OBEYA MEMORIAL HOSPITAL V ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION


​OBEYA MEMORIAL SPECIALIST HOSPITAL V ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION

In The Supreme Court of Nigeria

3rd July 1987

(1987)4 N.W.L.R (Pt. 64) 129

Before Their Lordships

1.  OBEYA MEMORIAL SPECIALIST HOSPITAL

2.  AYI-ONYEMA FAMILY LIMITED

V

1.  ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION

2.  ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF BENUE STATE

EVIDENCE – Interlocutory application – whether applicant’s affidavit suffices for purpose of discharging the burden of whether there is a serious questions to be tired.

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS – Right to property- need for court to protect citizen from violation of.

Equitable Remedies – Injunction – Nature of application for relief sought determines quantum of proof application requires – Interlocutory injunction – Balancing of interest required – Court must determine where balance of convenience and evidence lies – Interlocutory injunction – Existence of serious issues to be tried in substantive action, balance only of convenience to be considered – Purpose of interlocutory injunction – Condition upon which interlocutory injunction to be granted.

 

OBASEKI J.S.C (Delivering the leading judgment)

This is an interlocutory appeal. The plaintiffs/appellants instituted an action against the respondents in the Benue State High Court of Justice at Makurdi claiming:

(1) a declaration that the entry of the land and buildings of the Obeya Memorial Specialist Hospital Oturkpo Town in Oturkpo Local Government Area by Army and Airforce personnel as well as by officers and servants of the Government of Benue State was unlawful and amounts to trespass;

(2) a declaration that the Government of Benue State has no right to take or retain possession of the said land and buildings from the plaintiff save in accordance with due process of law;

(3) an order for inquiry into damages suffered by the plaintiff as a result of the unlawful entry of the said land and buildings (a) by Nigerian Army and (b) Nigerian Airforce personnel

(4) an order for inquiry into damages suffered by the plaintiff as a result of the trespass committed by the Benue State Government on the plaintiff’s goods as well as on the said land and buildings;

(5) an order for payment of appropriate sums as compensatory and/or exemplary damages to the plaintiff for the acts of trespass aforementioned; and

(6) an injunction restraining all officers of the Nigerian Army and Airforce and all officers, servants and agents of the Benue State Government from continuing the said acts of trespass/or committing further acts of trespass or from preventing the plaintiff, its officers, servants and licensees from obtaining access to the land and buildings used for the purpose of the Obeya Memorial Specialist Hospital.”

The appellants followed the filing of the action with an application by motion on notice for:

“(1) An order restraining all the officers and men of the Nigerian Army and The Nigerian Air Force by themselves, their servants or agents or otherwise from preventing the plaintiffs from obtaining access to and occupying the premises known as OBEYA MEMORIAL SPECIALIST HOSPITAL AYI-ONYEMA FAMILY LIMITED:

(2) An order requiring the Federal Government and/or the Benue State Government to restore possession of the said premises to the plaintiffs;

(3) an order restraining the Federal Government and/or the Benue State Government by themselves, their servants or agents or otherwise from delivering possession of the said premises to any person other than the plaintiffs or its duly authorised agents;

pending the determination of the above action and for such further and or other orders as this Honourable court may deem fit to make in the circumstance:

The application was heard by the Chief Judge of Benue State, Alhassan Idoko, and on the 7th day of May, 1986, he dismissed the application in a considered Ruling. In the course of his Ruling, the learned Chief Judge made a lot of pronouncements which are not reflected by the order of dismissal. He said:

“I am bound by the opinion of the Supreme Court that even in this military regime, the rule of law is in operation that no government in the Federation should put (sic) (take) law into its hand as that will be an encouragement to tyranny. No court of law will rejoice at a usurpation of its powers……………………………………………………………..

I am not too sure whether the courts can gloss over a provision of a statute such as the Edict establishing this panel even that the contents or constitutionality of it avail when such issues are raised. In that wise, I am not prepared to say that a case of usurpation of judicial powers has been made out. I agreed that it might have raised eye-brows that military men were brought to ensure the take over of the hospital through the action of the military government. The affidavit evidence says that it is this Recovery Panel that approached the Governor to (sic) that purpose. I think that is entirelywrong……. We have never known a Government or military personnel enforcing the judgement of a tribunal or panel. So that the bringing of military personnel and not the police to execute the panel’s order is entirely out of tune with the usual and normal way of enforcing such orders… Even though the facts disclose that the panel contacted the Governor for such enforcement, it is all wrong, because the governor is not the proper official to be approached to carry out such enforcement. It was only because the panel was intent on using military personnel that it made that move. That notwithstanding, the panel purported to enforce an order that fell within its powers…. so that even though the use of military personnel is condemnable, the take-over itself is said to be pursuant to an order of the panel… For the time being, I am prepared to say that the government has furnished some basis in the affidavit evidence for taking over the hospital.

      Government says it does not know the applicant and that the hospital it has taken over belongs to Obande Obeya and also that it was Obande Obeya who was in occupation and possession of the land and the building housing the hospital; that Obande was indebted to it and that since Mr. Obeya was not responding to the panel’s demands to pay up indebtedness to government, his property, the hospital was seized. Obande is not complaining in this matter but the applicant. Was there a mistaken identity as to who owns or was in possession of the hospital? Applicant said they are licence of Obeya Memorial Hospital. Obeya Memorial Hospital is owned by Obande and Sons. The period when the licence took effect is not yet disclosed. And even though there is a hospital mentioned as Obeya Memorial specialist Hospital, it is not yet disclosed whether it is registered as a private hospital under the prevailing law of the state and by who. On the face of these facts, it appears not, to me prudent to grant this equitable relief to the applicant.”

The appellant was dissatisfied with the ruling and appealed to the Court of Appeal on four grounds. The grounds were:

(1) The learned Chief Judge erred in law in failing to observe that at the stage at which the proceedings stood when he gave the decision appealed from, he was not called upon to determine any of the controversial issues of law and fact which arise between the parties and which require further oral and documentary evidence and addresses before the court can properly determine the issue.

(2) The learned trial judge erred in law and on the facts in failing to observe that it was improper for him to give consideration to various issues of fact and law not raised by counsel for the defendant without giving opportunity to the plaintiffs counsel to address him on such issues; (3) The learned Chief Judge erred in raising a doubt as to whether the plaintiff was in occupation of the premises when no such doubt was expressed by the defendant;

(4) The learned Chief Judge erred in law in making finding that “the government has furnished some basis in the affidavit evidence for taking over the hospital.”

