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WRIT OF SUMMONS / ORIGINATING SUMMONS DETERMINES COURTS JURISDICTION

Dictum

It is settled law that it is the case of the plaintiff as stated in the writ of summons and statement of claim, where the action is commenced by way of writ of summons or the questions, reliefs and supporting affidavit, where the action is commenced by originating summons, that determines the jurisdiction of the court to hear and determine same.

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

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EXCEPTION TO DETERMINING JURISDICTION BY WRIT & STATEMENT OF CLAIM

The point has to be cleared without delay that the law though well settled is that the writ of summons and statement of claim are the materials on which the issue of competence and jurisdiction of Court is raised, however it is not a principle cast in stone or regarded as immutable as circumstances could arise where, when an objection is made by means of a motion on notice, facts deposed to in affidavit in support as well as the counter affidavits and attached exhibits are also utilised to resolve the question, in the same vein could come up the use of evidence already adduced in the resolution of the question of jurisdiction as was the case in the instant matter which came up at the close of evidence and in the final addresses of counsel. Therefore the Court below erred in holding that the trial High Court was correct to determine the objection by reference solely on the writ of summons and statement of claim even though the oral and documentary evidence in proof of the relevant paragraphs of the statement of claim were staring it in the face of the Court. Indeed the Court below ought not to have closed its eyes to the record and the evidence already before it. See Okoroma v Uba (1999) 1 NWLR (Pt.587) 359; Onuorah v KRPC Ltd (2005) 6 NWLR (Pt.921) 393; NDIC v CBN (2002) 7 NWLR (Pt.766) 272; I.K. Martins (Nig.) Ltd v UPL (1992) 1 NWLR (Pt.217) 322; Agbareh v Mimra (2008) 2 NWLR (Pt.1071) 378; Osafile v Odi NO.1 (1990) 3 NWLR (Pt.137) 130; Nigergate Ltd v Niger State Government (2008) 13 NWLR (Pt. 1103) 111 (CA).

— Tanko Muhammad, JSC. Berger v Toki Rainbow (2019) – SC.332/2009

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BEFORE A COURT CAN EXERCISE JURISDICTION

Before a court can exercise jurisdiction respect of any matter, it must:- (a) be properly constituted as regards numbers and qualification of the members of the bench, and no member is disqualified for one reason or the others. (b) the subject-matter of the case is within the jurisdiction and there is no feature in the case which prevents the court from exercising its jurisdiction and (c) The case comes by clue process of law and upon fulfillment of any condition precedent to the exercise of jurisdiction.

— O.O. Adekeye, JSC. Mini Lodge v. Ngei (2009) – SC.231/2006

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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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FEDERAL HIGH COURT APPELLATE JURISDICTION – SECTION 27 FHC ACT

The Federal High Court, like a High Court of a State or of the Federal Capital Territory has appellate jurisdiction conferred by Section 27 of the Federal High court Act. It can hear and determine appears from: 1) the decisions of Appeal Commissioners established under the Companies Income Tax Act, 1961 and the Personal Income Tax Act, 1968 in so far an applicable as Federal Laws; 2) decisions of the Board of Customs and Excise established under Customs and Excise Management Act, 1958 3) decisions of Magistrates Courts in respect of civil or criminal cases or matters transferred to such courts pursuant to the Federal High Court Act; 4) decisions of any other body established by or under any other Federal enactment or law in respect of matters concerning which jurisdiction is conferred upon that court by the Act.

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

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THE GENERAL PRINCIPLE OF LAW IS THAT JURISDICTION MUST BE HEARD FIRST

The general principle of law, backed up by legion of authorities from the apex Court is that where a jurisdiction of a Court is challenged, the Court should expeditiously attend to the objection before taking any other further step in the proceedings. The rationale behind this practice is that the question of jurisdiction of Court is a radical and crucial question of competence, for if a Court has no jurisdiction to hear and determine a case, the totality of the proceedings, including orders made therein, are and remain a nullity, no matter how well conducted and brilliantly decided they might be. In other words, once an issue of jurisdiction is raised, until it is resolved, the Court cannot hear any other applications or any issue except to first determine whether it is possessed of the jurisdiction to determine the case. The Supreme Court has stated severally that it is an exhibition of wisdom to first determine when the Court has the jurisdiction to entertain the matter before it. See Yusuf vs. Egbe (1987) 2 NWLR (Pt. 56) 341, Dapianlong vs. Dariye (2007) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1036) 332, Ukwu vs. Bunge (1997) 8 NWLR (Pt. 518) 527, Nnonye vs. Anyichie (2005) 2 NWLR (Pt. 910) 623, A – G Anambra vs. A-G, Federation (1993) 6 NWLR (Pt. 321) 962.

— T. Akomolafe-Wilson, JCA. Onnoghen v. FRN (2019) – CA/A/44C/2019

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WHEN A COURT IS COMPETENT TO EXERCISE JURISDICTION OVER A SUIT

A court is said to be competent to exercise jurisdiction over a suit when the following are present: 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; 2. The subject matter of the case is within its jurisdiction, and there is no feature in 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. See MADUKOLU V. NKEMDILIM (1962) 2 SCNLR 341; O’BAU ENGINEERING LTD V. ALMASOL (NIG.) LTD (2022) LPELR 57985 (SC); PETROLEUM (SPECIAL) TRUST FUND V. FIDELITY BANK & ORS (2021) LPELR 56625 (SC); ENEH V. NDIC & ORS (2018) LPELR 44902 (SC); JAMES V. INEC & ORS (2015) LPELR 24494 (SC).

— A. Jauro, JSC. PDP v INEC (2023) – SC/CV/501/2023

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