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2023: Beyond the Blame Game
Enough of the Blame Game!
Over the past few years, I have developed the habit where I sometimes use topical issues to illustrate legal principles. Today will be one of those days.
As we are now firmly into the election season, the 2023 general elections being upon us – February – March, 2023, I think it’s necessary to discuss the terms “Caveat Emptor” and “Statute of Limitations/Statute Barred” in relation to political parties and their candidates, particularly the Presidential candidates, so that the incoming administration doesn’t think it can deploy the same unsuccessful ‘blame game’ tactics throughout its administration like members of the present administration/ruling party have sought to do. Granted, it seems as if things in Nigeria are in a much worse state today than the APC found them when they took over in 2015, at least with regard to security and the economy (see Sections 14(2)(b) & 16 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)(the Constitution), and Nigerians have been through quite a harsh last few years, we are all aware of what our problems are, most especially those whose campaigns are based either on wanting to right the wrongs of the past or this APC administration, or those who say they want to build upon them!
Caveat Emptor & Encumbrances
Seven and a half years since the Buhari administration assumed office, it is ridiculous and tragicomic that some APC spokespersons are conducting their campaign by still blaming their failures on what the PDP did while they were in office, prior to their administration.
If we draw a parallel between a purchase of land or a product and the 2015 election, in the context of this discussion, APC was the buyer and PDP, the seller, governing Nigeria, the product. When making a purchase, there’s the maxim, ’Caveat Emptor’, which literally means ’Let the Buyer Beware’ (look before you leap!). There is also usually a warranty period in the case of the purchase of a product, usually one year, after which the product cannot be exchanged or repaired for free. Can we relate this warranty period to something like a statute of limitations, to put a time limit on how long the complaints about a previous administration can last? The APC complaints about PDP, should be statute barred by now!
In the case of purchase of land, the onus is on the Buyer to do due diligence and all the necessary investigations before making the purchase. In Marem v Istifanus (2022) LPELR-57523 (CA) the Court of Appeal held that “The risk of encumbrances is on any Purchaser who by the maxim (caveat emptor) is required to satisfy himself, by undertaking a full investigation of title before completing his purchase”. Also see the case of Onyido v Ajemba 1991 4 N.W.L.R. Part 184 Page 203.
For instance, when a Buyer is purchasing land in an urban area, it is up to him or her to fully investigate the title of the land, by first conducting a search at the Land Registry to find out if it is good – for example, to discover if the seller owns the land; if the seller may have sold the land to a third party previously and is now seeking to resell the same land to them (the first Purchaser would however, have had to obtain Governor (State land) or the Minister’s (Federal land) consent, in order for this registered interest to reflect at the Land Registry – if not, it is an equitable interest which could be difficult to ascertain); if there is a lien on the land from a loan the seller may have taken from a Bank using the land as collateral and has not repaid (if the Bank registers the loan it will reflect at the Land Registry as a deed of legal mortgage; if it is only a deposit of the title deeds with the Bank, the Seller won’t have the title documents to give to the Purchaser, as they would be with the Bank), to mention but a few scenarios.
Many encumbrances are however, not insurmountable. For instance, if it’s a debt with the Bank, the Purchaser can pay the Bank off out of the agreed purchase price, retrieve the title documents from the Bank while paying the Purchaser the balance, if any.
Certainly, the problems in Nigeria which may have been caused by PDP’s corruption and mismanagement, amongst other things, were not insurmountable. During the campaign for the 2015 election, APC campaigned on the failures of the PDP (akin to encumbrances on a land offered for sale) and promised to do a better job. How did APC come to know about PDP’s failures? Not just by being Nigerians who resided in the country at the time and could see the failures reflected in the daily lives of Nigerians, but by doing a thorough investigation (search) to come up with three main priorities which became the bedrock of their campaign promises – fighting insecurity and corruption, and revamping the economy. In Babayaro v Labile & Ors (2020) LPELR-51465 (CA), the Court of Appeal held that “A Purchaser would be able to plead absence of notice only if he had made all the usual and proper inquiries, and still found nothing to indicate any equitable interest”. In the case of our dear country Nigeria, not only was there notice, there was a lot to show that things were not rosy.
