One of the commonest applications that regularly confront the Courts of law at all levels, ranging from the inferior Courts (such as Magistrate Courts, Customary Courts, etc.) to the Superior Courts of record established under Section 6(5)(a)-(k) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), is applications for substituted service of court processes. The concept of substituted service of court processes is often employed where personal service cannot be conveniently effected and is usually brought vide a motion ex-parte for leave to serve the relevant processes by substituted means. Please see: Mark & Anor v. Eke (2004) LPELR – 1841 (SC).

However, due to the legal procedure through which an order for substituted service is usually sought and obtained, to wit: “by motion ex-parte”, with its characteristic feature of being generally unobjectionable by the adverse party, applications for substituted service are considered by many as innocuous applications. As a result, a number of actors and players in the justice sector are seemingly oblivious of some fundamental legal rules and principles applicable to substituted service of court processes, and the far-reaching consequences arising from a breach thereof, including the effect of rendering an entire proceeding nugatory or a nullity. This article seeks to demystify these legal rules and principles. To achieve the overall objective of this article, the concept of substituted service of court processes shall be x-rayed under the following headings, to wit:

  1. The fundamentality of service of court processes 

  2. When substituted service can be properly employed

  3. Persons against whom an order for substituted service cannot be properly made

  4. Void and defective substituted service

  5. Cure to proceedings tainted with defective substituted service.

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