other stakeholders.
It is the contention of the Defendants/Applicants that the Claimants/Respondents have no locus standi to institute this action reason being that there is no body either in law or of facts known as the stakeholders of NASWDEN. And that the Claimants were even expelled from the Association, while counsel to the Claimants/Respondents maintained that by the combined effect of paragraphs 6 -15 of the Statement of facts, the Claimants have demonstrated enough interest in this matter as to entitle them to have a standing to sue. At this stage its my humble submission that this court can only know or determine whether the Claimants were expelled or not in the cause of trial but not at this stage. But what baffles me is the failure of the Counsel to the Claimants to show whether the Claimants have sufficient interest to sue in this matter. There is nothing contained in the Originating Processes to show that the Claimants are members of NASWDEN. This is because the word used to describe the Claimants “stakeholders” may not necessarily mean a member. And also there is nothing evidencing that the said NASWDEN is either a Registered Trade Union or an Association registered under Part C of CAMA. There is no any certificate of incorporation filed along with the Originating Processes. And also no any averments to that effect in the Statement of Facts. The Claimants’ legal rights are not sufficiently defined in the Statement of Facts, likewise the legal personality or status of NASWDEN is not efficiently established.
It is trite that the party initiating an action lacks locus standi, the court is robbed of jurisdiction to entertain same. See INAKOJU VRS ADELEKE (SUPRA); ADESANYA VRS PRESIDENT F.R.N. (1981) 2 NCLR 358. The Claimants failed to sufficiently establish their interest. The Claimants failed to plead material facts, and registration of an Association either as a Trade Union or an Association must be sufficiently pleaded. At this stage the court can not speculate. See MOROHUNFOLA VRS KWARA STATE COLLEGE OF TECHNOLOGY (1990) LPELR – 1912 (SC). Therefore, from the pleadings filed by the Claimants I have no difficulty in holding that the Claimants were unable to establish the locus standi so as to enable them file this action. I resolve the first issue for determination in favour of the Defendants/Applicants. I so hold.
Having determined that Claimants have no locus standi to institute this action due to the reasons I enumerated ab-initio, its my ardent belief that there is no any need for this court to determine the two issues as doing that will amount to an academic exercise. And where a party has no locus standi to institute an action the proper order to make is to strike out the suit. See P.M. LTD VRS THE “M.V DANCING SISTER (SUPRA). The preliminary objection succeeds and the matter is hereby struck out. I make no order as to cost.
Ruling is hereby entered accordingly.
HON. JUSTICE BASHAR A. ALKALI