Supreme Court’s Position On Whether Jurisdiction Must Be Prioritized.

Supreme Court’s Position On Whether Jurisdiction Must Be Prioritized. Daily Law Tips (Tip 733) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LL.M, ACIArb(UK)

Introduction: 

Jurisdiction is the authority of a court to entertain a case, handle a case and give judgment on the case. Different courts in Nigeria have different authorities to treat different cases, and no court can treat a case where it lacks the authority to do so. As such, any judgment given by a court that lacks authority is invalid and useless. For example, no court in Nigeria (including the Supreme Court) can handle a fresh case of aviation, maritime and possession of Indian hemp apart from the Federal High Court. Also, only a High Court can handle a fresh case of dishonored/bounced/dud cheques in Nigeria. While the custody of a child can only be handled by a Magistrate Court or a High Court but only a High Court can handle a fresh case of divorce.

This work “Supreme Court’s Position On Whether Jurisdiction Must Be Prioritized” emphasizes on the position of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on whether all courts in Nigeria must resolve the issue of jurisdiction as a matter of priority before any other business. The Supreme Court of Nigeria is the highest court in Nigeria and fifteen (15) decisions of the Supreme Court on the issue are revealed in this work.

15 Supreme Court Decisions on Prioritization of Jurisdiction:

Since the Supreme Court of Nigeria is the apex court in Nigeria, there cannot be an appeal on the decision of the Supreme Court. Any disputant that is not pleased with the decision of the Supreme Court can do nothing about it on earth. Below are recent cases of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on whether the issues of jurisdiction of a court must first of all be determined by a court before any other business.

  1. AJAOKUTA STEEL CO. LTD v. GREENBAY INVESTMENT & SECURITIES LTD & ORS (2019) LPELR-46929(SC)

Importance of jurisdiction; whether the issue of jurisdiction must be resolved as a matter of priority.

“The respondent has raised and argued a preliminary objection to the competence of the appeal in its brief adopted and relied upon at the hearing of the appeal. Being a challenge to the Court’s exercise of jurisdiction over the appeal, it is necessary that the preliminary objection be heard and determined first. This is so because of the fundamental nature of jurisdiction in the adjudication process. Jurisdiction remains a central issue to any matter before any court. Once challenged, the Court is duty bound to determine whether it has jurisdiction first before proceeding to determine the case. It is long settled that judicial proceedings conducted by a Court that is lacking of the necessary jurisdiction, no matter how well same were otherwise conducted, would be ab initio null and void. See OKIKE V. L.P.D.C. (NO 2) (2005) 7 SC III 75 AND ADESOLA V. ABIDOYE & ANOR (1999) LPELR-153 (SC) and MADUKOLU V. NKEMDILIM (1962) 1 SCNLR 341.” Per MUHAMMAD ,J.S.C ( Pp. 4-5, paras. E-C )

  1. PERSONS, NAMES UNKNOWN v. SAHRIS INTL LTD (2019) LPELR-49006(SC)

Whether the issue of jurisdiction must be determined first when raised

“A cursory perusal of the first and third issues for determination raised by the respondent herein, clearly shows that the issues relate to Jurisdiction. As a matter of law and practice, Courts are always enjoined to determine issue of Jurisdiction first when raised by any of the parties before it, before considering or determining the appeal on the merit.” Per SANUSI ,J.S.C ( P. 27, paras. C-E )

  1. ENUKORA v. FRN (2018) LPELR-43822(SC)

Importance of jurisdiction; whether the issue of jurisdiction must be resolved as a matter of priority

“It is settled that the issue of jurisdiction is fundamental as it touches on the competence of the Court. Jurisdiction remains a threshold issue. Being the lifewire of any determination by the Court, it should be considered and determined first before anything else since no matter how well considered the Court’s decision is, it will come to naught once the Court lacks the competence to try and determine the issue before it. In the case at hand, the lower Court’s judgment appealed against would come to nothing once the trial Court which decision the former affirmed is shown to have lacked the competence to try and determine the charge against the appellant. As it has always been, you can only add something unto something. See Madukolu V. Nkemdilim (1962) 1 ALL NLR 587, Skenconsult V. Ukey (1981) 11 SC 6 and AG Lagos State V. Dosunmu (1989) 3 NWLR (Pt III) 552.” Per MUHAMMAD ,J.S.C ( Pp. 4-5, paras. D-B )

