20 Notable Judicial Pronouncement Relating to the Application and Limitation of Public Officers Protection Act, 2004.

1. On the meaning of “Public Officer”.

Wulangs V. C.B.N [2021] 16 NWLR PT. 1802 PG. 209.

By Section 18 (1)of the Interpretation Act, the term “public officer” means a member of the public service of the federation within the meaning of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or of the public service of a state.
The term “public officer” has by law been extended to include a public department and, therefore, an artificial person, a public office or a public body.

The word “person” under Section 3 of the Interpretation law and Section 18 of the Interpretation Act respectively is defined to include any body of persons corporate or unincorporated. Therefore, the words “any person” as provided in Section 2 of the Public Officers Protection Act are not limited to only natural persons or human beings or to person sued in their personal names. Unless the contrary intention is indicated, and no such intention is therein manifested, those words in the Public Officers Protection Act include persons known to law, inclusive of artificial persons, public bodies or body of persons corporate or incorporate as well as statutory bodies or persons, whether sued by their official titles or not, so long they are sued in respect of an act or acts done in pursuance or execution of any law or of any public duty or authority.

Thus, for the purpose of section 2 (a) of the Public Officers Protection Act, the respondent Central Bank of Nigeria, is a public officer.

2. On conditions precedent to application of Section 2 (a) of Public Officers Protection Act.

Wulangs V. C.B.N [2021]16 NWLR PT. 1802 PG. 210.

The defence created under the Public Officers Protection Act or Public Officers Protection Law, as the case may be, is for public officers who had acted pursuant to his duties as a public officer.
However, two conditions must exist to avail the officer the protection of section 2 (a) of the Act:
First it must be established that the person against whom the action is commenced is public officer, and; Secondly, the act done by the officer in respect of whom the action was commenced must be an act done in pursuance or execution or intended execution of any law or of any public duty or authority.

The Act gives full protection or cover to all public officers or persons engaged in the execution of public duties who at all material times, acted within the confines of their public duty. They must not step out of their statutory authority and act outside the statutory or constitutional duty. If they do, they automatically, lose the protection of the law.

3. Circumstances in which Section 2 (a) of the Public Officers Protection Act will apply to foreclose a litigant.

Abacha V. A.G. Federation [2021]10 NWLR 1782 PG. 135

There are at least three circumstances in which the provision of Section 2 (a) of the Public Officers Protection Act will apply to foreclose a litigant’s right of action against a public officer. A careful perusal of the section will show that its provision applies to an action being brought against a public officer in relation to any act done by the public officer either:
a. In pursuance or execution or,

b. Intended execution of any law, or
c. In pursuance or execution of any public duty or authority, or
d. In respect of any alleged default or neglect in the execution of any law, duty or authority

4. On when public officer may act outside the scope of an existing law.

Abacha V. A.G. Federation [2021] 10 NWLR PT. 1783 PG. 137.

Where a public officer in the discharge of his statutory duties, reasonably believes that he is so empowered to act in the interest of the overall wellbeing of the country and goes ahead to act accordingly, even where there is no existing law to back up his action, the Public Officers Protection Act will protect him.

5. On object of Public Officers Protection Act.

CIL. Risk & Asset Mgmt . Ltd V. Ekiti State Govt. [2020] 12 NWLR PT.1738 PG. 214.

The Public Officers Protection Act is intended as much as within the limits of the law to protect a public officer from detractions and unnecessary litigation, but never intended to deprive a party of legal capacity to ventilate his grievance in the face of stark injustice.

6. On whether Public Officers Protection Act applies to public officers in the service of a state.

CIL. Risk & Asset Mgmt . Ltd V. Ekiti State Govt. [2020] 12 NWLR PT.1738 PG. 214 – 215

The Public Officers Protection Act, Cap. P41, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 (updated up to the 31st day of December, 2010) enacted pursuant to item 53 on the exclusive legislative list and Section 4 (2) and (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, apply only to protect public officers in the “public service of the federation”. It has no general application such as to apply or offer protection to public officers in the service of Ekiti State or any other state in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The public service of Ekiti State is a matter within the residual list, meaning that it is neither in the exclusive legislative list set out in Part 1 of the Second Schedule to the Constitution nor on the concurrent legislative list set out in the first column of the Second Schedule to the Constitution.

It follows therefore that the public service of Ekiti State being a residual matter, by virtue of section 4 (b) and (7) of the Constitution 1999, as amended, only the Ekiti State House of Assembly, to the exclusion of the National Assembly, can constitutionally legislate on it. The respondents could not resort to the federal statute that is the Public Officers Protection Act, to seek a statutory defence for officers in Ekiti State public service.

7. Public Officers Protection Act and the yardsticks to determine whether an action is statute barred.

INEC V. Enasito [2017] 11 SCM PG. 61-62

The essence of a limitation law is that the legal right to enforce an action is not a perpetual right but a right generally limited by statute. Where a statute of limitation prescribes a period within which an action should be brought, legal proceedings cannot be properly and validly instituted after the expiration of the prescribed period.
Therefore, a cause of action is statute barred if legal proceedings cannot be commenced in respect of same because the period laid down by the limitation law had passed. An action which is not brought within the prescribed period, offends the provision of the law and does not give rise to a cause of action.

The yardsticks to determine whether an action is statute barred are:
The date when the cause of action accrued.
The date of commencement of the suit as indicated in the writ of summons.
Period of time presented to bringing an action to be ascertained from the statute in question. Time begins to run for the purpose of the limitation law from the date the cause of action accrues.

8. Where cause of action is a continuing one, three months starts to run from cessation of injury.

C.B.N V. Okojie [2015]14 NWLR PT. 1479 PG. 231 at 261

The well laid down interpretation of the limitation law, in this case, section 2 of the Act, is that in a case of continuance of damage or injury, the three months starts to run from the cessation of the continuing act, damage, or injury and if the action is at the instance of a prisoner, he may commence his action within three months after he is allowed home from prison.

9. Successful defence under the Act ousts the jurisdiction of the court.

Sylvia V. INEC [2015] 16 NWLR PT. 1486 PG. 576 at 620

A successful defence under this act ousts the jurisdiction of the court. One of the four conditions for the court to exercise jurisdiction in a given case is that the suit must have been commenced by due process of law and upon fulfillment of any condition precedent to assume jurisdiction. A suit commenced after the expiration of the time stipulated in the Act cannot be said to have been commenced by due process.

10. Nature of actions that do not fall within the provision of the Public Officers Protection Act.

N.I.C V. Aminu [2012] 8 NWLR PT. 330 CA.

Actions for recovery of land, breach of contract, claim for work and labour done, do not fall within the provisions of Public Officers Protection Act.

To be continued.

Courtesy:
Moruff O. Balogun Esq.
Ijebu Ode, Ogun State.

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