In this page we will be looking comprehensively at the Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Nigeria as provided for in the 1999 constitution as amended. If you have been searching for an article that discusses the Original and Appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, I enjoin you to continue reading because everything you need to know about the Supreme Court is contained in this page. In addition to that, it is worthwhile to know that the information here is supported with legal authorities (both cases and statutes). Now, lets move to the crux of this work.
Jurisdiction can be defined as the legal capacity of a court to hear and determine judicial proceedings. It is a power to adjudicate concerning the subject matter controversy. [Nsirim v. Amadi] The issue of jurisdiction is fundamental in any suit. Consequently, the Supreme Court being the apex court in Nigeria and one of the superior courts of record established by the constitution by virtue of Section 6 and the Supreme Court act (enacted in 2nd day of June, 1960) cannot operate fully without authority to do so.
In the locus classicus of Madukolu v. Nkemdilim (((1962) vol 2 NSCC p.374,)) the Supreme court stated unequivocally that Jurisdiction is so fundamental that it can be raised informally, although it is desirable that some process is led so that the adverse party is not taken by surprise.
When is the court said to have jurisdiction?
In Madukolu v. Nkemdilim (supra), a court is said to have jurisdiction when: (1) It is properly constituted (2) the subject matter of the case is within its jurisdiction (3) if all the condition precedent has been met by the court.
That having been stated, this short write up examines the original and appellant jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and other jurisdictions that have conferred on the Supreme Court by the Act of the national assembly.
Establishment of the Supreme Court Of Nigeria
The Supreme Court has existed for 57 years as it was established on October 1, 1963 (three years after Nigeria got her independence). It is located at the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, Abuja. Upon its creation, it was known as the “Federal Supreme Court” and as at then appeals still went from the Supreme Court to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council until when Nigeria became a Republic in 1963.
Then the name was changed to the Supreme Court of Nigeria and it became the highest and final appellate court in Nigeria whose decision in any matter is final. The Supreme court presently owes its existence to Section 230 (1) of the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria as amended. It is composed of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and such number of Justices of the Supreme Court as may be prescribed by the National Assembly but not exceeding 21 as given by Section 230 (2) (a) & (b).
The appointment and qualification of the members of the Supreme Court’s is provided for in Section 231 of the constitution of Nigeria. Appointment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria is made by the president on the recommendations of the National Judicial Council subject to confirmation by the senate and this is the same requirement for the appointment of the Justice of the Supreme Court.
Also under the same section, a person cannot qualify as the Justice of the Supreme Court unless he is a qualified legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been qualified for not less than 15 years.
As we continue, we will be examining the appellate and original jurisdiction of the supreme court as provided for under section 232 & 233 (1) of the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria respectively.
The original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court
The original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court as earlier mentioned is provided for in section 232 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and it provides as follows;
1. The Supreme Court shall, to the exclusion of any other court, have original jurisdiction in any dispute between the Federation and a State or between states if and in so far as the dispute involves any question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends.
2. In addition to the jurisdiction conferred upon it by subsection (1) of this section, the Supreme Court shall have such original jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by any Act of the National Assembly: Provided that no original jurisdiction shall be conferred upon the Supreme Court with respect to any criminal matter.
By way of explanation of the sections above, subsection 1 of section 232 of 1999 CFRN provides primarily for the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. It states that the Supreme court covers any dispute between the federation and a state or between states as the case may be but not between the federation and/or state and a non-state body and this is further emphasized in the case of A.G. of the Federation V. A.G of Imo state and 2 others (((1983) 4 NCLR 178))
In this case, the Supreme Court held under section 212 (1) of the 1979 Constitution of Nigeria that its jurisdiction is a special one which is limited to the Federation and a state or between states and no more. The original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court can be invoked by the federation and/or the state only when acting in their corporate capacities.
Furthermore, following the fact that the original jurisdiction of the Supreme court can only be invoked in a matter between the federation and states, the question arises as to who can authorize an action being brought before the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and in whose name can an action before the original jurisdiction be brought?
