The history of the Federal High Court can be traced to 1973 when the then Federal Military Government felt that it was necessary to establish a court of a different character but with limited powers. The reason for this was the felt need that issues relating to the revenue of the Federal Government should be determined expeditiously. Thus Decree No. 13 of 1973 was promulgated and the court tagged ‘Federal Revenue Court’ was established. It was given original jurisdiction in respect of issues touching on taxation of companies, customs and excise duties, banking, foreign exchange, currency and fiscal measures of the Federal Government. The court also had power in respect of copyright, patents, designs, trade-marks, merchandise marks and Admiralty cases. The name of the court was later changed from Federal Revenue Court to the Federal High Court.

Of all the courts recognised by the 1979 Constitution, none has been bedeviled by controversies and varying or wavering jurisdictional powers as the Federal High Court. As Aguda rightly noted, the imponderable problems of conflict of jurisdiction which characterised its existence led to the clamour for its abrogation.

Appointment

Section 228 of the 1979 and 249 of the 1999 Constitutions make provision for the creation of a Federal High Court. It is made up of the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and such number of judges of the Federal High Court as may be appointed by an Act of the National Assembly. The appointment of persons to the offices of the Chief Judge and Judges of the Federal High Court shall be made by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, subject to confirmation of such appointment by the Senate.

To qualify for appointment as a Judge of the Federal High Court, such a person must have qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and should be so qualified for a period of not less 10 years. Where there is a vacancy, the President shall appoint the most senior Judge of the Federal High Court to perform those functions. Such holder of an acting appointment shall so hold office for a period of not more than 3

months from the date of such appointment and the person so appointed shall not be re-appointed at the end of the three months period, except on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council.

Section 230 of the 1979 Constitution states that except as otherwise provided by the Constitution and in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly, the Federal High Court shall have and exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other Court in civil causes and matters arising from:

  1. relating to the revenue of the Government of the Federation; (b) taxation of companies and other bodies established or carrying on business in Nigeria and all other persons subject to Federal  taxation;
  2.  custom and excise duties and export duties including any claim  by or against the Nigeria Customs Service or any member or  officer thereof, arising from the performance of any duty  imposed under any regulation relating to customs and excise  duties;
  3.  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, not being any  dispute between individual customer and his bank:  the operation of the Companies and Allied Matters Act, its  regulation or any other enactment replacing it;  copyright, patent designs, trade marks, and passing off, industrial  designs and merchandise marks, business names, commercial and  industrial monopolies and standards etc.  admiralty jurisdiction;  diplomatic, consular and trade representation;  bankruptcy and insolvency;  aviation and safety of aircraft;  arms, ammunition and explosives;  drugs and poisons;  mines and minerals, weights and measures;  administration or management and control of Federal Government  or any of its agencies;  operation and interpretation of the Constitution in so far as it affects  the Federal Government or any of its agencies;  declaration or injunction affecting the validity of any executive or  administrative action or decision of Federal Government or any of its agencies;

and such other jurisdiction (civil or criminal) and whether to the  exclusion of any other court or not; treason, treasonable felony and allied offences;  criminal causes and matters in respect of matters within its  jurisdiction.

This provision does not affect the right of any person to seek redress against the Federal Government or any part of its agencies in any action for damages, injunction or specific performance, where the action is based on any enactment, law or equity.

The Constitution (1999:252) provides that the Federal High Court shall have all the powers of the High Court of a State, for the purpose of exercising its jurisdiction. This provision has often been misinterpreted to mean that the Federal High Court is not different from the State High Court. That it is a duplication of effort in the search for justice as the former is not different from the latter, and that both can be said to have concurrent jurisdiction. In Jammal Steel Structures Ltd. v. A.C.B. Ltd. the plaintiffs sued the defendants for the sum of N641,328.39 being the balance due to the plaintiffs in respect of overdraft facilities granted by the plaintiffs for money paid by the plaintiffs as bankers to the defendants at defendants’ request. When the case came up for hearing at the High Court, learned Counsel for the defendants argued that the High Court had no jurisdiction to deal with the matter having regard to the provisions of the Federal Revenue Court. The Court held that it had jurisdiction.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the court held that where there is involved only a dispute between a bank and one or more of its customers in the ordinary course of banking business or transaction, as in the case with the subject matter of the present case, any State High Court should be competent to entertain the case, because “the Government is not really interested in the outcome of the dispute apart of course from its interest in the general maintenance of law and order; that certain criminal offences relating to banking transactions, such as embezzlement or criminal breach of trust committed by anyone against a commercial bank should be prosecuted like any other crimes in any appropriate State High Court and not in the Federal Revenue Court”. However, in American International Insurance Corporation Ltd. v. Ceekay Traders Ltd., it was held that only the Federal High Court could assume jurisdiction in cases similar to that in Jammal Steel Structures v. A.C.B.

