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JURISDICTION OF COURTS IN NIGERIA

JURISDICTION OF COURTS IN NIGERIA

JURISDICTION OF COURTS IN NIGERIA

  INTRODUCTION

The focus of this paper is on the Jurisdiction of courts in Nigeria. But before examining the types of courts in Nigeria and the extents of their Jurisdictions. It will be ideal to start off this discourse by examining the meaning and importance of Jurisdiction, the effect of decisions reached without jurisdiction by a court or tribunal and the necessary ingredients that must be present before a court of law or any tribunal can competently exercise its Jurisdiction upon a suit brought before it.

According to Black’s law dictionary,[1] it is “a court’s power to decide a case or issue a decree”.

It should be noted that the jurisdiction of a Court of law cannot be assumed or implied. It is generally donated by the Constitution or the enabling statute that established the court. Jurisdiction of a court is a fundamental and threshold issue in a proceeding and as such, it can be challenged at any time or stage even for the first time at the Supreme Court.[2] With respect to this, the court in Oloba v. Akereja [3] stated that:

“The issue of jurisdiction is very fundamental as it goes to the competence of the court or tribunal. If a court or tribunal is not competent to entertain a matter or claim or suit, it is a waste of valuable time for the court to embark on the hearing and determination of the suit, matter or claim. It is, therefore, an exhibition of wisdom to have the issue of jurisdiction or competence determined before embarking on the hearing and determination of the substantive matter. The issue of jurisdiction being a fundamental issue can be raised at any stage of the proceedings in the court of first instance or in the appeal courts.”

It is therefore necessary that a Court is clothed with the requisite jurisdiction to entertain a suit before it delves into the determination of the suit because once it is shown, by a party usually the Defendant, that a court of law or tribunal either before, during or after a proceeding, lacks the jurisdiction to entertain or adjudicate on a matter the whole proceeding no matter how brilliantly conducted will be null, void and of no legal effect whatsoever.

A recent case on the issue of the preeminence of jurisdiction was the case of Ports & Cargo Handling Services Company Ltd v. Migfo Nigeria Ltd decided by the Supreme Court. In that case, judgment was earlier given in favour of Migfo (the Respondent) at the Federal High Court and subsequently affirmed on appeal to the Court of Appeal by the Appellant. On the Appellant’s further appeal to the Supreme Court, it was contended for it that the Federal High Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the matter ab initio. The Supreme Court agreed with the Appellant and struck out the suit on the ground that the subject matter was a simple contract and not an admiralty matter as erroneously conceived by the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal which had earlier given judgements in favour of the   Respondent   (Migfo). The Respondent was thereby compelled to go and start the case de novo at the High Court of Lagos State.[4]

Once the issue of jurisdiction is raised before the court, it should be decided at the earliest stage of the proceedings in order to save the precious time of the court and before the merits of the case are considered and determined.[5] However, “In determining whether a court has jurisdiction in a matter or not, the court will examine or consider the nature of summons and statement of claim.”[6]

A court will be competent to assume jurisdiction on a matter where:- (a) the court is properly constituted as regards number and qualification of the members of the bench; (b) the subject matter of the action is within the jurisdiction of the court; and (c) the case before the court is initiated by due process of law, or that the condition precedent to the exercise of jurisdiction is complied with.[7]

In Nigeria, the basis of jurisdiction of the courts is the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. By the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, all courts in the federation derive their jurisdiction or competence from the constitution. In Nigeria, there are several ways of classifying courts, but the most important way of classification is superior courts of records and inferior courts of records.[8]

All the Courts established for the Federation and some of those established for the States under the Nigerian Constitution are referred to as the Superior Courts of records.[9]

The Nigerian constitution recognizes courts as either Federal or State courts. A primary difference between both is that the President appoints justices/judges to Federal courts, while State Governors appoint judges to state courts. All appointments (Federal or state) are based on the recommendations of the National Judicial Council subject to the confirmation of such appointment by the Senate (in the case of the Federal courts) and State House of Assembly (in the case of State Courts).

The Federal Courts are -The Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court, the High Court of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the Customary Court of Appeal of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and the National Industrial Court. The State Courts are The High Court of the State, the Sharia Court of Appeal, The Customary Court of Appeal.

SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA

Section 230 of the Constitution established the Supreme Court of Nigeria. It is the highest court of the land and also the court of last resort. It comprises of the Chief justice of Nigeria and such other numbers of Justices not exceeding twenty as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.[10] Appointment of the Chief Justice, as well as other justices of the court, is by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council subject to confirmation of the Senate.

The Supreme Court has both Original Jurisdiction and Appellate Jurisdiction. It has exclusive original Jurisdiction in matters between the Federal Government and State(s) Government as well as on matters between States of the federation in so far as the dispute involves questions of law or fact.[11] By the provisions s. 232(2), the National Assembly has extended the Supreme Court’s Original jurisdiction to adjudicate on any disputes arising from law or facts between the National Assembly and the president; the National Assembly and any state House of Assembly; and the National Assembly and a state of the federation.

