All FWLR This Week: Disclosure Of Proper Parties To Action; Condition Precedent To Jurisdiction Of Court

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Parties: Persons, Name Unknown v. Sahris Int’l Ltd.
Court: Supreme Court

Justices:

  • OLUKAYODE ARIWOOLA JSC (Presided)
  • KUMAI BAYANG AKA’AHS JSC
  • AMIRU SANUSI JSC (Read the Lead Judgment)
  • EJEMBI EKO JSC
  • PAUL ADAMU GALUMJE JSC

Citation: (2020) All FWLR (Pt1048) P. 203

Facts:

In the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the respondent filed an action claiming a right of occupancy, in respect of a plot of land situate at Asokoro District of Abuja and prayed the court for order to recover possession of the land from certain persons whose identity were unclear and sued as “persons, names unknown”. The said persons, names unknown entered conditional appearance only and the court granted summary judgment in favour of the respondent. Dissatisfied, the appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal. The respondent challenged the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal on grounds inter alia, that the appellant did not identify himself or disclose his interest or obtain the leave of court to file the appeal. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and dissatisfied, the appellant appealed to the Supreme Court contending that the lower court erred in upholding the objection of the respondent challenging the identity of the appellant having obtained judgment in that name. The respondent filed a preliminary objection to the appeal.



Principles:

On the Disclosure of proper parties to action as condition precedent to jurisdiction of court:

Disclosure of proper parties to an appeal/suit/ action is imperative and paramount as it affects the jurisdiction of the court, since it goes to the root or foundation of the appeal, suit or matter. Therefore, where proper parties to an action/suit/ appeal are not disclosed, then the court is bereft of jurisdiction to hear and determine the matter. In the instant case, where the appellant failed to disclose his identity, the appeal filed by him was properly dismissed. [Amadume v. Abok (2006) All FWLR 261 A (Pt. 321) 1247 referred to] [P. 221; paras. A – C]

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Per SANUSI JSC: [Pp. 220 – 221; paras. C – E] “ It is the contention of the learned counsel for the appellant as per his issue No. 5 that the appellant was on the right track when it maintained the action as “Persons, Names Unknown” even though without disclosing its identity, adding that the respondent was estopped from denying the identity of the appellant. To my mind, the court below was correct in its finding supra. I also hold the firm view, that a faceless or unidentified party (i.e Person, Unknown) cannot be allowed to maintain or sustain an action without first of all, identifying or unmasking himself or itself and expressing the interest he or it has in the matter/suit or appeal and/ or obtaining the necessary leave if it is an appeal. Anything less than obtaining the leave makes the matter grossly incompetent and thereby liable to be stuck out. In this instant case, such identity was not brought to light or to the open by the appellant, not to talk of, prior obtaining leave. From all indication, as a matter of fact, the appellants are simply mere squatters and no proceedings could be taken against them in an action of recovery of possession and unless they were named as defendants. See Rewukeman Terrace Brighten; Sussex ex parte Territorial Auxiliary Volunteer Reserve Association for the South East (1917) Ch. 204. It is because the appellant are mere squatters, that led the respondent to access the court to reclaim possession of the land in dispute which was illegally occupied by them (i.e the appellant). Despite the ample opportunity at its disposal, the appellant failed to disclose its identity and it also failed or refused to disclose such identity even when the memorandum of appearance was filed on its behalf and all through the proceedings, it choose to remain unnamed or unknown or anonymous, or unidentified. Again, on the issue of jurisdiction, it is pertinent to state here that disclosure of proper parties to an appeal/suit/action is imperative and paramount as it affects the jurisdiction of the court, since it goes to the root or foundation of the appeal, suit or matter. It is elementary principle of law that issue of jurisdiction can be raised at anytime even in limine, before the apex court. Therefore, where proper parties to an action/ suit/appeal are not disclosed, then the court is bereft of jurisdiction to hear and determine the matter. See Amadume v. Abok (2006) All FWLR 261 A (Pt. 321) 1247 at 1260 F. And as I posited above, the appellant herein, did not disclose its identity as well as its interest in the action and it has also failed to obtain leave as rightly found by the court below. Therefore, the non disclosure of its identity but merely calling itself and proceeding and maintaining the suit in the name of “Persons, Names Unknown” throughout, the appellant has no locus standi is to maintain this appeal.”

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