Particulars of Error

(a) If (which is not conceded) it is the case that Obande Obeya is the owner of the hospital, it was improper for the learned Chief Judge to make the finding when Obande Obeya was not represented as a party to the proceedings;

(b) The affidavit of Obande shows clearly that the person in possession of the buildings housing the hospital is the plaintiff company and the application for mandatory injunction ought to have been considered on the basis of the allegation;

(5) The learned Chief Judge erred in law in failing to observe that the defendants having virtually admitted that it took possession viet armis, he ought to have ordered them to restore possession to the plaintiff herein.

The appeal came up for hearing before the Court of Appeal (Coram, Agbaje, Abdullahi and Macaulay, JJCA.) Jos. Again, the applicant was unsuccessful as the court in a considered judgement dismissed it.

In this judgement (concurred in by Abdullahi and Macaulay, JJCA.) Agbaje, JCA. commented in the concluding paragraphs as follows:

“If I may go back to the case of Agbor V. Metropolitan Police Commissioner, (supra) the possession of the plaintiff in the case prior to the wrong they complained of were not in dispute and in fact there was evidence that Mrs. Agbor occupied the house in dispute in the case with her children for some six months before she was ejected.

      Apart from the averments in the affidavits of the plaintiff, as to its being in occupation of the hospital in question there is no evidence from the plaintiff in support of this averment.

      Truly enough, paragraph 4 of the affidavit of Obande Obeya says that the plaintiff is in occupation of the land and the buildings housing the Obeya Memorial Hospital with the authority and as a licensee of Obeya Memorial Hospital, Obeya Memorial Hospital is an unincorporated association. As I have said, it is owned by members of Obeya family. One would have expected in an application of this nature some evidence as to when and how members of Obeya family passed any interest in the hospital to the plaintiff before one can come to the conclusion that the plaintiff has made goodhis assertion that he is in occupation of the hospital with the licence of the owners thereof.

      Again, if these were not so, one would have expected the plaintiff, in its affidavit before the courts, to show what acts it relies upon as constituting its occupation or possession of the hospital in question. The affidavit for the plaintiff in support of its application are deficient in these two particulars which I have just highlighted. If I may put it in another way, the affidavit for the plaintiff alleges occupation or possession of the premises to which the reliefs sought in the interlocutory application relate. But the affidavit does not go on to state the acts of occupation or possession by the plaintiff from which the inference may be drawn that the plaintiff was actually in possession or occupation of the premises.

      In the circumstances, I cannot hold that on the material placed before the lower court, the latter should have been satisfied that the plaintiff has made out a strong prima facie case that it was in possession of the premises the subject matter of the interlocutory application before the wrong it complained of.

For the reasons I have given in this judgement, I cannot therefore say that the learned trial Chief Judge was wrong in refusing the interlocutory application.”

The appellant was not still satisfied and therefore lodged an appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal to this Court on three grounds of appeal which read:

(1) The court below erred and misdirected itself in law in applying to the facts and circumstances of this case what it described as “the age long requirement that in an application for an interlocutory injunction, the applicant, to succeed, must establish a probability or a strong prima facie (case) that he is entitled to the right of whose violation he complains.”

Particulars of Misdirection

(a) The alleged requirement has been criticised in American Cyanamid v. Ethicon Ltd. (1975) AC. 396

(b) On the facts of his case it was sufficient to show that the plaintiff was a licensee of the Obeya family;

(c) In Agbor v. Metropolitan Police Commissioner (1969) I WLR 703 and Ojukwu v. Governor of Lagos State  (1986) 3 NWLR. 39 the plaintiff was a licencee and the true owners of the premises (The Biafran Government and Ojukwu Transport Ltd.) were not parties to the proceedings, at any rate at the stage when interlocutory injunction was granted;

2. The court below erred in law in failing to observe that for the purpose of the interlocutory application, the affidavit of Jon Ede (a director of the plaintiff company) and of Obande Obeya (a member of Obeya family) are sufficient to establish status of the plaintiff company as a licensee of the Obeya family on the premises more so as those affidavits were not effectively or contradicted by the purely hearsay affidavit evidence of the Chief Law officer of Benue State.

3. Irrespective of the outcome of the appeal before it, the court below erred in law and failed to exercise its discretion judicially in not directing that the case be heard by another judge of the High Court.

Particulars of Error

The court below found that the learned Chief Judge has decided very vital issues of fact which can only properly be decided at the trial of the substantive suit. That being so, it ought to have directed that the substantive trial be held before another judge.

As the Chief Judge had transferred the substantive case from his court the appellants’ counsel did not in oral argument press the issue of transfer.

The questions posed by the grounds of appeal for determination in this appeal and formulated in the brief of arguments filed by the appellant are two fold. They are:

(1) What are the qualities and quantities of the evidence which the plaintiff require to establish in the High Court to support its application for the interlocutory injunction?

(2) Were the affidavit evidence of John Ede and Obande Obeya of the quality and quantity required?

Chief F. R. A. Williams, SAN., submitted both in the appellant’s brief and at the oral hearing of this appeal that in this application all that the plaintiff/appellant need show is that the action is not frivolous or vexatious. He commended the comment of Lord Diplock in American Cyanamid v. Ethicon Ltd. (1975) AC. 396 at 407G that the use of such expressions as “a probability”, “a prima facie case” or “a strong prima facie case” in the context of the exercise of a discretionary power to grant an interlocutory injunction leads to confusion as to the object to be achieved by this form of temporary relief. He contended that it is wrong to require the appellant to produce evidence to demonstrate that he is bound to succeed in the trial of the substantive case. He also relied on the observation of Coker, J. in Kufeji v. Kogbe (1961) I All NLR. 113 at 114 that

“In an application for interim relief by way of injunction, it is not necessary that a plaintiff or applicant should make out a case as he would on the merits, it being sufficient that he should establish that there is a substantial issue to be tried at the hearing.”

He also cited the case of Egbe v. Onogun (1972) 1 All NLR (Part 1) 95 at 98 where the above passage was cited with approval.

Learned counsel submitted that the affidavit evidence produced by the plaintiff/appellant clearly established the fact that there is a serious substantial question to be tried. He submitted that it was and is not necessary to adduce oral evidence to prove ‘averments’ (sic) in the affidavit and citedLadunni v. Kukoyi (1972) I ALL NLR 133 where this Court held that it was not necessary for a person applying for interlocutory injunction to restrain trespass pending trial to proceed further.

The contents of an affidavit or facts deposed to in an affidavit are deposed on oath. Those set out in the statement of claim are not. The affidavit evidence amount to proof whereas the averment in the statement of claim is not. He then cited Egbe v. Onogun (supra). He contended that the plaintiff is only the operator and manager of the hospital through staff, officers, servants and agents employed by it. These are the people prevented from carrying out their functions by the military and army personnel.

