THE ENFORCEMENT OF JUDGMENTS IN NIGERIA: AN OVERVIEW*

INTRODUCTION

Dispute resolution is one of the core responsibilities of the court and this is a duty the court is enjoined to discharge judicially and judiciously. In the dispensation of this duty, the scale of justice tilts in favour of one of the parties who is said to be the successful litigant and therefore entitled to judgment.

Judgment determines the right and obligations of the parties in respect of the cause of action but this is without prejudice to the right of an unsatisfied party to approach an appellate court and seek an upturn of the judgment. Judgment render the court delivering it functus offico, it forecloses the right and competence of that court from delving into any issue in respect of the suit. However this is applicable to cases decided on their merits, in cases decided without determining the substance of the suit the court delivering the judgment are capable of setting aside and re-hearing the suit in order to do substantial justice.

Judgment enforcement is the inherent power in the court to give effect to its pronouncements. Judgment of the court would ordinarily not be compiled without enforcement, where compliance is left to the conscience of the judgment debtor, the court will be perceived as an institution devoid of the capacity to enforce its pronouncement.

Whichever category a judgment of the court falls, it is not a judgment if the successful litigant cannot take benefit of the pronouncements and this article seeks to examine the different types of judgment and enforcement of these judgments under the extant laws.

APPLICABLE LAWS

  1. The 1999 Constitution as Amended
  2. The Sheriffs and Civil Processes Act
  3. Judgment Enforcement Rules
  4. Rules of Court
  5. Case Law.

1999 Constitution as Amended

The Constitution is the grundnorm of every sovereign entity. It is the law upon which all other laws derives their validity. To validate its supremacy, the constitution declared itself supreme and any law or its provision that contravenes the provisions of the Constitution is render void to the extent of its inconsistency1. The Constitution by virtue of Section 1(1) declared its supremacy and binding effect on all persons and authority within the territory of the Federation.

The attendant power of the Court to act and dispense justice is derived from Section 6(6) of the Constitution. The Constitution created the various courts and vested them with both original and appellate Jurisdiction. The hierarchy thus is:

  1. Supreme Court[2]
  2. Court of Appeal[3]
  3. Federal High Court[4]
  4. National Industrial Court[5]
  5. High Court of the Federal Capital Territory[6]
  6. Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal. Capital. Territory[7]
  7. Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory[8]
  8. State High Courts[9]
  9. Sharia Court of Appeal[10]
  10. Customary Court of Appeal[11]

The Constitution in Section 287 provided that the decisions of the aforementioned courts shall be enforced in any part of the Federation by all authorities and persons and by courts with subordinate jurisdiction.

RULES OF COURT

The Rules of Court are made pursuant to the power derived from the provisions of the Constitution[12]. They govern the procedural aspect of the law. Each court has its own distinct rules that governs its practices and procedures. For instance, the substantive law is that a breach of contract entitles the aggrieved party to proceed against the defaulter and recover the contract sum, the procedural law which is governed by the Rules of court is that such a contentious action should be commenced by way of a Writ of Summons accompanied by other originating processes like Statement of Claim, Witness depositions and copies of documents to be used in proving the case.  

SHERIFFS AND CIVIL PROCESSES ACT

The power to enact this Act is derived from the provisions of Section 287 of the Constitution. The enacting Cause of this Act provides:

An Act to make provision for the appointment and duties of Sheriffs, the enforcement of judgments and orders, and the service and execution of civil process of the court throughout Nigeria

The applicability of the Act is territorial to the extent that the judgment sought to be enforced is capable of being enforced in Nigeria. By virtue of its provisions, the officers of the court identified as the Sheriffs, Deputy Sheriffs, and Bailiffs are armed with the power to enforce the judgment of

the court in both civil and criminal matters.

JUDGMENT ENFORCEMENT RULES

The Judgment Enforcement Rules is made pursuant to Section 94 the Sheriffs and Civil. Processes Act. It is a Rule of Court and like every Rules of Court, it provides for the procedure for which Judgment Enforcements are to be carried out.

