The Supreme Court ruled, in NDIC v. CBN [s ] that ; ” A court has to be competent in the sense that it has jurisdiction before it can undertake to probe and decide the rights of the parties.”
But it is regarded as a threshold issue and a lifeline for continuing any proceedings, objection to jurisdiction ought to be taken at the earliest opportunity if there are sufficient materials before the court to consider it and a decision reached on it before any other step in the proceedings is taken because if there is no jurisdiction, the entire proceedings are a nullity no matter how well conducted.
There are far too many decisions on this: – see Ndaeyo v Ogunnaya (1977) 1 SC 11; Chacharos v. Ekimpex Ltd. (1988) 1 NWLR (Part 68) 88; Oloba v Akereja (1988) 3 NWLR (Part 84) 508; Bakare v Attorney-General of the Federation (1990) 5 NWLR (Part 152) 516; Odofin v Agu (1992) 3 NWLR (Part 229) 350; Ajayi v Military Administrator, Ondo State (1997) 5 NWLR (Part 504) 237; Jeric (Nigeria) Ltd. v Union Bank of Nigeria Plc (2000) 15 NWLR (Part 691) 447.
It is plain from the authorities that at any stage sufficient facts or materials are available to raise the issue of jurisdiction, or that it has become apparent to any party to the action that it can be canvassed, there is no reason why there should be delay in raising it. In Petrojessica Enterprises ltd. v Leventis Technical Co. Ltd (1992) 5 NWLR (Part 244) 675 at 693, Belgore, JSC said inter alia:
“Jurisdiction is the very basis on which any tribunal tries a case; it is the lifeline of all trials. A trial without jurisdiction is a nullity …. This importance of jurisdiction is the reason why it can be raised at any stage of a case, be it at the trial, on appeal to Court of Appeal or to this court; afortiori the court can suo motu raise it.
It is desirable that preliminary objection be raised early on issue of jurisdiction; but once it is apparent to any party that the court may not have jurisdictn this case. It is always in the interest of justice to raise issue of jurisdiction so as to save time and costs and to avoid a trial in futility.”
It has also been said per Viscount Simon L.C. in Westminster Bank Ltd v Edwards (1942) 1 All ER 470 at 473 inter alia that:
“There are, of course, cases in which a court should itself take an objection of its own motion, even though the point is not raised by any of the parties before it. Again, a court not only may, but should, take objection where the absence of jurisdiction is apparent on the face of the proceedings.”
To this, Lord Wright added his observation at page 474 as follows: “Now it is clear that a court is not only entitled but bound to put an end to proceedings if at any stage and by any means it becomes manifest that they are incompetent.”
Jurisdiction is much more fundamental than that [Demurrer] and does not, entirely depend as such on what a plaintiff may plead as facts to prove the reliefs he seeks. What it involves is what will enable the plaintiff to seek a hearing in court over his grievance, and get it resolved because he is able to show that the court is empowered tle to show that the court is empowered to entertain the subject-matter. It does not always follow that he must plead first in order to raise the issue of jurisdiction.
To say, therefore, as did the court below and as canvassed by plaintiff/respondent before us in its brief of argument that
objection to jurisdiction should only be taken after the statement of claim has been filed is a misconception.
It depends on what materials are available. It could be taken on the basis of the statement of claim: see Izenkwe v Nnadozie (1953) 14 WACA 361 at 363; Adeyemi v Opeyori (1976) 9-10 SC 31.
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