The Nigerian Court For Ships and Aircrafts Matters.

The Nigerian Court For Ships and Aircrafts Matters. Daily Law Tips (Tip 694) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LL.M, ACIArb(UK)

 Introduction: 

There are few affairs and things that have dedicated courts in Nigeria for the determination of disputes arising from or relating to them. Nigeria has dedicated courts for matters arising from or relating to ships and aircrafts. 

This work focuses on the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court over issues relating to ships, aircrafts and maritime in Nigeria, including missing luggage, cancelled flights and payments to ships and aircrafts businesses.  

The 1973 Court, Past and Present:

Nigeria has numerous courts but they all can easily be categorized into superior courts or inferior courts. Superior courts are created by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, while inferior courts are created by the states in Nigeria. All federal courts are superior courts. 

The superior courts of record in Nigeria, are; the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court, the National Industrial Courts, the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the High Courts of States, The Customary Court of Appeal of States and that of the FCT, The Sharia Court of Appeal of States and that of the FCT. The inferior courts include; the Magistrate’s Courts, the District Courts, the Area courts and all the several states’ tribunals and mobile courts.

The focus is on the Federal High Court. The Federal High Court started as a Federal Revenue Court in 1973 and was turned into the Federal High Court in 1979 through the then Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1979. Today, the Federal High Court sits over all federal issues (being issues in the exclusive legislative list of the Constitution of Nigeria). 

Powers Over Ship, Aircrafts and Maritime:

The Federal High Court has unshared (exclusive) rights to sit and determine all matters arising from the items reserved for only the federal government of Nigeria. Among the issues that only the federal government of Nigeria can handle in Nigeria are issues of ship, aircraft and maritime in any part of Nigeria. 

Below are specific matters relating to ship, aircraft and maritime that only the Federal High Court can handle; 

  1. Matters relating to ownership and interest in a ship or aircraft or any maritime, irrespective of the country of the owner(s) or the country where the matter arose.  
  2. Matters relating to any ship owner or aircraft operator with regards to shipping or portion of aircraft 
  3. Matters relating to oil pollution damage 
  4. Matters relating to shipping and movement on national waterways 
  5. Matters arising from a Federal port or national airport and its environment, including claims for loss of or damage to goods occurring between the offloading of goods across space from a ship or an aircraft and their delivery at the consignee’s premises, or during storage or transportation before delivery to the consignee;
  6. Matters arising from any banking or letter of credit transaction involving the importation or exportation of goods to and from Nigeria in a ship or an aircraft, whether the importation is carried out or not and notwithstanding that the transaction is between a bank and its customer
  7. Matters arising from any cause or matter arising from the constitution and powers of all ports authorities airport authority and the National Maritime Authority;
  8. Matters arising from any agreement for carriage of goods by sea, whether the agreement was signed or not and whether it is for a fee or for free.  
  9. Matters arising from courier (carriage and delivery of goods) from the time the goods are placed on ship for shipping to the time the goods are delivered to its recipient, even if there was a land transportation in the process. 
  10. Any criminal cause and matter arising out of or concerned with any of the matters of any ship, aircraft, maritime, federal ports, airports, shipping and flights, including bankings relating too such. 

Conclusion & Recommendation:

Several times, one finds cases of lost goods/luggage, delayed flights, unrepaid fares and poor services by ships and aircrafts businesses, being filed at a State High Court or even a Magistrate Court. Some lawyers make this mistake on the belief that their cases are based on simple contracts and can be tried by a State High Court or Magistrate Court. 

Another area of huge mistake is on issues of simple bank-customer relationship relating to shipping or aircraft transactions. Such cases and matters are for only the Federal High Court to determine and no other court can attempt to do so. 

My authorities, are:

  1. Sections 1, 2, 3, 251, 318 and 319 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
  2. Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 25 and 26 of the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act 1991.
  3. Judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court over admiralty matters) in the case of PORTS AND CARGO HANDLINGS SERVICES CO LTD & ORS v. MIGFO (NIG) LTD & ANOR (2012) LPELR-9725(SC)
  4. Judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (nature and limit of exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court over admiralty matters) in the case of B.B APUGO & SONS LTD v. OHMB (2016) LPELR-40598(SC)
  5. Court History (fhc) <https://www.fhc.gov.ng/about/history > accessed 10 November 2020
  6. 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 10 November 2020

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