CASE LAW

Case law are judicial pronouncement made by judges as governing specific legal situation[13] These decisions have become what we now know and refer to as judicial precedents and by the principle of stare decisi a lower court is bound by the decision of a superior court even where same was reached per incuria[14]

TYPES OF JUDGMENT

  1. Consent judgment
  2. Default judgment
  3. Interlocutory judgment
  4. Final judgment
  5. Summary judgment
  6. Declaratory judgment
  7. Executory judgment
  8. Non-suit

CONSENT JUDGMENT

By the term Consent, it connotes that parties are at ad idem. Consent judgment is a judgment pronounced upon by the court pursuant to the terms of settlement entered into by the parties. The term was aptly defined by the Court of Appeal in Executors, The Estate of Efejuku v Azizi[15] as a judgment, decision or order which parties in litigation voluntarily agreed to be entered for or against or between them. To obtain a consent judgment, the parties must have reached a complete and final agreement on all the vital issues that gave rise to the cause of action. The consent judgment emerges the moment the court on the application of the parties enters such compromise agreement as the judgment of the court.[16] Consent judgment though a judgment made pursuant to the agreement of the parties is not a judgment by the parties but a judgment of the court. It is a final Judgment that extinguishes the cause of action and divests the court of jurisdiction to hear the matter if re-litigated by either of the parties[17], the judgment can only be set aside where it is tainted with element of fraud or duress.

DEFAULT JUDGMENT

Default judgment is judgment obtained in default of appearance or filing of pleadings. It is a final judgment, however, it may be set aside by the same court upon application by the defendant showing cause as to his failure to appear or file its pleadings[18]. Order 20 Rule 1 of the High Court of Lagos (Civil Procedure) Rules 2012 provides that in a claim for liquidated money demand and the Defendant does not within the time allowed file a defence, the Claimant may apply for final judgment of the amount claimed with cost[19]. Where there are several Defendants in the suit, the application for default judgment can be made against any Defendant who fails to enter appearance and file its pleadings while the Claimant can proceed to trial with the Defendant(s) that filed their pleadings.  Default judgments are final judgments and shall remain valid and may only be set aside upon application of a party on grounds of fraud, non-service or lack of jurisdiction[20].

INTERLOCUTORY JUDGMENT

An interlocutory judgment is a judgment obtained in the cause of the proceeding by virtue of an application filed by either party to the suit requesting the court to order the doing or refraining from doing a thing to maintain the status quo until final judgment is obtain. In the actual sense, an interlocutory judgment is not a judgment per se, it is best described as an order and only takes the form of a judgment where the resultant effect terminates the suit. For instance, an order striking out the name of the sole defendant from the suit for not being a proper party and an order declining jurisdiction to entertaining the suit terminates the action.  The court is duty bound not to delve into the substantive case whilst pronouncing an interlocutory judgment.[21] 

FINAL JUDGMENT

Final judgment is the court’s last action that settles the rights of the parties and disposes of all issues in controversy.[22] It is a judgment that cannot be reopened, retried nor varied by a court of concurrent jurisdiction, it can only be subject to appeal.[23]  Final judgment extinguishes the right of the court in respect of the contemplated suit, simpliciter, it renders the court functus officio. This is without prejudice to the power of the same court to award cost and enforce its judgment[24]

SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Summary Judgment is a judgment granted upon a claim upon which there is no genuine issue of material fact and upon which the claimant is entitled to prevail as a matter of law. It is judgment obtained without the rigours of trial and applicable only to liquidated money demands[25].

DECLARATORY JUDGMENT

Declaratory judgment establishes the rights and obligations of the parties without providing for an ordering enforcement.[26] A party seeking to enforce such a judgment is required to return to the court to make a consequential order to that effect. As a matter of law, declaratory judgment requires the Claimant to prove his case on credible evidence otherwise, it will not be granted[27]. It is not a judgment capable of being stayed as it does not seek to enforce anything, it merely pronounces on rights and liabilities.

EXECUTORY JUDGMENT

Executory judgment proclaims on the rights of the parties and goes the extra mile to order the defendant to act in a particular way or refrain from interfering with the claimant’s rights[28]. An injunctive order, order to pay damages and stay of execution are examples of executory judgments. As the name implies, executory, to take effect on a future contingency[29].

NON-SUIT

A non-suit is obtain where the claimant has failed to prove his case satisfactorily before the court to be entitled to judgment and the defendant is equally not entitled to a dismissal of the case. It does not preclude the claimant from putting his house in order and re-litigating[30].

ENFORCEMENT OF JUDGMENT

It is a general principle of law that a judgment creditor is entitled to the full benefits and fruit of his judgment by the court and nothing more.[31] Judgment renders the court functus officio, it is no longer competent to reconsider that case except under the slip rule[32]. Judgment takes effect upon pronouncement, apart from declaratory judgments that require no enforcement, all other judgments are enforceable under the Sheriffs and Civil Processes Acts/Laws.  The mode of enforcement of a judgment depends on the nature of judgment.