  1. OKWUOSA v. GOMWALK & ORS (2017) LPELR-41736(SC)

Whether the issue of jurisdiction must be resolved first before hearing a case on the merits

“Jurisdiction, being a threshold issue, whenever it raised as an issue, has to be and must be resolved first before any other issue. At the appellate level, whenever an issue is raised whether the Court below had jurisdiction to entertain the matter before it, the challenge to jurisdiction must be resolved before any other issue. See OKOYE v. NIG. CONSTRUCTION (1991) 7 SCNJ (Pt. 2) 365 at 388.” Per EKO ,J.S.C ( P. 9, paras. A-C )

  1. ADEKOYE & ORS v. NIGERIAN SECURITY PRINTING AND MINTING CO LTD & ORS (2009) LPELR-106(SC)

Whether the issue of jurisdiction must be resolved first before hearing a case on the merits

“…However in the instant appeal where the issue raised in the cross appeal touches and concerns the jurisdiction of the trial Court to hear and determine the originating summons in the first place, it becomes of utmost importance that that issue be determined first before proceeding to determine the issue(s) touching and concerning the merit of the appeal if need be, as it is settled law that whenever an issue of jurisdiction, which is usually considered a periphery issue, is raised, it must be resolved first and foremost.” Per ONNOGHEN ,J.S.C ( P. 10, paras. E-G )

  1. HDP v. OBI & ORS (2011) LPELR-8226(SC)

Whether the issue of jurisdiction must be resolved first before hearing a case on the merits

“It is trite law that where in the proceedings of a case the issue of jurisdiction is raised and challenged, the court must first and foremost decide on whether it has jurisdiction before proceeding to decide the case on the merits. The importance of the issue of jurisdiction had been over-emphasised in numerous decisions of this court. It is an accepted view that jurisdiction forms the foundation of adjudication. A court must first of all be competent, that is, have jurisdiction before it can proceed to adjudication. A defect in competence is extrinsic to adjudication.” Per ADEKEYE ,J.S.C ( P. 32, paras. D-F )

  1. APGA v. ANYANWU & ORS (2014) LPELR-22182(SC)

Whether the issue of jurisdiction must be resolved first before hearing a case on the merits.

“The importance of a resolution of the issue of jurisdiction one way or the other cannot be over emphasized. The jurisdiction of the lower Court to entertain the appeal was dependent upon the jurisdiction of the trial Court to hear and determine the suit before it in the first instance. The importance of this issue was well illustrated in a recent decision of this Court in: SLB Consortium Ltd. V. NNPC (2011) 9 NWLR (1252) 317. In that case an objection was raised at the hearing of the appeal before this Court that the originating processes at the trial Court were incompetent, having been signed by a law firm instead of a qualified legal practitioner as required by the Rules of Practice of the Federal High Court and the decision of this Court in Okafor V. Nweke (2007) 3 SC (Part II) 55 @ 62 – 63. It was argued on behalf of the respondent that the appellant was deemed to have waived his right to complain not having raised the objection before the trial Court and having taken steps in the proceeding after becoming aware of the defect. This Court held at pages 332 – 333 G – B: “The argument that the objection ought to have been taken before the trial Court and that it is rather too late in the day to raise same in this Court particularly as the respondents had taken steps in the proceedings after becoming aware of the defect or irregularities is erroneous because the issue involved in the objection is not a matter of irregularity in procedure but of substantive law – an issue of jurisdiction of the Courts to hear and determine the matter as constituted and it is settled law, which has been conceded by both counsel in this proceedings – that an issue of jurisdiction is fundamental to adjudication and can be raised at any stage in the proceedings, even for the first time in the Supreme Court. In the circumstance I find merit in the preliminary objection which is accordingly upheld by me. I hold that the originating processes in this case having been found to be fundamentally defective are hereby struck out for being incompetent and incapable of initiating the proceedings thereby robbing the Courts of the jurisdiction to hear and determine the action as initiated.  In the final analysis, the appeal arising from the proceedings initiated and conducted without jurisdiction is hereby struck out for want of jurisdiction.” Per KEKERE-EKUN ,J.S.C ( Pp. 28-30, paras. D-A )

  1. OKONKWO & ORS v. OKONKWO & ORS (2010) LPELR-9357(SC)

Whether the issue of jurisdiction must be resolved first before hearing a case on the merits.

