By Awa Kalu
A simple definition of â€˜offerâ€™ is the one made by Prof. Itse Sagay in his well known book, Nigerian Law of Contract which makes an offer â€˜a definite undertaking or promise made by one party with the intention that it shall become binding on the party making it as soon as it is accepted by the party to whom it is addressedâ€™.
An offer, the learned Professor restates, must be precise and unequivocal, leaving no room for speculation or conjecture as to its real content. Guided by this simple but clear definition, a traveller who presents himself at a Bus station and buys a ticket surely intends that the owners of the Bus must take him to an agreed destination.
Accordingly, a person who pays the fare which is asked for is deemed to have accepted the offer. Therefore, when the Bus subsequently breaks down in the middle of no where, exposing the passengers to the elements, including major hazards, the driver must learn simply that he is in breach of an undertaking.
We have seen that an offer is a definite undertaking or promise made by one party with the intention that it shall become binding on the party making it as soon as it is accepted by the party to whom it is addressed.
Professor Itse Sagay who offered the above definition further argues that an offer must be precise and unequivocal leaving no room for speculation or conjecture as to its real content. We must note that this piece centres around the events which take place during the Christmas.
Mindful of this fact, we must similarly recall that in this country, most Nigerians see the Christmas season as an opportunity to make lots of money. For this reason, cheap merchandise (including drugs) are on offer for sale. On account of the increase in volume of passengers, transporters often revive their rickety vehicles and put them on the road. It must also be remembered that Christmas is a near compulsive period especially in terms of families leaving their normal place of residence to travel to their remote villages. Thus persons may decide to travel even when they can ill afford such a trip.
Accordingly, when a passenger who has a lean purse sees a rickety bus (otherwise called Akpuruka) placed on our imaginary Lagos â€“ Owerri route, what does the passenger have in mind?
The slogan I am told, is that â€œAkpuruka must reach its destination no matter whenâ€. Will the passenger be presumed as having accepted the offer to be taken to his destination at snail speed and in less than wholesome condition?
You must at this stage remember that some of these buses that ply our roads bear very frightening and intimidating inscriptions such as â€˜No telephone to Heavenâ€™; â€˜Beware of six feetâ€™; â€˜Many have gone, be carefulâ€™; â€˜Donâ€™t kiss my Nyashâ€™; â€˜Better be late than the lateâ€™; â€˜Uwa wu Paw-Paw (the world is like Paw-Paw)â€™ and so on. Some offer you a promise -â€˜The Young Shall Growâ€™ while some others wax philosophical. â€˜Ekene Dili Chukwuâ€™ (Thanks be to God), â€˜Chidi Ebereâ€™ (God is merciful), â€˜Lefam for Godâ€™ (Leave your faith in Godâ€™s hand) are clear examples.
There is yet another one â€“ OSONDU (You do not tire if your life depends on a race). I recall that when we were trying to find our feet in Lagos, the prayer of my generation was for Godâ€™s intervention in our lives in such a way that our initial trip to Lagos would be in â€œYoung Shall Growâ€ while our return would be in â€œEkene Dili Chukwuâ€. Certainly, as a joke, no one wanted to be found in a bus bearing an inscription that wasnâ€™t promising or prospective.
In the light of the foregoing, let the reader therefore imagine the low income passenger who tentatively approaches a rickety bus bearing the rather odd inscription â€˜No telephone to Heavenâ€™. In the first place, such a passenger cannot afford a better bus but must travel anyway. Is such a passenger in a position to reject the offer to travel in the No telephone to Heaven bus?
These days, far too many passengers would of course travel with their mobile phones in their pockets or handbags but what is the prospect of knowing in advance that you cannot in any circumstance forward a telephone call to Heaven? In Orient Bank (Nig) Plc v. Bilante International Company Ltd. (1999) 8 NWLR (Pt. 515) p. 37, the Court of Appeal emphatically noted that an offer is a proposal which originates or emanates from the offeror to the offeree to enter into an agreement to do or not to do a particular thing.
Since the whole essence of offer is reciprocal acceptance, the Court further held, the offeror anticipates the expected acceptance and this he makes clearly in the offer. A valid offer, the Court said, must be precise and unequivocal, giving no room for speculation or conjecture as to its real content in the mind of the offeree.
The offeror must place at the doorstep of the offeree a clear intention and desire to enter into a contract with the offeree on clearly defined terms with an expectation of acceptance on the terms so defined or a possible counter offer, which could be a basis for further negotiation. The offeree also has the option of outright rejection of the offer.
In Alfontrin Ltd. V. Attorney General of the Federation (1996) 9 NWLR (Pt. 475) 634, it was held that an offer can be accepted in such a manner as may be implied by the nature of the offer. Thus, it may be accepted by the doing of the act which one is requested by terms of the offer to do.
Accordingly, the performance of a condition is sufficient acceptance without the notification of it under circumstances where an offeror in his offer impliedly indicates that he does not require notification of the acceptance of the offer. Before we consider in fuller detail the legal position of the traveller who is offered a long distance ride in an Akpuruka bus, let the elements of a valid contract be stated.
In B.C.C. Plc v. Sky Insp. (Nig) Ltd (2000) 17 NWLR (Pt. 795) 86, it was held that for a contract to be valid, the following elements must exist, namely, that there must be an agreement which consists of offer and acceptance.
There must in addition be some consideration which is some right, interest or benefit accruing to one party, or some forbearance, detriment, loss or responsibility given, suffered or undertaken by the other at his request. It is not necessary that the promisor should benefit from the consideration and it is sufficient if the promisee does some act from which a third party benefits and which he would not have ordinarily done but for the promise. There is yet a fourth requirement which is that there must be an intention to create legal relations between the parties as an agreement will not be enforced unless it evinces an intention to create legal relations. Such an intention will normally be inferred from the presence of consideration.
The reader, whether learned or not, should now be able to consider the legal position of the passenger whose intention is to board a bus which is not only in a suspect condition but bears the unusual inscriptions named above.
Once he has had a good look at the bus and sees its condition but nevertheless pays the low fare which this category of buses usually command, will he be right to complain if the bus breaks down after just a few kilometres or indeed gets involved in an accident? The discerning reader by now, must know that there are several angles to this hypothetical passengerâ€™s situation.