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Jurisdiction must reside in the court within the state where the cause of action arose

Scale of Justice

AUDU v. APC & ORS (2019) LPELR-48134 (SC)

In the Supreme Court of Nigeria
ON FRIDAY, 21ST JUNE, 2019
Suit No: SC.443/2019

Before Their Lordships:

OLUKAYODE ARIWOOLA, JSC
KUDIRAT MOTONMORI OLATOKUNBO KEKERE-EKUN, JSC
JOHN INYANG OKORO, JSC
AMINA ADAMU AUGIE, JSC
PAUL ADAMU GALUMJE, JSC

Between
PRINCE YAHAYA OYIDI AUDU – Appellant(s)

And

1. ALL PROGRESSIVE CONGRESS (APC)
2. ISAH JIBRIL
3. INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION (INEC) -Respondent(s)

LEAD JUDGMENT DELIVERED BY AMINA ADAMU AUGIE, J.S.C.

FACTS OF THE CASE
This pre-election Appeal turns on the issue of “territorial jurisdiction” – whether the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja (FCT High Court), has jurisdiction to entertain a pre-election matter, involving Primaries conducted by All Progressive Congress (APC) (1st Respondent) at ldah in Kogi State. Prince Yahaya Oyidi Audu (Appellant), who participated in the said Primaries, which held on March 10, 2018, to nominate APC’s candidate for the Kogi East Senatorial District at the General Elections, filed an Originating Summons at the FCT High Court, Abuja, wherein he presented five questions to be determined by the Court, and sought seven reliefs.

In response, the APC filed a Notice of Preliminary Objection, urging the Court to dismiss the Suit for being incompetent. Isah Jibril (2nd Respondent) also filed Notice of Preliminary Objection for an Order of the Court “declining jurisdiction to entertain this action”.

After a number of adjournments, the matter came up for hearing on February 26, 2019, and the record shows that the learned FCT High Court Judge, Kekemeke, J., asked Appellant’s counsel – “do I have jurisdiction to entertain this action?”, and Appellant’s counsel replied — “yes, the Court has jurisdiction”. The Court said: “kindly address me on the issue of jurisdiction”. Learned counsel for the parties addressed the Court, and in its ruling delivered same day, the Court held as follows:

“The cause of action in the instant case is the result of the 1st Defendant’s Primary Election for the nomination of the 1st Defendant’s candidate in respect of KOGI EAST SENATORIAL DISTRICT and the decision of the Appeal Committee thereon. There is no doubt that the cause of action occurred in Kogi State. l do not have the intention of ‘grabbing’ the case, which falls within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court or High Court of Kogi State. The case of DALHATU V. TURAKI started in this Court. I am, therefore, well guided. I agree with the 2nd Defendant counsel’s argument that this Court lacks territorial jurisdiction to entertain this case and I so hold.”

Dissatisfied with the decision of the FCT High Court, the Appellant appealed to Court of Appeal, and the Court dismissed the appeal. On the issue of territorial jurisdiction, the Court of Appeal concluded as follows:

“The Appellant’s Suit as pleaded in the Originating Summons centered on the Primary Election of the 1st Respondent for the Kogi East Senatorial District held on March 10, 2018 at Kogi State. All the aspects of the Primary Election took place in Kogi State, no aspect of the Primary Election took place in the FCT Abuja. To this end, I agree with the trial Court that it lacked territorial jurisdiction, which falls within the jurisdiction of High Court of Kogi State. See Dalhatu V. Turaki (2003) 15 NWLR (Pt. 843) 310. Having held that the trial Court lacked territorial jurisdiction to hear the Appellant’s Suit, all other issues raised become academic and of no moment. The appeal fails. The ruling of the trial Court is hereby upheld.”

Further aggrieved, the Appellant appealed to the Supreme Court.

ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION
The Court determined the appeal on a sole issue as follows: “Whether the Court below was right to have held that the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory lacked the territorial jurisdiction to hear and determine the suit of the Appellant.”

APPELLANT SUBMISSION
It is the Appellant’s contention that the complaint, which gave rise to the said action, has nothing to do with the Primaries, which took place in Idah, Kogi State, but the unlawful forwarding of the 2nd Respondent’s name to the 3rd Respondent, by the National Working Committee of the 1st Respondent, domiciled in Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, which is within the jurisdiction of the FCT High Court. He urged the Court to take judicial notice of the fact that the 3rd Respondent, who has the responsibility to accept the name of candidates, is an agency of the Federal Government, based in Abuja. He distinguished this case from Mailantarki V. Tongo (2018) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1614) 69; (2017) LPELR-42467 (SC) and Dalhatu V. Turaki (2003) 42 WRN 45; (2003) LPELR-917 (SC), and argued that no aspect of the cause of action in the two cases took place in Abuja; that nowhere is it stated that the causes of action arising from nomination of candidates for election must be instituted in a Court in the State where Primaries took place; and that the Court found that the issues forming the causes of action in the two cases, took place outside Abuja, so FCT High Court had territorial jurisdiction.

1ST RESPONDENT SUBMISSION
The 1st Respondent submitted that the Appellant’s argument is “akin to performing a surgical operation of separating a fetus from the umbilical cord of a pregnant mother. The resultant effect is that the fetus would end up lifeless”; and that the “whole hullaballoo generated by the Appellant” is inextricably tied to the Primaries that took place in Kogi State, and what Appellant is adamantly refusing to acknowledge, is that his complaint is rooted in the said Primaries. Furthermore, that to determine if a Court of law has territorial jurisdiction, it would consider the geographical area where the cause of action arose, citing Onyema V. Oputa & Anor [1987] LPELR-2736(SC); and that the Appellant’s attempt to divest the purported substitution he claims happened in Abuja from primaries that happened in Kogi State “is akin to climbing a tree from the tree top instead of from the ground, which is grossly illogical and utterly impossible”.

