10 Critical Points on Jurisdiction of Courts: Peter Essi v Nigeria Ports PLC 

In Peter Essi v. Nigeria Ports PLC  [APPEAL NO: SC.63/2006], the Appellant as Plaintiff commenced this action at High Court of Justice, Delta State, Warri Judicial Division, against the Respondent as Defendant wherein he claimed recovery of possession of one three Bedroom Flat, one two bedroom flat and two single rooms situate at No. 225 Old Ugbelli Road, Agbarho which the Defendants held of the Plaintiff as monthly tenant; Mesne profit at ₦900.00 per month; special and general damages.

Upon an application by the Defendant for the suit to be dismissed on grounds that it did not disclose any reasonable cause of action, the trial judge dismissed same on the grounds that the action has become statute barred. Being dissatisfied with the ruling of the trial court—the Plaintiff/Appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal which dismissed the appeal on the basis that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter and therefore set aside the order of dismissal by the trial court.

The Plaintiff has further appealed to the Supreme Court against the lower court’s decision.

Held

Appeal Allowed, Cross Appeal Dismissed

Issues For Determination

 Whether or not the Court of Appeal was right in law to hold that the matter falls within the provision of section 230(1)(s) of the 1979 constitution as amended by decree No.107 of 1993 and such the action is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal high court?

Cross Appeal

Whether the Trial Court and indeed any Court from the statement of claim and evidence of documents in the Courts file would come to the conclusion that the action was statute barred

Rationes

1. Exclusive Jurisdiction of The Federal High Court – Matters That Determines The Exclusive Jurisdiction of The Federal High Court

“The law is that for the Federal High Court to have exclusive jurisdiction, it must be a matter arising from the administration, Management and control of the Federal government or any of its agencies, which is argued is not the case in the present appeal. ’PER S.D. BAGE, J.S.C

2. Jurisdiction Of Court – Determinants Of The Jurisdiction Of A Court

“In determining the jurisdiction of a court, it is the statement of claim and not the statement of defence that becomes relevant. Akande Vs. Alagbe (2001) FWLR Pt.38) 1118-1387 at 1352 ratio 2.” ’PER S.D. BAGE, J.S.C

3. Jurisdiction Of The Federal High Court – Whether The Federal High Court Has Jurisdiction To Entertain Matters On Contract

“By the provisions of Section 230(l)(s) of the 1979 Constitution, the Federal High Court is vested with exclusive jurisdiction on matters pertaining to administration or the management and control of the Federal Government or any of its agencies. An action based on contract as the Appellant’s claim, cannot be included, it will therefore ordinarily fall within the residual jurisdiction of the High Courts. See Onuorah Vs Kaduna Refining And Petrochemical Co. Ltd. (2005) All FWLR (Pt.256) 1356 at 1364-1365; Okoyode Vs Federal Capital Development Authority (2006) All FWLR (Pt.298) 1200 at 1235.” PER S.D. BAGE, J.S.C

4. Jurisdiction Of Court – Distinction On The Extent Of The Jurisdiction Of The State High Court And The Federal High Court

“The State High Court on the other hand is conferred with unlimited jurisdiction to hear and determine any civil proceeding under the 1979 Constitution as amended by Decree No. 107 of 1993 (and now by Section 251 of the 1999 Constitution). On the other side, the Federal High Court is a Court of limited jurisdiction which cannot exercise jurisdiction over any cause or matter outside that conferred on it by Section 7(1) of the Federal High Court Act Cap. 134, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990) as enhanced by Section 230 of the 1979 Constitution which is the same as Section 251 of the 1999 Constitution as amended by Decree No. 107 of 1993”. PER S.D. BAGE, J.S.C

5. Jurisdiction Of Court – Determination Of Jurisdiction Of Court

“It is settled Law that jurisdiction of a Court is determined by the Plaintiffs claim as endorsed in the writ of summons and statement of claim. See Tukur Vs Government Of Gongola State (1989) 4 NWLR (Pt.117) 517 and Orthopaedic Hospitals Management Board Vs Garba (2002) FWLR (Pt.123) 200; (2002) 14 NWLR (Pt.788) 538 at 563”. PER S.D. BAGE, J.S.C

6. Jurisdiction Of Court – Sources Of Jurisdiction Of Courts

“It is clearly not the rules of Court that vest jurisdiction in the Court but rather the statute creating the Court.

