N10m Suit: Oxford University Loses Bid to Stop Nigerian Lawyer Challenging Definition of Words

The Lagos State High Court in Igbosere has dismissed the preliminary objection filed by the University of Oxford, England to challenge a N10m lawsuit filed against it by a Nigerian lawyer, Ogedi Ogu.

Ogu, in his suit before Justice I.O. Harrison, alleged that the words “mortgagee’’ and “mortgagor” were wrongly defined in the Oxford Dictionary, published by Oxford University Press.

He claimed that he was embarrassed and suffered a loss of reputation as a lawyer when he relied on the definitions of the words in the Oxford Dictionary to offer legal advice to a professional colleague.

He said the professional colleague later pointed out to him that the words were wrongly defined in Oxford Dictionary and since then all his professional colleagues stopped seeking legal advice from him.

Ogu asked the court to order the University of Oxford and Oxford University Press to pay him N10 million in damages.

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But the defence counsel, Mrs Funke Adekoya (SAN), filed a preliminary objection, urging the court to dismiss the suit for being incompetent.

Adekoya contended that Ogu did not comply with Section 97 of the Sheriff and Civil Process Act in issuing and serving his writ of summons.

She described the writ as “incurably defective,” adding that it was “liable to be set aside.”

The SAN further contended that Oxford University Press, which was joined as 2nd defendant, was a non-juristic entity, which could not be sued because it was only a department under the University of Oxford.

But in her June 30, 2020 ruling, Justice Harrison partly disagreed with Adekoya and dismissed one leg of the preliminary objection.

Contrary to Adekoya’s contention, Justice Harrison said, “The writ was validly issued and service was lawful and regular.”

But the judge upheld the SAN’s submission that Oxford University Press was not a juristic entity and struck its name out from the suit.

The judge held, “The court finds that not being a juristic person, the 2nd defendant can’t be sued and since they are a department of the 1st defendant, whatever affects the 1st defendant will naturally affect and bind on their departments.

“The notice of preliminary objection succeeds partially.”

Ogu, in his suit, claimed that Oxford Dictionary wrongly defined the word “mortgagee’’ as the borrower in a mortgage transaction; and “mortgagor’’ as the lender.

He said this was contrary to the definition of “mortgagee” as lender and “mortgagor” as borrower in many other dictionaries.

The Nigerian lawyer said when he wrote to the University of Oxford to complain, the university admitted the error but refused to admit liability.

According to him, the university told him that “Our dictionaries are made available as a reference tool only; they are never held out by OUP as being an alternative to seeking independent legal or financial advice, and we cannot take responsibility for an individual’s decision to use them as such.”

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