Learned counsel contends that the appellant being a body corporate can only be and is in occupation of the premises through these employees. He submitted that appellant need not prove proprietary interest in the premises to succeed and cited Agbor v. Metropolitan Police Commissioner  (supra) and Ojukwu v. Governor of Lagos State  (supra). It is enough if the appellant is lawfully in occupation with the authority of the owner. He then submitted that the affidavit evidence of John Ede and Obande Obeya were sufficient to support the application. He contended that on the issue of occupation, the affidavit evidence of the Attorney-General of Benue State is all hearsay and failed to contradict the facts sworn to by the plaintiffs/appellants’ witnesses.

The learned D.P.P. for Benue State, Mr. Aboyi J. Ikongbeh contended that the appellant failed to prove occupation although he admitted that the army and airforce personnel who seized the hospital did not find Obande Obeya in occupation when they entered the premises. He submitted that Obande Obeya was a debtor to the government and in the belief that the hospital belonged to him, the army and airforce personnel, on the request of the Recovery of Public Fund and Property Panel through the Military Governor seized the property in satisfaction of any amount he is owning.

The learned D. P.P. submitted that the appellant did not make out a prima facie case to entitle him to the interlocutory injunction and interlocutory mandatory injunction prayed. He contended that the facts deposed in the supporting affidavit of John Ede and Obande Obeya are not sufficient to show that the case is not frivolous or vexatious. He further contended that Agbor’s case and Ojukwu’s case are distinguishable on the facts from the instant appeal.

J. B. Ajala, Esq., Director of Civil Litigation in the Federal Ministry of Justice appearing for the first respondent adopted the submissions of Mr. Ikongbeh. He asked that the appeal be dismissed since the appellants conceded that they have nothing to complain against the first respondent. He submitted that an applicant must, to succeed, in an application for interim injunction establish a strong prima facie case. He then cited Woluchem v. Inko Taria Wokom (1974) 3 SC. 153. He further submitted that where damages would compensate for any injury done, the application should be refused . He submitted that Benue State Government is in a position to pay whatever damages that their action now being challenged may entail.

Chief Williams, SAN. in reply pointed out that the appellant joined the Attorney-General of the Federation because the army and the airforce personnel were involved. He commented that if even Obande Obeya were the sole owner of Obeya Memorial Hospital, it would not be right to seize itby force and referred to the provision of section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979. He concluded by submitting that the affidavit of Obande Obeya clearly proves that the plaintiff was in possession.

It is common ground that the Benue State Government took over Obeya Memorial Hospital with the assistance of army and airforce personnel.  It is important to keep in clear view the application before the court. Briefly, it is an application for interim injunction pending the determination of the substantive suit. The interlocutory nature of the application determines the nature of case to be made out by the appelicant to entitle it to the order. The nature of case determines the quantum of proof or evidence.

What are the principles governing the grant of an interlocutory injunction? The governing principles are fairly well settled although the statement and restatement of the principles has in some cases been in terms which have created confusion. This was clearly stated by Lord Diplock in the case of American Cyanamid v. Ethicon Limited  (a House of Lords English case) (1975) AC. 396 at 407 which reads:

“The courts, however, expressly deprecated any attempt to fetter the discretion of the court by laying down any rule which would have the effect of limiting the flexibility of the remedy as a means of achieving the objects I have indicated above. Nevertheless, this authority was treated by Graham J. and the Court of Appeal in the instant appeal as leaving intact the supposed rule that the court is not entitled to take account of the balance of convenience unless it has first been satisfied that if the case went to trial upon no other evidence than is before the court at the hearing of the application the plaintiff would be entitled to judgment for a permanent injunction in the same terms as the interlocutory injunction sought.

      Your Lordships should in my view take this opportunity of declaring that there is no such rule. The use of such expression as “a probability”, “a prima facie case”, or “a strong prima facie case” in the context of the exercise of a discretionary power to grant an interlocutory injunction leads to confusion as to the object sought to be achieved by this form of temporary relief. The court no doubt must be satisfied that the claim is not frivolous or vexatious; in other words, that there is a serious question to be tried.

      It is no part of the courts function at this stage of the litigation to try to resolve conflicts of evidence on affidavit as to facts on which the claims of either party may ultimately depend nor to decide difficult questions of law which call for detailed argument and mature considerations. These are matters to be dealt with at the trial.”

When an application for an interlocutory injunction to restrain a defendant from doing acts alleged to be a violation of the plaintiff’s legal right is made upon contested facts, the decision whether or not to grant an interlocutory injunction has to be taken at a time when ex hypothesis, theexistence of the right or the violation of it or both is uncertain and will remain uncertain until final judgement is given in the action. It was to mitigate the risk of injustice to the plaintiff during the period the uncertainty could be resolved that the practice arose of granting him relief by way of interlocutory injunction. However, since the middle of 19th century this has been made subject to his undertaking to pay damages to the defendant for any loss sustained by reason of the injunction if it should be held at the trial that the plaintiff had not been entitled to restrain the defendant from doing what he was threatening to do. The object of interlocutory injunction is to protect the plaintiff against injury by violation of his right for which he could not be adequately compensated in damages recoverable in the action if the uncertainty were resolved in his favour at the trial; but the plaintiff’s need for such protection must be weighed against the corresponding need of the defendant to be protected against injury resulting from his having been prevented exercising his own legal rights for which he could not be adequately compensated under the plaintiff’s undertaking in damages if the uncertainty were resolved in the defendant’s favour at the trial. The court must weigh one need against another and determine where the “balance of evidence lies”. It could be seen that the High Court and the Court of Appeal surrendered their discretion to the vagaries of ascertaining from affidavit evidence conclusive proof of proprietary or occupational rights at this early stage.

In cases where the legal rights of the parties depend upon facts that are in dispute between them, as in the instant appeal, the evidence available to the court at the hearing of the application for an interlocutory injunction is incomplete. It is given on affidavit and has not been tested by oral cross-examination. The supporting affidavit of John Ede and Obande Obeya has not been tested in oral cross-examination. Neither has the counter-affidavit of Bernard Iyorbyam Hom, the Attorney General of Benue State been tested in oral cross-examination.

The purpose sought to be achieved by giving to the court discretion to grant such injunctions would be stultified if the discretion were clogged by a technical rule forbidding its exercise if upon that incomplete untested evidence the Court evaluated the chances of the plaintiff’s ultimate success in the action at 50 per cent or less but permitting its exercise if the court evaluated his chances at more than 50 per cent.

The confusion generated by the use of the term strong prima facie case has been imported into some of our judicial authorities which followed English decisions.

In Abel O. Woluchem v. Dr. Charles Inko Tariah Wokoma  (1974) 3.SC. 153 at 156, Ibekwe JSC. delivery the judgement of the Supreme Court stated the rule thus:

“The rule is that a plaintiff seeking an interlocutory injunction must establish a strong prima facie case for the existence of his right and at least that he was likely to succeed on that issue and also a prima facie case of infringement of his right. In exercising its discretion to grant the relief, the court would have regard to the balance of convenience.”

