Under Nigerian jurisprudence, husband and wife have the right to jointly own a property. This has aptly been argued and, to my mind, been laid to rest by Prof. Sylvester Udemezue (UDEMS) in his article titled: “There Is No Law In Nigeria That Bars Husband & Wife From Buying Or Selling Land Together Or From Joint Ownership Of Property” accessible at https://thenigerialawyer.com/there-is-no-law-in-nigeria-that-bars-husband-wife-from-buying-or-selling-land-together-or-from-joint-ownership-of-property/
Ordinarily, a couple is to purchase, own or sell property as ”Mr. Adamu Obi and Mrs. Funke Obi (husband & wife).” But what if they purchase or sell property as ”Mr. and Mrs. Adamu Obi” (husband & wife)? Would so doing render a contract of property sale or purchase void and therefore unenforceable?
Mr. Olajide Akinola in his article accessible at https://www.facebook.com/100030633634673/posts/447323566298761/?app=fbl was not specific on it. He just said is not permissible. Prof. UDEMS was also of the same view because, according to him, ”Mr. and Mrs. Adamu Obi” is not a juristic personality.
JURISTIC PERSONALITY OF ”MR. AND MRS. ADAMU OBI”
There maybe no need to argue this because the position on it has long been settled. In the case of Lion of Africa Insurance Company Ltd. v Esan (1999) 8 NWLR (Pt.614) 197 at 201, the issue before the court was: “Whether or not the plaintiffs suing as Mr. & Mrs. E.A. Esan constitute a legal personality of body corporate known to law and have the right to sue in the said name.”
The Court of Appeal answered in the negative and held as follows:
“In this case the plaintiffs are Mr. & Mrs Esan husband and wife. I agree with the submission of the Appellants’ counsel that the term ‘Mr. & Mrs.’ is a social expression and not a conferment of legal capacity. The term ‘MRS.’ has been described in WEBSTER’S Dictionary of the English Language as-
‘A courtesy title for any married woman not styled ‘Lady’ DR etc. used before her name or her husband’s name.’
The same WEBSTER’S Dictionary has defined the term ‘MR.’ as a courtesy title for any male adult not styled ‘SIR’. DR etc. A form of address to the holder of any of certain offices e.g. Mr. Chairman.
“Mr & Mrs. Combined do not create a legal term us such to confer upon MR. & MRS ESAN a legal right and capacity to sue and be sued. It is true Mr. & Mrs. Esan in this case are one in their marital status in the church and by social expression, but in legal parlance they are two separate people and either of them can sue or be sued in his or her own name. If there must be two plaintiffs the two different names must be specifically stated and not joined together as Mr. & Mrs. ‘Mr. & Mrs. Esan is not a juristic person capable of suing and of being sued eo nomine.
“I do not find it difficult to uphold this appeal and rule that the action is incompetent in its present format. No law expressly or impliedly confers the right to sue or be sued on Mr. & Mrs. but Mr. Or Mrs. has the right to sue and be sued.”
In his concurring judgment, PATS-ACHOLONU, J.C.A. held that:
“The terms ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs.’ Are purely for Social usage and application in a civilized society. A man and wife may not take an action with such titles as to suggest that they are one and the same person and not two people. It is a misnormer to lake action in that manner.”
JURISTIC PERSONALITY OF ”MR. AND MRS. ADAMU OBI”
Having settled that ”Mr. and Mrs. Adamu Obi” is not a juristic personality, does it then mean that the contract for purchase of a property in the name of ”Mr. and Mrs. Adamu Obi” is invalid or unenforceable by reason of the fact that the name is not a juristic personality?
Let’s peep into our law reports to search for possible solution. Similar thing came up in the case of Okeke v. Unizik Teaching Hospital (2018) LPELR-43781(CA). What happened in this case was that “Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital”, instead of “Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital Management Board”, entered into a contract with Mr. Okeke. When Okeke sought to enforce the contract, Unizik argued that the contract was void and unenforceable because the Plaintiff was not a juristic personality. Though it was agreed that the Respondent was not a juristic personality, however, court held that the contract was enforceable. Court of Appeal held thus:
“It seems to me that the argument put up by the Respondent and accepted by the learned trial judge that the contract is void because the Respondent as named is not a legal entity smacks of an overt show of bad faith at best. The interpretation of the contract must be done in such a way that we are bound by equity to ignore a literal interpretation of the name of the Respondent without the phrase ‘Management Board’ and to assume that Teaching Hospital an aphorism of saying Teaching Hospital Management Board which had mobilised the Appellant to commence consultancy services, part paid contract sums and submitted itself to arbitration and even paid arbitration fees, cannot turn around to resile from the contract agreement and the arbitral proceedings it had submitted to and participated in.”
In Kwajaffa v. B.O.N Nig Ltd (2004) 5 SCNJ 121;(2004) LPELR-1727 (SC); (2004) NWLR Pt. 889 Pg. 141, the Appellant entered a mortgage agreement with the title deeds in his son’s name. The son was a minor. He sought to declare the agreement a nullity because his son was incapable of executing a contract as a minor. The Supreme Court held that a party cannot resile from his obligations under a contract from which he had benefited because he never followed what the law required. In the immortal words of Belgore JSC (as he then was) at page 143:
“Had this appeal succeeded it would have created consequences that will allow fraud to pay. The appellants’ case was ab initio based on the illusory nullity caused by their deceit. A Court of law must always be that justice and equity, self induced nullity will not help the appellants.”
Also, in Sosan v. HFP Engineering (Nig) Ltd (2004) 3 NWLR Pt. 861 Pg. 546, the Appellant after benefitting from a contract, sought to declare the contract void because the Governor’s consent was not obtained before the sub-lease agreement was executed by the parties. Onalaja JCA went to town on how a Court of equity should deal with this type of situation. His Lordship stated unequivocally at page 573 as follows:
“Apart from the principle of law involved in this case, it is morally despicable for a person who has benefited from an agreement to turn round and say that the agreement is null and void. In pursuance of the principle that law should serve public interest, the Courts have evolved the technique of construction in bonampartem”.
In the light of the foregoing decided cases, it is my view that a contract bearing ”Mr. and Mrs. Adamu Obi” is enforceable irrespective of the fact the name is non juristic. However, it is desirable to write the names properly to avoid unnecessary rigors of litigation.
About The Author:
O. G. Chukkol is a final year student, Faculty of Law, ABU, Zaria and may be reached via 08032470318 or [email protected]