According to section 20 (a) of the Supreme Court Act Caps 424 Laws of the Federation 1990, an action by the Federal government can be brought in the name of the Attorney General of the federation as shown in the case of A.G Abia State and 35 Others V. A.G Federation with citation (((2002) 6 NWLR (pt 763) 264.))
But in the case of A.G Plateau State and A or V. A.G Federation and Anor, (((2006) 3 NWLR (pt. 967) 346)), the court concluded that it is a mere irregularity if there is a failure to sue in the names of the appropriate nominal parties.
In this same case, it was given that the Attorney General of the state is the only competent person to invoke the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, but as was the situation in this case, the office of the Governor was suspended. Hence, the other competent person to invoke the original jurisdiction was the sole administrator of the state and the case was held incompetent since the sole administrator who was the only competent person to authorize the case in the state of emergency did not.
Now that you understand the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Nigeria as provided for in Section 232 (1), i will comprehensively explain the appellate jurisdiction of the supreme. Coupled with that, we will see how the appellate jurisdiction of the supreme court can be invoked.
Appellate Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Nigeria
The appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is the power of the Supreme Court to entertain appeal from the Court of Appeal. The appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is provided for in constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, 2011. Section 233 of the constitution provides that the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to entertain matters coming as appeal from the court of appeal. It could be as of right or with the leave of the court.
Below are the instances where appeal will be as of right:
- Where it involves a question of law on any civil or criminal proceedings before the Court of Appeal;
- When it is concerned with the interpretation or application of the constitution;
- If it concerns the questions as to whether any of the provisions of Chapter IV of the Constitution has been, is being or is likely to be, contravened in relation to any person;
- Decisions in any criminal proceedings in which any person has been sentenced to death by the Court of Appeal or in which the Court of Appeal has affirmed a sentence of death imposed by any other court;
- On any question that has to do with whether any person has been validly elected to the office of President or Vice-President, whether the term of office of office of President or Vice-President has ceased and whether the office of President or Vice-President has become vacant.
- Any case in which is stipulated in the Act of the National Assembly to be under appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court as of right.
These generally are the grounds on which the Supreme Court can exercise its appellate jurisdiction, any other appeal (which must come from the Court of Appeal) outside the ones provided above are to come up with the leave of the Supreme court.
According to Section 234 of the 1999 Constitution, for the Supreme Court to have jurisdiction over any matter, it must be duly constituted of not less than five justices of the Supreme Court. When sitting on any appeal brought under Section 233 (2) (b) or (c) or it’s original jurisdiction under section 232 of the 1999 constitution, the court must be duly constituted by seven justices.
Other Jurisdictions of the Supreme Court
By the provisions of Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act, the Supreme Court is conferred with jurisdiction to make any order necessary for the determination of the real question in controversy in an appeal as if the matter is prosecuted in the Supreme Court as a court of first instance.
By this Section the court can make or give an order that the court of appeal can make without sending the case back for a retrial. The section can only be invoked if there is no feature in the case which prevents this court from exercising its wide jurisdiction; and if the proceedings in the court below justify invoking the said Section 22 (supra) ((See Ucha v. Elechi (2012) ALL FWIR (Pt. 628) p.237 Inakoju v. Adeleke (2007) 1 SC (Pt. i) p.128 Daprainlong v. Dariye (2007) 4 SC (Pt. iii) p.1))
In conclusion and very importantly, it is very important to note that any decisions reached by the Supreme Court under any of its jurisdictions is final except if the Supreme Court sits again to review any such decisions. The reason for this is because, the Supreme Court is the apex in the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria.
Edeh Samuel Chukwuemeka ChMC, is a Law Student and a Certified Mediator/Conciliator in Nigeria. He is also a Developer with knowledge in HTML, CSS, JS, PHP and React Native. Samuel is bent on changing the legal profession by building Web and Mobile Apps that will make legal research a lot easier.