A case that really dealt with the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court was Bronik Motors Ltd. v. Wema Bank Ltd. the respondent, a bank, instituted an action in the High Court claiming specific performance of  a mortgage agreement to secure the appellants overdraft and N2,135,095.70 being balance due to the respondent for overdrafts to the first appellants in the normal course of their business as bankers. At the close of the case, the trial judge gave judgement for the respondent. Aggrieved by this judgement, the appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal. It confirmed the High Court’s judgement and dismissed the appeal. On further appeal to the Supreme Court, it was contended by the appellant that the two lower courts erred in failing to observe that jurisdiction over the claim in the action was not vested in the High Court but in the Federal High Court in accordance with section 7 of the Federal High Court Act 1973. The court was thus urged to overrule its decision in Jammal Steel Structures Ltd. v. A.C.B. Ltd. The Supreme Court held inter alia that in respect of a dispute between a bank and one or more of its customers in the ordinary course of banking business or transaction, any State High Court is competent to exercise jurisdiction since the Government is not really interested in the outcome of the dispute, apart of course from its interest in the general maintenance of law and order. The Supreme Court held further that the time object and purpose of the Federal High Court can be gathered from the four corners of it which is that of expeditious dispatch of the revenue cases, particularly those relating to personal income tax, company tax, customs excise duties, illegal currencies, deals, exchange control measures and the like which the State High Courts were supposed to have been too tardy to dispose of especially in recent years. The case could be said to be the locus classicus in respect of the extent of the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court. As stated above, of all the courts constitutionally established, none except the Federal High Court has witnessed much somersaulting jurisdictional powers. The recent is contained in schedule 1 to the Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree No. 107 of 1993.

The State High Court

Each State is empowered to create its own High Court.

Composition

The High Court of a State shall consist of the Chief Judge of the State and such number of Judges of the High Court as may be prescribed by a Law of the House of Assembly of the State.

The Chief Judge shall be appointed by the Governor of the State on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council subject to  confirmation of such appointment the House of Assembly of the State. The appointment of a person to the office of a Judge of a High Court of a Sate shall be made by the Governor on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council. To qualify for appointment as a Judge of the High Court, such a person must have qualified for a period of not less than 10 years.

In a situation where the office of the Chief Judge is vacant or where the person who holds the office is unable to perform the functions of that office, then until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, the Governor of the State shall appoint the most senior Judge of the High Court to perform those functions. Such appointment shall cease after the expiration of 3 months from the date of such appointment and the person so appointed shall not be re-appointed at the expiration of the three months except on the confirmation of the House of Assembly of the State.

Jurisdiction

The High Court of a State enjoys unlimited jurisdiction. See the Constitution (1979: Section 236; 1999: Section 272) which provides:

1979: S.236 “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 to any penalty,  forfeiture, punishment or other liability in respect of  an offence committed by any person.”64  1999: S.272 “Subject to the provisions of Section 251  and other provisions this Constitution and in addition  the High Court of a State shall have 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 to any penalty,  forfeiture, punishment or other liability in respect of  any offence committed by any person”

In order to appreciate the extent and beauty of this provision, it is necessary to quote again section 6 (6) (a) and (b). Section 6 (6) (a) provides:

“The judicial powers vested in accordance with the  foregoing provisions of this section shall extend,

notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this  constitution, to all inherent powers and sanctions of a  court of law”.  Section 6 (6) (b) states that the power:  “shall extend to all matters between persons, or  between government or authority and any person in  Nigeria, and to all actions and proceedings relating  thereto, for the determination of any question as to the  civil rights and obligations of that person”.  The sweeping nature of this power makes it possible for the High Court of a State to have original jurisdiction in all matters. Indeed, the Federal High Court, despite the fact that its jurisdiction has been extended, does not enjoy this kind of overwhelming jurisdiction.

