How To Sue The Government In Nigeria: In a country as Nigeria where a large sect if the populace are unaware of their constitutional rights, it is even more worrisome how some dread the courtroom as they have cultivated an assumptive impression about the court and the judiciary. To the few who are literate enough to understand their fundamental rights including the right to sue, a sect amongst them worry even more about the possibilities of suing the Government of Nigeria at various levels.
Suing the Government in Nigeria is not entirely impossible if you know how to go about it. In this article, we will look at few ways and how to sue the government of Nigeria.
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How To Sue The Government In Nigeria
1. Locus Standi: Indeed, by the provisions of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides for free access to the court for anyone who is aggrieved or whose right had been enfringed upon. In like manner, under Section 41 and 46 of the constitution, a person has the right to movement (amongst other rights outlined in that Part), and right to seek redress in court when any of the rights mentioned is threatened or actually enfringed upon.
The issue of locus standi (which is a Latin maxim translating to the right of action) is quite important in every case (not just a case against the Federal Government. It is a legal principle and saying that, a person cannot cry more than the bereaved. That is to say, you can not carry the concerns of another as though it is yours unless it actually affects you.
This is to curb frivolous behaviours and asubtle forms of intimidation as well as reinforcing the rights of citizens over their privy, free choice and decision at all time and the ability to stand up for themselves (in most cases). Before you consider or proceed in suing the federal government of Nigeria, you must be sure that the subject matter and the course of action are one that actually concerns you. The implication of this is that; in a case where you bring a matter that is entirely unrelated to you in all ramifications, you may not be given the opportunity to proceed in court as the court may dismiss the suit on grounds.of Locus Standi (right of action).
2. Pre-Action Notice: Having extensively analyzed the issue of Locus Standi and it’s importance, it becomes imperative to understand some intricate requirements that there is to suing the federal government. Now, the federal government is not an ordinary citizen and is not treated as one under the microscopic lens of the law.
In other cases, when you want to sue a citizen in any civil suit, all you need to do is to issue a writ of summon, petition or originating motion (depending on the issue for determination) but in a case where the party to the suit is the government, the law mandatorily requires the complainant to file a pre-action notice which will be served on the federal government within three months before the suit commenced. It is quite necessary to adhere to this requirement as it court jeopardize the entire case if derogated from.
In a Nigerian case between Ministry of Education, Anambra State v Asikpo (decided in 2014) the court emphasized that it is paramount to obey the legal directives required in bringing an action in court. Where it is required that a pre-action notice be given to a party before the commencement of the main suit, such notice such be given in order to properly invoke the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit as failure to do so may warrant the case being thrown out or rejection by the court for want of jurisdiction. So, pre-action notice is required to be served on the government if you must sue them.
3. Mode Of Commencement: In law, every case has a mode of commencement. Every case must follow certain pattern or procedure for it to survive. In a case where the federal government is involved, the complainant or plaintiff ( as the case may be) will have to consider what the fact in issue is all about first. What exactly is your grievance and what is the remedy you so desire from the court.
In any case, the most likely occurrence are where the state sues a citizen on criminal charges. Where the plaintiff is aggrieved, it is not common for citizens to sue the federal government directly. In many cases, the State Government is usually the one getting most of the law suits from the citizens. This is because, the subject matter for which the citizens may sue the federal government on are quite limited.
It would have been a toll-free lane if the provisions in Chapter II of the Constitution are legally justiciable but sadly, they are not. Most times the citizens are weary about land revocation, enfringement of their fundamental rights by government agencies and State Government like cases of unlawful revocation of lands, forceful ejection, abuse and malicious prosecution, unlawful detention and so on.
4. The Court: The issue of suing the Government must be considered in light of the appropriate court to bring the action and critically analyzed in respect of jurisdiction of such court to sit and entertain the matter. Based on the provisions of the constitution devolving the powers of courts. The issue of court invariably goes to the jurisdiction of such court to sit and entertain the matter.
Instituting the matter in a wrong court robs the court of sitting in the matter and what ever it does in that circumstance would amount to nullity. Furthermore, where a matter involving the State (government) is relating to land statutorily acquired, or on matters bordering on fundamental human right, the appropriate court to sit on the matter is the State high court or federal high court (as the case may be).
Instituting it in the court of appeal, supreme court or any other court for that matter would be counterproductive. Aside instituting the matter at the right court, the issue of jurisdiction also extends to the composition of the court (judges sitting in the matter).
In the celebrated Nigerian case of Madukolu & Ors v. Nkemdelim & Ors (1962) 2 SCNLR 342 (1962) NSCC 374; (1962) 1 All NLR.587; which bordered on the subject of jurisdiction and competence of court, Bairamian, F.J. stated the law at page 595 as follows:- “a court is competent when -(1) It is properly constituted as regards members and qualification of the members of the bench and no member disqualified for one reason or another; and, (2) the, subject matter of the case is within its jurisdiction, and there is no feature of the case which prevents the court , from exercising its jurisdiction; and (3) the case comes before the court initiated by due process of law, and upon fulfillment of any condition precedent to the exercise of Jurisdiction.
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5. Parties: The issue of parties to the suit raises the question, who can be sued? Yes, it is quite important to note that the fact that the president or any of the federal government agencies had breached any term of agreement or violated your right does not imply that that person in particular may be sued directly where he committed the breach or enfringement in his or her official capacity.
For instance, where the Nigerian police force unlawfully detains you, you do not sue the very police officer that executed the arrest, that is because he was acting in his official capacity and following directives from his superiors, the appropriate party to sue is the the DPO or the commissioner of police in that jurisdiction. If it’s the federal government, say, the president, you can’t sue him, you sue him through the Attorney General of the Federation. Same applies to other government agencies.
So, for purpose of clarity, you can’t sue a government agencies on individual capacity where such person acted in an official capacity instead, you sue the agency. In the case of the federal government, you sue the Attorney General of the Federation because he is the legal representative of the Federal Government.
Conclusively, As a citizen, you should be aware of your rights and duties. It is also important to understand that no one is actually immuned to lawsuit (not even the president). The president can be sued but must be through the Attorney General of the Federation as the president cannot be made to appear in court within the period he functions as the Executive president, same also with the State Governors, you only sue them through the Attorney General of the State.
Edeh Samuel Chukwuemeka ACMC, is a Law Student and a Certified Mediator/Conciliator in Nigeria. He is also a Developer with knowledge in HTML, CSS, JS, PHP and React Native. Samuel is bent on changing the legal profession by building Web and Mobile Apps that will make legal research a lot easier.