THE JURISDICTION OF COURTS IN NIGERIA.
Jurisdiction can be defined as the authority which a court retains to hear a case presented before it. It is the foundation of all actions in court, the presence of which validates the commencement, hearing and judgment of any trial. The authority of a court to assume jurisdiction over a case is generally determined by the statute which creates the particular court. Jurisdiction is such a fundamental issue that it can be raised in court by any of the parties or by the court suo motu where there are sufficient facts on the record establishing a lack of jurisdiction. In this situation, the court will ask the parties to address it on the issue of jurisdiction (see Oloba v. Akereja (1988) 7 SCNJ (pt 1) 56 @ 63). The issue of jurisdiction can be raised at any point during trial; it may even be raised for the first time on appeal at the Supreme Court. In the case of Obeta v. Okpe (1996) 7 SCNJ 249, the court held that once an issue of jurisdiction is raised at any stage during the proceedings in any matter, it ought to be gone into first as failure to do so may mean that all the exercise of adjudication turns out to be a useless waste of time. A trial without jurisdiction is a nullity. A court that lacks jurisdiction to entertain a suit is incompetent to pronounce any judgment or ruling in respect of the action before it. Where a court adjudicates on a matter, whether civil or criminal, that it does not have jurisdiction, any judgment or ruling delivered in respect of same will be set aside as it is null, void and of no effect. Expiration of time or estoppel cannot affect the right of a party to raise the issue of jurisdiction as judgment delivered without jurisdiction is and remains for all times and purposes a nullity. (see Ngere v. Okuruke (2014) All WLR (pt 742) p. 1766 @ 1785).
The Constitution or the statute that creates the court defines the jurisdiction of a court. Therefore, jurisdiction of a court is a function of the law. The main claim in an action must be within the jurisdiction of the court in order for the court to properly assume jurisdiction over the matter. A court cannot have jurisdiction over ancillary claims if it has no jurisdiction over the main action (see Ali v. Central Bank of Nigeria (1997) 4 NWLR 498 @192). The Supreme Court in the case of Madukolu v. Nkemdilim (1962) 2 SCNLR 341 @ 404, held that a court is competent to adjudicate upon a case when:
1. the court is properly constituted with respect to number and qualification of its membership;
2. the subject-matter of the action is within its jurisdiction;
3. the action is initiated by due process of the law; and
4. any condition precedent to the exercise of the court’s jurisdiction has been fulfilled.
An objection to jurisdiction can be raised by any of the following modes:
1. by way of preliminary objection;
2. by way of motion of notice supported by an affidavit stating facts and a written address;
3. it may be raised in the statement of defence of the defendant; or
4. it may be raise viva voce (see the case of Petrojessica Enterprises Ltd. V. Leventis Technical Co Ltd.)
Essentially, jurisdiction of courts are of 3 types - monetary, territorial and subject-matter jurisdictions. Monetary jurisdiction majorly affects the Magistrate court. In Lagos for instance, the Magistrate court has a monetary limit of 10 Million Naira. This means in actions like recovery of premises, where the rental value of the property exceeds 10 Million Naira, then the Magistrate court ceases to have jurisdiction over that action. Territorial jurisdiction is the exercise of jurisdiction within a clearly defined territory and over specified subject matter. Actions are filed with respect to location of performance and residence of parties. Subject matter jurisdiction is the authority over the subject of the legal questions giving rise to the proceedings. For example, only the High Court of a State in Nigeria has jurisdiction over the subject matter over probate matters.
Further, jurisdiction of courts can also be classified in terms of category or hierarchy of courts or nature of subject matter. That is: original and appellate; concurrent and exclusive jurisdictions. Original jurisdiction relates to the right of a court to be the court of first instance over a subject matter or party. It must be noted that every court has matters in which it exercises original jurisdiction. For example, there are cases for which only the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction while there are others where only a magistrate court, an inferior court, has an original jurisdiction. Appellate jurisdiction relates to how a higher court reviews the judgment or proceedings of a lower court. This jurisdiction is essentially reserved for higher courts in their appellate status. Concurrent jurisdiction relates to where two different courts have same or similar power over a subject matter and party such that neither may bind or overrule the other over the same subject or party.
Superior courts of record are courts expressly named and established by section 6(5) (a) – (k) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). The superior courts of record and Tribunals directly established by section 6(5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) are as follows:
1. the Supreme Court of Nigeria (see section 230-233 of the Constitution);
2. the Court of Appeal (see section 239, 240, 246 of the Constitution);
3. the Federal High Court (see section 249-253 of the Constitution);
4. the National Industrial Court (see section 254 of the Constitution);
5. the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja (see section 255-257 of the Constitution);
6. the High Court of a State (see section 270-274 of the Constitution);
7. the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja (see section 277 of the Constitution);
8. a Sharia Court of Appeal of a State (see section 277 of the Constitution);
9. the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja (see section 280 of the Constitution);
10. a Customary Court of Appeal of a State (see section 280 of the Constitution);
11. such other courts as may be authorized by law to exercise jurisdiction on matters with respect to which the National Assembly may make laws;
Inferior courts, on the other hands, are courts other than superior courts of record as may be established by an Act of the National Assembly or a Law of a House of Assembly of a State to exercise jurisdiction in the first instance or on appeal in matters over which the National Assembly or a House of Assembly may make laws. They are courts over which a High Court of a State or that of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, as the case may be, typically has supervisory or appellate jurisdictions. Inferior courts include the following:
1. Magistrates courts
2. Customary courts
3. Area courts
4. Shari’ah Courts
5. Special Offence Courts or Tribunal
6. Rent Tribunals
NB: This article is not a legal advice, and under no circumstance should you take it as such. All information provided are for general purpose only. For information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
WRITTEN BY CHAMAN LAW FIRM TEAM
TEL: 08065553671, 0802423008