The jurisdiction of the Federal High Court is enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), which provides for the judiciary arm of Government (the Courts). Section 249 (1) of the Constitution created the Federal High Court, which is the third-highest court in the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria. The Federal High Court Act 1973 regulates and governs matters relating to the court.
The jurisdiction of the Federal High Court is the inherent power and extent of the powers of the Federal High Court to determine a civil and criminal proceeding instituted before it. The jurisdiction of the court is provided in Section 251 of the Constitution, which will be highlighted below.
Structure and Organization
The Federal High Court is composed of the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and any number of Judges of the Federal High Court as may be prescribed by the Act of National Assembly as stated in Section 249 of the Constitution. The Federal High Court Act provides that the Federal High Court shall consist of the Chief Judge and fifty (50) Judges of the Court.
The appointment of a person to the office of the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court is made by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC), subject to the confirmation of the Senate as provided in Section 250 of the Constitution. The appointments of Judges are made by the President on the recommendation of the NJC.
The Constitution further states that a person will not be qualified to hold the office of the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court unless he is a qualified legal practitioner for not less than ten (10) years.
Jurisdiction of the Federal High Court
Section 251(1) of the Constitution highlights the powers of the Federal High Court to determine legal matters and the extent of these powers as conferred by the Constitution and the Act of the National Assembly. The section provides that “notwithstanding anything contained in the Constitution and in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly, the Federal High Court shall have and exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in civil cases and matters-
a. relating to the revenue of the Government of the Federation in which the said Government or any organ thereof or a person suing or being sued on behalf of the said Government is a party.
b. connected with or pertaining to the taxation of companies and other bodies established or carrying on business in Nigeria and all other persons subject to Federal taxation.
c. connected with or pertaining to customs and excise duties and export duties, including any claim by or against the Nigeria Customs Service or any member or officer thereof, arising from the performance of any duty imposed under any regulation relating to customs, exercise duties, and export duties.
d. connected with or pertaining to banking, banks, other financial institutions, including any action between one bank and another, any action against Central Bank of Nigeria arising from banking, foreign exchange, coinage, legal tender, bills of exchange, letters of credit, promissory notes and other fiscal measures. (Provided that this paragraph shall not apply to any dispute between an individual customer and his bank in respect of transaction between the individual customer and the bank).
e. arising from the operation of the Companies and Allied Matters Act or any enactments replacing the Act or regulating the operations of companies incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act.
f. any Federal enactment relating to copyright, patents, designs, trademark, and passing off, industrial designs and merchandise marks, business names, commercial and industrial monopolies, combines and trusts, standards of goods and commodities, and industrial standards.
g. any admiralty jurisdiction, including shipping and navigation on the River Niger or River Benue and their affluent and on such other inland waterways as may be designated by any enactment to be an international waterway, all Federal ports (including the constitution and powers of the ports authority for Federal ports) and carriage by sea.
h. diplomatic, consular, and trade representation
i. citizenship, naturalization and aliens, the deportation of persons who are not citizens of Nigeria, extradition, immigration into and, emigration from Nigeria, passports, and visas.
j. bankruptcy and insolvency.
k. aviation and safety of aircraft.
l. arms, ammunition and, explosives.
m. drugs and poisons.
n. mines and minerals (including oil fields, oil mining, geological surveys, and natural gas).
o. weights and measures.
p. the administration or the management and control of the Federal Government or any of its agencies.
q. subject to the provisions of the Constitution, the operation, and interpretation of the Constitution in so far as it affects the Federal Government or any of its agencies.
r. any action or proceeding for a declaration or injunction affecting the validity of any executive or administrative action or decision by the Federal Government or any of its agencies.
s. such other jurisdiction civil or criminal and whether to the exclusion of any other court or not as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly”.
The Federal High Court also has jurisdiction and powers in respect of treason, treasonable felony, and allied offenses as stated in Section 251(2). It also exercises jurisdiction and powers in respect of criminal causes and matters in respect of all matters listed above in section 251(1) of the Constitution.
The National Assembly may also by law make provisions to confer upon the Federal High Court additional powers as may appear necessary or desirable for enabling the Court more effectively to exercise its jurisdiction. The various legislations, which have conferred or widened the jurisdictions of the Federal High Court among others include the Federal High Court Act; Copyright Act; Trade Marks Act; Admiralty Jurisdiction Act; Companies and Allied Matters Act; and Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act.
With respect to the constitution of the Federal High Court to have jurisdiction to determine a matter, Section 253 of the Constitution provides that “the Federal High Court shall be duly constituted if it consists of at least one Judge of the Court”.
The Federal High Court is a superior court of record in Nigeria and it has coordinate jurisdiction with the High Courts of various states of the Federation as conferred upon it by the provisions of the Constitution. Although the Federal High Court has various judicial divisions across many states in Nigeria, it is considered a single court.
By Winifred Idiaru, an Associate at Resolution Law Firm