More so than the average Nigerian, APC knew what they were going in for. They knew that corruption was the order of the day under the PDP; they also knew that Boko Haram was active in the North East – the Chibok Girls had been abducted from their school in 2014, and the insurgents had taken over some local governments in the North East, going as far as flying their flag there and forcibly collecting taxes from the people. There was also kidnapping and militancy, going on in the South South region. The fact that high ranking members of PDP defected to join APC, would have even provided more than a fountain of useful, even information that may have been kept secret from the public, to APC. So, the defence that APC had no notice of the defective Nigerian product that they bought from PDP in 2015, cannot avail them. They promised Nigerians that they would fix the problems of insecurity, corruption and the economy (Change) – this is prima facie evidence that the condition of Nigeria was well known to APC before they assumed office in 2015. From about five to six years ago, APC’s ‘blame game’ habit has become nothing more than a tiresome cacophony, reminding one of a bad workman who blames his tools. There should be a statute of limitations, that is, a maximum time period allowed for being able to make such complaints.
Statute of Limitation/Statute Barred
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a Statute of Limitations is defined as follows: “Statutes of the Federal Government and various States, setting maximum time periods during which certain actions can be brought or rights enforced. After the time period set out in the applicable statute of limitations has run, no legal action can be brought, regardless of whether any cause of action ever existed”. In Chigbu v Tonimas Nig. Ltd & Anor (2006) LPELR-846 (SC) per Belgore JSC (later CJN) the Supreme Court defined a Statute of Limitation thus: “The Limitation Law is certainly procedural, setting out clearly the time frame within which an action must be brought”. An action which is statute barred, cannot be validly instituted or maintained, and must be struck out as not being properly before the court – see the case of P.N.Udoh Trading Co. Ltd v Abere & Anor (2001) LPELR-2893 (SC) per Kalgo JSC.
For instance, Section 285(5)-(7), (10)-(12) of the Constitution sets out the time frame in which pre-election and election matters must be filed and disposed of. So, for instance, an election petition that isn’t filed within 21 days after the date of the declaration of the result of the election, becomes statute barred, and the disgruntled Petitioner cannot enforce his or her rights after the 21-day deadline passes. In Fred Egbe v Adefarasin & Anor 1987 1 N.W.L.R. Part 47 Page 1 per Oputa JSC, the Supreme Court held that the court can determine the period of limitation “by looking at the writ of summons and statement of claim alleging when the wrong was committed which gave the Plaintiff the cause of action, and by comparing that date with that on which the writ of summons was filed. This can be done without taking oral evidence from witnesses”.
I submit that APC is statute barred from continuing to blame PDP and everyone else but themselves, for the woes and the difficulties Nigeria is experiencing presently. In this analogy, if the failures of the PDP can be considered to be a pre-election or even election matter, the blame game should have ended by 2016, latest 2017. After the first one or two years, if this administration had taken the right steps and done things better, possibly we would have had a better outcome by now.
Take for example the Terror Alert that was sounded by the Americans recently, causing them to evacuate their citizens from Nigeria, is that the fault of PDP, or bad mouthing, or ‘de-marketing’ as Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information loves to put it? The Americans are world famous for their surveillance techniques, and know what they observed to result in this Terror Alert. In the seven and a half years of this Administration, the Americans never evacuated their citizens due to security concerns (it was only done in 2020, because of the Covid-19 pandemic); so, why now? Instead of cooperating with the American Government to investigate the reasons for this unfortunate Alert, and what steps to take to change this negative narrative, this administration, in its usual ‘wrong and strong’ abusive attitude, is blaming the Americans for the Advisory! Governmental reactions to imminent danger and other negatives, cannot be to hurl abuses and find fault in others. Some pro-activity on the part of Government, is a more productive line of action! Why are Nigerians not entitled to know if they are not safe, and need to take extra precautions to secure themselves?
My point? Whoever wins the next election is coming in with full notice and knowledge of the rut Nigeria finds herself in, and flimsy and feeble excuses that he and his political party didn’t know how bad or encumbered the product they purchased is, will not absolve them of their responsibilities. They have done the needful required by the maxim ‘Caveat Emptor’, which has resulted in the evolution of their manifestos. They must also understand that whoever is voted in, would, other things being equal, have been elected on the basis of the acceptance by the majority of their campaign promises to fix our problems, and that they were not voted in to justify or rationalise their failures, by constantly blaming past administrations and others for them. We have already had seven and a half years of that. Nigerians deserve a fresh and better future. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”, or don’t bother to enter the kitchen at all!