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The jurisdiction of State High Courts in Nigeria

  • Enefiok Essien

The jurisdiction of State High Courts in Nigeria is to be found in section 236(1) of the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The section provides:

“236(1). Subject to the provisions of this constitution and in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by law, the High Court of a State shall have unlimited jurisdiction to hear and determine any civil proceedings in which the existence or extent of a legal right, power, duty, liability, privilege, interest, obligation or claim is in issue or to hear and determine any criminal proceedings involving or relating ot any penalty, forfeiture, punishment or other liability in respect of an offence committed by any person.”

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1 As amended by Decrees.

2 All emphases are mine.

3 Obada & Ors. v. Military Governor of Kwara State & Ors. (1990) 6 NWLR (Pt. 157) 482 at 496.

4 Under a civilian constitutional government, the constitution is at the apex of the legislative hierarchy. This is followed by Acts of Parliament. All previous extant decrees take effect as Acts of Parliament on the same plane. Below them are Laws of the State legislature. All extant Edicts rank as Laws of State legislature. During military regimes, on the other hand, Decrees have primacy, followed by the modified and unsuspended provisions of the Constitution. Previous Acts of Parliament rank third. Edicts then follow. Fifth in the ranking are State Laws previously enacted by the State legislature. See generally Obada & Ors. v. Military Governor of Kwara State & Ors. (1990) 6 NWLR (Pt. 157) 482;Labiyi v. Anretiola (1992) 8 NWLR (Pt. 258) 139;Lekwot v. Judicial Tribunal (1993) 2 NWLR (Pt. 276) 410.

5 (1996) 37 LRCN 707,(1996) 5 NWLR (Pt. 447) 151,(1996) 4 SCNJ 209.

6 (1997) 50 LRCN 1376,(1997) 5 NWLR (Pt. 504) 122,(1997) 5 SCNJ 94.

7 Cap. 202 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990. The Act was originally promulgated as a Decree by the military regime (Decree No. 6 of 1978), but upon the exit of the military regime and the taking over of government by civilians it was re-designated Act. See s. 1 of the Adaptation of Laws (Re-designation of Decrees, Etc.) Order No. 13 of 1980.

8 S. 1 of the Land Use Act.

9 S. 2(1).

10 S. 6(1).

11 S. 21 para. (b).

12 S. 9(1).

13 S. 9(1).

14 Op. cit.

15 The emphasis in the section is mine.

16 Emphasis mine.

17 Inua v. Nta [1961] All NLR (Pt. 4) 576.

18 Uwaifo v. A-G of Bendel State (1982) 7 SC 124.

19 Op. cit.

20 Jurisdiction can be raised for the first time even on appeal to the Supreme Court: Salati v. Shehu (1986) 1 NWLR (Pt. 15) 198.

21 (1986) 1 NWLR (Pt. 15) 198.

22 Op. cit.

23 See: Savannah Bank of Nigeria Ltd. v. Pan Atlantic Shipping and Transport Agencies Ltd. & Anor. (1987) 1 NWLR (Pt. 49) 212.

24 Ibid., at 229.

25 The cases are cited and discussed in Enefiok Essien, The limits of the State High Courts jurisdiction” (1988/1989) 10 & 11 Journal of Private and Property Law, at 919.

26 Ibid., at 19.

27 S. 274(5) of the 1979 Constitution.

28 Nkwocha v. Governor of Anambra State & 2 ors. (1984) 6 SC 362.

29 Ibid., per Kayode Eso, J.S.C.

30 (1986) 4 NWLR (Pt. 35) 361.

31 Op. cit.

32 (1986) 4 NWLR (Pt. 35) 361 at 378. In this case, it was s. 47(1) of the Land Use Act, which ousts the jurisdiction of the High Court. The Court of Appeal held that it is in conflict with s. 236(1) of the Constitution, and therefore void.

33 (1999) 12 NWLR (Pt. 631) 471 at 480.

35 Interestingly, judgment in the Odofin case was delivered on Wednesday 30 June, 1999, at the Ilorin Division of the Court of Appeal, while judgment in the Aina case was delivered on Monday 5 July, 1999, at the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal, i.e. within the space of six days. Apparendy one Division of the court did not know about the decision of the other. It is however noteworthy that there is only one Court of Appeal throughout the entire country, though for convenience it is divided into judicial divisions.

36 (1999) 10 NWLR (Pt. 624) 633 at 645.

37 Dworkin, G., Odgers' Construction of Deeds and Statutes, 5th edn, London, Sweet and Maxwell, 1967, at 301: It is always assumed that the legislature knows the state of the law.

38 Bennion, F. A. R., Statutory Interpretation: A Code, 3rd edn, London, Butterworth, 1977, ss. 32, 80 at 133, 214.

39 Peacock v. Bell, 1 Wms. Saund. 74, 85 ER 84 at 87–88.

40 (1997) 50 LRCN 1376 at 1399, per Kutigi, J.S.C.

41 S. 272(1) of the Constitution.

42 S. 315(5) and (6) of the 1999 Constitution.

* LLB (Hons) (Cal.), LLM (Lagos), PhD (B'ham), Notary Public for Nigeria, and Senior Lecturer in Law at the Faculty of Law, University of Uyo, Nigeria.

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