The Appellate Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court confers on it exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine appeals from the Court of Appeal. In other words, an appeal can only lie from the decisions of the Court Appeal to this Court.[12]

COURT OF APPEAL

Section 233 of the Constitution established the Court of Appeal. It is next to the Supreme Court in the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria. It consists of the President of the Court of Appeal and such number of other justices, not less than forty-nine, of which a minimum of 3 shall be learned in Islamic personal law and also at least 3 learned in Customary law.

The court of Appeal also has dual Jurisdiction – Original and Appellate Jurisdiction. its Original Jurisdiction is limited to the exclusion of other courts on matters involving election petition concerning the office of the president or the vice president or questions as to whether the term of office of the president or the vice President has become ceased or vacant.[13]

By the Provisions of s.240 – 246, the court of appeal is empowered to hear and determine appeals from the decisions of the Federal High Court, the High Court of the Federation Capital Territory, Abuja, High Court of a state, Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Sharia Court of Appeal of a state, Customary Court of Appeal of a state and from decisions of a court-martial or other tribunals as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly to the exclusion of other courts of the federation.

It is pertinent to note at this junction that the National Industrial Court (NIC) is omitted from the Tier 3 courts whose decisions are generally appealable to the court of appeal. Prior to the decision of the Supreme Court in Skye Bank Plc v. Victor Anaemem Iwu[14], it was held that an aggrieved party who intends to appeal on issues before a National Industrial Court other than issues bordering on criminal appeals and appeals on questions of fundamental human rights had no constitutional right of appeal.

HIGH COURTS AND OTHER COURTS OF COORDINATE JURISIDICTION:

Next in rank to the Court of Appeal in the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria are the Federal High Court, the High Court of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the Customary Court of Appeal of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the High Court of the State, the Sharia Court of Appeal, the Customary Court of Appeal and the National Industrial Court.

THE FEDERAL HIGH COURT

The Federal High Court is established by the provisions of s. 249 of the constitution. There is a Federal High Court in each state of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory. The Federal High Court is made up of a Chief Judge and such number of judges the National Assembly may prescribe.[15]

The Federal High Court has exclusive criminal and civil jurisdiction with respect to the following matters arising from – Revenue of the Government of the Federation; taxation of companies and other bodies established or carrying on business in Nigeria; Customs and excise duties and export duties; banking; Banking operation, except ordinary customer and banker issue; Operation of the Companies and Allied Matters Act; Intellectual property ; Maritime; Diplomatic, Consular and Trade Representation; Citizenship; Bankruptcy and Insolvency; Aviation and Safety of Aircraft; Arms, Ammunition and Explosives; Drugs and Poisons; Mines and Minerals; Weights and Measures; Administration, Management and Control of the Federal Government or any of its agencies; Action for a declaration or injunction affecting the validity of any executive or administrative action or decisions by the Federal Government or any of its agencies; The operation and interpretation of the Constitution. The court also has jurisdiction to entertain matters on Treason, Treasonable Felony and Allied Offences[16]

It is pertinent to note that the Federal High Court can only adjudicate on the matters clearly specified under the provisions of section 251 of the Constitution and nowhere is it stated therein that the court has Jurisdiction on all matters involving the Federal Government or its Agent. For instance, matters arising from simple contractual relationship even where the Federal Government or its agent is a party is not justiciable at the court.[17]

The Federal High Court is vested with an appellate jurisdiction to hear and determine appeals from Decisions of Appeal Tribunals established pursuant to the provisions of the Companies Income Tax Act 2004 and the Personal Income Tax Act; Customs, Immigration and Prison Services Boards, Magistrate Courts in respect of civil or criminal causes transferred to such courts pursuant to the provisions of the Federal High Court Act; any other body established under any Federal statutes on matters over which the Federal High Court may exercise such jurisdiction.[18]

THE NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT OF NIGERIA

Section 254 (a) (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) or the Third Alteration Act 2010 establishes the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NINC). The NINC consists of the President National Industrial Court and such number of judges National Industrial Court not less than 12.[19] They are appointed by the President on the recommendation of the national judicial council.

The section 254C(1) (a) – (k) of the 1999 CFRN (Third Alteration) Act 2010 confers exclusive original civil jurisdiction on the NICN over civil causes and matters relating to or connected with trade disputes, labour practices, matters related to the Factories Act, Trade Disputes Act, Trade Unions Act, Labour Act, Employees’ Compensation Act or any other Act or Law relating to labour, employment, industrial relations, workplace or any other enactment replacing the Acts or Laws.

By the provisions of section 254C (5), the criminal jurisdiction of the NINC arising from all such matters listed under section 254(c) is not exclusive to the court.

