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FEDERAL HIGH COURT HAS JURISDICTION IN MATTERS OF FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AGENCY

Dictum

The very fact that the operation and interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution affecting the powers and functions of a Federal Government agency is the main subject of this case, the 1st Respondent, the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation as the Chief Law Officer of the entire Federation appointed under Section 150 of the same Constitution, who is therefore not only the guardian of the Constitution but also the protector of the same, the Appellant’s action which sought to protect the violation of the provisions of the Constitution, is certainly not only regarded as an action against the National Judicial Council whose powers and functions were subject of the violation but also against the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation whose role in protecting the provisions of the Constitution from being violated, was in issue in the case. These features of this case are what brought the case within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court.

– Mahmud, JSC. Elelu-Habeeb v. A.G Federation (2012)

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TRIAL COURT JURISDICTION DETERMINES COURT OF APPEAL’S JURISDICTION

In APGA V. ANYANWU (2014) 7 NWLR (PT 1407) 541 at 567-568, this Court held as follows:- “The jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal to entertain an appeal is dependent upon the jurisdiction of the trial Court to hear and determine the suit before it in the first instance. Where the trial Court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the case, its proceedings are a nullity and the Court of Appeal would not have the jurisdiction to entertain an appeal arising therefrom. An appeal from proceedings initiated conducted without jurisdiction will be liable to be struck out for want of jurisdiction.”

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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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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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PROCEEDING WILL BE REGARDED AS A NULLITY – JURISDICTION

Generally, proceedings before the Court of law can be regarded as a nullity where:- (a) The Court is not properly constituted as regards numbers and qualifications of the members of the bench. (b) The subject-matter of the action is not within the jurisdiction of the Court. (c) The case before the Court is not initiated by due process of law, or that there is a condition precedent to the exercise of jurisdiction. See MADUKOLU V NKEMDILIM, (1962)1 ALL N.L.R 587. — M.L. Shuaibu, JCA. Ekpo v GTB (2018) – CA/C/324/2013

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COURT JURISDICTION IN CUSTOMARY RIGHT OF OCCUPANCY GRANTED BY LOCAL GOVERNMENT

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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