There is only one High Court for each State although there may and are usually many judicial divisions. The same goes for the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal: See MBA v. Owoniboys Technical Service Ltd. (1994).

Sharia Court of Appeal

The Constitution permits any state that desires it to establish a Sharia Court of Appeal. The reason for this development is not unconnected with the secular nature of the country as well as the presence of two dominant religions in Nigeria i.e. Christianity and Islam.

Composition

The Sharia Court of Appeal of the State shall consist of a Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal and such number of Kadis of the Sharia Court of Appeal as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of the State.

The Governor is saddled with the responsibility of appointment of any person to the office of the Grand Khadi of the Court. This is done on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council subject to confirmation of the House of Assembly. The appointment of a person to the office of a Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of a State shall be

made by the Governor of the State on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council.

To qualify for appointment as a Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of a State, such a person must be:

(a) a legal practitioner in Nigeria and must be so qualified for a  period of not less than 10 years and has obtained a recognized  qualification in Islamic law from an institution acceptable to the  National Judicial Council, or

(b) have attended and obtained a recognised qualification in Islamic  personal law from an institution approved by the National  Judicial Council and must have held the qualification for a period  of not less than 10 years; and he must either have considerable  experience in the practice of Islamic personal law or must be a  distinguished scholar of Islamic personal law.

In the case of a vacancy in respect of the office of the Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of a State or where a person so appointed is unable to perform the functions of that office, the Governor of the State shall appoint the most senior Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the State to perform those functions.

An appointment made in the case of such vacancy shall cease to have effect after the expiration of 3 months from the date of such appointment and the Governor shall not re-appoint a person whose appointment has lapsed on the recommendation of the House of Assembly of the State.

The Constitution provides that the Sharia Court of Appeal of a State shall in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by the Law of the State, exercise such appellate and supervisory jurisdiction in civil proceedings involving questions of Islamic personal law which the court is competent to decide in accordance with the provisions of subsection 2 of section 242 (1979) which is identical with section 277 (1999).

The Sharia Court of Appeal shall be competent to decide:

(a) any question of Islamic personal law regarding a marriage  concluded in accordance with that law, including a question  relating to the validity or dissolution of such a marriage or a

question that depends on such a marriage and relating to family  relationship or the guardianship of an infant;

(b) where all the parties to the proceedings are Moslems, any  question of Islamic personal law regarding a marriage, including  the validity or dissolution of that marriage, or regarding family
relationship, a founding or the guardianship of an infant;

(c) any question of Islamic personal law regarding a “wakf”, gift,  will or succession where the endower, donor, testator or deceased  person is a Muslim;

(d) any question of Islamic personal law regarding an infant,  prodigal or person of unsound mind who is a Moslem or the  maintenance or guardianship of a Moslem who is physically or  mentally infirm; or

(e) where all the parties to the proceedings (whether or not they are  Moslems) have requested the court that hears the case in the first  instance to determine that case in accordance with Islamic
personal law, any other question.

See the Constitution: Section 242 (1979) and 277 (1999).

In Maishanu v. Hardo (1991), it was held that where the claim of a plaintiff does not fall within the ambit of the provision of section 242 of the 1979 Constitution, it is outside the jurisdiction of the Sharia Court of Appeal. In Muninga v. Muninga (1997), it was held that notwithstanding all the amendments introduced by various Decrees or Acts, the provisions of section 242 (2) of the 1979 Constitution is still the law.

It was also the view of the Court of Appeal in this case that the jurisdiction of the Sharia Court of Appeal in land matters is restricted to cases where questions of Islamic personal law is involved and in Gambo v. Tukuyi (1997) the court held that the deletion of the word “personal” from the phrase “Islamic personal law” under the 1979 Constitution has not altered the scope or extent of the jurisdiction of the Sharia Court of Appeal.

For the purpose of exercising any jurisdiction conferred upon it by the constitution, or any law, a Sharia Court of Appeal of a State shall be duly constituted if it consists of at least three Kadis of the Court according to the 1999 Constitution, Section 278.

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The Federal High Court- Appointment-The State High Court- Composition-Jurisdiction and Sharia Court of Appeal

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