The Supreme Court on 16th February 2018 delivered Judgment in the case of Sifax (Nig.) Ltd. & 4 Ors. v. Migfo (Nig.) Ltd. & Anor which should serve as a locus classicus on the application of statutes of limitation.
Background to the Appeal:
The 1st Appellant and the Respondents signed an MOU to jointly bid for the concession and joint management of Terminal “C”, Tin Can Island Port, Apapa, Lagos which was being concessioned by FG through the Bureau of Public Enterprises and the Nigerian Ports Authority. Part of the MOU was that if the bid was successful, the joint partners would incorporate a joint venture company to manage the operation of the Port. The bid was successful, but the 1st, 3rd and 4th Appellants secretly incorporated the 5th Appellant to the exclusion of the Respondents. When the Respondents became aware of the 5th Appellant, they conducted a search at the CAC and found that only the 1st and 3rdAppellants were shareholders and directors of the 5th Appellant.
The Respondents filed an action against the Appellant at the Federal High Court, Lagos which was successful and was further upheld by the Court of Appeal. However, the Supreme Court found that the Federal High Court lacked jurisidcition to entertain the Suit. Thus, the Respondents filed another Suit at the Lagos State High Court. But the Appellants filed an application claiming that the Suit was statute barred, having been filed after the 6 years period provided for by the Limitation Law of Lagos State. The Court of Appeal disagreed with the Appellants and relied on a foreign book to hold that the time paused when the Federal High Court Suit was filed, hence this Appeal to the Supreme Court:
According to the lead Judgment delivered by Amina Augie, JSC the cause of action arose when the search was conducted at the CAC and it was discovered that the 5th Appellant had been secretly incorporated and the Respondents were not tardy in bringing the action at the Federal High Court within the 6 years period provided by the Limitation Law of Lagos State.
The Court then held that in view of the fact that the Federal High Court Suit was not statute barred, the Suit at the Lagos State High Court cannot be statute barred because time was frozen or suspended immediately the Federal High Court Suit was filed, although the Supreme Court found the Court to have lacked jurisdiction to entertain the Suit. T
he Court was of the view that though the Suit was struck out, it remained on the General Cause List of the Court. Thus, the decision of the Court of Appeal was allowed and the Appeal was dismissed.