The basic law is that parties are bound to plead all facts they intend to rely upon at the trial and facts not pleaded will go to no issue. One rationale behind this principle is that litigation must follow some restrictive order and not open-ended in order to save the time of both the Courts and the litigants. If the procedure of pleadings was not introduced in litigation, parties search for evidence could not have ended and that should have protracted litigation beyond expectation. The law simply put, is that litigation is fought on pleadings. The pleadings define the parameters of the case and they give notice of the case to the other party. Any evidence led must be within the circumference of the facts pleaded. Pleadings in that wise, must not be deficient of the facts required to build up the case.

— S.J. Adah, JCA. Luck Guard v. Adariku (2022) – CA/A/1061/2020

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per Ogunwumiju, JCA (as he then was, now JSC), held in UDEAGHA & ANOR v OMEGARA & ORS (2010) LPELR-3856(CA), as follows: “The argument of Appellants’ counsel that the Respondents did not adequately traverse the petition is unfounded. The petition itself contained general complaints. There was no effort to pinpoint in the pleadings the various places where corrupt practices, non voting, use of violence, thuggery, rigging in polling units, massive thumb-print of ballot papers, fictitious entry of election results took place. Therefore, there was a general corresponding reply denying the allegations in general terms from the Respondents. If the Petitioners did not plead particulars, how could the respondents traverse non-existent particulars? The averments in the Appellants’ pleadings should have contained details of the allegations and complaints to which the Respondents could reply in detail in their own pleadings. The Appellants expected the Respondents to reply to the various specific allegations contained in the witness statements filed along with the petition. That is not the correct procedure. Those specific allegations should have been in the pleadings. The pleadings must show the facts disputed while the witnesses would give evidence of these facts. In election petitions, it has been held that there is need for particulars where required in order to prevent taking adverse party by surprise. See Buhari v Obasanjo (2005) 7 SCNJ 1. It is not the function of particulars to take the place of necessary averments in pleadings. See Nwobodo v Onoh (1984) 1 SC 201…”

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I have carefully considered the submissions of the parties and the judicial authorities cited. It is trite that adversarial civil litigation is basically fought on pleadings. It is the foundation of the parties’ respective cases. The general principle of law is that such pleadings must sufficiently and comprehensively set out material facts, so as to ascertain with certainty and clarity the matters or issues in dispute between the parties. This is because the purpose of pleadings is to give adequate notice to the adversary of the case he is to meet and to afford him the opportunity to properly respond to such case. Its aim is to bring to the knowledge of the opposite side and the court, all the essential facts. It is therefore a safeguard against the element of surprise. See: SODIPO V LEMMINKAINEN OY & ANOR (1985) LPELR-3088(SC) at page 56, para. F, per Oputa, JSC; ODOM & ORS v PDP & ORS (2015) LPELR-24351(SC); ALHASSAN & ANOR v ISHAKU & ORS (2016) LPELR-40083(SC); and PDP v INEC & 3 ORS (supra).

— H.S. Tsammani, JCA. Peter Obi & Anor. v INEC & Ors. (2023) – CA/PEPC/03/2023

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✓ In BELGORE v AHMED (2013) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1355) 60 at 95 – 96, the complaint against the averments in the petition was that they were unspecific, generic, speculative, vague, unreferable, omnibus and general in terms. In that case the Apex Court specifically held as follows: “Pleadings in an action are the written statements of the parties wherein they set forth the summary of the material facts on which each relied in proof of his claim or his defence as the case may be and by means of which the real matters was (sic) controversy between the parties and to be adjudicated upon are clearly identified. Although only material facts are required to be pleaded and in a summary form, they must nevertheless be sufficiently specific and comprehensive to elicit the necessary answers from the opponent. See Ashiru Noibi v. Fikolati & Ors (1987) 3 SC 105 at 119, (1987) 1 NWLR (Pt. 52) 629 and Omorhirihi v. Enetevwere (1988) 1 NWLR (Pt. 73) 746. They must contain such details as to eliminate any element of surprise to the opposing party. In this case where the dispute involves the election in as many as 895 polling units, the pleading in the petition which alleged electoral malpractices, non-compliance and/or offences in “some polling units”, “many polling units”, “most polling units” or “several polling units” cannot be said to have met the requirements of pleadings as stipulated in paragraph 4(1)(d) of the 1st Schedule to the Electoral Act and/or Order 13 Rules 4(1), 5 and 6(1) of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2009.”