MONETARY JUDGMENT

  1. GARNISHEE PROCEEDINGS

A garnishee proceeding is one of the methods by which liquidated money judgments can be enforced. It is initiated to recover the judgment sum in the possession of a third party who was never a party to the original suit. There are three parties to a garnishee proceeding; the Judgment creditor, Judgment Debtor and the Garnishee. The proceeding is to attach the money in the possession of the third party (the Garnishee) and apply it to the judgment sum. The Garnishee proceeding is apt where the judgment sum is in the possession of a financial institution or a guarantor to the credit of the judgment debtor. The garnishee proceeding is an action by the judgment creditor against the garnishee who originally was never a party to the suit in Azubuike v. Diamond Bank[33], it was defined by the court as a garnishee proceeding as a proceeding

 that enables a judgment creditor to attach an amount of money in the hands of any other person who is indebted to the judgment debtor. The third person is the garnishee and an order nisi is made initially by the court to attach the moneys in the hand of the garnishee. Subsequently, the garnishee will be ordered to appear and show cause why he should not pay the debt he owes to the judgment creditor, to satisfy the judgment sum and costs

The application for garnishment is made ex-parte. An order nisi is then made by the court which attaches the debt in the hand of the garnishee, he cannot tampered with the money in his possession until the conclusion of the proceeding.  The order nisi is to be served on both the garnishee and the judgment debtor to show cause as to why the garnishee should not pay the judgment sum.

Section 83 (1) of the Sheriffs and Civil Processes Act provides

The court may, upon the exparte application of any person who is entitled to the benefit of a judgment for the recovery or payment of money, either before or after any oral examination of the debtor liable under such judgment and upon affidavit by the applicant or his legal practitioner that judgment has been recovered and that it is still unsatisfied and to what amount and that any other person is indebted to such debtor and is within the State, order that debts owing from such third person, hereinafter called the garnishee, to such debtor shall be attached to satisfy the judgment or order, together with the costs of the garnishee proceedings and by the same or any subsequent order it may be ordered that the garnishee shall appear before the court to show cause why he should not pay to the person who has obtained such judgment or order the debt due from him to such debtor or so much thereof as may be sufficient to satisfy the judgment or order together with costs aforesaid.

Order VIII of the Judgment Enforcement

Rules 3 – a judgment creditor seeking to take advantage of the garnishee proceeding shall file an Affidavit as in Form 25 and if the garnishee proceedings are taken in a court other than the court where the judgment was obtained, a certified true copy of the judgment.

Upon filing of the necessary process to initiate the proceeding and within 8 day of serving the summons on the garnishee, the garnishee if the judgment debt is undisputed by him, shall pay into the court the judgment sum and that will abate the garnishee proceeding and an order of execution shall be made thereof[34] .

Where the judgment debt is disputed by the judgment debtor, the court instead of making an order absolute that execution shall issue, proceed to determine the question of liability of the garnishee and make any other as it deems fit[35].

The order nisi served on the garnishee attaches the debt and binds such debts in his hands.[36] Upon the issuance of the order nisi, the Garnishee shall within the time prescribe show cause as to why the order nisi should not be made absolute. It is not the duty of the Garnishee to plead the cause of the judgment debtor or act as its agent.

In the earlier mentioned case of Azubuike v Diamond Bank, an appeal was lodged against the decision of the trial court discharging the Garnishee (1st Respondent) from paying the judgment sum. The Appellant in its Affidavit alleged that the judgment debtor was unknown to it but upon the Judgment creditors production of a teller showing proof that the judgment debtor paid in certain amounts to his account with the garnishee (1st Respondent,) the Garnishee 1st Respondent filed a better and further affidavit alleging that the account maintained by the judgment debtor was dormant without providing the judgment debtor’s statement of account. It was on the basis of the judgment obtained relying on these conflicting averments that the judgment creditor appealed. The court of Appeal held inter alia, that the garnishee 1st Respondent acted as though it was trying to protect the judgment debtor and there has been a serious miscarriage of justice, therefore it remitted the file back to the trial court for retrial on whether the order nisi should be made absolute.

Similarly, a judgment debtor is also at liberty to apply for a discharge of the order nisi on the following grounds:

  1. The judgment leading to the garnishee proceeding was obtained by fraud;
  2. Non-service of the originating process;[37]
  3. The judgment sum has been liquidated;
  4. The judgment leading to the garnishee proceeding is vitiated by any other fact on which the court can set it aside[38].

