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JURISDICTION IS A THRESHOLD ISSUE

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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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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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JURISDICTION GOES TO THE FOUNDATION OF ANY MATTER

Jurisdiction is very fundamental to adjudication because it goes to the foundational competence of any cause or matter or action before the Court. It is indeed the epicenter of the entire litigation process and thus, without it there can be no validity in any proceedings or resultant judgment or ruling of the Court. Thus, without jurisdiction there can be no competence in the Court to exercise its adjudicatory powers. In such a situation, zealousness to do substantial justice, where there is no competence, is not a virtue. It is simply over zealousness. This is so because “Without jurisdiction, the laborers that is the litigant and counsel on the one hand and the Court on the hand labor in vain”.

– B.A. Georgewill, JCA. Ganiyu v. Oshoakpemhe & Ors. (2021) – CA/B/12A/2021

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COURT OF LAW SHOULD EXERCISE JURISDICTION WHERE

It is well settled, that a Court of law or tribunal is deemed competent to entertain and determine a matter or action before it if: (a) It is properly constituted in regard to numbers and qualification of the member thereof, and no member is disqualified for any reason whatsoever; (b) The subject matter of the case is within its jurisdiction, and there is no feature therein preventing the Court from exercising its jurisdiction; and (c) The case is initiated by due process of law, and upon satisfying any condition precedent to the exercise of jurisdiction. See Madukolu v. Nkemdilim (1962) 1 All NLR 587; (1962) 2 SCNLR 341; Mark v. Eke (1997) 11 NWLR (Pt. 529) 501; SLB Consotium Ltd v. NNPC (2011) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1252) 317, (2011) 5 SCM 187.

– I.M.M. Saulawa JSC. Ihim v. Maduagwu (2021)

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THE FCT HIGH COURT IS NOT A COURT FOR ALL PURPOSE

Section 299 of the 1999 Constitution, be it noted, regards the FCT, Abuja “as if it were one of the States of the Federation”. Accordingly, for all intents and purposes, FCT High Court, under the Constitution, is no more than a State High Court. The Constitution has never intended it to be a High Court at large with Jurisdiction over matters outside its territory.

– E. Eko JSC. Mailantarki v. Tongo (2017) – SC.792/2015

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FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHT CLAIM HINGED ON SUBJECT MATTER OUTSIDE FHC JURISDICTION, THE FHC LACKS JURISDICTION

The Supreme Court in ADETONA V. IGELE GENERAL ENTERPRISES LTD. (2011) 7 NWLR (PT. 1247) PG 542 at page 543 held: “Where a person’s fundamental right is breached, being breached or about to be breached, that person may apply under Section 46(1) to the Judicial Division of the Federal High Court in the State or the High Court of the State or that of the Federal Capital Territory in which the breach occurred or is occurring or about to occur. This is irrespective of whether the right involved comes within the legislative competence of the Federation, or the State or the Federal Capital Territory. However it should be noted that the exercise of this jurisdiction by the Federal High Court is where the fundamental right threatened or breached falls within the enumerated matters on which that Court has jurisdiction. Thus, fundamental rights arising from matters outside its jurisdiction cannot be enforced by the Federal High Court.”

Furthermore, the Supreme Court in the most explicit terms interpreted Section 46(2) of the Constitution at P.564, para. E; F, thus: “On Jurisdiction of the Federal and State High Court over action for enforcement of fundamental rights – A High Court of a State lacks Jurisdiction to entertain matters on Fundamental Rights, although brought pursuant to Section 46(2) of the Constitution, where the alleged breach arose from a transaction or subject matter which falls within the exclusive Jurisdiction of the Federal High Court as provided by Section 251 of the Constitution.”

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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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