Then he went on to comment: “We fail to see how a court of law could be able to satisfy all or any of these principles before pleadings were filed and without evaluating some of evidence (be it oral or affidavit evidence by both parties).”

Another case worthy of mention in this regard is Ladunni v. Kukoyi & Ors. (1972) I All NLR (Part 1) 133. Explaining the principle, Coker, JSC. (delivering the judgement of the Court, said at page 138″

“The principle seems to us to be clear and in short an interim injunction would be granted to a party who shows that he has a prima facie case on a claim of right or in other words that, prima facie, the case he has made out is one which the opposing party would be called upon to answer and that it is just and convenient to the court to intervene and that unless the court so intervenes at that stage, the other party’s action or conduct would irreparably alter the status quo or render inaffective any subsequent decree of the court.”

The court had earlier at page 137 adopted with approval the dictum of Ungoed – Thomas, J. in In Donmar Production Ltd. v. Bart and Ors. (1967) I WLR 740 at 742 with respect to this point which reads:

“So in an application for an interlocutory injunction the applicant must establish a probability or a strong prima facie case that he is entitled to the right of whose violation he complains and, subject  to this being established, the governing consideration is the maintenance of the status quo pending the trial.

      It is well established that in deciding whether the matter shall be maintained in status quo regard must be had to the balance of convenience and to the extent to which any damage to the plaintiffs can be cured by payment of damages rather than by the granting of injunction. Of course the burden of proof lies on the applicant throughout.”

Of this statement, Coker, JSC. said at p. 137:

“We think this is a correct proposition of the law and we propose to apply it to the case in hand.”

Because of the confusion caused in the minds of judges by the use of the cliche “prima facie case or probability or strong prima facie case”, the law with respect to interim injunction has been aptly described by Coker, JSC. (see Ladunni v. Kukoyi & Anor. (supra) at p. 136) as constituting one of the most difficult sections of our law.

The difficulty exists not because the law is recondite but because the ascertained principles must be subjected at all times to a rather amorphous combination of facts which are perpetually different in every case.

The learned trial judge, whose decision came to the Supreme Court on appeal and was affirmed, stating the principle which guided him, said:

“The principle on which the court will act in an applicationfor an order of interlocutory injunction is well settled and it is that the court should be satisfied that there is a serious question to be tried at the hearing and that on the facts before it there is a probability that the plaintiff is entitled to relief.”

This principle is almost a restatement of the dictum of Lord Diplock in American Cyanamide v. Ethicon Ltd. (supra). The point appears to have been more correctly stated by this court in Egbe v. Onogun (1972) I All NLR. 95 at 98 when it said:

“In Kufeji v. Kogbe (1961) All NLR. 113 which deals with the practice and procedure governing applications for interim injunctions Coker, J. (as he then was) stated at page 114.”

‘In an application for interim relief by way of injunction, it is not necessary that a plaintiff or applicant should make out a case as he would do on the merits, it being sufficient that he should establish that there is a substantial issue to be tried at the hearing.”

……………………………………………….

      In a case of interim injunction, it is not necessary to determine the legal right to a claim since at that stage, as it is in this case, there can be no such determination; because pleadings have not been filed, no issue joined, and no oral evidence adduced; therefore there cannot be any finding on the merits.”

Having examined the principles governing the grant of interlocutory or interim injunction, it is now necessary to examine the facts of this instant appeal. These are set out clearly in the short affidavit of John Ede containing 11 paragraphs, paragraphs 1 to 10 which contain the material facts read:

1. I am a director of the plaintiff company and by virtue of this I am familiar with the facts to which I depose;

2. The plaintiff has filed an action against the Federal Government and the Benue State Government claiming the following reliefs:

(i) a declaration that the entry of the land and buildings of the Obeya Memorial Specialist Hospital Oturkpo Town in Oturkpo Local Government Area by Army and Airforce personnel as well as by officers and servants of the government of Benue State was unlawful and amounts to trespass;

(ii) a declaration that the Government of Benue State has no right to take or retain possession of the said land and buildings from the plaintiff save in accordance with due process of law:

(iii) an order for inquiry into damages suffered by the plaintiff as a result of the unlawful entry of the said land and buildings.

(a) by Nigerian Army and

(b) Nigerian Airforce personnel;

(iv) an order for inquiry into damages suffered by the plaintiff as a result of the trespass committed by the Benue State Government on the plaintiff’s goods as well as on the said land and buildings;

(v) an order for payment of appropriate sums as compensatory and/or exemplary damages to the plaintiff for the acts of trespass aforementioned; and

(vi) an injunction restraining all officers of the Nigerian Army and Airforce and all officers, servants and agents of the Benue State Government from continuing the said acts of trespass or committing further acts of trespass or from preventing the plaintiff, its officers, servants and licencees from obtaining access to the land and buildings used for the purposes of the Obeya Memorial Specialist Hospital.

3. At all times material to this action, the plaintiff was in occupation of the land and buildings in Oturkpo Local Government Area, Benue State which buildings are used for the purpose of a hospital known as Obeya Memorial Specialist Hospital.

4. The said Hospital was duly registered as a medical institution pursuant to the provisions of the Private Hospital Law 1963 Cap. 100 Revised Laws of Northern Nigeria. The plaintiff will rely on the Certificate of Registration dated 17th December, 1982 issued by the Ministry of Health Benue State of Nigeria.

5. On 24th January, 1986, some 30 Nigeria Army personnel and about 10 Nigerian Airforce personnel, all armed, entered the land and buildings used for the purposes of the hospital, and effectively took possession of the same;

6. On 25th of January, 1986, the Benue State Commissioner for Health, Benue State, Mrs. Lucy Aluor after inspecting the whole hospital, carted away all records of the hospital including all personal files of all staff;

7. On 6th February, 1986, the Military Governor of Benue State, Group Captain Jonah David Jang, in company of the Commissioner for Health, Benue State, Mrs. Lucy Aluor, visited the hospital and ordered that the security walls of the hospital be increased in height by the Benue State Ministry of Works and housing;

8. On 7th February, 1986, officials from the Benue State Ministry of health arrived with about 10 extra soldiers heavily armed and summoned all the staff and served most of the staff with termination letters with effect from 7th February, 1986. They then ordered all patients on admission in the hospital out of the hospital; 9. The hospital has now remained closed to both staff and patients since then and it is heavily guarded by armed personnel;

10. To the best of my knowledge, information and belief, unless restrained by order of court, the officers and men of the Army now occupying the said hospital and the Benue State Government intend to continue to keep the plaintiff and its agents, officers, servants and licensees out of possession of the premises permanently or for an indefinite period and also to keep them from entering the said premises.”

