On Jurisdiction: A tale of the fishermen and the sea

Jurisdiction ultimately answers this question: What court are we going to? Or put differently: Does XYZ court have authority to hear this matter? It also helps to determine the applicable laws. It is very important because in the exams once you do not get the correct jurisdiction, you are likely to fail as many as 3 subsequent questions. YIKES!!!!
There are three courts that really enter the same trouser when it comes to this jurisdiction matter: The State High Courts (SHC), the Federal High Court (FHC) and the National Industrial Court (NIC). But to understand this let’s imagine all causes and matters to be fishes in a big ocean. The various courts are fishermen and have been restricted to harvesting certain types of fish.

The FHC will take those types of ‘FISHES’ listed in Section 251 of the Constitution (SUBJECT ONLY TO THE EXCEPTIONS EMBEDDED IN THAT SECTION).

  • The NIC will take all the labour matter ‘FISHES’ Section 254 (Third Alteration)
  • The SHC really doesn’t have much of a choice because it is entitled to the left overs i.e. the ones that do not exclusively belong to the other fishermen.
  • Where the first two fishermen have exclusive picks (jurisdiction) it is not for the SHC to go and be gathering those types of fish because FHC and NIC did not touch it, it must stick to the leftovers (Sorry SHC(). So the only time SHC can catch a FHC/NIC fish is when the law says that type of fish is not exclusively for FHC/NIC.
  • The law may say that a fish is not exclusively FHC or NIC, and give concurrent jurisdiction i.e. if FHC catches the fish first, no problem also if SHC catches it first no wahala.

Exceptions: some matters are not in the exclusive preserve of the FHC. Let’s dissect those knotty subsections in Section 251

Section 251 (1d) on Banking: The section says:

[FHC has exclusive jurisdiction over matters] connected with or pertaining to banking, banks, other financial institutions, including any action between one bank and another, any action by or against the Central Bank of Nigeria arising from banking, foreign exchange, coinage, legal tender,  bills of exchange, letters of credit, promissory notes and other fiscal measures:


…this paragraph shall not apply to any dispute between an individual customer and his bank in respect of transactions between the individual customer and the bank…

So if two banks are fighting or maybe one is fighting CBN or CBN is fighting them on the issue of policy they MUST march to the FHC. The section quickly adds that the section does not apply to banker-customer relationships. This means if you, a GTBank customer, decide to quarrel with your bank, just march them to the SHC because Section 251 is not talking to you 😐. Also by virtue of NDIC v. FMB, if Fidelity Bank opens account with GTBank and wants to challenge GTBank based on that banker-customer relationship, they can go to the SHC but FHC won’t chase them away if they carry the matter there.

Section 251 (1) (p) (q) (r) said FHC must hear any matter concerning:

the administration or the management and control of the Federal Government or any of its agencies…subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the operation and interpretation of this Constitution…as it affects the Federal Government or any of its agencies…any action… for a declaration or injunction affecting the validity of any executive or administrative action or decision by the FG or any of its agencies…

At first glance this makes one feel that we must run to FHC once we have any issues with the FG or its agencies. But by judicial interpretation (Elelu-Habeeb v. NJC, KRPC v. Onuorah, NDIC v. Okem Enterprises) we understand that if it is simple business/contract matter, or something that is not really FHC matter in substance (like Chieftaincy title in Tukur v. Gongola) no need to disturb FHC (they have bigger fish to fry) go to the SHC or NIC if it is purely labour matter.

On the next post, we can test our brain muscles on some sample question from each course that deals with jurisdiction.

Does the above make sense to you? Feedback please!!!! Thanks in advance!!☺



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