There has been divergent views as to whether a judgment debtor is a necessary party to the garnishee proceeding, whereas a school of thought opines that a judgment debtor is merely a virtual onlooker while the battle is between the judgment creditor and the garnishees[39]. The other school of thought opines that by the provisions of the Section 83(1)[40] & (2)[41] of the Sheriffs and Civil Processes Act the judgment debtor is a necessary party to the suit. This school of thought is premised on the principle of fair hearing as enshrined in the grundnorm[42].

For the avoidance of doubt, the opportunity of the judgment debtor to be heard is only limited to the showing cause why the order nisi should not be foreclosed, it is not a leeway to challenge the judgment being enforced. Such step should be undertaken by filing a notice of appeal.

  1. JUDGMENT SUMMONS

Section 55 of the Sheriffs and Civil Processes Act provides:

Where a judgment debtor makes default in payment of any sum recovered against him or any instalment thereof under a judgment, he judgment creditor may apply to any court for the issue of a summons requiring the judgment debtor to appear and be examined on oath as to his means and the court unless sees good reason to the contrary, issue such a summons

Judgment Summons is issued against any person or persons jointly liable for the judgment sum in the court division where the judgment debtor or any of the judgment debtors resides or carries on business.  The judgment debtor will be examined on oath where he appears and where he fails to appear, the court will proceed with the examination of the judgment creditor and such other witnesses presented by him. Orders the court may make following an enquiry includes:

  1. An order of committal of the judgment debtor into prison;
  2. An order for the attachment and sale of the judgment debtor’s property;
  3. An order for payment of the judgment sum by instalments;
  4. An order for the discharge of the judgment debtor from prison.[43]

A person to which the above applies and having been incarcerated persistently refuses or fails to defray the debt, the court may order that a Writ of Sequestration issues against his property[44].

  1. WRIT OF FIERI FACIAS

The Writ of fieri facias otherwise known as fi:fa authorizes the Sherriff to seize the movable and immovable properties of the judgment debtor in satisfaction of the judgment sum. The judgment creditor shall apply to the registrar to issue a writ of attachment and sale of the properties of the judgment debtor within the division of the court[45]. The sheriff by this writ is empowered to seize the properties of the judgment debtor except his wearing apparel, beddings, and trading tools to the value of ten naira.

Upon the seizure of these properties, the sheriff shall deposit them with the court’s bailiff for safekeeping and shall after the expiration of the stipulated time[46] from the date of seizure cause the goods to be sold. Sale by the Sheriff is by public auction[47].

The court will not attach the immovable property of the judgment debtor where there are movable properties to satisfy the debt but where reverse is the case or where the movable property are insufficient to liquidate the debt, the court shall cause to issue, a writ of execution against the immovable property of the judgment debtor.

LAND

A judgment for the recovery of land or delivery of possession in any action other than an action between landlord and tenant shall be enforceable by a writ of possession.[48] Recovery of premises in a landlord-tenant relationship is governed by the recovery of premises law of every state. The tenancy of Law of Lagos State provides that in action for recovery of premises, the landlord shall be issued upon judgment, a warrant of possession which shall entitle the landlord to recover possession of the property[49]

 

DELIVERY OF GOODS

Enforcement of judgment for delivery of goods are enforceable by a writ of delivery.[50]

DEEDS

A judgment obtained for the execution of a deed or a negotiable instrument is enforced simply by endorsing same but where a party refuses to endorse same as mandated by the court, the deed or negotiable instrument shall be deemed to be duly executed if executed by the Registrar of the court acting pursuant to the judgment obtained.[51]

INTERLOCUTORY ORDERS

Interlocutory orders are orders obtaining amidst the proceedings. As earlier examined in this article, some of these order are capable of truncating the entire suit.

Order 1 Rules 12 of the Judgment Enforcement Rules provides for the mode of enforcing interlocutory orders. Where a claimant fails to comply with an interlocutory order, the court may:

  1. Stay the proceeding pending compliance;
  2. Enter a default judgment or make a non-suit order;
  3. Make any discretionary order.

Where the default is by the Defendant, the court may:

  1. Enter a default judgment;
  2. Make any discretionary order.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, it is not enough that a successful litigant obtained judgment, he must take steps to enforce his judgment especially where the judgment debtor is unwilling to voluntarily comply with the judgment. There appears to be a variety of enforcing monetary judgment. A successful litigant must do his homework and choose a method most benefiting for the swift recovery of the judgment sum. Whereas some of these judgment are capable of enforcement, some of them are not some terminates the proceeding at the interlocutory stage, some are subjected to the fiery trial to test the entitlement of the judgment creditor.  