“Usually when a courts jurisdiction is challenged in a suit, it is far pertinent to settle that issue of jurisdiction one way or the other before proceeding to hearing of the case on the merits. In short, the court in that situation must first assume jurisdiction to consider whether it has jurisdiction or lacks such. Jurisdiction is a radical and crucial question of competence, and once there is a defect in competence, it is fatal and the proceedings are a nullity, however well conducted and decided.” Per ADEKEYE ,J.S.C ( Pp. 18-19, paras. F-B )

  1. FAMU & ORS v. KASSIM & ORS (2012) LPELR-15528(SC)

Whether the issue of jurisdiction must be resolved first before hearing a case on the merits.

“As clearly settled in a number of cases not least the cases of Madukolu v. Nkemdilim (1962) SC NLR 341 and Salami v. Oseni (2002) 14 NWLR (Pt.788) 623 – they have opined that jurisdiction amongst other questions in any matter being the bedrock of any decisions of a Court must of necessity be sorted out first as it is a fundamental and a threshold question before delving into any other questions relating to the subject-matter of a case as the instant one; again, more importantly as to case management in our courts, as it is no use belabouring over deciding the matter however well conducted on the merits where a court, ab initio has no jurisdiction to deal with the subject matter. The cases of Onyenacheya vs. Military Administrator of Imo State (1997) 1 NWLR (Pt.482) 429, Balogun vs. Panalpina World Transport (Nig) Ltd. (1991) 1 NWLR (pt585) 66 and Galadima v. Tabai (2000) 11 NWLR (pt.677) 1, have not only emphasized this underlying principles but they also have contemplated that the action must have been initiated by due process and that there must be no feature in the matter impinging on a court’s vires in the exercise of its jurisdiction.” Per CHUKWUMA-ENEH ,J.S.C ( Pp. 5-6, para. B )

  1. BRITTANIA-U (NIG) LTD v. SEPLAT PETROLEUM DEVELOPMENT CO. LTD & ORS (2016) LPELR-40007(SC)

Whether the issue of jurisdiction must be resolved first before hearing a case on the merits.

“It is a matter now trite that the jurisdiction of any Court is sacrosanct and fundamental to the adjudicatory powers of a Court and being a threshold issue can be raised at any point or stage of the proceedings even on appeal for the very first time. Therefore once brought up no other thing should be allowed within the focus of the Court than the resolution of that jurisdictional question. This critical position of the matter of jurisdiction being so since a Court merely wastes its precious time when it has embarked upon a trial when it has no jurisdiction since everything therein done including the decision and order come to naught, indeed a futile exercise. That is why it is a bounden duty of the Court to have that question settled first and foremost before it can go further into the matter before it. Stated differently, the Court must ask itself if it has the power to handle the case and so when it is brought to a Court’s attention that it lacks jurisdiction, it has to pause a while, answer the question first and if positive go forth but if in the negative the Court says so before anything else. I place reliance on Okarika v. Samuel (2013) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1352) 19; Osakue v. Federal College of Education (Technical) Asaba (2010) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1201) 1; Cadbury Nig. Plc v. F.B.I.R. (2010) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1179). A Court is naked and exposed without jurisdiction. It is therefore the general rule to determine jurisdiction first whilst it is an exceptional rule to take steps in defending or protecting the authority of the Court first before jurisdiction.” Per PETER-ODILI ,J.S.C ( Pp. 87-88, paras. A-B )

  1. CBN & ORS v. OKOJIE (2015) LPELR-24740(SC)

Whether the issue of jurisdiction must be resolved first before hearing a case on the merits.

“Jurisdiction is derived from the Constitution or some specific law. It is a threshold issue, so once raised it must be decided quickly. It is a threshold issue, so once raised it must be decided quickly. The issue of jurisdiction is fundamental to the hearing of all cases. Jurisdiction can be raised in the trial court, on appeal or in the Supreme Court for the first time as in this case. See Usman Dan Fodio University v. Kraus Thompson Organisation Ltd (2001) 15 NWLR pt. 736 p. 305.” Per RHODES-VIVOUR ,J.S.C ( P. 25, para. D )

  1. AG RIVERS STATE v. AG AKWA IBOM STATE & ANOR (2011) LPELR-633(SC)

Whether the issue of jurisdiction must be resolved first before hearing a case on the merits

“Since an issue of jurisdiction hits at the foundation of adjudication by a court of law, it is usually considered expedient to resolve same first before proceeding further to consider the matter on the merit. It has been settled by a long line of cases that a determination by a Court of a matter is null and void if done without jurisdiction and that it does not matter how well the proceeding was/is conducted. An issue of jurisdiction is therefore considered a periphery matter.” Per ONNOGHEN ,J.S.C ( Pp. 39-40, paras. F-B )