✓ Also, in PDP v INEC & 3 ORS (2012) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1300) 538, the Apex Court, was also categorical when it held thus: “On whether the affected paragraphs were rightly struck out, I have read the affected paragraphs and found that they relate to allegations of non-voting in several polling points, disruption of election, non-conclusion of election, thumb-printing of ballot papers, falsification of election results, wide spread disruption, irregularities and malpractices without providing particulars or the polling units where the alleged malpractices took place. The lower court was therefore right when it held as follows: “The paragraphs above in my view are too generic, vague and lacking in any particulars as they are not tied specifically to any particular polling unit or any particular number of people who were alleged to be disenfranchised. The fact that a party can file further particulars or deny in a reply the averment in the pleading must not be general, it must be specific as to facts. It is settled law that a petitioner’s obligation to plead particulars of fraud or falsification without which the allegation is a non-starter.” I have nothing to add to this statement of law as advanced above, and I adopt it as mine.”

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Pleadings are closed when parties join issues in a case. Where both the statement of claim and the statement of defence do not bring the parties to issue on all the claims, the plaintiff shall file a reply. However, where no counter-claim is filed, further pleadings by way of reply to a statement of defence is unnecessary if the sole purpose is to deny the averments in the statement of defence. SeeIshola v. S.G.B. (Nig.) Ltd. (1997) 2 NWLR (Pt. 488) 405 SC. In Egesumba v. Onuzuryike (2002) 15 NWLR (Pt.791) 466 at 499 Ayoola JSC, expatiated thus “Where, of course, the plaintiff seeks to contradict the allegations in the statement of defence not merely by traverse but by raising issues of fact which would take the defendant by surprise, he should raise such issues by a reply. But, even then, the consequence of his not so raising it is not that he is taken to have admitted the truth of the allegations of fact in the statement of defence so as to free the defendant from the obligation to lead evidence in proof of what he alleges, but to deprive the plaintiff from adducing evidence of facts not pleaded or already raised by the pleadings as they stand. Tobi JSC at p. 519 of the report also clarified that:- “(iv) In order to allow a party to file a reply the trial Court must be satisfied that both the statement of claim and the statement of defence filed by the parties have not, when read together, sufficiently disclosed and fixed the real issues between the parties and that further pleadings in the reply to be filed will achieve the purpose of bringing the parties to an issue.”

— T. Akomolafe-Wilson, JCA. Alabi v Audu (2017) – CA/A/494/2014

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The requirements of pleadings in election petitions are primarily provided in Paragraph 4 of the 1st Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2022. Specifically, Paragraph 4(1)(d) mandates that “an election petition shall state clearly the facts of the election petition and the ground or grounds on which the petition is based and the reliefs sought by the Petitioner.” Subparagraph (2) of the same paragraph further provides that “the election petition shall be divided into paragraphs each of which shall be confined to a distinct issue or major facts of the election petition, and every paragraph shall be numbered consecutively.” In addition to the provision of Paragraph 4 of the 1st Schedule to the Electoral Act, Paragraph 54 of the same Schedule to the Act has made applicable to Election Petitions the Rules of Civil Procedure in the Federal High Court of 2019, subject to such modifications as would bring same in conformity with the provisions of the Act. By Order 13 Rule 4 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2019, every party to an election petition shall ensure that averments in their pleadings “contain in a summary form the material facts on which the party pleading relies for his claim or defence, as the case may be, but not the evidence by which they are to be proved, and shall, when necessary, be divided into paragraphs, and numbered consecutively.” By subparagraph (4) of that Rule, such facts contained in the pleading must “be alleged positively, precisely and distinctly, and as briefly as is consistent with a clear statement.” The aforementioned provisions contained in the 1st Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2022, as well as the Federal High Court Rules, 2019 state the mandatory requirements of pleadings in election petitions.

— H.S. Tsammani, JCA. Peter Obi & Anor. v INEC & Ors. (2023) – CA/PEPC/03/2023

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Mere averments in pleadings, no matter how impressive they may be are useless if no evidence is led to prove them. Such averments in the pleadings unless, they are admitted, are regarded as mere suggestions of counsel and if they are not proved by evidence of witnesses are deemed to have been abandoned. [Adegbite v. Ogunfaolu (1990) 4 NW1,11 (Pt.146) 578; Balogun v. Amubikanhun (1985) 3 NWLR(Pt.11)27; Obmiami BrickAND Stone (Nig.) Ltd. v. A.C.B. Ltd. (1992) 3 NWLR (Pt.229) 260;Ayeniv. Sowemimo (1982) 5 SC 60; Idesoh v. Ordia (1997) 3 NWLR (Pt.491) 17 referred to].

— Adeyemo v. Ida & Ors. (1998) – CA/1/6/92

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