The Masterly and Sophisticated Eloquence of Ogbuinya, JCA – Alaware Preye Isaac

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Barrister Alaware Preye Isaac

Barrister Alaware Preye Isaac provided a commentary on the masterly and sophisticated eloquence of Ogbuinya, JCA  in his leading judgment in the case of ADEJUMO V. AGUMAGU (2015) 12NWLR (PT.1472) 1.

The judgment in ADEJUMO V. AGUMAGU (2015) 12NWLR (PT.1472) 1, was delivered by the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division on the 12th March, 2015. Obande Festus Ogbuinya, JCA who was one of the members of the Panel of Justices, read the Leading Judgment.

Considering that this commentary pivots around the judgment of a court, it is fitting that a look is taken, albeit briefly, of the meaning of judgment and a couple of its appurtenant principles. According to the Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th Edition at page 858, judgment is “A court’s final determination of the rights and obligations of the parties in a case” The earlier 4th Edition of the Black’s Law Dictionary is a bit more elaborate, as according to it at page 977, judgment is “The official and authentic decision of a court of justice upon the respective rights and claims of the parties to an action or suit therein litigated and submitted to its determination”.

The courts have elaborately outlined the essential features a judgment must reflect in order to be standard, irrespective of the approach of the particular Judge. In GRAND SYSTEMS PETROLEUM LTD. V. ACCESS BANK PLC. (2015) 3NWLR (PT.1446) 317 at 347 – 348 paragraphs G-C, the Court of Appeal (placing reliance on two Apex Court cases) enjoins that judgments of trial courts and appellate courts respectively, should reflect the following:-

Trial court;

Making a brief statement of the type of action/offence being adjudicated upon,

Setting out the claim/offence in full or in part,

A review of the evidence led,

Appraisal/evaluation of such evidence,

Making findings of fact therefrom,

Consideration of the legal submissions made and/or arising, and findings of law on them, and

Conclusion, that is verdict/final decision/order(s).

Appellate court;

A good appellate court judgment should set out claims, brief facts of the case, the decision of the trial court or lower appellate court, the appellant’s complaints against the decision; the submission of the counsel for the parties in the appeal; and the decision of the appellate court in the appeal.

Both at the trial and appellate courts, writing is at the core of the adjudicatory function of a Judge. Thus, Judges rely on their ability to craft clear, concise, incisive and persuasive reasons to ensure that their decisions are understood and accepted by the litigants, lawyers, other courts and the general public. There are no cast-iron rules on how a judgment should or should not be written and this has been judicially acknowledged over the years. In OGBA V. ONWUZO (2005) 14NWLR (Pt.945) 331, the Supreme Court posited that judgment writing is an art by itself in which every individual has his own peculiar style and method.

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Similarly, the Court of Appeal in DUGERI V. VEE-NETWORKS LTD. (2015) 2NWLR (Pt.1442) 30 at page 46 paragraph E, stated that “every Judge has the exclusive liberty of adopting an appropriate style of writing his judgment for as long as the justice of the case was satisfied”.

Extrapolating from the above, which suffers and entitles a Judge to elect his style of writing judgment, I therefore humbly seek to broach Ogbuinya, JCA’s style of writing judgment in this commentary with ADEJUMO V. AGUMAGU (Supra) as the focal case. It is indeed worthwhile to point out hereabouts that His Lordship’s Judgment accords sufficiently with the requirements of a standard appellate judgment as already considered hereinabove.

From an examination of the Learned Jurist’s style of writing judgment, his eloquence undoubtedly is topnotch. There is an otherness in his style of writing as demonstrated in ADEJUMO V. AGUMAGU (Supra) and this is manifest in his analysis of the facts, and the appraisement and postulation of the relevant principles of law with an uncanny incisiveness and pungence.

The incisiveness and pungence of his language reinforces the solemness and authoritativeness of the law and by extension the court pronouncing the law. Although understandably austere at times in phraseology, as is typical of legalistic writings, he nonetheless with his luxuriant vocabulary writes in a loftily ringing prose with a piercing tone that leaves the reader in a world of certitude as to what has been pronounced upon by the court.

Illustrative of the above at page 28 paragraphs F-H is the following passage which is also garnished with some imagery; “The law, roundly frowns on this chameleonic character of litigating parties. The law insists that a party must be consistent in the presentation of his case, see … A party, perhaps, in a bid to score victory or advantage is not allowed to change his case like the oscillating pendulum in a wall clock. It is a defilement of the law to indulge in such an unwholesome somersault practice. I hold, taking shelter under the law, solidified by Garuba case, that the decision of the lower court was interlocutory, not final as vainly pontificated by the appellant”. Also at page 36 paragraph G, he rounded off on an issue thus; “In the absence of closeness/oneness of facts in the two cases, I must dishonour the inciting invitation of the appellant to crucify the lower court’s decision on the alter of stare decisis”.

