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Proving Oral Contracts under Nigerian Law

posted 4 years ago


oral contract is an express or implied agreement which creates legal rights and
obligations outlined or agreed to in spoken words. Generally, it is referred to
as an informal contract due to the unwritten nature of this form of contract. Though,
it is difficult to prove oral contracts, it is legally binding under Nigerian
law; especially where there is a breach of contract. There is a breach of
contract where a party, without legal excuse, fails to perform its obligations
under the contract, whether written or oral.

Essentials of a contract

like a written contract, an oral contract must be valid to be legally binding on the parties. It must satisfy certain
basic requirement in order to be enforceable. For an oral contract to be valid
there must be an offer, an acceptance, a legal consideration and an intention to be legally bound.

offer is an expression of readiness to contract on terms specified or implied
by the offeror (one who makes an
offer to another). An acceptance on
the other hand is a reasonable assent, communicated by the offeree (a person to whom an offer to enter
into contract is made) in agreement to the terms made in the offer.

legal consideration, is some benefit received by a party who gives a promise or
performs an act, or some detriment suffered by a party who receives the offer.
It can also be referred to as the motive, price or impelling influence that
induces a party to enter into a contract.

must also be a clear intention to create legally binding relations,
unequivocally expressed by both parties. The parties must have the legal
capacity to contract because a person under 18 (eighteen) years of age cannot
enter into a valid contract under Nigerian law.

court is unlikely to uphold the terms of a contract which does not have the essential
elements of a valid contract. Nevertheless, a contract made orally, without its
terms being reduced to writing and signed by the parties can still be valid and
binding. The real problem is establishing that a contract actually exists and
its terms.

Proving an oral contract

order to prove oral contract, the party that asserts the existence of such a
contract is required to prove such fact by adducing credible evidence on the existence of the contract and its terms

(a)  Written Communications;

Some form of communications may substantiate
the oral contract between the parties. This include letters, email
correspondence, text messages, receipts, photographs, notes, quotes, faxes,
bills of quantities, evaluation and other communication in a written form.  

(b) Conduct of the Parties;

behavior or circumstances of the parties involved can be shown to be proof of
an existing contract. Indeed the conduct of parties may give life to an
incomplete contract where their conducts or performance objectively show that
the parties had an intention to be bound by contract.

(c)  Reliable Verbal Testimony
of any of the Parties

contract between parties can be established by their words of intention. For
example, if a person walks inside a restaurant and orders for food and same is
given to him then it is assumed that a binding oral contract has been entered. The
party who demanded the food cannot refuse to pay for the food by claiming that the
food is free or there is no written contract. 

(d) Testimony of Third Parties;

an instance where third parties were present when an oral contract was made between
the parties or when the contract was performed, they third parties may testify
to the existence or otherwise of the contract. The third parties can also give evidence on the terms of the contract.

(e)  Proof of Execution of
Obligations Under the Contract

it is proved that a party has executed his or her obligations under a contract,
a valid contract can be inferred between the parties. For example, if a person
is promised some benefit to perform an act, when that party performs the act, this
would establish a contract between the parties.

(f)   Collection Attempts;

made to collect what is owed to a party may be proof of an existing contract between
parties. This may include copies of demand notices for payment of outstanding
debt, letters in respond to such notices, etc. 

(g) Bounced Cheques and Unpaid

that have been bounced for lack of funds in the issuers account and unpaid invoices
are useful evidence to proof the existence of a contractual relationship
between the parties. This is effective where one of the parties allege the
non-existence of a contract.     

(h) Evidence of Part Payment

of payment of a sum less than the whole amount owed is equally credible
evidence to prove the existence of an oral contract.


Nonetheless, under
Nigerian law, every contract for the sale of land, any contract which involves
disposition of land (for example, land to be disposed by a Will, etc.),
contract to enter into a Mortgage Agreement or charge on land as well as every
contract requiring another person to answer for the debt of a third person must
be made in writing. The law does not allow for these kinds of contracts to be
entered orally. 



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