2ND RESPONDENT SUBMISSION
The 2nd Respondent also stated the position of the law that the Supreme Court had laid to rest the issue of “territorial jurisdiction” of the FCT High Court in the case of Dalhatu V. Turaki (2003) 42 WRN 45; (2003) LPELR-917(SC). He also cited Mailantarki V. Tongo (2018) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1614) 69; (2017) LPELR-42467 (SC), where the Supreme Court reiterated the importance and sanctity of territorial jurisdiction and the geographical location, where a cause of action arose, and urged the Court to resolve the issue against the Appellant.

3RD RESPONDENT SUBMISSION
The 3rd respondent also argued along the same line with the others, and submitted, citing Inakoju & Ors V. Adeleke & Ors (2007) LPELR-1510 (SC), that it is well-settled in determining jurisdiction, it is the Statement of Claim that a Court will look at. That it is clear that the Appellant’s complaint has to do with the Primaries, which took place in Kogi State, not Abuja; and that this case is on all fours with Mailantarki V. Tongo (2018) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1614) 69; (2017) LPELR-42467 (SC), therefore, the Court of Appeal was right to hold that the FCT High Court has no territorial jurisdiction to entertain this matter.

RESOLUTION OF ISSUE
The Court commenced resolution of the issue with the definition of jurisdiction which simply means “a Court’s power to decide a case or issue” — Black’s Law Dictionary 9th Edition. Jurisdiction, the Court defined further also refers to “the authority a Court has to decide matters that are litigated before it or to take cognizance of matters presented in a formal way for its decision” – Mobil Producing (Nig.) Unlimited V. LASEPA (2002) 18 NWLR (R. 798) 1 SC; (2002) LPELR-1887 (SC). The Court stated the various types; “substantive jurisdiction refers to matters over which the Court can adjudicate, and it is usually expressly provided by the Constitution or enabling statutes. There is also “territorial jurisdiction” which is the focus of this Appeal, and it is the territorial limit a Court has power to decide… So, territorial jurisdiction refers to the geographical area in which matters brought before a Court for adjudication arose. Courts are usually not seized of matters that occur outside their territory – see Dairo V. UBN (2007) 16 NWLR (R. 1059) 99; (2007) LPELR-913 (SC).” The Court further cited the case of Rivers State Govt. & Anor V. Specialist Konsult (Swedish Group) (2005) 7 NWLR (Pt. 923) 145; (2005) LPELR-2950 (SC), wherein the Supreme Court Tobi, JSC, categorically said:

“Why was the action filed in the High Court of Lagos State when there is no nexus between the Contract and Lagos State? A Court in one State does not have jurisdiction to hear and determine a matter, which is exclusively within the jurisdiction of another State.”

The Court considered the case of Dalhatu V. Turaki (2003) 42 WRN 45; (2003) LPELR-917(SC), wherein per Ejiwunmi, JSC, held as follows:

“Events that led to the action had to do with the Governorship of Jigawa State. It is, of course, not debatable that Jigawa State is totally distinct and different from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. It seems to me that if any action was to be properly commenced, that action should have been initiated in the Court in Jigawa State. In this respect, I think it must be remembered that by our Constitution, each State of the Federation is independent of the other and the jurisdiction of each State is limited to matters arising in its territory…”

The Court further stated that in his judgment in Dalhatu V. Turaki (2003) 42 WRN 45; (2003) LPELR-917 (SC), Ogundare, JSC, cautioned the Judges of the FCT High Court to be aware of their peculiar situation. See also Mailantarki V. Tongo (2018) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1614) 69; (2017) LPELR-42467 (SC).

The Court observed that the Appellant is not claiming ignorance of the above decisions of the Supreme Court; what he is saying is that his complaint has nothing to do with the Primaries conducted in Kogi State, but with the unlawful forwarding of the 2nd Respondent’s name by the National Working Committee of first Respondent, domiciled in Abuja, to the 3rd Respondent, based in Abuja. On this the Court stated that the reliefs sought by the Appellant at the FCT High Court cannot be severed or divorced from the Primary Election that threw up all these questions. The Court held that the decision of the Court of Appeal on this issue cannot be faulted in any way; the FCT High Court is not synonymous with or tied to another State High Court. So, if a cause of action arises in any other State of the Federation, ‘jurisdiction must reside in the respective Court of that State” — see Dairo V. UBN (2007) 16 NWLR (R. 1059) 99; (2007) LPELR-913 (SC).

On the question of the effect of filing a Suit in another territory, district or locality that lacks jurisdiction, territorial that is, to entertain the matter, the Court held that the effect would be that there is no case before the Court for adjudication. The Parties cannot be heard on the merit of the case. That is the end of the litigation.

HELD
On the whole, the Court held that the Appeal totally lacks merit, and it was dismissed. The decision of the Court of Appeal was affirmed. The Appellant was ordered to pay costs of ₦500,000 to each one of the Respondents.

Appearances:
S.E. Aruwa, Esq. with him, P.T Soje, Esq.,
M.I. Balogun, Esq. and A.I Idris, Esq. -For Appellant

Abdulwahab Mohammad, Esq. with him, Adoyi Michael Adoyi, Esq. – For 1st Respondent

Chief A.A. Adeniyi, Esq. with him,
W.A. Aliwo, Esq., Adetunji Oso, Esq. – For 2nd Respondent
and Umaru Abduhameed, Esq.

Sanusi Musa, Esq. with him,
Abdul Mohammeed, Esq., M.S. Hussaini, Esq. – For 3rd Respondent
and O.B. Ozovewe, Esq.

Compiled by LawPavilion

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FCT High Court
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