Can The Supreme Court of Nigeria Revisit Its Own Decision

The Supreme Court of Nigeria revisit its decision
by Takim Etta

Introduction

After all legal battles at the High Courts and Court of Appeal, parties to a case look up to the Supreme Court of Nigeria, which is the last hope for all aggrieved parties. The Nigerian Supreme Court is the highest superior court of record. The court derives its validity from Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution and has limited jurisdiction when acting as a court of first instance. However, only in very exceptional circumstances does the Supreme Court not serve as an appellate court, and it is the final court in all matters, whether criminal or civil. All decisions made at the Supreme Court of Nigeria are final, this is because there must be an end to litigation. It is inconceivable for the court to wake up one morning and reverse its own decision.

However, because humans are bound to make mistakes, judges may sometimes make their decisions based on clerical errors, accidental slips, or omissions. The court could manifestly do justice by revisiting its own decision. This article will answer frequently asked questions on whether the Supreme Court of Nigeria can revisit its own decision in an already-decided matter.

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Whether The Supreme Court of Nigeria Can Revisit Its Own Decision?

Typically, Supreme Court decisions are considered conclusive and can only be questioned before God. In the case of KASHAMU v. AG OF THE FRN (2013) LPELR-CA/L/688/2011, the court emphasized that once a court has rendered a final decision and issued necessary consequential orders in a matter brought before it for adjudication, it becomes functus officio. This means that the court is barred from reconsidering or altering the decision or order, except for correcting clerical errors or accidental slips. Essentially, such a court lacks the authority to revisit or modify the decision, even if it later acknowledges that the initial judgment was incorrect.

the principle was emphasized by Chukwuma-Eneh, J.S.C., said: “One striking feature of our law highlighted in this case is the settled principle that a court after giving a final decision in a matter before it for adjudication is precluded from reviewing or reversing itself in the same proceedings in terms of the contents of its holding or decision except as provided under the slip rule of taking care of minor slips like clerical mistakes, this is, otherwise known as the principle of “functus officio.

It is instructive to note that the lower court is bound by the decision of the Supreme Court, no matter how unjust it may think their decisions are.

In IKPEAZU v. PDP & ORS 2017) LPELR-CA/OW/190/2016(R)  The court held that when an issue has been resolved by the Supreme Court, this Court cannot revisit same under any guise because it is final. See OJO V. A.G. OYO STATE (2008) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1110) 577 where the Apex Court held: The finality of the decisions of the Supreme Court in civil proceeding is absolute unless specifically set aside by later legislation.” This Court, a Court below the Apex Court lacks the jurisdiction to pronounce on an issue which the Supreme Court has settled with finality.

In KOSEBINU & ORS. v. ALIMI (2005) LPELR-CA/L/246/2002 It must always be remembered that a subordinate Court cannot depart from the decision of the Supreme Court because it considers the same to be wrong. It will be utterly impertinent to even attempt that. Only the Apex Court has the jurisdiction to revisit its decisions and where appropriate overrule itself. Until that has happened, all subordinate Courts are bound by the apex Court’s decisions as wrong and/or illegal as they might seem to be.  The Supreme Court’s decision in Sadiku v Dalori (1996) 5 NWLR (Pt.447) 151

However, this Settled rule that the Supreme Court can not revisit its own decision is not without exception. The Supreme Court in the case of A.T. LTD. V. A.D.H. LTD. (2007) LPELR-SC.289/2002-(R)  “It is a matter well settled in this country that the Supreme Court generally enjoys finality of its decisions. Except for some clerical mistakes or accidental slips or omissions, it seldom revisits its decisions by way of review, variation, or setting aside.

from the Decision in this case, the Supreme Court can Revisit its own decision on three occasions.

  1. clerical mistakes
  2. accidental slips or omissions
  3. legislation.

clerical mistakes: According to  Wikipedia clerical error is an error on the part of an office worker, often a secretary or personal assistant. where there is a clerical mistake which if considered would have produced a different result the Supreme Court different then the court can revisit its own decision.

in ODOFIN & ANOR. V. ONI (2001) LPELR-SC.119/1995 It is important to state that generally, a court has powers to correct its own technical errors or slips of pen. Such powers are exercisable both in criminal and civil proceedings.

accidental slips or omissions: In the case of UMUNNA & ORS. v. OKWURAIWE & ORS (1978) LPELR-SC.358/1976 every court has the power to correct accidental slips and omissions properly brought to its motion. The Supreme Court would not allow a party to suffer due to accidental slips or omission by any of its staff or workers. In the case of EDE & ANOR v. MBA & ORS (2011) LPELR-SC.102/1990(R), a crucial inquiry arises: should this Court permit an unsuspecting litigant to endure the consequences of errors or omissions caused by the Registry staff? The answer is unequivocally no!

legislation: If there was legislation in existence before the date of the judgment, but the court, unaware of such legislation, proceeded to render a judgment based on the old law, the court has the authority to revisit its own decision to align with the current legislation.

Powers of The Court

after revisiting the decision made earlier by the court the Supreme Court of Nigeria has the inherent powers to review, vary, or set aside its own decision and it would never be revisited. Because there must be an end to litigation aggrieved parties can only appeal to God afterwards.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court, being the final destination for litigants, has always been very careful in handling cases to avoid clerical errors, accidental slips, or omissions. However, it has been observed that the court, on a few occasions, was not aware of changes in legislation. Parties should approach the Supreme of Nigeria Court through an application to revisit its earlier decision if they could point out the aforementioned defects that invalidate the earlier judgment.

 

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