  1. ORIORIO & ORS v. OSAIN & ORS (2012) LPELR-7809(SC)

Whether the issue of jurisdiction must be resolved first before hearing a case on the merits

“Appellants’ issue three is on jurisdiction and being a threshold matter, it will be resolved before any more steps is taken in the appeal. This is because jurisdiction is the spinal cord of every litigation and, once raised, it must be resolved before further step is taken in the matter. See Charles Chinwendu Odedo v. INEC & Anor (2008) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1117) 554 at 595.” Per NGWUTA ,J.S.C ( P. 19, paras. C-E )

  1. AFRO CONTINENTAL (NIG) LTD & ANOR v. CO-OPERATIVE ASSOCIATION OF PROFESSIONALS INC (2003) LPELR-217(SC)

Whether the issue of jurisdiction must be resolved first before hearing a case on the merits.

“When a court jurisdiction is challenged, the duty of the Court is to settle that issue one way or another first before proceeding to hear the case on merits. (See A.-G., Anambra State v. A.-G., Federation (1993) 6 NWLR (Pt. 302) 692; A.-G., Lagos State v. Dosunmu (1989) 3 NWLR (Pt. 111) 582). And the Court has the jurisdiction to do so. See Barclays Bank of Nigeria v. Central Bank of Nigeria (1976) I All NLR 409 at 421.” Per KALGO ,J.S.C ( P. 14, paras. B-D )

  1. EBHODAGHE v. OKOYE (2004) LPELR-987(SC)

Whether the issue of jurisdiction must be resolved first before hearing a case on the merits.

“It is not in dispute that both learned counsel for the parties agree with the general principle that jurisdiction is a central issue to any case before any court and once it is challenged, the court concerned is duty bound to determine whether it has jurisdiction first before proceeding to entertain the case. See Ndaeyo v. Ogunnaya (1977) 1 SC 111; Oscroft v. Benabo (1967) 2 All ER 548. This is so, because any act, orders or proceedings made by a court without jurisdiction is a nullity and remains so for all purposes. See Funduk Engineering Ltd. v. McArthur (1995) 4 NWLR (Pt. 392) 640 at 651; Alao v. C.O.P. (1987) 4 NWLR (Pt. 64) 199; Alhaji Rufai v. Alhaji Olugbeja (1986) 5 NWLR (Pt. 40) 162.” Per KALGO ,J.S.C ( P. 11, paras. C-F).

Conclusion:

There cannot be a valid judgment of a court from a court that lacks jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is the foundation of every litigation and without it, no case or judgment can stand. Consequently, the Supreme Court of Nigeria has warned all courts in Nigeria to always verify and determine their jurisdiction before proceeding with any case to avoid waste of resources.

My authorities, are:

