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COURT HAS JURISDICTION TO DETERMINE IF IT HAS JURISDICTION

Dictum

Before a court finally determines a case pending, it is seised with jurisdiction to determine whether or not it has jurisdiction, but once the court has declined jurisdiction it is functus officio – such a decision can only be referred to an appellate court.

— O.O. Adekeye, JCA. Omotunde v. Omotunde (2000) – CA/I/M.57/2000

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SHIFT FROM THE GENERAL PRINCIPLE THAT JURISDICTION MUST BE HEARD FIRST

A Court is naked and exposed without jurisdiction. It is therefore the general rule to determine jurisdiction first whilst it is an exceptional rule to take steps in defending of protecting the authority of the court first before jurisdiction. However, in recent times, there appears to be a move or a shift by the courts away from the general principle of law which state that the issue of jurisdiction must be determined first before taking any other step in the proceedings. This is due to some unscrupulous litigants who perch on the general principle of objection of jurisdiction to intentionally delay litigation and prosecutions of cases to the annoyance of their adversaries and in most cases resulting to abuse of court processes. In such cases the litigants are bent to drag the issue of jurisdiction up to the Apex Court while the substantive matter is stayed in the trial court thereby resulting in delay of cases. In order to honour the time adage of “justice delayed is just denied,” some courts have employed the practice of hearing preliminary objections on jurisdiction along with the substantive matter but decide the issue of jurisdiction first in the judgment. Some courts also in the spirit of quick dispensation of justice, have also made Rules of Court which have provided for the consolidation of preliminary objection with any other court process where the other process is an originating summons where the facts are not in dispute. See Order 29 Rule 1 of the Federal High Court Rules, 2009; Inakoju vs. Adeleke (2007) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1025) 423, First Inland Bank Plc. vs. Alliance International Nigeria Limited delivered on 23/1/2013 in CA/E/96/2009.

– T. Akomolafe-Wilson, JCA. Onnoghen v. FRN (2019) – CA/A/44C/2019

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WHERE A PARTY IS A FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AGENCY, THE FHC THAT HAS JURISDICTION

In the case of INEGBEDION V. SELO-OJEMEN & ANOR. (2013) LPELR – 19769 (SC); the Apex Court held: “The effect of Paragraphs (p), (q) and (r) of Section 251 (1) of the 1999 Constitution is to vest exclusive jurisdiction on the Federal High Court over all civil causes and matters in which the Federal Government or any of its agencies is a party. See NEPA V. EDEGBERO (2002) 103 LRCN 2280 at 2281 2282. The provision to Section 251 (1) of the 1999 Constitution does not in any way detract from the exclusive jurisdiction conferred on the Federal High Court by virtue of Section 251 (1) (p), (q) and (r). Consequently the proviso cannot apply.” Per Stanley Shenko Alagoa, J.S.C. (Pp 13 -14 para F – B).

Furthermore the Supreme Court went on to state that: “The law is unequivocally stated by the 1999 Constitution [as amended] in Section 251 (1) (p), (q), (r) and by this Court that where in a matter, one of the parties is the Federal Government or any of its Agencies, it is only the Federal High Court that has exclusive jurisdiction. A State High Court lacks jurisdiction to entertain such a matter. See: NATIONAL ELECTRIC POWER AUTHORITY V. EDEGBERO (2002) 18 NWLR (part 789) 79.” Per Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, J.S.C (p. 15, paras A – B).

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NULLITY FOR LACK OF JURISDICTION

Without doubt, where a case is heard and judgment is delivered by a court without jurisdiction, the proceedings will be a nullity. – Iguh, JSC. Oshatoba v. Olujitan (2000)

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SITUATIONS WHERE ISSUE OF JURISDICTION MAY BE RAISED

Any objection to the jurisdiction of a court can be raised in any of the following situations – a. On the basis of the statement of claim, b. On the basis of evidence received, c. By motion supported by affidavit setting out facts relied on, d. On the face of writ of summons. Where appropriate as to the capacity in which the action was brought or against whom the action was brought.

— O.O. Adekeye, JSC. Goldmark & Ors. v. Ibafon Co. & Ors. (2012) – SC.421/2001

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THERE ARE TWO TYPES OF JURISDICTION

In A.G. Kwara State & Anor v Saka Adeyemo & Ors (2016) 7 SC (Pt.II) p. 149. I said that: Jurisdiction is a question of law. There are two types of jurisdiction. 1. Jurisdiction as a matter of procedural law. 2. Jurisdiction as a matter of substantive law. A litigant may waive the former. Again in Appeal No: SC.175/2005 Heritage Bank Ltd v Bentworth Finance (Nigeria) Ltd decided by this Court on 23 February, 2018 Eko J.S.C. explained the distinction between substantive jurisdiction and procedural jurisdiction.

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JURISDICTION IS FUNDAMENTAL TO ADJUDICATION

Jurisdiction, it is settled, is fundamental to adjudication. It is a radical and crucial necessity for, as in the instant case, where a Court proceeds without jurisdiction to hear the case, the proceedings so embarked upon by the Court are a nulity ab initio however well conducted the proceedings and brilliantly decided the issues agitated therein are. Defect in the Court’s competence is intrinsic and not extrinsic to the entire adjudicatory process. See Oloriode V. Oyebi (1984) 5 SC 1 at 32 33, Mustapha V, Governor of Lagos State and Musaconi Limited V. Mr. H, Aspinall (2013) LPELR 20745 (SC). It must be restated that a Court is only vested with jurisdiction and power to adjudicate on an issue when the matter is brought before it in accordance with both substantive and adjectival law. See Madukolu V. Nkemdilim (1962) SCNLR 341, Ukwu V. Bunge (1997) 8 NWLR (Pt 678) 527.

— M.D. Muhammad, JSC. Onyekwuluje v Animashaun (2019) – SC.72/2006

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