High Court has unlimited jurisdiction in chieftaincy matters
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA
HOLDEN AT ABUJA
ON FRIDAY, THE 13TH DAY OF FEBRUARY, 2015
BEFORE THEIR LORDSHIPS
IBRAHIM T. MUHAMMAD JUSTICE, SUPREMECOURT
JOHN A. FABIYI JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT
MUSA D. MUHAMMAD JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT
CLARA B. OGUNBIYI JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT
KUDIRAT M. O. KEKERE-EKUN JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT
GOYANG KAYILI………………………. DEFENDANT/APPELLANT
1. ESLY YILBUK) …………………………… PLAINTIFF/RESPONDENT
2. ATTORNEY GENERAL OF
PLATEAU STATE) …………………………… DEFENDANT/RESPONDENT
3. PANKSHIN LOCAL GOVERNMENT …… DEFENDANT/RESPONDENT
The Constitution is also held as supreme by virtue of Section 1(i) of the 1979 provision which is also same in the 1999 Constitution. The effect is if any law is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution, the other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void while the Constitution shall prevail. In view of the supremacy of the Constitution therefore, any law which tends to limit the jurisdiction of the state high court or vests the judicial powers of the Federation on a state Governor is null and void.
So held the supreme court Holden in Abuja in a unanimous leading judgment delivered by His lordship, C. B. Ogunbiyi, with his learned brothers Ibrahim T. Muhammad, John A. Fabiyi, Musa D. Muhammad, and Kudirat M. O. Kekere-Ekun JJSC concurring while dismissing the appeal. The parties were represented by S. S. Obende, (with M.A. Dawam), for the Appellant/1st Cross-Respondent, Jim Gotom, for the 1st Respondent and E.D. Pwajok, (with G. D. Iwomyon, D.P.P. Plateau State), for the 2nd and 3rd Respondent/Cross-Appellant.
Briefly and for purpose of understanding the background history of the appeal now before us, it is pertinent to state that the 1st Respondent together with two other persons now deceased,
whose names have been struck out of the appeal at the lower court, instituted Suit No. PLD/J.192/87 against the present Appellant as well as the 2nd and 3rd Respondents at the High Court Jos but was later transferred to Pankshin High Court which heard and determined the suit.
At the trial court, the 1st Respondent as well as the two other persons now deceased were the Plaintiffs while the Appellant and the 2nd and 3rd Respondents in this court were
the Defendants. The suit at the trial high court was instituted in a representative capacity on behalf of the initiators and members of Neha Family of Somji. The case of the Plaintiffs/1st Respondent before the trial court was that at all material times to the action they are members
of Neha family of Somji village in Kabwir District of Pankshin Local Government Area. The Neha family is one of the two ruling houses in Somji village by virtue of which fact the Plaintiffs are entitled to the throne of the village head of Somji. On the 5th of September, 1984, the stool of the village head of Somji became vacant on the death of the then incumbent, Nde Boyi Goshit. He was buried on the 6th of September, 1984 and there was a need to appoint a new village head of the village. According to the Plaintiffs/Respondent, there are two ruling houses in Somji village, namely Neha and Nees and the stool is rotational. The last village head, Boyi Goshit came from Nees family and it was therefore the turn of Neha family to produce a candidate to the stool. The 1st Defendant/Appellant Goyang Kayili from Nees family was appointed by Nees family despite protest from Neha family and the 3rd Defendant/Respondent subsequently confirmed the appointment. The Plaintiffs/Respondent protested the selection of the 1st Appellant as the village head of Somji by writing several letters to the 2nd and 3rd Defendants/Respondents. No action was taken thereon. The 1st Defendant/Appellant was officially installed and presented with a letter of appointment as the village head of Somji on the 24th September, 1987. Hence, the Plaintiffs/Respondent instituted this action, now on appeal before us. In Paragraph 48 of the amended statement of claim, the Plaintiffs/Respondent claimed as follows:-
“(a) A declaration that the purported election, selection or appointment and installation of the 1st Defendant by 3rd Defendant and the confirmation of same by the 2nd Defendant, as the village head of Somji is null and void and of no effect.
(b) A declaration that the Plaintiffs and Neha family is the sole house or have right to aspire to the throne of the village head Somji.
(c) A perpetual injunction restraining the 1st Defendant by himself, his servants, agents and/or privies from parading himself or him and performing any duty pertaining (sic) or attaching to the office of the village head of Somji and/or holding himself or him out in any way as the village head of Somji.
(d) A perpetual injunction restraining the 2nd and 3rd Defendants, their servants, agents and/or privies from holding in anyway, the 1st Defendant as the village head of Somji or approving or if approved, from regarding such approval as valid, the selection, election of appointment of the 1st Defendant as the village head of Somji, and from installing him or if installed, regarding as valid his installation, as village head of Somji or in any way dealing with him as the said village head of Somji.”
