Jurisdiction is the life elixir of a case and court’s judgment; it is the lifeline and the only pipeline that supplies blood to any adjudication. Because without Jurisdiction notwithstanding the effectiveness of the all processes and the judgments held so far, they will be deemed a nullity ab initio and a waste of court’s energy and precious time. As held by Supreme Court in Oloho vs. Akereja per Obaseki JSC, Thus: “The issue of jurisdiction is very fundamental as it goes to the competence of the Court or Tribunal. If a Court or Tribunal is not competent to entertain a matter or claim or suit, it is a waste of valuable time for the Court to embark on the hearing and determination of the suit, matter or claim. It is therefore an exhibition of wisdom to have the issue of jurisdiction or competence determine before embarking on the hearing and determination of the substantive matter.” the importance and impact of jurisdiction cannot be over emphasized. The aim of this article is to study the meaning and nature of court’s jurisdiction, it’s sources and the determinants of court’s competency and the extent of their decisiveness or otherwise.
MEANING AND NATURE OF COURT COMPETENCY/ JURISDICTION
In the case of Egharevba v. Eribo, the Supreme Court succinctly stated the meaning and fundamental nature of jurisdiction of Court in the following words: “Jurisdiction is a term of comprehensive import embracing every kind of judicial action. It is the power of a Court to decide a matter in controversy and presupposes the existence of a duly constituted Court, with control over the subject-matter and the parties. Jurisdiction also defines the power of the Court to inquire into facts, apply the law, make decisions and declare judgments. It is the legal right by which judges exercise their authority”.
Jurisdiction of a court is basically established on two grounds, i.e. -judicial (administrative) jurisdiction and -territorial (geographical) jurisdiction. “There is a world of distinction between jurisdiction as it relates to the territorial, geographical jurisdiction of a Court and jurisdiction in relation to the judicial division within which to commence an action. The distinction between venue, as an aspect of jurisdiction which could be administrative or geographical, in which a suit may be heard, is often provided in the rules of Court of various States of the Federation. Per Muhammad, J.S.C in DAIRO V. UNION BANK & ANOR.
It is trite that where a court lack one of the two basic grounds of it’s jurisdiction it cannot assume competency. See SHAMANG v. SHAMANG. By way of little expansion, a court cannot go on a matter beyond its’ administrative jurisdiction or territorial jurisdiction. It is pertinent to state that even if the parties want to ‘Shop Forum’, they cannot go beyond the territorial jurisdiction where the matter arises. As rightly held per Eko JSC in MAILANTARKI V. TANGO “Forum shopping denotes a rather reprehensible practice of choosing the most ‘favourable territorial jurisdiction’ or Court in which a matter or cause may be ‘entertained and adjudicated upon’.” (emphasis mine)
SOURCES OF COURT’s JURISDICTION
“Under the Nigerian legal system, Court’s jurisdiction are usually derived from either the Constitution or the statutes that established them. Also, it is not out of place for the legislature to enact some other laws which gives additional jurisdiction to the Court, on certain specified subject matters“. On this basis chapter vii of CFRN 1999 As Amended have provided the jurisdiction of all courts and tribunals within the sections of their establishments,. Likewise many acts of NASS that established courts make provisions for their Jurisdictions. For Example see: Section 14. of Federal Capital Territory Customary Court Act and Section 7. Federal High Court Act.
From the foregoing, court’s jurisdictions are usually derived from the Law that established them either Constitution, Act of NASS or any other law that may be enacted by States’ House of Assembly across the federation.
WHEN WILL A COURT BE SAID TO BE COMPETENT?
In the “locus classicus” case of: Madukolu v. Nkemdilim The Federal Supreme Court(as it was then called) per Bairamian JSC had laid a basic elements of determining court’s Competency, that a Court is competent when:
1. It is properly considered as regards numbers and qualifications of the members of the bench and no member is disqualified for one reason or another and
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 is initiated by due process of law and upon fulfillment of any condition precedent to the exercise of jurisdiction.
In Ohakim v. Agbaso the Supreme Court restated the purport of the above set out determinants of jurisdiction of Court, per Muhammad, JSC, as follows: In addition, all law Courts or tribunals, while exercising their powers must be guided by the general determinants of jurisdiction;
(a) The statute establishing the Courts/Tribunal.
(b) The subject-matter of litigation.
(c) The litigating parties.
(d) The procedure by which the case is initiated.
(e) Proper service of process.
(f) Territory where the cause of action arose or, as the case may be, where the defendant resides.
(g) Composition of the Court/Tribunal.
It is trite that if any of the above is lacking, then the subject-matter, the parties or the composition of the Court/Tribunal is defective which may lead to a nullity.
The determinants of court’s competency are very decisive; defined, definitive, clear and pure as vividly clarified by the constitution, precedents and other statutes. Nonetheless, many cases are pending before our courts today suffering from lack of courts’ competency and in turn facing the consequency of strike out. More often than not the issue of court’s competency is mostly the first issue at the first instance as the life of the case depends on it.
The writer’s humble submission here is that; the legal maxim remain ‘ibi just ibi remedium’ so if legal practitioners and other stake holders in the temple of justice would be more curious and conscious on the matter of courts’ competency. They should ascertain the reliefs sought by their clients and the grievances they want to ventilate through courts (as the last hope of a common man), and properly advise them on the appropriate court to institute their action. With this, many cases that are strike out in trial courts and appellate courts on the ground of incompetency will drastically and remarkably reduce. For justice to be delivered to all, courts’ competence must be considered. As one learned mind Elechi JCA opined in the case of UBA V. DAVANDY “…there is no justice in exercising jurisdiction where there is none, it is injustice to the law, to the court and to the parties to do so.”
(1988) 3 NWLR pt 84 page 508
(2010) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1199) p. 41
PER AREDOLA JCA GOV. OF IMO STATE & ANOR v. IWUNZE (2018) LPELR-44005(CA)
See Sections 223&235, 239&240, 251, 257, 262, 267, 273, 277, 283,285 of CFRN and S. 6(254c) of CFRN (Third Alteration Act) 2010.
 (1962)2 SCNLR 341./(1962)LPELR-24023(SC)./1962 1ALL NRL (pt4) p.587.
 (2010) 19 NWLR (Pt. 1226) p. 172 at pgs. 243 – 244,
About the Author
Alkasim Abubakar (A.A.M.G) is a Student of Law, ABU, Zaria-Kaduna state. A prolific writer and legal scholar.
08033131653, [email protected]
For knowledge and Justice
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