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JURISDICTION IS A THRESHOLD ISSUE

Dictum

I intend to consider first the Issue of jurisdiction canvassed under Issue 3. It is a threshold issue. It is now universally accepted that when an objection is raised in respect of the competence of a suit or an appeal, the jurisdiction of the court that entertained the suit becomes an issue and that the court has a fundamental, if not imperative, duty to resolve the issue before delving into the merits of the case. See B.A.S.F. NIG. LTD v. FAITH ENTERPRISES LTD (2010) 41.1 NSCQR 381 at page 411 per Adekeye JSC. It is an established principle of Nigerian law that where a court lacks competence to try a person or subject matter before it, whatever decision it arrives at on such a person or subject matter is a nullity: NIGERIAN ARMY v. AMINUN-KANO (2010) 41.1 NSCQR 76. If the suit or appeal was not initiated by due process of court and upon fulfillment of any conditions precedent to the exercise of jurisdiction, the competence of the court to adjudicate in the suit or appeal will be adversely affected: MADUKOLU v. NKEMDILIM (1962) 2 SCNLR 342.

— E. Eko, JCA. SPDC v. Ejebu (2010) – CA/PH/239M/2002

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THE GENERAL PRINCIPLE OF LAW IS THAT JURISDICTION MUST BE HEARD FIRST

The general principle of law, backed up by legion of authorities from the apex Court is that where a jurisdiction of a Court is challenged, the Court should expeditiously attend to the objection before taking any other further step in the proceedings. The rationale behind this practice is that the question of jurisdiction of Court is a radical and crucial question of competence, for if a Court has no jurisdiction to hear and determine a case, the totality of the proceedings, including orders made therein, are and remain a nullity, no matter how well conducted and brilliantly decided they might be. In other words, once an issue of jurisdiction is raised, until it is resolved, the Court cannot hear any other applications or any issue except to first determine whether it is possessed of the jurisdiction to determine the case. The Supreme Court has stated severally that it is an exhibition of wisdom to first determine when the Court has the jurisdiction to entertain the matter before it. See Yusuf vs. Egbe (1987) 2 NWLR (Pt. 56) 341, Dapianlong vs. Dariye (2007) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1036) 332, Ukwu vs. Bunge (1997) 8 NWLR (Pt. 518) 527, Nnonye vs. Anyichie (2005) 2 NWLR (Pt. 910) 623, A – G Anambra vs. A-G, Federation (1993) 6 NWLR (Pt. 321) 962.

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

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WHEN A COURT IS COMPETENT TO EXERCISE JURISDICTION OVER A SUIT

A court is said to be competent to exercise jurisdiction over a suit when the following are present: 1. It is properly constituted as regards members and qualification of the members of the bench and no member is disqualified for one reason or another; 2. The subject matter of the case is within its jurisdiction, and there is no feature in the case which prevents the Court from exercising its jurisdiction; and 3. The case comes before the Court initiated by due process of law, and upon fulfilment of any condition precedent to the exercise of jurisdiction. See MADUKOLU V. NKEMDILIM (1962) 2 SCNLR 341; O’BAU ENGINEERING LTD V. ALMASOL (NIG.) LTD (2022) LPELR 57985 (SC); PETROLEUM (SPECIAL) TRUST FUND V. FIDELITY BANK & ORS (2021) LPELR 56625 (SC); ENEH V. NDIC & ORS (2018) LPELR 44902 (SC); JAMES V. INEC & ORS (2015) LPELR 24494 (SC).

— A. Jauro, JSC. PDP v INEC (2023) – SC/CV/501/2023

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ISSUES ON CONSTITUTION AND JURISDICTION SHOULD BE ADDRESSED AT EARLIEST OPPORTUNITY

It is crystal clear that the question involved in issue 2 for the determination of this court is entirely constitutional. A constitutional issue, like the question of jurisdiction, is not only fundamental but must be disposed of by the court as soon as it is raised to ensure that the proceedings in which it is raised is not rendered nugatory and null and void and that the Constitution which is the supreme law of the land is not breached. See Alhaji Rufai Agbaje and others v. Mrs. W.A. Adelekan and others (1990) 7 NWLR (Pt. 164) 595 at 614. It is in the interest of the best administration of justice that where the issue of jurisdiction or a constitutional issue is raised in any proceedings before any court, it should be dealt with at the earliest opportunity and before a consideration of any other issues raised in the proceedings as anything purportedly done without or in excess of jurisdiction or in breach of the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, by any court established under the said Constitution is a nullity and of no effect whatever. See On venta and others v. Oputa and others (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt.60) 259; (1987) 2 N.S.C.C. 900; Attorney General of the Federation and others v. Sode and other (1990) 1 NWLR (Pt. 128) 500; (1990) I N.S.C.C. 271; Tukur v. Government of Gongola State (1989) 4 NWLR (Pt. 117) 517 at 545 etc. Accordingly, I will proceed firstly to examine issue 2 which raises a grave constitutional question in this appeal.

— Iguh JSC. Onuoha v State (1998) – SC. 24/1996

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COURT HAS JURISDICTION TO DETERMINE IF IT HAS JURISDICTION

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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MEANING AND IMPORTANCE OF JURISDICTION

Jurisdiction is defined broadly as the limits imposed on the power of a validly constituted court to hear and determine issues between persons seeking to avail themselves of its process by reference to the subject matter of the issues or to the persons between whom the issues are founded or to the kind of relief sought. The question of jurisdiction of a court is a radical and crucial question of competence because if a court has no jurisdiction to hear and determine a case, the proceedings are and remain a nullity ab initio no matter how well conducted and brilliantly decided they might be, because a defect in competence is not intrinsic but extrinsic to the process of adjudication. It is trite law that jurisdiction of a court is determined by the plaintiffs’ claim as endorsed in the writ of summons and statement of claim even where a Federal Government Agency is involved.

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

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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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