The Attorney-General of Benue State, Mr.. Bernard Iyorlyam Hom deposed to a lengthy counter-affidavit with which he exhibited many documents concerning Obeya Memorial Hospital. One of the documents shows that the plaintiff was incorporated on the 2nd day of September, 1985. It was the certificate of incorporation of Obeya Memorial Specialist Hospital Ayi-Onyema Family Limited.

Mr. Oche Uche a civil servant also deposed to a counter-affidavit paragraph 2 of which was to the effect that Obeya Obande on 26th June, 1985 admitted to the panel on Recovery of Public Fund and Property that the hospital was a joint project between him and his family. Obande Obeya also swore to an affidavit in reply to the counter-affidavit on 10th April, 1986. Paragraphs 8 and 9 of the affidavit read:

8. The buildings comprising the hospital were financed by the Obeya family and not me personally;

9. The plaintiff company was incorporated by the Obeya family and other persons to manage and run the hospital. It is incorrect to suppose that the plaintiff company is required to register for the purpose of operating or managing the business of the hospital”.

He also exhibited a copy of the certificate of occupancy issued to the Obeya Memorial Hospital to hold the land for a term of 30 years from 1st day of August, 1982.

From the facts before the Court, it cannot be denied that there is a serious question to be tried and that the burden of proof on the applicant at this stage has been discharged. There is affidavit evidence that the appellant was in occupation of the hospital building and operating the hospital services. The action of the respondent has caused a serious disruption of the services. The seizure of the hospital buildings by heavily armed Army and Airforce personnel from unarmed law abiding citizens should not be encouraged or applauded in a democratic society such as ours where the Rule of law reigns. It is more honourable to follow the due process of law. It is also more respectful and more rewarding to follow such a course.

The question may be asked “what has the Benue State Government gained by the seizure so far? The answer is “nothing” It has not recovered the debt owed to it by Obande Obeya. Instead it has found itself saddled with costly litigation. It may be contended that the Benue State Government followed the due process of law in that it was the powers vested in the RecoveryPanel established by the Recovery of Public Funds and Property (Special Provision) Edict 1985 was exercised that led to the seizure of the Obeya Memorial Specialist Hospital. The power vested in the panel was to be exercised against the property of any person indebted or liable to the government or agency of the State. This is emphasised in the provision of section 5(e) of the Edict which reads:

“For the effective carrying out of its function under this Edict, the Recovery Panel shall have power –

‘to take possession of and sell at public auction any movable or immovable property of any person indebted or liable to the government or agency of the State, or surcharged by the government, in satisfaction of the debt or surcharge.’”

The counter affidavit of Patrick Oche Uche sworn on 3rd of April, 1986 in paragraph 2 shows quite clearly that Obande Obeya had given the panel information that the hospital was a joint project between him and his family. It reads:

“That when Obande Obeya appeared before us on 26th June, 1985, and was questioned in relation to the hospital, he is said to own, he admitted that the hospital was a joint project between him and his family. That I hereby exhibit a certified true copy of the relevant pages of the transcript of our verbatim reporters minutes of our proceedings of the day and mark it as Exhibit POV 1.”

There is affidavit evidence from Obande Obeya on this issue. In the light of the affidavit evidence, the Court of Appeal and the High Court erred in holding that the appellant failed to prove that it was in occupation for the purpose of the application for interim injunction and mandatory injunction.

A force of 30 army and 10 airforce personnel heavily armed is surely not needed by the panel to take possession of the hospital from Obande Obeya if Obande Obeya alone were running the hospital and in occupation himself. The deployment of such a force is like using a sledge hammer to kill a fly. However, this is not the stage at which the question of the ownership of the land and buildings of the hospital is to be determined. It is one of the serious questions raised by the 2nd respondent to be decided at the hearing of the substantive case. The only question for consideration by the Court in the instant appeal in the light of all the facts placed before the court in the affidavits and counter-affidavits is the question of balance of convenience. Who will stand to lose more if the status quo ante is restored and maintained till the final determination of the suit? Will the Benue State Government stand to lose more if it is returned to its former position than the appellant if the appellant is not returned to its former position?

It is obvious that the appellant will lose more. The Benue State Government will lose nothing if it withdraws from the hospital premises till the final determination of the action. The appellant, if not restored to occupation now would have lost tremendously in goodwill, patients, finance and management skill if it ultimately succeeds in the substantive action.

The balance of convenience is therefore in favour of granting the application. I must stress that the government is entitled to pursue its debtorsand recover from them all amounts legitimately due to it. The courts of law are established both for the people and the government or authority. The government should not shy away from making use and taking advantage of the processes of the courts of law. It is a misconception to think that measured speed with which the processes of court travel is too slow for the military government. Since the government was taken the civilised stand of observing the Human Rights provision of the 1979 Constitution and the Rule of Law, it cannot allow its image to be tarnished, stained and mutilated by abandoning the Rule of Law and resorting to the Rule of Force which, in the peculiar circumstance, is very barren. The rule of force wearing the kid glove of an Edict can never usher in social justice. It only wears the condemned face of the law. Let the Benue State Government return to the Rule of Law.

The appeal succeeds and is hereby allowed. The decisions of the Court of Appeal and the High court are hereby set aside and in their stead, I make the following orders:

(1) The 1st and 2nd respondents by themselves, their servants including the 30 officers and men of the Nigerian Army and the 10 officers and men of the Nigerian Airforce or their agents are hereby restrained from preventing the plaintiff and its servants or agents from obtaining access to and occupying the premises known as Obeya Memorial Specialist Hospital pending the determination of the substantive action.

(2) The Benue State Government, the 2nd respondent, is hereby ordered to restore possession of the said premises to the plaintiff pending the determination of the substantive action; and

(3) The Benue State Government, the 2nd respondent, by itself, its servants or agents or otherwise, is hereby restrained from delivering possession of the said premises to any person other than the plaintiff or its duly authorised agent pending the determination of the substantive action.

The appellant is entitled to costs in this appeal assessed at N300.00 in this Court; N150.00 in the Court of Appeal and N50.00 in the High Court.

AUGUSTINE NNAMANI, J. S. C

I had a preview of the judgment just delivered by my learned brother, 

OBASEKI, J. S. C. and I entirely agree with his reasoning and conclusions in this matter.

What was involved in this appeal was an application for interim injunction pending the determination of the substantive suit between the parties. Based on the affidavit evidence before it both the High Court of Benue State and the Court of Appeal Jos Judicial Division, refused to grant the relief holding that the appellant herein had not made out a strong prima facie case. In its appeal to this Court, the appellant in ground 2 of its grounds of appeal complained that, (ii) The court below erred in law in failing to observe that for the purpose of the interlocutory application the affidavit of John Ede (a director of the plaintiff Company) and of Obande Obeya (a member of the Obeya family) are sufficient to establish the status of the plaintiff company as a licensee of the Obeya Family on the premises the more so as those affidavit evidence of the Chief Law Officer of Benue State”

Also in its brief of argument, the appellant identified the questions for determination as,

(i) What are the quality and quantity of the evidence which the plaintiff was required to establish in the High Court to support its application for interlocutory injunction?

