One of the common feature of preliminary objections to civil cases is the complaint of non- disclosure of reasonable cause of action. Like many objections against jurisdiction, a plaintiff or claimant’s case can be defeated on that score. The rationale behind the principle is that an aggregate of facts pleaded in the Statement of claim or facts ought to have disclosed an actionable wrong against the Defendant. In deserving circumstances however, this objection can be upheld, leading to the termination of the case.

The focus of this post however deals with the recent decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Adejugbe v. Aduloju (2022) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1816) 131. In that case, the apex court considered the procedural step a Court should take when an objection relating to disclosure of cause of action is made. More often than not, most defendants are always eager to hear their objections, even before the substantive suit is determined. Some of the reasons for this push may not be far fetched. It saves time for the Defendant and prevents the full hearing of the case on the merits. For practical reasons, a defendant may also wish to buy time or delay the hearing of the case, all of which are more within the realm of litigation management.

The powers of the Court to entertain a preliminary objection at any stage is however wide and discretionary. Most of the Rules of Court prescribe a discretionary power to the Court to exercise, whether the preliminary objection should be heard at the beginning of the suit, or whether the objection should be heard alongside the substantive case. The decision of the Supreme Court in Adejugbe v. Aduloju might however have limited this discretionary powers of the Courts, when dealing with objections on disclosure of reasonable cause of action. This limitation deals with the status of the pleadings as at when the objection was raised. In the case, the Supreme Court considered the issue and held thus:

Once issues have been joined, an objection based on want of cause of action is no longer available. In this case, the appellant and the 2nd respondent had filed a statement of defence and had joined issues with the 1st respondent on the facts in the statement of claim putting them up for trial. Further, the 1st respondent had filed his reply to the said statement of defence. At that stage, the contention that the 1st respondent’s case disclosed no reasonable cause of action should have been determined after conclusion of evidence and final addresses, along with the merit of the case in the judgment of the trial court. [S.P.D.C. Ltd. v. X. M. Federal (2006) 16NWLR (Pt. 1004) 189 referred to.] (P. 161

The clear purport of the decision of the apex court is to put the exercise of discretion on when to hear the objection on cause of action to check. Once pleadings have been concluded, the objection ought not be taken till the end of the case. A further merit in this position of the court is that hearing the objection together with the substantive suit would prevent the court from making decisions that would prejudge the substantive suit. It would also aid the speedy dispensation of justice.

However, the practicability of this procedure might have reduced the chances of hearing such objections to none! More often than not, most Rules of procedure now require a Defendant to file his statement of defence alongside the objections. The implication is that once the Claimant files his Reply to the Defence (which incorporates the objection), hearing such preliminary objection on grounds of non-disclosure of cause of action would have been rendered otiose. The only avenue would then be for the Defendant to refuse to file a Defence, but merely file a preliminary objection alone, which could lead to demurrer, which in turn, in now prohibited under the Rules. 

These are my early thoughts on the decision. Kindly share your take on it in the comment section. Again, thanks for reading. 

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