Thus; in the instant case, in determining the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court and the State High Court, it is the relevant Provisions of the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic as amended by Decree No. 107 of 1993 that would be applicable since the Appellant’s action was commenced in 1995”. PER S.D. BAGE, J.S.C

7. Jurisdiction Of Court – Limit On The Exclusive Jurisdiction Of The Federal High Court

“The provisions of the Constitution had remained the same that the Federal High Court was not conferred with jurisdiction to entertain claims founded on contract as in the instant case. In other words Section 230 (1) which is the same with Section 251 (1) provides limitation to jurisdiction of the State High Court because the items listed in the Provisions of the constitution, can only be determined exclusively by the Federal High Court.

All other items not included in the list would therefore still be within the jurisdiction of the State High Court.

In the instant case, since disputes founded on contracts are not among those included in the additional jurisdiction conferred on the Federal High Court, that Court therefore had no jurisdiction to entertain the appellants claim.

The lower Court was therefore wrong, in its decision, to confer jurisdiction on the Federal High Court which had entertained the claim of the appellant. See:- Felix Onuorah Vs Kaduna Refining And Petrochemical Co. Ltd. (2005) All FWLR (Pt. 256) 1356 at 1365; Seven-Up Bottling Co. Ltd Vs Abiola & Sons Bottling Co. Ltd (2001) FWLR (Pt. 70) 1611 (2001) 13NWLR (Pt. 730) 469 and Trade Bank Plc Vs Benilux (Nig.) Ltd. (2003) FWLR (Pt. 162) 1871; (2003) 9 NWLR (Pt. 825) 416 at 430 & 431”. PER S.D. BAGE,

8. Jurisdiction Of The Supreme Court – Whether The Supreme Court Has Jurisdiction To Hear Matters From The Decision Of The Trial Court

“This court has no jurisdiction to determine an appeal emanating from the decision of the trial Court.

The constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria provides that, this Court shall have jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in Nigeria to hear and determine Appeals from the court of Appeal.

Section 233(1) of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria 1999 provides:

‘’the Supreme Court shall have jurisdiction, to the exclusion of any other court of law in Nigeria, to hear and determine Appeals from the Court of Appeal.’’

On this very clear and unambiguous provision of the Constitution, see Attorney General Of Oyo State & Anor vs. Fairlakes Hotel Ltd.SC.169/1986 delivered on December 2,1988. PER S.D BAGE, J.S.C

9. Federal High Court – Whether The Mere Fact That An Agency Of The Federal Government Is A Party To An Action Is Sufficient To Confer Jurisdiction On The Federal High Court

“In determining whether or not a court has jurisdiction to entertain a cause or matter, it is the plaintiff’s claim as disclosed in his writ of summons and statement of claim that would be considered.

Where the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court is in issue, the mere fact that an agency of the Federal Government is a party is not sufficient, without more to confer jurisdiction on the court.

The court deciding the issue will also take into consideration the nature and subject matter of the claim.

It has been held severally by this court that the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court provided for in Section 230(l)(s) of the 1979 Constitution, as amended by Decree No. 107 of 1993 (now Section 251(l)(r) of the 1999 Constitution) does not extend to disputes arising from simple contracts. See: Adelekan Vs Ecu-Line NV (2006) 12 NWLR (Pt.993) 33: Onuorah Vs K.R.P.C. Ltd. (2005) 6 NWLR (Pt.921) 393 (9) 405 A – P & 409 A – D: Sun Insurance Nig. Plc. Vs Umez Eng. Const. Co. Ltd. (2015) 11 NWLR (Pt.1471) 576; (2015) LPELR- 24737 (SC).PER K.M.O.KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C

10. Issues of Jurisdiction – Applicable Law In Determining The Issue Of Jurisdiction Of Court

“One is to be reminded that it is a well settled principle of law that when the issue of jurisdiction is being decided the applicable law is the law in force at the time the action is instituted and in that regard the statute at play is Section 230 (1) (q) of the 1979 Constitution (as amended by Decree NO. 107 of 1993). See Adah v NYSC (2004) 13 NWLR (Pt. 891) 639 at 648 per Uwaifo JSC”.PER M.U.PETER-ODILI, J.S.C

Statutes Referred To

Constitution as amended by Decree no. 107 of 1993 (1979)
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) 1999
Ports Act cap 361 laws of the Federation 1990

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