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U.B.N. Plc. v. Umeoduagu

UNION BANK OF NIGERIA PLC.

V

ROMANUS C. UMEODUAGU

SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA

UTHMAN MOHAMMED, JSC ( Presided )

ANTHONY IKECHUKWU IGUH, JSC

UMARU ATU KALGO, JSC ( Read the Lead Judgment )

AKINTOLA OLUFEMI EJIWUNMI, JSC

DENNIS ONYEJIFE EDOZIE, JSC

SC. 10/2000

FRIDAY, 2ND JULY, 2004

ACTION - Cause of action - Dictionary definition of

ACTION - Cause of action - Judicial definition of

ACTION - Cause of action - Accrual of - Time deemed to accrue

ACTION - Cause of action or reasonable cause of action - Determination of whether there is a reasonable cause of action - Consideration of only writ of summons and statement of claim - Propriety of

LIMITATION OF ACTION - Cause of action - Accrual of - Time deemed to accrue

NOTABLE PRONOUNCEMENT - Banker - On the need for a reputable bank to do what it agreed to do, or in case of default, to perform restitution as a matter of course, instead of pursuing technical defence

PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE - Cause of action - Determination of whether there is a reasonable cause of action - Consideration of only writ of summons and statement of claim - Propriety of

WORDS AND PHRASES - ‘Cause of action’ - Dictionary definition of

WORDS AND PHRASES - ‘Cause of action’ - Judicial definition of

Issues:

1.              Whether having regard to respondent’s pleadings, the majority of the justices of the court below were right to uphold the decision of the learned trial judge that respondent’s cause of action did not arise in 1982 or 1983 or latest 1987, but rather in 1995 following his demand for refund of the sum after his alleged “discovery”.

2.              Whether the court below was right to confirm the trial court’s decision that appellant’s failure to perform its part of contract immediately in 1982, or respondent’s payment to his suppliers in 1983 or the event in 1987 does not vest him with right of action for recovery of the sum until the event of 1995.

Facts:

The facts of this case is that the plaintiff/respondent purchased the sum of $121,038 USD from the defendant/appellant bank in 1982 on the agreement that the appellant should immediately transfer the said sum to the respondent’s suppliers overseas, being payment for goods purchased from them by respondent. The appellant failed or neglected to remit or transfer the money. In 1983 the respondent paid his overseas customers with another fund when the overseas customers came to Nigeria to draw the debt. The respondent then demanded from the appellant to know the whereabouts or what happened to the foreign exchange he purchased in 1982 but it only requested him to exercise patience. He waited until 1995 when he joined the appellant in the search for the said foreign exchange. He found that the appellant was keeping the money in its account in the Central Bank of Nigeria. As a result, the respondent demanded for refund of his money in hard currency or its Naira equivalent. The appellant failed to do so and the respondent instituted an action at the High Court for the recovery of the said US$121,038 with interest.

The appellant filed a statement of defence and pleaded that the action was statute-barred. It also filed a preliminary objection to the suit to canvass its argument that the action was statute-barred. The learned trial Judge overruled the objection and ruled that the action was not statute-barred. Dissatisfied, the appellants appealed to the Court of Appeal, which by a majority decision, dismissed the appeal. Being further aggrieved, the appellant appealed to the Supreme Court.