(ii) Were the affidavit evidence of John Ede and Obeya of the quality and quantity so required?”

The 2nd Respondent thought that the question was,

“Whether or not on the affidavit evidence before the Court, the trial court and the Court of Appeal were justified in holding that the appellant had not established a strong prima facie case to entitle it to injunction”

I think it is pertinent to mention that the appellant is an incorporated entity and was so incorporated on 2nd September, 1985, long before the entry into the hospital on 24th January, 1986 by the combined team of Army and Airforce Personnel. It is also pertinent to mention that both John Ede and Obande Obeya are among the shareholders who subscribed the Memorandum of Association of the appellant company. From the claims of the appellant in the substantive Suit, one of which is – “a declaration that the Government of Benue State has no right to take or retain possession of the land and building comprising the said hospital save in accordance with due process of law”, the affidavits filed by the parties, and the arguments by counsel on both sides before this Court, it seems to me that there is undoubtedly a serious question to be decided between the parties. From the affidavit and papers filed by the 2nd Respondent, it would appear that Obande Obeya had applied and obtained a grant of certificate of occupancy in respect of land on which a Hospital known as Obeya Memorial Hospital stands; that the said hospital is registered under the laws of Benue State; that Obande Obeya appeared before a Panel on Recovery of Public Funds and Property set up by the Benue State Government, and that he was adjudged to owe that Government some funds following a contract which he did not execute. Then there is the Recovery of Public Funds and Property (Special Provisions) Edict 1985 under which the 2nd Respondent purports to have acted. Section 5(e) of that Edict permits the Recovery Panel to-

“Take possession of and sell by public auction any movable or immovable property of any person indebted or liable to the Government or agency of the State, or surcharged by the Government, in satisfaction of the debt or surcharge”

The contention of the 2nd Respondent is that the appellant is known to them, and that in effect the hospital is the property of Obande Obeya whichcan be seized and dealt with as per the Edict referred to above.

Surely the question of who the owners of the appellant are can only be determined in the course of the substantive suit. It is only then that it would become clear whether it belongs to Obande Obeya, and whether there was an attempt to use the appellant to wriggle out of the alleged indebtedness to the Government. Other issues that would be determined during such hearing include the question whether appellant was registered in accordance with the hospital law of Benue State and the question whether Obande Obeya is the holder of the land – either by statutory or customary grant of certificate of occupancy – on which the hospital stands. Can it therefore be argued that these issues can be determined at the point when a court is considering a prayer for interim injunction?

Or put another way, can it be said that these issues do not raise serious questions to be tried justifying a grant of injunction to maintain the status quo until such trial? I think not. The principles for the grant of interim injunction have been settled in decisions of the Courts in this country and in England.

See American Cyanamid v. Ethicon Ltd. (1975) A. C. 395;Egbe Vs Orogun (1972) I All N. L. R. pt. 1 95, 98. In Kufeji v. Kogbe 1961 1 All N. L. R.113, 114 Coker, J. (as he then was) set the test which has been accepted these years. He said

“In an application for interim relief by way of injunction, it is not necessary that a plaintiff or applicant should make out a case as he would on the merits, it being sufficient that he should establish that there is a substantial issue to be tried at the hearing”

I think I have said enough to indicate that I think such has been established on the papers and affidavits of the appellant.

Then the question was raised that the appellant was not known to the Respondent and had not shown that it was in possession or had entered in the hospital.  It has, however, been held that in an application for interim relief it is not necessary to prove proprietary interest in the property to be protected . All that seems to be needed is proof of lawful occupation with authority of owner. Ojukwu v. Governor of Lagos State (1986) 3 NWLR 39: Agbor v. Metropolitan Police Commissioner (1969) 1 N. L.R 203. In the instant appeal, John Ede one of the shareholders of the appellant company, deposed as follows in an affidavit.

(1) I am a director of the plaintiff company and by virtue of this I am familiar with the facts to which I depose.

………………………………….

(3) At all times material to this action the plaintiff was in occupation of the land and buildings in Oturkpo Local Government Area. Benue State which buildings are used for the purposes of a Hospital known as OBEYA MEMORIAL SPECIALIST HOSPITAL.

(5) On 24th January, 1986 some 30 Nigerian Army Personnel and about 10 Nigerian Airforce Personnel all armed enteredthe land and buildings used for the purposes of the hospital, and effectively took possession of the same”.

It was not seriously contested by the respondents that the appellant was in occupation when they moved in. All they say is that they don’t know appellant.

It would seem to me that in all the circumstances of this case the balance of convenience lies in favour of the appellant. As regards the use of force to take possession of the premises, I cannot improve on what has been said by my learned brother Obaseki, J. S. C. on the issue. I too would hope that the Benue State Government would return to the path of due process. If indeed the panel was convinced that the premises belonged to Obande Obeya did they need to take it in the manner they did? From the papers, there is nothing to show that there was a counter claim against the appellant, nor was there a substantive claim against Obande Obeya.

For these reasons, and the more detailed reasons in the lead judgement, I too would allow this appeal. I hereby endorse all the orders made by Obaseki, J. S. C. including the order as to costs. 

UWAIS, J.S.C.

This appeal is essentially interlocutory. It concerns the appellant’s application made in the High Court for an interim injunction to issue against the officers and men of the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Air Force who, allegedly, had taken possession, by force, of Obeya Memorial Specialist Hospital in Oturkpo Local Government Area of Benue State. The application also sought for an order compelling the 1st and 2nd respondents herein to restore possession of the hospital to the appellant; and restraining the 1st and 2nd respondents, as well as their agents or servants from passing the possession of the hospital to any person other than the appellant.

The interlocutory application was refused by the High Court. There was an appeal, against the refusal, to the Court of Appeal. That appeal was dismissed and hence the appeal now before this court. The facts of the case have been admirably set out in the judgment of the learned brother Obaseki, J.S.C. the draft of which I had the privilege of reading in advance. I entirely agree with the judgment.

In dealing with this appeal it is necessary that care is taken not to decide any aspect of the substantive controversy between the parties, which is still pending before the High Court, so as not to prejudice the case of any of the parties. It is in this regard that I feel obliged not to add anything more to the judgment of my learned brother Obaseki, J.S.C. Since it fully represents my opinion on the appeal.

Accordingly, the appeal is hereby allowed and the decisions of the lower courts are set-aside. I enclosed the orders contained in the lead judgment.

B. O. KAZEEM, J.S.C.

I have had the opportunity of reading in draft the judgment justdelivered by my learned brother Obaseki J.S.C. and I agree entirely with the reasons and conclusions arrived at therein. However, I wish to add these few points by way of emphasis only.

