Supreme Court of Nigeria

Perhaps, it is no longer news that only yesterday, the 26th of February 2020, the Supreme Court of Nigeria (the Apex court of the land) meted out disciplinary actions against two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (Chief Afe Babalola and Chief Wole Olanipekun) who have over the years upped their games in the legal profession. The two learned silks are to compulsorily pay a fine amounting to the tune of ₦30 million Naira each for agreeing to file an application for the review and subsequent reversal of the Supreme Court’s Judgement on the Bayelsa State Election.

It would be recalled that the All Progressives Congress (APC) ably represented by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) had earlier on approached the Supreme Court with an application asking the Apex court to reverse its judgement that voided the victory of its candidate, Mr. David Lyon, in the last Governorship election in Bayelsa State.

The major issue which therefore boggles the mind is whether or not the Supreme Court posseses the power to reverse, amend and re-pronounce on its own judgement/ruling bearing in mind the provision of Section 235 of the CFRN which makes provision for the finality in the decisions of the Supreme Court and the principle which states that there must be an end to litigation – Res Judicata.

It is apposite to know that it is settled that there is no specific legislation or rule empowering the Supreme Court to set aside its own decision and that it can only indulge in any change to its decision in the limited format of correcting errors as specifically provided in Order 8, Rule 16 of the Supreme Court Rules. The court in Barrister Orikerjov & Ors v. Iyorton & Ors (2015) NWLR {pt 1483} 454 held that even though the Supreme Court lacks the power under any legislation to amend any decision made by it, the Supreme Court can however review its decision by virtue of its inherent powers. However, such inherent jurisdiction cannot be converted to an appellate jurisdiction. It is clear that where the grounds exists, the Supreme Court of all jurisdictions would not shy away from setting aside their judgements or orders and substituting them with others. The ultimate end is Justice and not the prestige of the Court. From this point, it would be of great importance to examine the few grounds under which the Supreme Court can reverse or amend decisions made by it:

  1. In Elias .v. Eco-Bank Nig Plc{CA/L 893/2014)(2016) NGCA, the Court held that in it’s inherent jurisdiction, the court has the power to set aside it’s own judgement if same has been fraudulently obtained.
  2. The Supreme Court is also empowered to set aside it’s own judgement when it is discovered that clerical mistakes that needed to be corrected have been made.
  3. The Supreme Court can decide to set aside it’s own judgement when there is an accidental slip or by omission in the said Judgement or if any part of the judgement needs to be varied so as to give effect to it’s intention.

It is however quite unfortunate that none of these grounds fit into the applications made by the two Senior Advocates of Nigeria. It is quite commendable that the Supreme Court without sentiments pronounced for the payment of fines to be paid by the two learned silks for bringing forward an application which is seemingly vexatious perhaps to stiffle and frustrate trial thereby obstructing the course of Justice. Perhaps, this would serve as a deterrence against legal practioners who are always in the habit of bringing up technicalities to frustrate the rule of law.

Moreso, if such application had been granted by the Supreme Court, there is no guarantee that the respondents would not come up with a fresh application to review the ruling on the grounds that the Supreme Court did not consider a certain part of their argument in its ruling. This would in no doubt subsequently open floodgates of applications before the Supreme Court to amend thier decisions – a Court which is empowered to finally pronounce and bring an end to all litigations. The people would forever lose confidence in the Supreme Court if this application had been granted.


Adedeji Obadofin is a premium Graduate of Law from Kogi State University who is dogged about contributing his quota to the growth and overall development of the legal profession through his articles.