My first experience with that legal jargon was in my first year in the faculty of law. That term can be a little difficult by the time you start worrying your pretty head as to what exactly is SOGA and how do you recognise that it is SOGA. The thought of all these is exhausting. So I have decided to put this up for you on SOGA.
With regards to Nigeria, SOGA refers to Statutes of General Application in force in England as at 1st January 1900. It is good to know that SOGA is one of the components of Received English Law. While we are still at the introductory part, let me make it clear that this date refers only to SOGA excluding Common Law and Equity. Though there has been lots of argument on this issue, that is not a discussion for today. Just understand that for academic purpose that the date only refers to SOGA.
Statutes of General Application in force in England on 1st January, 1900.
√This only refers to statutes which were in force in England on 1st January, 1900 not after that date. Which means that any statute made after that date is not a statute of general application as far as Nigeria is concerned.
√They are only applicable in Nigeria, if and only if our local legislatures have not enacted any law in that area. This means that even if there is a statute of general application on a particular field and the National Assembly or State House of Assembly goes ahead to enact a law in that same field, then the Act of the National Assembly or Law of the State House of Assembly will prevail.
Justice Niki Tobi has said this clearly:
“Where a local statute is available and applies to
a particular local situation, courts of law have
no jurisdiction to go all the way lo England to
search for an English statute. This is because by
the local statute, the law makers intend it to
apply in the locality and not any English statute
which is foreign and inapplicable.”
√Where such statute of general application has been repealed in England, it is still enforceable as long as no local legislation has been made on that field in Nigeria.
I know the most pushing question in your mind is how to identify a statute of general application.
I will like to start by giving you another of Niki Tobi’s opinion on this:
” Section 45 of the Interpretation Act, Cap.89, law
of the Federation and Lagos, I 950 provided that
the statutes of general application that were in
force in England on the 1 st day of January, 1900
shall be in force in the Federation. By this
nebulous provision, a number of English
statutes were held lo be applicable in Nigeria as
statutes of general application by the courts.
From the state of the case law, the approach of
the courts has not been consistent. The courts
have not found it quite easy to determine what
is a statute of general application and what is
not. And so, what amounts to a statute of
general application is still a vexed juridical
problem in our jurisprudence, as the courts do
not successfully apply a single criterion or sets
of criteria across the board. The issue is
therefore, largely taken on the particular merits
of the case before the court.”
From Niki Tobi’s statements above it is clear that identifying SOGA applicable in Nigeria continues to remain difficult even for courts, so as a law student it is not entirely your fault that your pretty head aches at the thought of what a statute of general application is. The main problem is the ‘ statute general application’ part. Assuming it is just statutes in force in England in 1/1/1900, then it would so easy but with the general application part, the court is left to determine what statutes fall under this category.
Osborne CJ, in Attorney General v John Holt gave a rough but not faultless test as to identify a statute of general application.
~Such statute must have applied to all classes of people in England.
~Such statute must have applied to all courts in England.
I am pleased to tell you that as simple as these tests appear, they are not without their own difficulty, infact the two has never been used in any case including the very case it was developed in. There are times where statutes that applied to only some courts in England were still regarded to be Statutes of General Application.
Furthermore, some statutes that apply to only members of a particular class have been declared to be SOGA. A good example is the Infant Relief Act 1874, this statute applied only to infants yet it is a statute of general application in Nigeria. So it can be added that, a statute that applies all members of a class could also be a statute of general application (JO Asein), and that is why Infants Relief Act 1874 is referred to as SOGA.
Truthfully, it is left to the court to determine what a Statute of General Application is. In the words of Niki Tobi in a decided case:
” From the trend of the case
law, it cannot be said that any English statute
which was enacted before 1 st .January 1900 is
automatically applicable in Nigeria. No Nigerian
legislation is a potent and formidable source of
Nigerian law. It forms the most substantial and
definite part of the corpus juris of Nigeria and
the Judges are involved daily in the
interpretation of (he statutes. As the statutes
are the most precise and exact source of Nigeria
law, the courts are bound to apply them in the
cases that come before them. They will have
nothing to do with English statute. unless it is
applicable in the circumstance as a statute of
This was Niki Tobi’s view in a recently decided case. Nze Bernard Chigbu v Tonimas Nig. Ltd(2006). The bone of contention was if the Limitation Act of 1623 of England was to be enforced or if it was the Limitation Edict 1991 of Imo state that the court should enforce. By now you should know which the court eventually relied on. Yes, you are right…the court relied on the Limitation Edict 1991 of Imo state. If you don’t why the court did this, then you didn’t read this write-up well.
That case is a very interesting one on SOGA. Try reading it up, just type it into your search engine and you will see everything about the case. Thanks for reading this far, I love you!!! You should drop your comments, questions and corrections. I will reply asap, as long as I am not babysitting (*smiles*). Ciao!!!
Oyekan Oluwaseun O