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Though the Learned Jurist did not resolve any novel legal issue in ADEJUMO V. AGUMAGU (Supra) and this is because the case itself did not turn on any. He adjudicatorily resolved all the inviting legal issues, recondite or otherwise, essentially guided by enrooted states of the law. However, the fascinating bit is that his unique writing style infuses freshness in his apparent restatement of already trite principles of law. He restates already trite principles of law devoid of the attendant triteness and staleness. He does not just regurgitate a principle of law, rather he freshens it up the moment it goes under the tip of his juridical pen, via his skillful style of writing, and he does this without derailing any inch from the principle’s original purport and context.

Restating the enrooted principles of law on stare decisis and on the literal rule of interpretation, he proceeded thus respectively at page 36 paragraph F and page 35 paragraph B; “The doctrine of stare decisis, which ensures certainty in any legal system, thrives where facts of cases are on all fours. It is lame where the facts of cases are irreconcilable.”; and “According to the law, they must be accorded their ordinary meanings without any interpolations or distortions.” Re-echoing the trite principle of law on a ground of appeal that requires leave of court, he went thus at page 29 paragraph B; “An appeal on fair hearing which is spiced with mixed law and facts requires the leave of court.”

The foregoing said, let me briefly recount here a surreal encounter I had with the Learned Jurist, though not in flesh but rather on the pages of his writings. Held spellbound by the Learned Jurist’s masterly and sophisticated eloquence during my initial reading of his Judgment in ADEJUMO V. AGUMAGU (Supra), I can recall momentarily pausing when I came across the line “… marooned in the intractable vortex of nullity …” (at page 30, paragraph B) in his resolution of a jurisdictional issue. The line seemingly aroused a sense of familiarity, and after a quick rear viewing, the puzzle as to the source of the familiarity was solved, as it turned out eventually, it stemmed interestingly from an earlier reading of his book, UNDERSTANDING THE CONCEPT OF JURISDICTION IN THE NIGERIAN LEGAL SYSTEM (2008). While expertly doing justice to the subject of jurisdiction in the book, the Learned Jurist being emphatic, had previously remarked variantly (at page 71 of the book) thus; “… enmeshed in the intricate web of nullity …”.

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It was a really gratifying experience for me, learning of the unary authorship by the Learned Jurist of the Leading Judgment in ADEJUMO V. AGUMAGU (Supra) and the book, not from his name but from the commonality of the DNA in the above two lines. Noticeable in his style of (expressing his thoughts in) writing is this verve that customarily runs through, fluidly.

In a commentary such as this, extolling skillfulness in judgment writing by judicial officers, what case’s judgment can be more suitable for this endeavour than ADEJUMO V. AGUMAGU (Supra) wherein the parties themselves are/were eminent judicial officers. The Appellant in this case (Hon. Justice Babatunde Adejumo) is the President, National Industrial Court of Nigeria, while the 1st Respondent (Hon. Justice P.N.C. Agumagu) was the President, Customary Court of Appeal, Rivers State and later appointed as the Acting Chief Judge of Rivers State, which appointment in 2014 catalyzed a chain of events. It was one of such events that culminated in the suit that birthed the appeal in ADEJUMO V. AGUMAGU (Supra).

This conversation, most humbly, is aimed at encouraging our respected Judges both at the trial and appellate courts to not relent at contriving skillfully written judgments as Their Lordships are still doing, no matter the odds. It is these skillfully written judgments that qualitatively enrich our literature of judgments in particular and our legal literature in general. It is these skillfully written judgments that make reading of judgments profitable and memorable exercises. It is these skillfully written judgments that stand quotable and quoted for ages. It is these skillfully written judgments, paraphrasing Prof. Awa Kalu, SAN, that continue to cut and shape the text and texture of our laws.

A studied glance of the judgments and writings of past and present Judges of our clime’s trial and appellate courts, convincingly shows that a dazzling array of Judges with masterly and sophisticated eloquence, have eminently graced the bench in the past and still grace the bench today. The skillful erudition, illumination and postulations of legal principles by Their Lordships of yesteryears helped lay the foundational bricks that underpin our body of laws today, therefore, Their Lordships of today are highly commended and humbly encouraged to relentlessly continue with their good works of churning out skillfully written judgments.

Alaware Preye Isaac, Esq. a Private Legal Practitioner, is an Associate Counsel in the Law Firm of Timi Ambaiowei & Associates, in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Nigeria. He can be reached via; isaacalaware@gmail.com

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