Appeal Court Affirms Ojora’s Appointment

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Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos, southwest Nigeria, has affirmed the selection and installation of Oba Fatai Aromire as the Ojora of Ijora land while N50,000 each was awarded in his favour and three others.

According to the lead judgement delivered by Justice Hellen Moronkeji Ogunwumije and endorsed by two other judges, Justice Sidi Dauda Baje and M.A. Danjuma, the scenario that led to the decision of the appellate court started sometime in 1993 when Chief Taoridi Akapo, the immediate past Ojora of Lagos died on the 7 May, 1993. The Ojora chieftaincy family comprises three ruling houses, to wit: Adejuyan, Oyegbemi and Olumokun. On the death of Chief Taori Akapo, it was the turn of Oyegbemi ruling house to select the next Oba of Ojora of Lagos and consequently, Fatai Aromire who belong to Oyegbemi ruling house was selected. Thereafter, the Lagos State government approved his appointment as Oba Ojora on the 18 May, 1994 as contained in its official gazette number 3200/27 of 20th of September, 1994.

The appellants, Alhaja Risikat Dabiri Oyegbemi and Amidu Oreluyi, for themselves and on behalf of Oyegbemi Ojora family instituted a suit at the High Court of Lagos State in 1994 via suit LD/3288/94 against the following respondents Fatai Aromire, Oba of Lagos in council, the Attorney General of Lagos State and Lagos Mainland Local Government.

The appellants were claiming the following reliefs, a declaration that Fatai Aromire has not been appointed, selected or elected by the elders and the head of Oyegbemi Ojora ruling house and an order restraining him from occupying the Oba Ojora’s palace at Ijora Lagos.

To prove their case, the appellants called four witnesses and tendered some documentary exhibits, while the respondents also called four witnesses and tendered documentary exhibits. In particular, Fatai Aromire and Oba of Lagos in council in support of their case relied heavily on exhibits presented proof of all activities and ceremonies leading to the installation of Fatai Aromire as the Ojora of Lagos.

The onus of the appellant case at the lower court was that the application of LIS PENDENS that is “law suit pending nothing new to be done” made it illegal, null and void for the Lagos State government to have approved and installed the respondent as the Ojora of Lagos during the pendency of the suit by the respondent.

At the end of the trial, in a well considered judgement, the chief judge, Justice Ibitola Sotiminu, dismissed the appellants’ case in its entirety. Hence this appeal. The sole issue of the appellants for determination was “whether the doctrine of “Law suit pending nothing new to be done” is not applicable to the facts of this case which would render invalid all activities and ceremonies leading to the installation of the respondent as the Ojora.

The respondent counsel argued that at no time at the lower court was the point canvassed. The sole issue for determination as agreed by all the parties in dispute is that the trial court held that the doctrine of “Law suit pending nothing new to be done” is not applicable to the fact of this case.

Counsel to the appellants, Dejo Sasegbon, SAN, cited some cases where the Supreme Court did not support the view that the doctrine only applies to real or specific properties but to every suit as applied to both tangible and intangible.

In reply, the respondent counsel, Mr. Segun Onakoya, a life bencher, submitted that the doctrine “Law suit pending nothing new to be done” does not apply to every suit but rather to a suit in which the object is to recover or assert title to a specific property and that property must be real property for the doctrine has no application to personal property. He cited Supreme Court cases to buttress his case. He further argued that there is no contention above the fact that the subject matter of litigation is succession to the vacant Ojora chieftaincy stool which is not real property.

Mr. Onakoya further submitted that since there was no appeal against the finding of fact by the trial judge that relevant law and guidelines for the nomination of Fatai Aromire was not breached, the doctrine cannot vitiate his appointment.

In this regard, the trial court held that Chief Kasali was the Arole as at 7 May, 1993 and in that capacity rightly summoned the meeting at which Fatai Aromire was selected and subsequently confirmed.

This very crucial finding distinguishes this case from other cases cited. The appellant, therefore, in so far has not appealed against the substantive finding of the trial court, the appellant has not discharged the burden to show that a situation of helplessness was fostered on the court which has led to a miscarriage of justice and for which reason the judgement of the trial court must be reversed.

In her judgement, Justice Ogunwumiju said: “I am bound by the Supreme Court authorities herein cited before me to hold that the doctrine can only be invoked in relation to real property in litigation, as at the time of the meeting and subsequent nomination and installation of Fatai Aromire, there was no restraining court order against any parties. Thus no contempt charge could have been activated against any of the parties.

If the trial court had found the nomination and installation irregular, it would have been set aside without any hesitation since parties cannot present the court with fait accompli to overreach the order party.

The surprising part of this appeal is that the appellants have not appealed against all the findings of fact made by the trial judge in favour of the respondents and they are, therefore, not being challenged.

The sole issue submitted to this court for determination is resolved in favour of all respondents. The judgement of the trial court delivered on 7 September, 2001 is hereby affirmed. I award N50,000 costs to each respondents against appellant.

—Akin Kuponiyi