IN THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA
ON FRIDAY, THE 8TH DAY OF JUNE, 2001
APPEAL NO: SC.70/1996
CITATION: (2001) 6 LLIR 1
(2001) 13 NWLR (Pt.731)517
Before Their Lordships
MICHAEL EKUNDAYO OGUNDARE, J.S.C.
EMMANUEL OBIOMA OGWUEGBU, J.S.C.
SYLVESTER UMARU ONU, J.S.C.
UMARU ATU KALGO, J.S.C.
SAMSON ODEMWINGIE UWAIFO, J.S.C.
PROFESSOR T. M. YESUFU
GOVERNOR OF EDO STATE AND VISITOR, EDO STATE UNIVERSITY
THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL, EDO STATE
EDO STATE UNIVERSITY
The appellant was by a letter dated 27th December 1991 appointed the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of the Edo State University, Ekpoma (now Ambrose Alli University); the appointment was for 4 years. On 30th June 1992, at a discussion between the appellant and the Governor of the State, the latter expressed his intention to dissolve and reconstitute the Governing Council of the University as a result of political pressures on him. The appellant advised that the affairs of the University be kept away from politics but the Governor appeared to have made up his mind to dissolve and reconstitute the Council. The Governor was, however, reluctant to dissolve the Council with the appellant as Pro-Chancellor, he, therefore, advised the appellant to resign his (appellant’s) appointment before the dissolution. On 2nd July 1992 the appellant wrote a letter to the Governor resigning his appointment and requesting the Governor to waive the notice he ought to have given. I have already reproduced the letter in the earlier part of this judgment. On the same day that the appellant wrote his letter of resignation, the Governor wrote to the former conveying to him the dissolution of the Governing Council of the University. On the 8th July 1992, the appellant issued his writ.
The question that arises in this appeal is this: will the appellant have standing to sue the Governor and the other defendants for the dissolution of the Council when he had ceased to be its chairman by his letter of resignation, Exhibit A or D?
The motion was vigorously argued by both sides and, in a reserved ruling, the learned trial Judge observed:
“Having held that the plaintiff has not shown the personal interest he seeks to protect or any direct injury or likely danger to himself which he is seeking to avert by instituting this action personally, and having held that he has not brought the action in a representative capacity, I come to the conclusion that he has no locus standi to institute this action as he has done, and that the action is therefore, incompetent.”
and consequently struck out both the motion on notice and the statement of claim and dismissed the action itself.
The appellant appealed unsuccessfully to the Court of Appeal (Benin Division) which, in a dismissing the appeal to it, however, varied the order of dismissal of the action to one striking out the action.
The appellant, being still dissatisfied, has now further appealed to this court upon two grounds of appeal. Pursuant to the rules of this court, briefs of argument were filed and exchanged. In the appellant’s brief the lone issue formulated for determination reads:
“Whether the court below was right in holding that the appellant lacked locus standi on the ground that the appellant was estopped from complaining about the dissolution of the Edo State University Governing Council by 1st respondent.”
In the briefs of the 1st and 2nd respondents and 3rd respondent respectively, three issues are formulated, to wit:
“1. Whether Exh. D amounted to resignation and if so whether it thereby extinguished the interest upon which the appellant could have based his standing to sue in this case.
2. Whether the facts disclosed in the affidavits before the High Court are not sufficient for the Court of Appeal to uphold the decision of that court that the appellant lacked standing to sue in this case without reference to the statement of claim.
3. Whether a court of law and equity is precluded from invoking the doctrine of equitable estoppel where it was not pleaded by either of the parties to a suit.”
The Supreme COurt held,
The question of what gives a plaintiff the standing to sue or locus standi has been the subject of a number of judicial decisions See Momoh v. Olotu (1970) 1 All NLR 117; Adesanya v. The President (1981) 2 NCLR 358, (1981) 5 SC 112;Adefulu v. Oyesile (1989) 5 NWLR (PU22) 377; Owodunni v. Registered Trustees of CCC (2000) 10 NWLR (Pt.675) 315. It would appear from the welter of authorities on locus standi that a plaintiff, to enable him invoke the judicial power of the court, must show sufficient interest or threat of injury he would suffer. In the case on hand, I do not know what legal interest the appellant would have in the continued existence of the Governing Council from whose chairmanship he had resigned; nor the threat of injury he would suffer. I think the two courts below were right in holding that he had no locus standi to sue for the dissolution of the Governing Council after he had resigned from that body