• Ransome-Kuti v. Attorney-General, Federation
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  • 2001-12-10
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Ransome-Kuti v. Attorney-General, Federation

















KAYODE ESO, JSC ( Read the Lead Judgment )






CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - Attorney General - Action against - Whether same is an action against the Head of State

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - Attorney General - Non-liability for tort Whether non-liability applies thereto

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1963 -  Fundamental rights entrenched in Chapter III thereof - Status of - Need to co-exist with other laws

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1963, section 22 - Right to fair hearing guaranteed thereunder Purport of

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1963 , section 19 - Operation of provisions thereof

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1963 -  Purport of vis-a-vis existing civil and common law rights

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1963 , section 32(2) thereof - Whether claim for damages can be made thereunder

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,

1963, section 19 - ‘Torture’, ‘punishment’ or ‘treatment’ therein Purport of

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - Redress under 1963 Constitution - Meaning of

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - State immunity - Whether the state has immunity against being sued

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - State immunity against tort committed by state’s servant -  Whether extends to tort committed in the servant’s individual capacity

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - State immunity from liability from tort committed by its servants - Whether still subsists under 1979 Constitution

FAIR HEARING - Right to fair hearing  - Right guaranteed under section 22 , 1963 Constitution - Purport of

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS  - Enforcement of fundamental rights - Action brought thereof  - Whether interchangeable with action brought in trespass

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS - Breach of - Duty on subject to specifically seek redress for same - Methods of

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS - Breach of - Right of party alleging same to apply to High Court for redress - Section 32(1), 1963 Constitution FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS - Claims for violation of - Whether monetary compensation can be claimed therein

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS - Concept of - Whether synonymous with civil right

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS - Entrenchment of in the 1963 Constitution Effect

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS - Fair hearing  - Right thereto guaranteed under section 22, 1963 Constitution  - Purport of

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS - Fundamental rights entrenched in Chapter III of 1963 Constitution - Status of - Need for to co-exist with other validly made laws

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS - Nature of - Status of

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS - Right not to be tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment under section 19, 1963 Constitution - What same contemplates

JUDGMENT AND ORDERS - Judgment - What must be confined to

JURISPRUDENCE - Rights created by common law - Types of

PETITION OF RIGHTS  - Whether lies against government

PLEADINGS - Bindingness of

PLEADINGS - Facts - Duty on party to state all material facts he relies on in support of his claim - Failure to state same - Effect

PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE - Application - Where the constitution fails to make provisions for the form same should be made - How made

STATUTE - Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1963 - Purport of vis-a-vis existing civil and common law rights

STATUTE - Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1963, section 19  - Operation of provisions thereof

STATUTE - Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1963, section 22  - Right to fair hearing guaranteed thereunder - Purport of

STATUTE - Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1963, section 32(2) thereof - Whether claim for damages can be made thereunder

STATUTE - Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1963, section 19  - ‘Torture’, ‘punishment’ or ‘treatment’ therein - Purport of

TORT  - Trespass - Action brought therein - Whether interchangeable with action for enforcement of fundamental rights

TORT - Non-liability for tort  - Doctrine of  - Whether applies to the Attorney General

TORT - Tort committed by state servant  - State Immunity against same Whether extends to tort committed in servant’s individual capacity

TORT - Types of trespass - What constitute

TORT - Vicarious liability - Tort committed by state’s servant - Whether state is vicariously liable for same WORDS AND PHRASES - ‘Redress’ - Meaning of


1.            Whether, on the endorsement of the claim in the writ of summons and averments in the statement of claim, an action in tort lies against the respondents.

2.            Whether, in the action as framed, appellants were entitled to rely on the provisions of section 19(1) of Chapter III of the Constitution 1963 for redress.

3.            To what extent, if any, is the State liable for actions in tort committed by its servants acting on its behalf?

4.            If there is immunity, whether the right vested in the citizen by section 19(6) of the Constitution, 1963 prevails against such immunity.


On 18th February, 1977, at about midday, one Segun Ademola, an employee of the 2nd plaintiff, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, travelled in a landrover belonging to the 2nd plaintiff, and driven by one Segun Adams along Agege

Motor Road.  At a point on the road, precisely at Ojuelegba, a military traffic policeman stopped these two people and questioned them as to why their vehicle failed to carry a plate number in the front.  The two people told the military policeman that the vehicle had a plate number at the back, but the one which should have been in front was inside the vehicle, near the glass wind-shield.  The soldier thereupon demanded that they should surrender the key of the vehicle to him.  This they refused to do, and the soldier in consequence blew his whistle to attract the attention of other military men. Ademola instructed Segun Adams to drive the vehicle in reverse into 14A Agege Motor Road, the property belonging to the appellants, even though by that time, the soldier had sat on the bonnet of that vehicle to prevent its movement.  In addition, there was a traffic holdup around the vehicle and in no time, the vehicle was virtually besieged by soldiers.

