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COURT JURISDICTION IN CUSTOMARY RIGHT OF OCCUPANCY GRANTED BY LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Dictum

Olaleye-Ote & Anor v. Babalola (2012) LPELR-9275(SC), where it was stated that, “The Land Use Act vested jurisdiction in proceedings relating to Customary Right of Occupancy granted by a Local Government on: ‘An Area Court or Customary Court or other Court of equivalent jurisdiction in a State without classification. The State Law imposed classification with jurisdiction of each grade of Court based on the value or annual rental value of the land, this modifying the jurisdiction conferred by the Federal Law.’ In my humble view, the Federal Legislature effectively covered the field in relation to the jurisdiction of the relevant Courts over proceedings in matters of customary right of occupancy granted by a Local Government. The State Law conferring jurisdiction according to Grade and value of the land in litigation is in conflict with S.41 of the Land Use Act, a Federal legislation.”

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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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JUDGEMENT GIVEN WITHOUT JURISDICTION IS NULL

para. 25: “25. For clarity, the Defendant and the Intervener raised a serious issue of lack of competence of the Court to adjudicate on the matter. It is trite law that a judgment given without jurisdiction amounts to a nullity no matter how well detailed or conducted the proceedings are.”

Ugokwe v FRN (2005) – ECW/CCJ/JUD/03/05

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SUBJECT MATTER, TERRITORIAL, AND PERSONAL JURISDICTIONS OF COURT

By way of a rider, I would want to add that my observation for quite some time now, has shown that the issue of which court has jurisdiction over certain matters, between the Federal High Court and a State High Court, generates anxiety among lawyers. Let me say, from the outset, that the two courts are both superior courts of record. Each is a creature of the Constitution. The matters of jurisdiction in our courts, is generally, approached from three dimensions: territorial, subject matter and jurisdiction on persons. On territorial jurisdiction, the Federal High Court enjoys nationwide jurisdiction whereas a State High Court is confined to the territory of the State and that of the Federal Capital Territory to the Federal Capital Territory. On subject matter jurisdiction, the High Court of a State, by the provision of Section 236 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, enjoys unlimited jurisdiction. The Federal High Court has limited jurisdiction or jurisdiction on some enumerated subject matters. A State High Court has jurisdiction mostly over natural persons. Federal High Court has jurisdiction over both natural and artificial persons. There are areas where both the Federal High Court and High Court of a State enjoys concurrent jurisdiction. Example of such is the enforcement of Fundamental Human Rights conferred in Chapter IV of the Constitution.

— I.T. Muhammad, JSC. Adetona & Ors. v Igele (2011) – SC.237/2005

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THE CONCEPT OF JURISDICTION

The concept of what jurisdiction encompasses was proffered in the judgment of this Honourable Court in Aladejobi v. N.B.A. (2013) 15 NWLR (Pt.1376) page 66 at 81, wherein this Court held as to the Constitution of jurisdiction thus: “It is said to be the authority which a Court has to decide matters that are litigated before it or to take cognizance of matters presented in a formal way for its decision. Such authority of the Court is controlled or circumscribed by the statute creating the Court itself or it may be circumscribed by a condition precedent created by a legislation which must be fulfilled before the Court can entertain the suit. It is the power and authority of a Court to hear and determine a judicial proceedings and power to render particular judgment in a cause of action.”

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WHERE COURT LACKS JURISDICTION, IT CANNOT DETERMINE ANY ISSUE

Kekere-Ekun JSC in the case of James v INEC Supra, at Page 583-584 Para H-A: “…it is clear that where a court lacks jurisdiction to entertain a cause or matter, it lacks jurisdiction to determine any issue arising within that cause or matter. To attempt to do so would amount to delving into the merit of the case, which would amount to a nullity in the event that the court lacks jurisdiction to determine the suit.”

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LAND USE ACT DID NOT CONVERT A TENANT INTO AN OWNER

It was not the aim of the Land Use Act to convert a tenant into an owner merely by the fact that such tenant was in occupation of his landlord’s land before the inception of the Act.

— Oputa JSC. Onwuka & Ors. V. Ediala & Anor. (SC.18/1987, 20 January 1989)

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