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FOR FEDERAL HIGH COURT TO HAVE JURISDICTION, PARTY OR CLAIM MUST FALL WITHIN SECTION 251 CFRN

Dictum

In Kakih v PDP (2014) 15 NWLR (Pt.1430) p.374, in support of N.E.P.A. v Edegbero supra. I said that: “The claim of the party and the reliefs must be within Section 251 (1) of the Constitution before the Federal High Court can have jurisdiction. Furthermore, where an agency of Federal Government is a party, the principal reliefs must be directed against the Federal Government or any of its agencies before a Federal High Court can have jurisdiction.”

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JURISDICTION OF COURT CANNOT BE GIVEN BY RULES OF COURT

The law is settled that the jurisdiction of a Court of record, in its broad and substantive sense, cannot be conferred by the Rules of Court. The Rules of Court are only made, pursuant to the powers conferred on the heads of Courts by the Constitution to make Rules, to regulate practice and procedure in their respective Courts. The Rules they make are only to regulate the practice and procedure in their respective Courts. The Rules do not confer jurisdiction on the Court to entertain causes or matters. Rather, the jurisdiction of Courts in Nigeria is either conferred or vested by the Constitution or the enabling statute establishing the Court.

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

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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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ISSUES BETWEEN CUSTOMER AND BANKER FALLS WITHIN A STATE HIGH COURT JURISDICTION

So, where any dispute relates to breach of or non-compliance with certain formalities required by law for the lawful operation of banking business, the matter falls within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court. See: Merchants Bank Ltd. v. Federal Minister of Finance (1961) All NLR 598. It is to be noted as well, where what is involved is only a dispute between a Bank and its customer in the ordinary cause of banking business, like an action by a bank to recover overdrafts granted to the customer, the Federal High Court has no jurisdiction. It is the State High Court that has jurisdiction in such a case. See: Jammal Steel Structures Ltd. v. African Continental Bank Ltd (1973) 1 All NLR (Pt.11)208; Bronik Motors Ltd & Anor v. Wema Bank Ltd (1983) 1 SCLR 296; FMBN v. NDIC (1999) 2 SCNJ 57 at 82.

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

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JURISDICTION IS A THRESHOLD ISSUE

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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NO JURISDICTION MAKES THE PROCEEDING A NULLITY

The Law is well settled that where a court has no jurisdiction to entertain any claim, anything done in respect of the claim will be an exercise in futility. In the celebrated case on the subject of jurisdiction and competence of court of Madukolu & others v Nkemdilim & others (1962) 2 SCNLR 342; (1962) NSCC 374; (1962) 1 All NLR 587; Bairamian, F.J. stated the law at page 595 as follows:- “Before discussing those portions of the record, I shall make some observations on jurisdiction and the competence of a court. Put it briefly, a court is competent when:- (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; and (2) the subject matter of the case is within its jurisdiction, and there is no feature of 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.” Once there is a defect in competence, it is fatal as the proceedings are a nullity. See Ojo-Ajao & others v Popoola Ajao & others (1986) 5 NWLR (Part 45) 802 and Attorney-General Anambra State v Attorney-General of the Federation (1993) 6 NWLR (Part 302) 692. — Mohammed JSC. AG Kano State v AG Federation (2007) – SC 26/2006

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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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