Segun Ademola took another step.  He decided to make a report to the 2nd plaintiff.

The soldiers got hold of Segun Ademola and beat him to pulp. One Balogun, a driver, helped to convey him to 14A Agege Motor Road where he remained quite helpless. The 2nd plaintiff got the narration from Segun Ademola and then ordered that Segun Ademola be taken to the hospital. Meanwhile, soldiers had massed outside the gate of 14A Agege Motor Road.  The soldiers would like to enter the house to arrest Segun Ademola but 2nd plaintiff would not yield.  He demanded their warrant.  More soldiers arrived.  The evidence talked of about 500 of them and they carried guns. The 2nd plaintiff retired to the balcony of the house.  A Mercedes Benz car arrived and the 5th defendant, Major Daudu was alleged to have spoken to the occupant of the car.  The car then left and immediately after that, the soldiers rained stones, bottles and other missiles towards 14A Agege Motor Road.

It was just after this that the 3rd plaintiff, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, came in. He went to join the 2nd plaintiff upstairs. Then, more soldiers arrived. And the evidence was that they came from the nearby Abalti Barracks. They carried arms and warned people, by a display of a signpost, against the people risking being shot. 2nd plaintiff remained on the balcony which had now been barricaded with chairs and tables.  Then, for a while the missile attack stopped but the generator outside and the van on which it stood were already on fire.  Again, the evidence was that it was a soldier, the 7th defendant, Corporal Agu, who poured petrol on the generator while one Lawal, another soldier struck the match.

The soldiers advanced to the gate, cut down the wire fences and moved into the compound of the house. There was a stampede, with the soldiers throwing out everybody in the house except 1st plaintiff, Dr. (Mrs.) Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti and the third, her son, Dr. Beko Ransome-

Kuti.  But the soldiers did not stop there.  They moved into the main house, set fire to it and razed it to the ground.

There was looting, beating up of the occupants of the house and the women therein assaulted.  And, as if that was not enough, the inmates were marched into Army barracks. The two brothers, Fela and Beko, also with them.  The injuries these people suffered are better described in the evidence of Mr. Amechi Obiora, a consultant surgeon in Lagos University Teaching Hospital who treated them.  He said there were 52 patients, 5 of whom were admitted into the hospital and the injuries they suffered ranged from laceration, burns, head injuries, minor bruises and even breaking of bones. Both the 1st and the 2nd appellants were among those admitted into the hospital.

In consequence of  these occurrences, the appellants instituted an action against the respondents in High Court of Lagos State, claiming the sum of N25,000,000.00 (Twenty-five million Naira) against the defendants jointly and severally, being damages suffered by the appellants when the defendants by their servants and or agents on Friday 18th day of February, 1977, wilfully and maliciously set fire to the plaintiffs’ 2-storey  building, house and bungalow and appurtenances situate at No.14A, Agege Motor Road, Yaba, Lagos, together with other plaintiffs’ personal effects, valuable properties, cash, professional and or business equipment, including motor vehicles and buses, all of which were totally destroyed by the said fire set to them by the defendants; and for assault and battery suffered by the appellants.

At the conclusion of the trial, the trial court held that the action of the appellants was not one seeking redress for the violation of fundamental rights as entrenched in the Constitution.  It was not an action brought under the Constitution.  In regard to paragraph 14 of the statement of claim, which called in aid “all statutory and common law provisions and provisions of the Constitution with particular reference to Chapter III and section 19 of the said Constitution” Dosunmu J., held -

“There has been nothing to demonstrate that the plaintiffs’ rights ... as guaranteed by the Constitution have been infringed ... section 32 of the Constitution vests the court with special jurisdiction in relation to all these fundamental rights.  But plaintiffs have not approached this court under this special jurisdiction.  The section provides that any person who alleges that any of the provisions of Chapter III has been contravened in any territory in relation to him may apply to the High Court of that territory for redress.  No such allegation of violation of fundamental rights has been made here apart from the general reference to fundamental rights in their pleadings... And after all said and done, nowhere does the Constitution provide for the award of damages, as the plaintiffs now claim, for the infringement of the provisions in relation to fundamental rights.  So that if it is the claim of the plaintiffs that there had been violations of their rights, the Constitution does not provide award of damages in the event.  It is the common law that provides for the award of damages to the plaintiffs when assaulted or battered, and it is the same common law that immunizes the State or its servants from liability. The Nigerian Republican Constitution has not changed the legal position.”

The appellants being dissatisfied with the judgment appealed to the Court of Appeal, which court dismissed the appeal.

Being aggrieved with the dismissal, the appellants consequently appealed to the Supreme Court .