Limitation to the Recovery of Property Wrongly Seized By Court. 

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Limitation to the Recovery of Property Wrongly Seized By Court. 

Limitation to the Recovery of Property Wrongly Seized By Court. Daily Law Tips (Tip 770) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LL.M, ACIArb(UK) 

Introduction: 

There are a lot of cases of people that had their property wrongly seized by court. Among the powers of a court is the power to order the seizure of property of a party to a case before the court. The Judges and Magistrates that make the orders, need not enforce the orders themselves. Rather, the courts act through the bailiffs and sheriffs (staff of court) from the execution unit of the courts. During an enforcement, the property of an innocent person may be mistakenly attached and seized. 

Since courts work according to laid down legal procedures, where there is an attachment and seizure of property (whether rightly or wrongly seized), it is only a court that can order for the release of the seized property. This simply means that a person whose property was wrongly seized cannot recover the seized property by begging or violence, rather may recover it by approaching the concerned court. 

Nothing is ever automatically granted or obtained from a court. Courts are like the Benin Kingdom’s “Iye Akugbe” (Mother of Unity), a female seer that protects the community but will never render her services unless she is beckoned. So, in seeking for a court to release a wrongly seized property, the party/person seeking such release must beckon on the court. However, there is a single simple issue that can frustrates the entire process of praying a court to release a wrongly seized property. The issue is the only limitation to the recovery of a property wrongly seized by a court.

Duty on an Interpleader: 

Generally, the process or procedure for seeking to recover a property that was wrongly seized by a court, as well as the party/person seeking for such recovery/release of property are known as “an Interpleader”. The proper court processes (form/document) to file in court and commence an interpleader is known as “Interpleader Summons”. The duty on the interpleader is the greatest limitation to the recovery of a property that was wrongly seized by a court. 

Logically any person that makes any claim should be the person to prove his claim. So, where a person claims that a seized property belongs to him, the same person must show evidence to prove that he truly owns the seized property. It is never enough to merely state a claim without proving the claim. This is the summary of the duty on an Interpleader. An interpleader, being a person that claims that his property was wrongly seized by a court, must be able to convince the court that the seized property belongs to him and that the seized property was wrongly seized. This is the duty on an interpleader in a court and where an interpleader fails this duty, he fails to recover the seized property. Hence, proving that a seized property belongs to an interpleader and that the same property was wrongly seized by a court, make up the limitation to the recovery of property wrongly seized by a court. 

The Supreme Court of Nigeria as well as the Court of Appeal of Nigeria have both made known their support for the above understanding, through their judgments. Among such judgments are; 

1. The apex court had in the case of ALHAJI MUSA KALA v. ALHAJI BURAU POTISKUM & ANOR (1998) LPELR-1648(SC), held that; “It is trite that in interpleader proceedings, the claimant generally is deemed to be the plaintiff and the judgment creditor, the defendant. Accordingly the burden of proof, again as a general rule, is on the claimant as the plaintiff in the proceedings. The onus lies on him to establish his title to the property in dispute, or where his claim is not absolute title, he must prove the precise interest or title he claimed. Where, however, the claimant was in possession of the property in issue at the time of its attachment, it would seem that the judgment creditor shall, in that case, be deemed a plaintiff and the burden of proof shall reverse accordingly.  In that case, the onus must be on the judgment creditor to establish his claim. See Rabiu Jinadu v. Babaoye (1966) 2 All N.L.R. 241 per Taylor, C.J., as he then was. ”Per IGUH ,J.S.C (Pp. 25 paras. C). 

2. In the case of DALE POWER SYSTEMS PLC v. WITT & BUSCH LTD & ANOR (2007) LPELR-4011(CA), where the Court of Appeal, held that; “In an interpleader proceedings the burden of establishing ownership of the attached goods is on the applicant.” Per PAUL ADAMU GALINJE ,J.C.A ( P. 13, para. C)

3. The Court of Appeal in the case of ISOKO COMMUNITY BANK LTD v. EDOFREN (NIG) LTD & ORS (2018) LPELR-44998(CA), held that “No doubt, the purpose of inter-pleader proceedings is to seek relief by initiating an action to determine the ownership of the property or goods seized or attached by the sheriff or intend to seize or attach in the Court against a judgment debtor. The third party who claims ownership of such property or goods in question has the onus under the law to establish title to the property or goods wrongly attached. See BULUS VS OKPALA & ANOR (2017) LPELR 43423 (CA). In OLATUNDE VS OAU & ANOR (1998) 5 NWLR (PT. 549) 178 the Supreme Court held that in inter-pleader proceedings, the claimant is deemed to be the plaintiff and the judgment creditor, the defendant. Accordingly, the onus is generally on the claimant, to establish title to the property he claims to be his.” Per SAMUEL CHUKWUDUMEBI OSEJI ,J.C.A ( Pp. 26-27, paras. C-A )

