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SPDCN Nig. Ltd v. Nwawka

1.      THE SHELL PETROLEUM DEVELOPMENT COMPANY OF NIGERIA LTD.

2.      MR. R. VAN DEN BERG

3.      MR. EGBERT U. IMOMOH

4.      MR. JOSHUA R. UDOFIA

5.      MR. JOHN BARRY

6.      STEVE RATCLIFFE

7.      THE DIRECTOR OF PETROLEUM

RESOURCES, MINISTRY OF PETROLEUM RESOURCES

V

E.N NWAWKA

SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA

SALIHU MODIBBO ALFA BELGORE, JSC ( Presided )

ANTHONY IKECHUKWU IGUH, JSC

SAMSON ODEMWINGIE UWAIFO, JSC

AKINTOLA OLUFEMI EJIWUNMI, JSC

EMMANUEL OLAYINKA AYOOLA, JSC ( Read the Lead Judgment )

SC. 285/2000

FRIDAY, 24TH JANUARY, 2003

COMPANY LAW - Decisions of company - Jurisdiction to enforce or review -  Whether court will assume same in the absence of contractual terms to guide it

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - Section 6(6)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 - Judicial power of court envisaged thereunder - Exercise of

CONTRACT - Contract of employment - Irregular or illegal conduct of employer not amounting to breach of - Whether can give employee a cause of action

CONTRACT - Contractual rights - Party whose claim is based thereon Onus on

CONTRACT - Duress - Contract entered into under duress - Effect - Whether voidable by the affected party

CONTRACT - Duress - Party alleging same - What must be pleaded and proved thereby - Need for to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate pressure

CONTRACT - Fresh Contract - Where substituted for an existing contract -  Whether occasioned a breach of the prior contract

CONTRACT - Right of contract - Whether right that arises by and from agreement of parties is one of the categories of rights in private law -  Nature and effect of right of contract

CONTRACT - Terms of contract - Extraneous agreement and policy statement not incorporated into the contract - Whether the Supreme Court will rely thereon

COURT - Federal High Court - Exclusive jurisdiction of - Whether include action founded on a contractual employment relationship between a company and its employee

COURT - Judicial powers of - Section 6(6)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 - Judicial powers of court envisaged under - Exercise of

COURT - Jurisdiction to enforce or review decisions of company - Whether court will assume same in the absence of contractual terms to guide

it

EVIDENCE - Evidence not pleaded - Effect of

EVIDENCE - Proof - Party to contract alleging duress - What must be pleaded and proved thereby

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS - Citizen’s civic duty to expose wrong doing -

Whether can ripen to a right that can be protected by private litigation

JURISDICTION - Jurisdiction to enforce or review decisions of company Whether court will assume same in the absence of contractual terms to guide it

JURISPRUDENCE - ‘Private law’ - Categories of rights therein - Whether include right of contract

JURISPRUDENCE - Justiciability - Issues between parties - When not justiciable disputes

LOCUS STANDI - ‘Private right’ or ‘special damages’ - When plaintiff will have locus standi to establish

MASTER AND SERVANT - Contract of employment - Irregular or illegal conduct of employer not amounting to breach of - Whether can give employee a cause of action

MASTER AND SERVANT - Redundancy - Claim that an employee was not redundant - On what it must be dependent - Whether on his contract of employment

MASTER AND SERVANT - Redundancy - Conditions on which an employee may be declared redundant - Where found

PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE - Litigation - Private litigation - Citizen’s civic duty to expose wrong doing - Whether can ripen to a right that can be protected by private litigation

Issues:

1.            As regards claims 3 and 5, whether (a) the respondent had locus standi to sue for the reliefs claimed, and (b) only the Federal High Court has exclusive jurisdiction over these claims and whether they raise justiciable issues; and

2.            As regards claims 6, 7 and 11, whether they are not frivolous and vexatious and an abuse of judicial process.

Facts:

Respondent an employee of the 1st appellant had risen to a very senior position in the services of the 1st appellant. Before he left the services of the 1st appellant he was one of the most highly rated employees of the 1 st appellant. On 19th December, 1999 the 4th appellant wrote a letter to him urging him to leave the 1 st appellant’s employment on voluntary severance with what he described as a “financial bait” of about N30 million or his employment would be terminated automatically with three months pay in lieu of notice. The respondent rejected the offer. On 12th January,

2000  the respondent commenced this action against the appellants claiming inter alia for a declaration that the plaintiff is not a redundant employee of the 1st defendant by virtue of his length of service, job performance, job availability and his status.

In his statement of claim, the respondent exposed the unsavoury conduct of the 1st appellant with regard to how they employ their expatriate staff while he failed to plead such facts that pertain to his own employment and how he was eventually “released” from his employment by the 1st appellant.

Subsequently, the appellant on 4th February, 2000 filed an application praying the court to strike out or dismiss the plaintiff’s action for lack of jurisdiction to entertain the claim set out to the statement of claim; that claims 1 - 5 be struck out on the ground that each of them falls outside the scope of the judicial powers exercisable by the court of law in Nigeria, claims 6, 7, 9, 10 and 11 be struck out on the ground that each of them disclosed no reasonable cause of action and is frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of judicial process etc. The trial court struck out claims 4 and 9 as disclosing no cause of action, in regard to the rest of the claims, he dismissed the application. On appellants’ appeal to the Court of Appeal, that court held that in addition to claims 4 and 9 already struck out by the trial court claim nos. 1, 2, 8 and 10 should be struck out.

The appellants further appealed to the Supreme Court in respect of claims 3, 5, 6, 7 and 11.