Whether Awareness of the Occurrence of the Event Complained of, is Material for Determining the Accrual of a Cause of Action in a Pre-Election Matter

CASE TITLE: AZEGETOR v. INEC & ORS (2023) LPELR-59519(CA)

JUDGMENT DATE: 21ST JANUARY, 2023

JUSTICES:                    

  • MOHAMMED AMBI-USI DANJUMA, JCA
  • BIOBELE ABRAHAM GEORGEWILL, JCA
  • IBRAHIM WAKILI JAURO, JCA

DIVISION: MAKURDI

PRACTICE AREA: ELECTORAL MATTERS 

FACTS: 

The 3rd Respondent who was disqualified by the 2nd Respondent having not purchased the nomination forms to contest the Sankera Federal Constituency primary elections of the 2nd Respondent questioned his disqualification and non-submission of his name to the 1st Respondent for the Ukum, Katsina-Ala, Logo (Sankera Federal Constituency) in the forthcoming 2023 elections.​

The Appellant on the other hand contended that ab initio that the 3rd Respondent was not a candidate at the primary election of the 2nd Respondent for Sankera Federal Constituency having not been screened and cleared to contest same and that the 3rd Respondent’s suit was statute barred.

The trial Court however found for the 3rd Respondent, holding that the 3rd Respondent’s cause of action began to run on accrual when the 3rd Respondent became aware of his disqualification by the 2nd Respondent and that the absence of defence from the 2nd Respondent despite service of the originating summons on it amounted to concession to grant of waiver to the 3rd Respondent. Aggrieved by the judgment, the Appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal. The appeal was determined on the Appellant’s and 3rd Respondent’s briefs. 

ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION: 

The Court determined the appeal on the following issues:

“1 Whether the trial Court was right to hold that the cause of action of the Plaintiff began to accrue from the 9th day of June 2022 when he became aware that the 2nd Respondent had disqualified him and therefore not caught up by the statute of limitation.

  1. Whether knowledge of the event, decision, or action complained of is relevant in the computation of time in pre-election matters.
  2. Whether the trial Court has jurisdiction to extend or expand the boundaries of litigation beyond the case of the parties before it.” 

COUNSEL SUBMISSION

The learned counsel for the Appellant argued that time did not begin to run when the Plaintiff at the trial Court became aware of his disqualification on the 9th of June, 2022 as contended by the 3rd Respondent and agreed to by the trial Court.

He submitted that pre-election matters, being sui generis, a person’s right of action in an election or pre-election related matter accrues from the date of the occurrence of the event or action that is challenged and not from several actions as in the case in ordinary civil cases. He relied on the provision of Section 285(9) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

The 3rd Respondent in response to the issue, submitted that as a winner of the election and who was so declared, he was not an aggrieved person on the date of the declaration; but only became aggrieved when the substitution was made. That his cause of action only commenced from that date of substitution.

He argued that his cause of action accrued on 9-6-22 when he knew that he was disqualified.

DECISION/HELD: 

In conclusion, the appeal was allowed and the judgment of the Federal High Court was set aside. Furthermore, the case of the 3rd Respondent was dismissed.

RATIO: 

ELECTORAL MATTERS- PRE-ELECTION MATTERS: Whether knowledge/awareness of the occurrence of the event/decision/action complained of is material in the determination of when time begins to run to institute a pre-election matter 

“​The issue one on the date of accrual of action is not one requiring prevarication or reformulation of the law upon any notion of equity or in reaction to a perceived injustice in the uncoordinated or sloppy administrative response mechanisms put in place by political parties in the conduct of their internal affairs. 

The cause of action accrued from the date of the action complained of being the purported substitution of the 3rd Respondent’s name. 

In any case, the event that saw the Plaintiff’s name out and for disqualification occurred on 26-5-2022, being the date of the decision of the screening committee to disqualify him, as in the minutes of meeting Exhibit Achan 12 on page 37 of the Record, shown.

There was the presumption that the 3rd Respondent knew of it on that date as he admits by Exhibit Achan 11, being the letter of his counsel that it was communicated to him. It was a clear admission. This, therefore, cannot give credence to the inconsistent later claim based on knowledge of the event; which is not the position of the law; nor is the communication of that decision, or action or event a variation of the law on the cause of action in pre-election matters.

The learned trial Judge was not right when he at page 235 line 6 – 11 of ROA held as follows:

“The cause of action of the Plaintiff clearly began to accrue from the 9th June, 2022 when he became aware that the party had disqualified him. From the 9th of June, 2022 when the suit was filed is exactly 14 days and thus within the time frame allowed by the constitution. Therefore, the suit is not caught by the statute of limitation.”

Clearly, the above view is in violation of the doctrine of precedent on the well-laid decision in and upon the evidence.

What is more, the decision clearly conceives of a continuing state of the accrual of the cause of action as in ordinary civil cases where multiplicity of causes of action may lie.

This is discernable from the trial Judge’s deliberate choice/use of the phrase:

“The cause of action of the Plaintiff clearly began (underlining mine for emphasis) to accrue from 9th June, 2022 when he became aware that the party had disqualified him.”

​Implicit in the above therefore, is the assumption in logic that any date from 9th June, 2022 and before the expiration of 14 days, the suit may be brought in spite of the fact that knowledge of the Plaintiff is not an event or action that occurred or that could be complained about; for his “Knowledge” or becoming aware cannot be a cause of action. It cannot therefore, be said to have occurred on a particular date in a pre-election matter; which subject relevant is the primary election and/or whatever is done in respect thereto that constitutes a grievance.

It is the act, event, its occurrence infraction, etc. and the date thereof that is cognizable for the computation of time for the purpose of limitation of action under Section 285 of the Constitution, as amended. ” Per DANJUMA, J.C.A.

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