4. Same was held in the case of COBRA LTD & ORS v. OMOLE ESTATES & INVESTMENT LTD (2000) LPELR-6809(CA), when the Court of Appeal, held that; “The learned trial Judge was right in dismissing the Inter pleader/appellant summons based on affidavit evidence and the documents placed before him. The Inter pleader claimant should not act fraudulently so as to defeat judgment creditor’s interest by claiming that the title to the seized goods are vested in the third party. In Okwoche v. Dibia (1994)2 NWLR Part 325 at P.195 at page 205 this case per Uwaifo JCA (as then was) had this to say: “The good faith of the claimant in the present case is certainly come into question as a crucial issue having regard to the question in nature of the alleged transfer of the vehicle under which judgment debtor would endeavour to avoid his obligation to the judgment creditor. The fraudulent transfer took place no doubt, after the case of execution had been delivered to the sheriff. The claimant cannot be said to have established his claim upon the facts. It must be said that he has discharged this burden before he can be granted relief. He has, in my view, from the totality of the evidence failed in regard…” It is in the light of what have been said above that I feel that the learned Judge gave the Inter pleader/Claimant an opportunity of being heard before dismissing their claims. I also affirm that decision.” Per SULEIMAN GALADIMA ,J.C.A ( Pp. 25-26, para. E )

Conclusion: 

Part of the basic tenets of law and court room procedures, is that the party that makes a claim must be the party to prove the claim. Hence, where a party comes to court to claim that his property was wrongly seized, it is the party that must prove that the seized property belongs to him or that part of the property belongs to him. Where a party fails to prove his total or partial ownership of a wrongly seized property, the party cannot have a good stand to pray for the wrongly seized property to be released. This duty to prove ownership or interest on a wrongly seized property is the Limitation to the Recovery of Property Wrongly Seized By Court.

My authorities, are:

  1. Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 36, 318 and 319 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
  2. Judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of ALHAJI MUSA KALA v. ALHAJI BURAU POTISKUM & ANOR (1998) LPELR-1648(SC)
  3. Judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of OBUMSELI & ANOR v. UWAKWE (2019) LPELR-46937(SC).
  4. Judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of DALE POWER SYSTEMS PLC v. WITT & BUSCH LTD & ANOR (2007) LPELR-4011(CA)
  5. Judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of ISOKO COMMUNITY BANK LTD v. EDOFREN (NIG) LTD & ORS (2018) LPELR-44998(CA)
  6. Judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of COBRA LTD & ORS v. OMOLE ESTATES & INVESTMENT LTD (2000) LPELR-6809(CA)
  7. Judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of DAWOOD GLOBAL INTERGRATED CO. LTD v. GAJERE & ANOR (2017) LPELR-43369(CA).
  8. Judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of MUHAMMED v. MARTINS ELECTRONICS CO. LTD (2017) LPELR-43138(CA).
  9. Judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of NATHANIEL BULUS v. A.C. OKPALA & ANOR (2017) LPELR-43423(CA).
  10. Judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of WEST AFRICAN COTTON LTD & ANOR v. MAIWADA (2007) LPELR-5097(CA).
  11. Judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of TANGENT LIMITED v. BARR. JUDE I. OGAMBA & ORS (2018) LPELR-44803(CA).
  12. Onyekachi Umah, “How to Recover Property Wrongly Seized by Court.” (LearnNigrianLaws.com, 9 March 2021) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/how-to-recover-property-wrongly-seized-by-court/> accessed 6 April 2021
  13. Onyekachi Umah, “Effect of an Application Brought Under a Wrong Order or Rule of Court” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 8 March 2021) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/effect-of-an-application-brought-under-a-wrong-order-or-rule-of-court/> accessed 9 March 2021.
  14. Onyekachi Umah, “Why Courts Must Hear Stupid Applications/Motions?” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 17 September 2020) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/why-courts-must-hear-stupid-applications-motions/> accessed  April 2021
  15. Onyekachi Umah, “When Courts Must Refuse To Consider Issues/Applications Before It” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 10 September 2020) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/when-courts-must-refuse-to-consider-issues-applications-before-it/> accessed  April 2021
  16. Onyekachi Umah, “Oral Application for Bail is Allowed in High Courts” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 31 August 2020) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/oral-application-for-bail-is-allowed-in-high-courts/>  accessed  April 2021
  17. Chris Admin, “A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) ordered the issuance of contempt proceedings against the directors of Diamond Bank PLC” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 9 August 2018) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/a-high-court-of-the-federal-capital-territory-fct-ordered-the-issuance-of-contempt-proceedings-against-the-directors-of-diamond-bank-plc/> accessed  April 2021
  18. Onyekachi Umah, “You Cannot Enforce A Judgement After 2 Years and 6 Years Against A Party and His Representatives Respectively” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 1 August 2018) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/daily-law-tips-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-tip-154-you-cannot-enforce-a-judgement-after-2-years-and-6-years-against-a-party-and-his-representatives-respectively/> accessed  April 2021

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