The concept of Locus standi in Nigeria denotes the legal capacity to institute, initiate or commence an action in a competent court of law or tribunal without any inhibition, obstruction or hindrance from any person or body. Locus standi is the right of appearance in a court of law to litigate or ventilate an issue. The question whether a plaintiff has locus standi to bring an action in the first place does not depend on the success or the merit of the case, but on whether the plaintiff has sufficient interest or legal right in the subject matter of the dispute to entitle him to institute the action.
The right of a person to institute an action in court is derivable from the Constitution, the statutes, customary law or voluntary arrangement in an organization. Foreign cases do not establish locus standi. In the case of DIAMOND PET. INT’L LTD V. GOV. C.B.N. (2015) 14 NWLRb (PT. 1478) 179 AT 199 PARA A, the court held that foreign cases are not helpful on the issue of locus standi in Nigeria bearing in mind the giant leap or strides in the development of jurisprudence in such foreign jurisdictions with their peculiarities.
Meaning and Nature of locus standi
Locus standi denotes the legal capacity to institute proceedings in court. It is a threshold issue that goes to the root of the suit. The merits of the case should never be evaluated before deciding locus standi.
Locus standi affects the jurisdiction of the court. Consequently if the plaintiff does not have locus standi to institute the suit the court would have no jurisdiction to entertain the suit. Usually it is the plaintiff that is questioned as to whether he has locus standi.-DANIEL v. INEC & ORS (2015) LPELR-24566(SC)
The principle of locus standi is designed to keep out busy bodies and their frivolities.
Locus standi is one of the thresholds of instituting a suit. It is one of the fulcrums for instituting an action in the Nigerian courts. Locus standi affects the jurisdiction of the court, and therefore, can be raised at any time in the proceedings or on appeal. If a plaintiff does not have locus standi to institute an action, the court would have no jurisdiction to entertain the suit. In the case of A.G. FED V. A.G. LAGOS STATE (2017) 8 NWLR (PT 1566) 20 AT 55 PARA D, the Supreme Court held that the question whether a plaintiff has locus standi to bring an action in the first place raises an issue of jurisdiction.
Relationship between the issue of locus standi and jurisdiction of court to entertain a matter
Locus standi and jurisdiction are interwoven in the sense that locus standi goes to affect the jurisdiction of the Court before which an action is brought. Thus where there is no locus standi to file an action, the Court cannot properly assume jurisdiction to entertain the action.
Locus standi being an issue of jurisdiction can be raised at any stage or level of the proceedings in a suit even on appeal at the Court of Appeal by any of the parties without leave of Court or by the Court itself suo motu. The issue can come up after the plaintiff has duly filed his pleadings by a motion and or in a statement of defence.
Locus standi to institute proceedings in a Court is not dependent on the success or merits of a case; it is a condition precedent to the determination of a case on the merits.-AJAYI v. ADEBIYI & ORS (2012) LPELR-7811(SC)
Guiding principles on locus standi
In Pacers Multi Dynamics Ltd v. M.V. Dancing Sister (2012) 1 SC (Pt. 1) p.75. A person has locus standi to sue in an action if he is able to show to the satisfaction of the Court that his civil rights and obligations is in danger. There are two tests for determining if a person has locus standi. They are:
- The action must be justiciable, and
- There must be a dispute between the parties.
When administering the test, it’s important to keep an open mind. Senator Adesanya v. The President of Nigeria (1981) 5 SC p.112 lays down the rule for locus standi in civil cases, while Fawehinmi v. Akilu 1987 12 SC p.99 lays down the far more liberal rule for locus standi in criminal cases… To have locus standi, the plaintiffs statement of claim must disclose sufficient legal interest, and show how such interest arose in the subject matter of the action.- B.B APUGO & SONS LTD v. OHMB (2016) LPELR-40598(SC).
In the determination of locus standi, the plaintiff’s Statement of Claim should be the only process that should receive the attention of the court. It is the cynosure of the exercise.
In the case of Owodunni Vs Registered Trustee of C.C.C. (2000) 10 NWLR (Pt. 675) 315 @ 339 D, His Lordship, Ogundare, JSC gave an insight into the dichotomy between “locus standi” and “cause of action”. He stated thus:
“The position appears to be that in private law the question of locus standi is merged in the issue of cause of action. For instance, a plaintiff who has no privity of contract with the defendant will fail to establish a cause of action for breach of contract as he will simply not have a locus standi to sue the defendant on the contract.”
Factors in determining locus standi; whether they must co-exist
The twin factors in determining locus standi, are that:
- plaintiff must be able to show that his civil rights and obligations is in danger, and
- plaintiff must have a justiciable dispute with the defendant. These two factors must co-exist to establish the locus standi of the plaintiff.-AG FEDERATION v. AG OF ABIA STATE & ORS (2001) LPELR-24862(SC)
Effect of absence of locus standi
Where the party bringing the complaint lacks the locus standi to lodge the complaint, the result is a nullity.-OKIKE v. LPDC (2005) LPELR-2450(SC).
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