The NINC is vested with an appellate jurisdiction to hear and determine appeals from decisions of the Registrar of Trade Unions, or matters relating thereto or connected therewith and appeals from the decisions or recommendations of any administrative body or commission of enquiry, arising from or connected with employment, labour, trade unions or industrial relations.[20] It is also vested with the powers to entertain any application for the enforcement of the award, decision, ruling or order made by any arbitral tribunal or commission, administrative body, or board of inquiry relating to, connected with, arising from or pertaining to any matter of which falls under its jurisdiction.[21]

The High Court of State and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja

Sections 255(1) and 270 (1) of the Constitution established the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory and States respectively. These courts consist of a Chief Judge and such number of Judges of the Court as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly (in the case of the High of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja)[22] and a Law of the House of Assembly (in the case of a State)[23]

These High Courts have dual jurisdiction – original jurisdiction in all civil and criminal matters other than those within the purview of the Federal High Court and appellate jurisdictions over inferior courts or tribunals, situated within their Territorial jurisdiction.[24]

They have the jurisdiction to hear and determine any civil proceeding in which the existence or extent of a legal right, power, duty, liability privilege, interest, obligation or claim is in issue or to hear and determine any criminal proceeding involving or relating to any penalty, forfeiture, punishment or other liability in respect of an offence committed by any person.[25]

Sharia Court of Appeal of a State AND THE Federal Capital Territory, Abuja

Sections 260(1) and 275 (1) of the Constitution established the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory and that of the States respectively. These courts consist of a Grand kadi and such number of Kadis of the Sharia Court as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly (in the case of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja)[26] and a Law of the House of Assembly (in the case of a State that has enacted the Sharia).

The Sharia Court of  Appeal is mainly of an appellate court and is vested with the power to hear and determine appeals bordering on the questions of Islamic personal law arising from the decisions of Upper Area Court and any Area Court grade I or II in any civil proceeding involving a question of Islamic personal law within its territorial jurisdiction.[27]  It should be noted that land matters are not within the jurisdiction of the Court even where the parties to the suit are Muslims.[28] 

The Customary Court of Appeal of a State and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja

Sections 265(1) and 280 (1) of the Constitution established the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory and States respectively. These courts consist of a President of Customary Court of Appeal and such number of Judges of the Customary Court of Appeal of as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly (in the case of the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja)[29] and a Law of the House of Assembly (in the case of a State)[30]

The Customary Court of Appeal is mainly of an appellate court and is vested with the power to hear and determine appeals bordering on the questions of customary laws arising from the decisions of Customary courts.[31]

CONCLUSION

Apart from all the courts directly created by virtue of the 1999 Constitution, there are other inferior courts created by various state laws.

These courts are the lowest courts in the hierarchy, and they are under the control of states and the Federal Capital Territory. They include the Magistrate/ District Courts that handle English law cases; the Customary Courts that handle Customary law cases and the Sharia Courts that handle Sharia law cases.

The judgments from these inferior courts can be appealed only to their respective higher courts within their respective jurisdiction or states.

By Emmanuel Adebayo, a legal intern at Resolution Law Firm


[1] Bryan Garner, ed., Black’s Law Dictionary, Ninth Edition, (West Publishing, 2009) p.297

[2] Madukolu v. Nkemdilim (1962) 2 All NLR 581

[3] (1988) 3 NWLR (PART 84) 508 At 520 C – E Per Obaseki JSC

[4] Lateef (n.1)        

[5] Abubarkar v. Usman (2009) 6 N.W.L.R. Pt. 1136 69 at pp. 93-94

[6] Abdul-Raheem V. Oloruntoba-Oju (2007) WRN (Vol. 2) 28 At 67 Lines 10 – 20, 71 – 72 Lines 30 – 25 (CA)

[7] Chris v. Ononuju (2008) 9 NWLR (Pt.1093) 642 at 651), Per Tsamiya J.C.A.

[8]. A.O. Obilade, The Nigerian Legal System (fist published 1979, London: Sweet & Maxwell) p.160

[9] Sections 6 (3) And (6)(5)(a) – (i)

[10]  Section 230(2)

[11] s.232(1); Att. Gen. of Abia State v. Att. Gen. of the Federation (2003) LPELR-610(SC)

[12] section 233 (5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended)

[13] s. 233 of the constitution, Attorney-General of the Federation v. Abubakar, LPELR-8995(CA).

[14] (2017) LPELR-42595(SC)

[15] Section 249(2)

[16] Section 251(2)

[17] Central Bank of Nigeria V.  Maiyini  Century Company Ltd & Anor.(2017) LPELR-43024(CA)

[18] Section 28 Of The Federal High Court Act 2004 (As Amended)

[19] Section 1(2) Of The National Industrial Court Act, 2006

[20] Section 254(C) (I)(i) Of The Constitution

[21] Section 254(C) (4) Of The Constitution

[22] Section 255(1)(b)

[23] Section 270(1)(b)

[24] Section 257(2) And Section 272(2)

[25] Section 257(1) And Section 272 (1)

[26] Section 260(1)(a) And(b)

[27] Section 262(1)

[28] Muhammadu Sarkin Omataude V. Gambo  Maigoro Gosum (2017) LPELR-43208(CA)

[29] Section 265(2)

[30] Section 280(2)

[31] Section 267 and Section 282

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