The facts in this case which have been fully set out in the lead judgment were briefly that the Appellant was operating an hospital at Oturkpo in Benue State of Nigeria, but on 24th January, 1986, the Recovery of Public Funds and Property Panel (hereinafter referred to as “the Recovery Panel”) set up by the Government of Benue State of Nigeria, with the aid of some personnel of the Nigerian Airforce and the Army, forcibly ejected the Appellant’s staff from the hospital and took over possession of the said premises. The Government of Benue State had since been operating the said hospital.

The alleged reasons given for taking such an action was that one Chief Obande Obeya had been found by a Commission of Inquiry set up by the same Government of Benue State, to be indebted to that government in some huge sum of money due on a contract which was unpaid, and that the Appellant Company (which was regarded as Chief Obande Obeya’s property) was taken over by virtue of the power vested upon the said Recovery Panel under the Recovery of Public Funds and Property (Special Provision) Edict 1985: Edict No. 1B of 1985, in partial settlement of the said indebtedness. Consequently, the appellant as plaintiff instituted legal proceedings against the respondents as defendants for declarations that the action was unlawful and amounted to trespass. The appellant also sue for damages for trespass and an injunction to restrain the respondents from continuing the said trespass. However, pending the determination of the said action, the Appellant applied for the following orders:-

“An order restraining all the officers and men of the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Airforce by themselves, their servants or agents or otherwise from preventing the plaintiff from obtaining access to and occupying the premises known as OBEYA MEMORIAL SPECIALIST HOSPITAL, AYI- ONYEMA FAMILY LIMITED.

(2) An order requiring the Federal Government and / or the Benue State Government to restore possession of the said premises to the Plaintiff.

(3) An order restraining the Federal Government and / or Benue State Government by themselves, their servants or agents or otherwise from delivering possession of the said premises to any person other than the Plaintiff or it’s duly authorised agents.”

The application was heard by the Chief Judge of the High Court of Justice of the Benue State of Nigeria holden at Makurdi and it was decided against the Appellant on the 7th of May, 1986. Inter alia, the learned Chief Judge found that the Appellant had not shown by affidavit evidence that it was really in occupation or possession of the premises forcibly entered into at the time of Government operation. The application was therefore refused . On an appeal against that decision; the Court of Appeal in Jos similarly found that the Appellant had not made out a strong prima facie case that it was in possession of the premises from which it was forcibly ejected by thegovernment. The appeal was therefore dismissed.

In the appeal before us against that decision, the main issue for consideration was whether the Respondents had any justifiable right in forcibly depriving the Appellant of possession of the said premises with the aid of military personnel before the determination of the pending action. It was contended by the Appellant that it was at the material time managing the hospital therein; and it was being so, it was entitled to continue to do its job; and could not be evicted save by an order of court. It was also pointed out that the Appellant was an incorporate body which had been in existence since the 2nd of September, 1985, and it did not have to establish any proprietary interest in the property once it was still in possession. It was therefore maintained that the action taken by the Respondents was not only high-handed, but that it was equally unlawful as being against the Rule of Law. The case of Military Governor of Lagos State & Ors v Ojukwu & Ano. (1986) 1 NWLR 621 at pages 636 – 638 was cited in support.

In defence of their action, the Respondents relied on the power vested upon the Recovery Panel set up by the Government of Benue State, under Section 5 (e) of Edict No. 18 of 1985, and it was submitted that in so far as Chief Obande Obeya who owned the property (claimed by the Appellant) had been adjudged by a Commission of Inquiry to be indebted to the Government of Benue State, and that indebtedness had not been discharged, their action was lawful.

Section 5 (e) of Edict No. 1B of 1985 on which the Respondents relied provides as follows:

5″ For the effective carrying out of its functions under this Edict, the Recovery Panel shall have power:-

(a) ……………………………………………………………

(b) …………………………………………………………..

(c) ……………………………………………………………

(d) …………………………………………………………..

(e) to take possession of and sell by public auction any movable or immovable property of any person indebted or liable to the Government or agency of the State or surcharged by the Government, in satisfaction of the debt or surcharge.”

There is no doubt that the provisions of Section 5(e) of the Edict relied upon by the Respondents empowered the Recovery Panel” to take possession of and sell by public auction any movable or immovable property of any person indebted or liable to the Government or agency of the State……………………… in satisfaction of the debt ……………..”. But the question remains whether the Appellant as a Corporate body has been so found to be indebted to the Government. Even in the case of Chief Obande Obeya, it had not been established at the trial of the substantive action that he was so indebted. The action taken by the Respondents seem to me rather premature. They should have waited until the substantive action had been tried and it has been found that either the Appellant as a corporate body had been indebted to the Government of Benue State; or that even Chief Obande Obeya was so indebted and owned the Appellant company; or that he incorporated the Appellant company to frustrate the effort of the Government in recoveringthe debt owed them.

A Nigerian citizen and indeed any Nigerian Company as a Corporate body in lawful possession of their properties are entitled to protection of those properties under our Constitution; and until they are proved not to be entitled, the Courts as guardians of the Rule of Law will frown at any unlawful invasion of such properties by anyone no matter how highly placed. That point was made clear in the case of the Military Governor of Lagos State & ors v. Chief Emeka O.Ojukwu & anor. (Supra).

In that case, the property situate at 29 Queens Drive belonged to the Ojukwu Transport Ltd. before the civil war of 1967 – 1970. But during the period of the civil war, it was administered by the Government of Lagos State as an abandoned property and let to G. Cappa Ltd. When G. Cappa Ltd. vacated the premises after the civil war, Chief Emeka Ojukwu who claimed to have an interest in the property took possession of it without the consent in the Military Governor of Lagos State. When he was threatened with an eviction therefrom by that Government he instituted legal proceedings at the High Court of Lagos to challenge the constitutionality of the decision to do so. While the action was pending, Chief Ojukwu being apprehensive that the Military Governor would use force to eject him without resort to Court process, made an interlocutory application for an interim injunction to restrain the Governor from ejecting him pending the determination of he action. An ex-parte interim order was first made by the trial judge pending the service of notice and hearing of the application. The order was later discharged after the application was heard and refused. Thereafter, the Military Governor with over 150 armed policemen, and without an order of court authorising him to do so, moved into the premises and threw Chief Ojukwu into the street. Chief Ojukwu and Ojukwu Transport Ltd. subsequently appealed to the Court of Appeal in Lagos against the refusal of the order of interim injunction; and Chief Ojukwu applied for an order to be re-instated into possession. The Court of Appeal granted the order; and the Governor of Lagos State appealed against that order. The Governor of Lagos State also asked for a Stay of execution of the order of the Court of Appeal pending the determination of the appeal.

