By Ekele Chinda
Enforcing a foreign judgment in Nigeria can be a complex legal process, but it is essential when you seek to recover a debt or obtain justice in a cross-border legal dispute. Nigerian law recognizes foreign judgments and provides a legal framework for their enforcement.
In this article, you will guided through the steps involved in enforcing a foreign judgment in Nigeria.
LEGAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE ENFORCEMENT OF FOREIGN JUDGMENT
The laws that regulate the enforcement of foreign judgment in Nigeria are the Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Ordinance and the Foreign Judgment (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act. Common law can also be regarded as part of the legal regulation for the recognition and enforcement of Foreign Judgment.
The Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Ordinance applies to judgments from England, Scotland, Ireland, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Gambia, Barbados, Bermuda, Gibraltar, Grenada, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Newfoundland, New South Wales, St Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad, and Tobago. Judgments from any of these countries are enforced in line with the Ordinance.
It should be noted that Nigeria is not a signatory to any international convention or treaty that relates to the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments and this means that it is not bound or under compulsion to enforce a foreign judgment.
RECOGNITION OF FOREIGN JUDGMENT IN NIGERIA
For a judgment to be recognized and enforced in Nigeria, it must have been one that is capable of being enforced in the jurisdiction where the judgment was given.
By virtue of the Foreign Judgment (Reciprocal Enforcement Act) the court with competent jurisdiction to recognize and enforce a foreign judgment is the High Court which translates as the High Court of a state or the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory and the Federal High Court.
Under the available Ordinance and Act, the period within which a judgment can be registered for enforcement is 12 months from the date of delivery of the judgment.
PROCEDURE FOR ENFORCEMENT OF FOREIGN JUDGMENT IN NIGERIA
The judgment of a court of a foreign country may be enforced through a Nigerian High Court either by way of an action at common law or by reciprocal enforcement.
The principal legislation guiding the enforcement of foreign judgements in Nigeria is the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act, CAP F 35, LFN 1990.
Enforcement of Foreign Judgement by Action at Common Law
At common law, a judgment of the court of one country may be enforced in another foreign country by way of an action commenced in the court of the foreign country, with the judgment being the cause of action.
The judgment creditor must then institute an action in a Nigerian court claiming the reliefs granted him in the foreign court.
The judgment then shall be the main cause of action and the action need not go through the rudiments of a substantive trial. Only the judgments of a superior court of a foreign country will be enforced in Nigeria and this can only be done by a High Court in Nigeria.
The foreign court must be a court of an equivalent status with the Nigerian High Court or more.
The foreign judgment may be enforced in a Nigerian High Court irrespective of whether or not the foreign court would reciprocally enforce judgments of Nigerian courts.
For the enforcement action to be successful, the foreign judgment must meet the following requirements:
(a) The judgment must be final and conclusive;
(b) The judgment must have been delivered by a competent court in terms of jurisdiction;
(c) The judgment must be for a definite sum of money, provided that it is not money recoverable as tax, fine or penalty;
(d) If the judgment is for a res other than money, the res must have been situated at the jurisdiction of the foreign court that gave the judgment at the time of delivery.
Enforcement of foreign judgment under this process is done based on reciprocity, i.e. the foreign country whose court delivered the judgment must also be ready to enforce judgments of Nigerian courts in its courts. Such countries that render reciprocal enforcements to Nigeria are those to be listed in an order made by the Minister of Justice under the Part 1 of the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act.
The application shall be by way of originating motion or petition brought according to the Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgment Ordinance, 1958 (“the Ordinance”). The motion shall be accompanied by an affidavit which shall state the relevant facts. A certified true copy of the judgment shall be annexed to the affidavit.
Any judgment given by a court outside of Nigeria is not binding in Nigeria without being registered and enforced as a Nigerian judgment. The different modes of enforcement of judgment are to the end that a foreign judgment is regarded as a Nigerian judgment and can be treated as such. Due to the fact that Nigeria is not a signatory to any international instrument on foreign judgment enforcement, following the procedures and guidelines for the enforcement of judgment might not be granted as the court is under no compulsion to grant same.
This article is for information purposes, it may or may not reflect the current position of the law and is therefore not intended to provide legal advice or guidance on litigation or provide commentary on any pending case or legislation.