Pleadings were filed and exchanged. Evidence, both oral and documentary was adduced before the trial court. At the conclusion of the trial, the learned trial judge found against the Plaintiffs. In its judgment delivered on the 7th July, 1993, the trial court held that Neha ruling house of which the Plaintiffs belong is one of the ruling houses in Somji for the purpose of the stool of village head of Somji and that the stool rotates between the ruling houses; that members of Neha ruling house cannot ascend the throne unless they pay compensation for assisting the people of Barn to kill Kankalak a past village head of Somji.
The Plaintiffs were dissatisfied with that part of the decision of the High Court Pankshin that they cannot ascend the throne of village head of Somji though they belong to a ruling House and the stool rotates between all the ruling houses of Somji and appealed against the decision to the Court of Appeal Jos Division. The lower court allowed the appeal by the Plaintiffs/Appellant before it and held that having proved that they belong to a ruling house in Somji and the stool of village head of Somji is rotational, it is now the turn of their ruling house, to exclusively occupy the stool. The 1st Defendant/Appellant now in turn is also dissatisfied with the decision of the Court of Appeal, hence the appeal to this court, with leave granted on the 27th February, 2007.
Briefly, the statement of material facts in this case is that the 1st Defendant/Appellant, Goyang Kayili was selected as the village head of Somji. The stool of the village head of Somji is a Chieftaincy stool, which evolved through the native law and custom of the Somji people.The selection of the 1st Defendant/Appellant was approved by the Governor of Plateau State, after which he was installed. The Plaintiffs/Respondents commenced this action at the trial court on the ground that the Neha ruling house, to which they belong, is the sole house entitled to the stool of the village head of Somji. It was the Plaintiffs averment that the stool of the village head of Somji was founded by Wus Pus, who upon his demise was succeeded by Wuryep Pus, and finally by Ndam Wuryep, all of them from Neha ruling house in quick consecutive succession. The Plaintiffs contend further that upon the demise of Ndam Wuryep, the stool rotated to the Nees ruling house because Neha ruling house had no strong adult male to fill the vacancy. The Plaintiffs went further to plead that Ndam Wuryep was succeeded by the son of his blood sister, by name Kushada whose father was from Nees family. In other words, the Plaintiffs showed how the stool was transferred through Kushada to Nees family and Kushada therefore marked the beginning of the reign of Nees family down to Boyi Goshit, the last village head. These Chiefs who ruled in quick consecutive succession from Nees ruling house were said to have been installed duly as their counter-parts in the Neha ruling house. It was the Plaintiffs’ argument at the trial court that their agitation for the stool to revert back to Neha ruling house was refused. They also contended that the traditional selectors did not know of the selection of the 1st Defendant/Appellant and finally that Neha ruling house is the sole family to fill the vacant stool. The 1st Defendant/Appellant denied the Plaintiffs/ Respondent’s claim and contended that there are three ruling houses in Somji, to wit, Nees, Barn and Jimi. That his selection as the village head of Somji, was by the traditional selectors in accordance with the native law and custom of Somji.
The first Defendant pleaded who the traditional selectors for the stool are. The 2nd and 3rd Defendants/Respondents also denied Plaintiffs claim. Parties led oral evidence in support of their respective positions. The trial court came to the conclusion that Plaintiffs claim had not been proved and dismissed same. The Plaintiffs appealed to the Court of Appeal upon five grounds of appeal. In reversing the judgment of the trial court, the lower court ruled that the Plaintiffs proved their case to entitle them to judgment. In addition, the lower court held that the traditional selectors were not those pleaded by the Defendants but the elders relied upon by the Plaintiffs. In setting aside the selection of the 1st Defendant, the lower court directed that a fresh selection be conducted exclusively for persons of the Neha ruling house. This appeal therefore is against the said judgment of the Court of Appeal.
On the cross-appeal however, the Appellant/Cross Respondent did not file any brief of argument. The 1st Respondent/Cross Respondent’s brief of argument to the cross-appeal was filed on the 3rd January, 2013. On behalf of the 2nd and 3rd Respondents/Cross Respondents, also, a brief was filed on the 3rd January, 2013.
Both the Appellant and the 1st Respondent each formulated four issues which are very much identical and similar in substance. I will adopt the formulation by the 1st Respondent which reproductions are as follows:-
1. Whether the trial High Court Pankshin lacked the jurisdiction to entertain Suit No. PLD/J/192/82 as instituted by the then Plaintiffs.
ii) Whether the Plaintiffs proved the fact of rotation at the trial and whether this fact is still in issue in view of the finding of the trial court on the issue which has not been appealed against.
iii) Whether in view of the holding of the trial court that Neha is a ruling house in Somji for the purpose of the stool of village head of Somji and that the stool is rotational between all the ruling houses and there is no cross appeal against these findings of the trial court, the Respondents were not entitled to the reliefs being appealed against.
iv) Whether the finding of the lower court that the kingmakers of Somji for the purpose of the stool of village head of Somji are the council of elders of Somji and the traditional Chief Priest of Somji together with the Chief of Bolkon is perverse.
The 1st issue questions the propriety of the trial court in entertaining the Suit PLD/J/192/87 instituted before it by the then Plaintiffs.
TO BE CONTINUED