The principal question for consideration in that case was whether there was legal and constitutional basis or authority for the action taken by the Governor of Lagos State to eject Chief Ojukwu from the premises, the subject-matter of a pending matter between the parties before the High Court.

In his own judgment, Obaseki J.S.C. observed thus:-

“I can find no constitutional or legal authority to support the action of the appellants (i.e the Military Government). Indeed all the authorities are the other way.

      In the area where rule of law operates, the rule of self help by force is abandoned. Nigeria being one of the countries in the world even in the third world which proclaim loudly to follow the rule of law, there is no room for the rule of self by force to operate. Once a dispute has arisen between a person and the government or authority and the dispute has been brought before the court, thereby invoking the judicial powers of the state, it is the duty of the governmentto allow the law to take its course or allow the legal and judicial process to run its full course. The action the Lagos State Government took can have no other interpretation than the show of the intention to preempt the decision of the court. The courts expect the utmost respect of the law front he government itself which rules by the law. ……………………………………… If the Government of Lagos State wants possession from Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, it should apply for an order of possession from the competent Court of Law.”

In refusing the application for a stay, my learned brother observed:-

“I will be doing injustice to the cause of the rule of law if I grant this application and allow the eviction of the respondent to stand. The Nigerian Constitution is founded on the rule of law the primary meaning of which is that every thing must be done accordingly to law. It means also that government should be conducted within the frame-work of recognised rules and principles which restrict discretionary power which Coke colourfully spoke of as ‘golden and straight metwand of law as opposed to the uncertain and crooked cord of discretion. (see 4 Inst. 41). More relevant to the case in hand, the rule of law means that disputes as to the legality of acts of government are to be decided by judges who are wholly independent of the executive. See Wade on Administrative Law 5th Edition p. 22-27. That is the position in this country where the judiciary has been made independent of the executive by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1977 as amended by Decree No. 1 of 1984 and No. 17 of 1985.

      The judiciary cannot shirk its sacred responsibility to the nation to maintain the rule of law. It is both in the interest of the government and all persons in Nigeria. The law should be even handed between the government and citizens.”

The above decision is very much applicable to this case; and I am of the view that it will be vheer injustice and against the rule of law which all justices have sworn to maintain between two litigating parties without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.

In the circumstances, I will also allow the appeal; and make the same orders contained in the lead judgment of my learned brother Obaseki J.S.C. 

SAIDU KAWU, JSC

I have had the advantage of reading in draft the lead judgement of my learned brother, Obaseki, J.S.C. which has just been delivered and I completely agree with his reasoning and conclusions. I am also of the viewthat this appeal ought to be allowed.

The appellant instituted an action in the High Court of Benue State Makurdi, against the respondents claiming certain reliefs and after the filing of the action, applied to the court for

“(1) An order restraining all the officers and men of the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Airforce otherwise from preventing the plaintiff from obtaining access to and occupying the premises known as OBEYA MEMORIAL HOSPITAL, AYI-ONYEMA FAMILY LIMITED.

(2) An order restraining the Federal Government and/or Benue State Government by themselves, their servants or agents or otherwise from delivering possession of the said premises to any person other than the Plaintiff or its’s duly authorised agents. Pending the determination of the above action and for such further and or other orders as this Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances”.

At the conclusion of all the submissions made by learned counsel on behalf of the parties, the application was, on the 7th day of May, 1986 dismissed by the learned Chief Judge of Benue State. An appeal to the Court on Appeal was unsuccessful as that court upheld the decision of the trial court. This is a further appeal to this Court.

There is no doubt that, as alleged by the appellant, some Army and Airforce personnel, at the instance of the Government of Benue State, invaded the hospital on the 24th January, 1986 and forcibly took over possession of the premises. This fact was not disputed by the respondents. The dispute was as to who was in occupation of the hospital on that date. It was person in occupation and not the appellant. But on this issue, there was before the court the affidavit evidence of one John Ede, a director of the appellant company who swore as follows:-

“(1) I am a director of the plaintiff company and by virtue of this I am familiar with the facts to which I depose.

(3) At all times material to this action the plaintiff was in occupation of the land and buildings in Otukpo Local Government Area, Benue State which buildings are used for the purposes of the Hospital known as OBEYA MEMORIAL SPECIALIST HOSPITAL.

(5) On 24th January, 1986 some 30 Nigerian Army personnel and about 10 Nigerian Airforce personnel, all armed, entered the land and buildings used for the purposes of the hospital, and effectively took possession of the same.

In addition to this there was the affidavit evidence of Obande Obeya to the effect that the appellant was in occupation of the premises as a licensee of Obeya Memorial Hospital. In my view the affidavit evidence adduced by the appellant, at that stage of the litigation, was enough to satisfy the court that the appellant was in occupation at the time of the trespass.

Now, on the material placed before the courts, was the appellant not entitled to the grant of an interlocutory order? I think it was. Applying the principles governing the grant of interlocutory injunctions enunciated inAmerican Cyanamid v. Ethicon Ltd (1975) A. C. 396 at 407, Egbe v. Onofun (1972) 1 All N.L.R. 95 at p.98 and Kufeji vs. Kogbe (1961) 1 All N. L. R. 113 at 114 to the facts of this case, as set out in the affidavit of John Ede, I am in no doubt whatsoever that both the Court of Appeal and the trial court were in error to have refused the appellant’s prayers.

In the circumstances, I too would allow the appeal. I abide by all the orders made in the lead judgement of my learned brother, Obaseki, J. S. C. including the order as to costs.

Cases referred to in the judgment

Agbor v. Metropolitan Police Commissioner (1969) 1WLR 703.

American Cyanamid v. Ethicon Ltd. (1975) AC 396.

Donmar Production Ltd. v. Bart and Ors. (1967) 1 WLR 740.

Ebgo v. Onogun (1972) 1 All NLR (Pt. 1) 95.

Kufeji v. Kogbe (1961) 1 All NLR 113.

Ojukwu v. Governor of Lagos State (1986) 3 NWLR 39.

Woluchem v. Inko Taria Wokoma (1974) 3 SC 153.

Statutes referred to in the judgment

Republic of Public Funds and Property (Special Provision) Edict 1985

1979 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Counsel:

Chief F.R.A. Williams, SAN

with him:

1. Mr. M.N. Chukuma

2. Mr. S.B. Johnson For Appellant

3. Mr. Austin Lawani; and

4. Mr. F.R.A. Williams (Jnr.)

Mr. J. B. Ajala

(Director of Civil Litigation & Publication, For 1st Respondent

Federal Ministry of Justice

Mr. A. J. Ikongbe (D.P.P., Benue State

Ministry of Justice) For 2nd Respondent

(with him: Mr. I. S. Yakubu

(Ag. D.D.P.P. Benue State Ministry of Justice

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s