[1]*Ogechukwu C. Obi (LLB. BL) Associate, Johnson Bryant Legal Practitioners, Lagos, Nigeria

 See Section 1(3) of the 1999 Constitution

[2] Created by Section 230

[3] Created by Section 237

[4] Created by Section 249

[5] Created by Section 254A        

[6] Created by Section 255

[7] Created by Section 260

[8] Created by Section 265

[9] Created by Section 270

[10] Created by Section 275

[11] Created by Section 280

[12] Sections 236;248;254;254F;259;264;269;274;279;284

[13] J O Asein; Introduction to Nigerian Legal System Ababa Press Ltd pg. 1

[14] Reached in ignorance of the law or of fact

[15] [2013] 11 NWLR pt. 1365 307

[16] Vulcan Gases Ltd v. G.F Id, A.G [2001] 9 NWLR pt. 719 610

[17] DI Efevwerhan; Principle of Civil. Procedure in Nigeria; Snaap Press Ltd 372

[18] Ibid 373

[19] See also Order 14 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2009; Order 35 of the National Industrial Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2017

[20] Plateau State Board of Internal Revenue  v National Veterinary Research Institute (Vom)

 [2015] 5 N.WL.R PT. 1451 180 @194; UBA v. Enejo [2015] 17 NWLR Pt. 1487 40; Order 20 Rule 12 of the Lagos State (Civil Procedure Rules)2012, Order 14 Rule 10 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2009

[21] See African Petroleum Plc. V Adeniyi  [2011] 15 NWLR pt. 1271 560

[22] Black’s Law Dictionary 7th Ed.

[23] See 21st Century Tech. Ltd. V. Teleglobe America, Inc. [2013] 3 NWLR pt. 1340 98

[24] See Ugba v Suswan [2013] 4 NWLR pt. 1345 427

[25] See Akpan v A.I.P & Inv. Co. Ltd [2013] 5 NWLR pt. 1347 301; Bona V Textile Ltd. V Asaba Textile Mills Plc. [2013] 2 NWLR pt. 1338 357

[26] GE Int’l Operations Ltd. v Q. Oil & Gas Services [2015] 1 NWLR pt. 1440 244

[27] Akpagher v Gbungu [2015] 1 NWLR PT. 1440 201 @234

[28] Iragbiji v Oyewinle [2013] 13 NWLR pt. 1372 566

[29] Webster Dictionary

[30] See Order 34 of the High Court of Lagos Civil Procedure Rules; Order 21 of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules; order 46 of the National Industrial Court Civil Procedure Rules.

[31] See Amadi v Chukwu [2013] 5 NWLR pt. 1347 301; Nigerian Breweries Plc v. Dumuje [2016] 8 NWLR pt. 1515 536

[32] Correction of minor errors like spelling errors, typographical or mathematical errors – Holborn (Nig.) Ltd. v O.C Chris Enterprises Ltd.[2015] 11 N.W.L.R pt. 1471 451 @ 474

[33] [2014] 3 NWLR pt. 1393 116 @127

[34] Section 86 of the Sheriffs and Civil Processes Act.

[35] See Section 87 of Sheriffs and Civil Processes Act and Order VIII Rules 8 and 11 of the Judgment Enforcement Rules.

[36] Section 85 of the Sheriffs and Civil Processes Act.

[37] Failure or neglect on serving an originating process on anyone entitled to such renders the entire proceeding a nullity and judgment obtained thereof is capable of being set aside.  

[38] Nigeria Breweries Plc. V Dumuje Supra

[39] Technip v. AIC Ltd [2016] 2 NWLR Pt. 1497 421  @ 453

[40] The court is enjoined to take the oral testimony of the judgment debtor before an order is made.

[41] The order Nisi shall within 14 days before the return date be served on the judgment debtor

[42] See Nigeria Breweries Plc. Dumuje Supra

[43] Section 63 of the Sheriffs and Civil Processes Act

[44] Section 82 of the Sheriffs and Civil Processes Act.

[45] See Section 20 of the Sheriffs and Civil Processes Act.

[46] 5 days after seizure; 3 days extension period where the Sheriff is unable to complete sale; not exceeding 28days after attachment by order of court

[47] Section 29(3)

[48] See order XI of the Judgment Enforcement Rules.

[49] See section 39-40

[50] supra

[51] See Order VII Rule 13 and Order XI Rules 11

Ogechukwu C. Obi (LLB. BL) Associate
July, 2019

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