  1. Sections 1, 6, 46, 232, 233, 239, 240, 251, 252, 253, 255, 257, 258, 260, 262, 263, 270, 272, 273, 275, 277, 278, 280, 282, 285 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
  2. The Supreme Court’s decision (on the finality of the Supreme Court) in the case of AYOADE v. STATE (2020) LPELR-49379(SC).
  3. The Supreme Court’s decision (on the finality of the Supreme Court) in the case of EFCC v. REINL (2020) LPELR-49387(SC)
  4. The Supreme Court’s decision (on the supremacy of the constitution) in the case of INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION v. ALHAJI ABDULKADIR BALARABE MUSA (2003) LPELR-24927(SC)
  5. The Supreme Court’s decision (on prioritizing issues of jurisdiction) in the case of AJAOKUTA STEEL CO. LTD v. GREENBAY INVESTMENT & SECURITIES LTD & ORS (2019) LPELR-46929(SC)
  6. The Supreme Court’s decision (on prioritizing issues of jurisdiction) in the case of PERSONS, NAMES UNKNOWN v. SAHRIS INTL LTD (2019) LPELR-49006(SC)
  7. The Supreme Court’s decision (on prioritizing issues of jurisdiction) in the case of ENUKORA v. FRN (2018) LPELR-43822(SC)
  8. The Supreme Court’s decision (on prioritizing issues of jurisdiction) in the case of OKWUOSA v. GOMWALK & ORS (2017) LPELR-41736(SC)
  9. The Supreme Court’s decision (on prioritizing issues of jurisdiction) in the case of ADEKOYE & ORS v. NIGERIAN SECURITY PRINTING AND MINTING CO LTD & ORS (2009) LPELR-106(SC)
  10. The Supreme Court’s decision (on prioritizing issues of jurisdiction) in the case of HDP v. OBI & ORS (2011) LPELR-8226(SC)
  11. The Supreme Court’s decision (on prioritizing issues of jurisdiction) in the case of APGA v. ANYANWU & ORS (2014) LPELR-22182(SC)
  12. The Supreme Court’s decision (on prioritizing issues of jurisdiction) in the case of OKONKWO & ORS v. OKONKWO & ORS (2010) LPELR-9357(SC)
  13. The Supreme Court’s decision (on prioritizing issues of jurisdiction) in the case of FAMU & ORS v. KASSIM & ORS (2012) LPELR-15528(SC)
  14. The Supreme Court’s decision (on prioritizing issues of jurisdiction) in the case of BRITTANIA-U (NIG) LTD v. SEPLAT PETROLEUM DEVELOPMENT CO. LTD & ORS (2016) LPELR-40007(SC)
  15. The Supreme Court’s decision (on prioritizing issues of jurisdiction) in the case of CBN & ORS v. OKOJIE (2015) LPELR-24740(SC)
  16. The Supreme Court’s decision (on prioritizing issues of jurisdiction) in the case of AG RIVERS STATE v. AG AKWA IBOM STATE & ANOR (2011) LPELR-633(SC)
  17. The Supreme Court’s decision (on prioritizing issues of jurisdiction) in the case of ORIORIO & ORS v. OSAIN & ORS (2012) LPELR-7809(SC)
  18. The Supreme Court’s decision (on prioritizing issues of jurisdiction) in the case of AFRO CONTINENTAL (NIG) LTD & ANOR v. CO-OPERATIVE ASSOCIATION OF PROFESSIONALS INC (2003) LPELR-217(SC)
  19. The Supreme Court’s decision (on prioritizing issues of jurisdiction) in the case of EBHODAGHE v. OKOYE (2004) LPELR-987(SC)
  20. Onyekachi Umah, “When Courts Must Refuse To Consider Issues/Applications Before It.” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 10 September 2020) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/when-courts-must-refuse-to-consider-issues-applications-before-it/> accessed 9 February 2021.
  21. Onyekachi Umah, “Are Courts In Nigeria Administratively Independent Of The Chief Justice Of Nigeria And The Supreme Court ?” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 20 April 2020) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/are-courts-in-nigeria-administratively-independent-of-the-chief-justice-of-nigeria-and-the-supreme-court-daily-law-tips-tip-551-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-llm-aciarbuk/ > accessed 9 February 2021.
  22. Onyekachi Umah, “The Nigerian Court For Ships and Aircrafts Matters.” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 11 November 2020) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/the-nigerian-court-for-ships-and-aircrafts-matters/> accessed 9 February 2021
  23. Onyekachi Umah, “COURT THAT CAN TRY CASES ON QUARANTINE AND LOCKDOWN IN NIGERIA.” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 23 April 2020) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/court-that-can-try-cases-on-quarantine-and-lockdown-in-nigeria-daily-law-tips-tip-554-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-llm-aciarbuk-2/> accessed 9 February 2021.
  24. Onyekachi Umah, “Which Court Can Try Cases Of Bounced/Dud Cheque In Nigeria ?” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 18 October 2018) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/daily-law-tips-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-tip-208-which-court-can-try-cases-of-bounced-dud-cheque-in-nigeria/> accessed 9 February 2021.
  25. Onyekachi Umah, “Dud/Bounced Cheque Offences Cannot Be Tried In Magistrates Courts In Nigeria.” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 27 July 2018) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/daily-law-tips-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-tip-151-dud-bounced-cheque-offences-cannot-be-tried-in-magistrates-courts-in-nigeria/> accessed 9 February 2021
  26. Onyekachi Umah, “THE RIGHT COURT FOR DIVORCE IN NIGERIA” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 24 April 2018) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/daily-law-tips-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-tip-87-the-right-court-for-divorce-in-nigeria/> accessed 9 February 2021
  27. Onyekachi Umah, “Bounced Or Dud Cheque And Its Legal Consequence In Nigeria” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 5 March 2016) <https://learnnigerianlaws.com/bounced-or-dud-cheque-and-its-legal-consequence/> accessed 9 February 2021.

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