JUDGEMENT: Is the Corps Marshall of The FRSC a Juristic Personality That Can Sue and Be Sued
THE CORPS MARSHAL v. MOHAMMED GANA
2ND JUNE, 2022
PETER OLABISI IGE, JCA
HAMMA AKAWU BARKA, JCA
MOHAMMED MUSTAPHA, JCA
COURT DIVISION: ABUJA
The Respondent is a taxi driver within the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. He was accosted by agents of the Appellant (The Corps Marshal) in charge of traffic law on the 5th of September, 2018, around Area One Roundabout, in the Federal Capital. A scuffle ensued in the process of the enforcement of an alleged traffic violation, and as a result the Respondent’s vehicle ended up in a ditch. The Respondent contended he was beaten and forced into a van and taken to the office of the Appellant where he was detained.
Aggrieved, the Respondent sought to enforce his Fundamental Human Rights at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, vide an application filed pursuant to Order 2 Rule 2 of the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules, 2009 and the inherent jurisdiction of the Court. The Respondent sought, inter alia, for a declaration that the Appellant’s acts of beating the Respondent in the public and in their office, tearing his clothes, forcing him into their operational Hilux, detaining him for hours and continuous detention of the his car and phones without legal justification, has amounted to violation of his fundamental rights to personal liberty, dignity of human person, freedom of movement and right to own immovable Property as guaranteed under the Constitution.
The trial Court in its considered judgment found for the Respondent and ordered the Appellant to pay the Respondent N5,000,000 in damages for the violation of fundamental rights.
Dissatisfied, the Appellant appealed.
The appeal was determined upon consideration of the issue thus:
” Whether the trial Court was right when it held that the Corps Marshall is a juristic person capable of suing and being sued.”
Learned Counsel for the Appellant submitted that for a suit to be competent for adjudication by a Court there should be a competent plaintiff and a competent defendant i.e., both parties must be juristic persons who can sue and be sued. That the Corps Marshall is merely an office, and the officer only a member of the Commission and not the Commission itself, therefore he cannot sue or be sued as held by the trial Court.
Counsel submitted that the Corps Marshall is responsible for the day to day running of the commission, doing so does not make him a juristic person capable of suing and being sued.
In response, Learned Counsel for the Respondents submitted that the Appellant is a juristic person capable of suing and being sued, and that Learned Counsel for the Appellant conceded that much, when he said in reference to the office of the Appellant that ‘it only accords the office of the Corps Marshall recognition as a legal entity’; and that failure to add ‘Federal Road Safety Corps’ to the name of the Appellant is immaterial, as the Appellant was not misled as to who was sued.
Learned Counsel contended that having admitted that the Appellant is a legal and juristic personality at trial, he cannot now turn around to say he is not, as parties are bound by their pleadings, and that an appeal is not a new trial that the Appellant can use to present new arguments. That since the Appellant did not deny his juristic personality at trial, it is too late in the day for him to change by probating and reprobating now.
Learned Counsel further submits that a community reading of Sections 1 and 10 of the Federal Road Safety Act reveals that the Commission and the Corps Marshall are two separate and distinct entities, and the Appellant is referred to as a ‘body’ by the law.
In the final analysis, the appeal was allowed. The Court of Appeal struck out the suit of the Respondent for lack of jurisdiction.
ACTION- LEGAL PERSONALITY: Whether the Corps Marshall of the Federal Road Safety Commission is a juristic personality that can sue and be sued
“In the case of institutions like the Federal Road Safety Corps, and the like, Juristic personality can only be donated by the enabling law. This can either be the Constitution or a Statute. If the enabling law provides for a particular name by way of juristic personality, a party must sue or be sued in that name. There is no choice to sue or be sued in any other name. In other words, juristic personality is a creation of statute and a party which seeks relief must comply strictly with the enabling statute, the law is stringent in this regard. To this end, Section 1 (1) of the Federal Road Safety Commission (Establishment) Act, 2007, provides: “There is established for Nigeria, a Federal Road Safety Commission, which shall be a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal, and may sue and be sued in its corporate name and whose members shall exercise the functions specified in this Act.” Subsection 2 provides: “the commission shall consist of: a) The chairman and five other members to be appointed by the president on a part-time basis; b) The corps Marshall who shall be then chief executive of the corps”. Now, it is clear from these provisions that the corps Marshall is merely the operating mind, responsible for the day to day running of the commission. He on his own is not a body corporate or a juristic person, he cannot sue or be sued in his own name. The commission can, as a juristic person. It does not matter what the appellant did or failed to do at trial. It needs be stated; at the risk of repetition that the issue of the status, identity and juristic personality of a party is a jurisdictional Issue which can be raised at any time, even for the first time on appeal; see: SOCIO-POLITICAL RESEARCH DEVELOPMENT V. MINISTRY OF FEDERAL CAPITAL TERRITORY & ORS (2018) LPELR- 45708(SC), where the Supreme Court held: “…There is no doubt that this issue of juristic personality of the appellant touches and affects the jurisdiction and competence of the Court to entertain the matter, hence it can be raised at any time and level of the Courts.” Section 7 (1) of the Act provides: “there shall be a Corps Marshall of the Corps who shall be appointed by the president and who shall be a person possessing sound knowledge or ability in the organization and administration of the road traffic and road safety matters.” Subsection 2 provides: “the corps Marshall shall be the chief executive of the Corps and shall without prejudice to delegate in appropriate circumstances, be exclusively responsible for the execution of the policies and decisions of the commission and for carrying into effect day to day activities of the corps.” The Corps Marshall is definitely not a juristic person with capacity to sue or be sued; simply put, he does not have the locus standi to institute an action nor can one be instituted against him. Learned counsel submitted on behalf of the Respondent that, Appellant’s counsel conceded that the Corps Marshall had juristic personality at trial; since his argument at trial was hinged only on the failure to add ‘Federal Road Safety Corps’ to the name of the appellant; and that the trial Court held as much at page 69 of the record of appeal. This argument lost traction the moment it was made, not least because the addition of the word ‘Federal Road Safety Commission’, cannot as contended clothe the appellant with juristic personality. The fact will always remain that, the corps Marshall, by whatever name called, is merely the person responsible for the day to day running of the commission. He could be called the Alter ego, the operating mind, the chief executive or anything else, but he will still be a distinct personality from the commission itself, at least for the purpose of juristic personality and whatever he is, he does not have the necessary juristic personality to sue and be sued. That is not to say, an aggrieved person cannot sue the commission, and also join the Corps Marshall as a party. That is another thing altogether. The fact of the matter is that the question of legal personality borders on locus standi or capacity to sue or be sued, see CONTRACT RESOURCES NIG LTD V STANDARD TRUST BANK (2013) LPELR; the law attributes juristic personality, that is, the capacity to maintain and defend actions in Court to natural persons as well as artificial persons or institutions, see: GENEVA V AFRIBANK NIG PLC (2013) LPELR; ATTORNEY GENERAL OF FEDERATION V ALL NIGERIA PEOPLES PARTY AND ORS  12 SCM 1, 12;  18 NWLR (PT. 851) 182; (2003) 12 SC (PT. 11) 146 AND, ALHAJI MAILAFIA TRADING and TRANSPORT COMPANY LTD V VERITAS INSURANCE COMPANY LTD  4 NWLR (PT. 38) 802.” Per MUSTAPHA, J.C.A.