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JURISDICTION OF NIGERIAN COURTS

Dictum

It is trite law that jurisdiction is the life wire of any case. The jurisdiction of a Court is the authority which the Court has to decide matters that are litigated before it. See RAHMAN BROTHERS LTD v. NPA (2019) LPELR-46415 (SC), NWANZE v. NRC (2022) LPELR 59631 (SC), BANK OF INDUSTRY LTD. v. OBEYA (2021) LPELR 56881 (SC). The jurisdiction of the Court in Nigeria is inherent and is bestowed upon it by Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as altered) (hereinafter referred to as 1999 CFRN). Under Section 6(6) of the 1999 CFRN, the judicial powers of the Court extends to all matters between government or authority and to any persons in Nigeria, and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligations of that person.

— H.M. Ogunwumiju, JSC. UBA v Triedent Consulting Ltd. (SC.CV/405/2013, July 07, 2023)

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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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SUBJECT MATTER OF THE CLAIM THAT DETERMINES JURISDICTION

It is trite law that it is the claim of the Plaintiff that determines the jurisdiction of the Court. P & C.H.S CO. LTD. & ORS. V. MIGFO (NIG.) LTD. & ANOR. (2012) VOL. 212 LRCN 1; ABDULHAMID V. AKAR (2006) 5 SCNJ 43. Making it more explicit, the Apex Court in the case of OLORUNTOBA-OJU & ORS. V. DOPAMU & ORS. (2008) LPELR 2595 (SC) P. 19 PARAS. A-B, Per Oguntade JSC, held thus: “The jurisdiction of the Court will be determined by the subject matter of the claim and not the claim relating to the injunction which was an ancillary relief and depend on the primary claim.”

— U. Onyemenam, JCA. Iheme v Chief of Defence Staff (2018) – CA/J/264/2017

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JURISDICTION CAN BE RAISED AT ANYTIME – IT SHOULD BE RAISED EARLIER

The issue of jurisdiction is fundamental and the law is trite that it can be raised by a party at any stage of courts’ proceedings, even at the level of the Supreme Ccourt. See Francis Durwode v. State 2000 15 NWLR part 691 page 467, Otukpo v. John 2000 8 NWLR part 669 page 507. It is however ideal that it be raised at the earliest stage of proceedings to avoid unnecessary waste of time, which the defendant has done in the instant case.

— A.M. Mukhtar, JSC. Adetona & Ors. v Igele (2011) – SC.237/2005

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

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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COURT EXERCISES JURISDICTION ONLY OVER THOSE WHO ARE WITHIN ITS TERRITORIAL JURISDICTION

Courts exercise jurisdiction over persons who are within its territorial jurisdiction: Nwabueze vs. Obi-Okoye (1988) 10-11 SCNJ 60 at 73; Onyema vs. Oputa (1987) 18 NSCC (Pt. 2) 900; Ndaeyo vs. Ogunnaya (1977) 1 SC 11. Since the respondent was fully aware that before the issuance of the writ the appellant’s abode or residence for the past one year was no longer at No.189, Off R.B. Dikko Road, Asokoro, Abuja within jurisdiction, substituted service of the processes should not have been ordered by the learned trial Judge.

— J.T. Tur, JCA. Abdulkardir Abacha v Kurastic [2014] – CA/A/406/2010

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JURISDICTION IS A THRESHOLD MATTER

Jurisdiction is a threshold matter. Once raised all proceedings abate until it is resolved. Proceedings conducted without jurisdiction amount to a nullity. There is nothing as useless as conducting a trial flawlessly only to find out that the court had no jurisdiction to hear the matter. That explains why the issue of jurisdiction can be taken at any stage of the proceedings, at trial, on appeal and even in the Supreme Court for the first time.

– Rhodes-Vivour, JSC. Olabomi v. Oyewinle (2013) – SC.345/2012

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