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Reviewing the Decision of the Nigerian Supreme Court in Huebner v AIE and PM Co Ltd: A Dissenting Opinion

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 December 2020

Chukwuebuka S Okeke*
Affiliation:
OA Omonuwa (SAN) & Co

Abstract

In this case, the Nigerian Supreme Court had the opportunity to build on the foundations of Nigerian trust law. The court was faced with facts that should have led to the implication of a resulting trust in favour of the appellant, since he had purchased a large parcel of land in the name of the respondent. While accepting that it made no contribution to the purchase or development of the land, the respondent sought to escape its fiduciary duty by alleging illegality, using the provisions of the Land Use Act as a statutory shield. The Nigerian Supreme Court endorsed the respondent's position, by electing to focus on the breach of the statute, while ignoring that equity would not allow a statute to be used as an instrument of fraud. This article shows how the court erred, as the statutory breach was not fatal to the appellant's claim: equity does not demand that its suitors have led blameless lives.

Type
Case Note
Copyright
Copyright © SOAS University of London, 2020

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Footnotes

*

BSc (international law and diplomacy, Babcock University), LLB (Coventry University), LLM (University of Law, Birmingham), ACArb (Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators). Barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria; counsel, OA Omonuwa (SAN) & Co.

References

1 [2017] 14 NWLR (pt 1586) 397.

2 Panesar, S Exploring Equity and Trusts (2nd ed, 2012, Pearson Education Limited) at 55–56Google Scholar.

3 [1996] 2 All ER 961.

4 Id at 990G–91A (emphasis original).

5 [2008] 6 NWLR (pt 1083) 296 at 320–21.

6 See: Dyer v Dyer (1788) 2 Cox Eq Cas 92 at 93; and Goodfriend v Goodfriend [1972] SCR 640 at 646.

7 Lavelle v Lavelle [2004] EWCA Civ 223.

8 Vandervell v Commissioners of Inland Revenue [1966] 43 UKHL TC 519 at 544 and 558.

9 Panesar Exploring Equity and Trusts, above at note 2 at 284.

10 Huebner, above at note 1 at 417C–H and 420F–G.

11 Id at 421B–422G.

12 Id at 432C–F.

13 Under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), sec 235, “no appeal shall lie to any other body or person from any determination of the Supreme Court”.

14 Huebner, above at note 1 at 415B.

15 Above at note 4.

16 [1990] 4 NWLR (pt 146) 632 at 647.

17 Clarke, A and Kohler, P Property Law Commentary and Material (2007, Cambridge University Press) at 312Google Scholar.

18 See Benjamin v Kalio [2018] 18 WRN 30 at 40.

19 Agboola v UBA Plc [2011] 11 NWLR (pt 1258) 375 at 415.

20 Bannister v Bannister [1948] 2 All ER 133 at 136.

21 [1897] 1 Ch 196 at 206.

22 [1997] 3 NWLR (pt 494) 390.

23 Id at 403H–04A.

24 Huebner, above at note 1 at 422G.

25 See Ojegbede v Esan [2001] 18 NWLR (pt 746) 771 at 789.

26 See Gbadamosi v Akinloye [2013] 15 NWLR (pt 1378) 455 at 479.

27 Huebner, above at note 1 at 420B–C.

28 Gissing v Gissing [1970] 2 All ER 780 at 790.

29 See generally Pettitt v Pettitt [1969] 2 All ER 385.

30 See generally Elias, T Nigerian Land Law (4th ed, 1971, Sweet & Maxwell)Google Scholar.

31 I Smith Practical Approach to Law of Real Property in Nigeria (rev ed, 2013, Ecowatch Publication (Nig) Ltd) at 172 (emphasis added).

32 Huebner, above at note 1 at 432D–E.

33 [1775–1802] All ER Rep 140 at 142 (emphasis added).

34 292 US 216 (1934).

35 Id at 228–29.

36 (2016) LPELR-41346 (CA).

37 Id at 30F–31F (emphasis added).

38 Duchess of Argyll v Duke of Argyll [1965] 1 All ER 611 at 626.

39 Panesar Exploring Equity and Trusts, above at note 2 at 26–27.

40 Black Uhlans Inc v NSW Crime Commission [2002] NSWSC 1060, paras 161–74.

41 Huebner, above at note 1 at 432D.

42 Loughran, above at note 34 at 228–29.

43 [1993] 3 All ER 65.

44 Id at 86B–91H (emphasis added).

45 Compare with Gascoigne v Gascoigne [1918] 1 KB 223.

46 Haley, M and McMurtry, L Equity & Trusts (3rd ed, 2011, Sweet & Maxwell) at 12Google Scholar.

47 PLG Brereton “Equitable estoppel in Australia: The court of conscience in the antipodes” (speech delivered to the Australian Law Journal conference, 16 March 2007) at 1, available at: <http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/NSWJSchol/2007/4.html> (last accessed 14 October 2020).

48 See Fibrosa SA v Fairbairn Lawson Combe Barbour Ltd [1942] 2 All ER 122 at 135.

49 Brereton “Equitable estoppel”, above at note 47 at 1.

50 Panesar Exploring Equity and Trusts, above at note 2 at 437, where the learned author writes: “Equity has long established the maxim that a person cannot use a statute to set up his own fraud … Where the intended beneficiary can prove by some other evidence the existence of the trust of land, equity will enforce the trust. The trust is enforced on the grounds that it would be fraudulent for a person to take land absolutely in circumstances where he … agreed to hold it for the beneficiary. The view taken in this book is that in such a case the intended trustee will become a constructive trustee for the intended beneficiary.”

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