- CL|Jurisdiction|Mining Law|EL|Supervisory Jurisdiction|Minerals, oil and gas
CHEVRON NIGERIA LIMTED
THEOPHILUS NWUCHE & ORS
IN THE COURT OF APPEAL OF NIGERIA
ON FRIDAY, THE 21ST DAY OF NOVEMBER, 2014
BEFORE THEIR LORDSHIPS
RAPHAEL CHIKWE AGBO, J.C.A
PETER OLABISI IGE, J.C.A
FREDERICK O. OHO , J.C.A
CHEVRON NIGERIA LIMTED Appellant(s)
1. THEOPHILUS NWUCHE
2. CHINEDU NWOKOMA
3. CHAMBERLINE DURU
4. LIVINUS UGORJI
5. LONGINUS OLOKO
(For themselves and representing the owners of land occupied by Chevron (Nig.) Ltd. at Umukene Ohaji in Ohaji Egbema L.G.) Respondent(s)
O. O. Laniyan Esq with C.C. Chikere Esq. For Appellant
R. E. Osuiwu Esq. For Respondent
Sam Eleanya, Agboola Omolola Oluwafolakemi, Vincent Kalu Eleanya and Ugochi Vine Eleanya]
PETER OLABISI IGE, J.C.A. (Delivering the Leading Judgment):
This is an Appeal against the Ruling of Imo State High Court sitting at OGUTA JUDICIAL DIVISION contained in the Ruling of Honourable Justice U. D. OGWURUIKE delivered on 22nd day of July, 2003.
The Respondents had approached the said Court on 6th day of June, 2000, for the issuance of a Writ of Summons against the Appellant (at the Court below) wherein the Respondents claimed against the Appellant the following reliefs to wit:
"The Plaintiff claims against the defendant as follows:
(a) A Declaration that the token sum of N2,605.800.00 (Two Million Six Hundred and Five Thousand Eight Hundred Naira) paid by the defendant to the plaintiffs in 1996 is compensation or the economic crops and trees belong to the plaintiffs which were destroyed by the defendant in the plaintiff's land which situate and lying at Umukene Ohaji in the Ohaji/Egbema Local Government Area of Imo State, measuring approximately 50 (fifty) hectares and not compensation or fair and adequate compensation for the loss of use of the said land within the spirit and intendment of the oil pipe lines enactment.
(b) The sum of Two Million Naira (N2,000.000.00) per hectare for a period of 20 years from 1996 to 2016 as compensation for the loss of the use of the said land measuring approximately 50 hectares in area which situate and lying at Umukene Ohaji in the Ohaji/Egbema Local Government Area upon which Chevron Nigeria Limited is carrying on exploitation and/or exploration for mineral oil.
(c) An Order of court in the alternative, that an independent registered Estate Valuer acceptable by both parties be retained to put a proper, fair and adequate capital value for the 20 years period for the loss of use of the said land from 1996 to 2016.
(d) An Order of this Honourable Court that the defendant pay a fair adequate compensation as may be assessed by the said Estate Valuer for the 20 years period from 1996 to 2016."
Similar reliefs were replicated in paragraph 15 (a) (b) (c) (d) of the Respondents Statement of Claim (pages 6-7 of the record) filed on 6th day of June, 2000. The Respondent/Appellant filed her Statement of Defence in the matter on 6th day of December, 2000 wherein she pleaded in paragraphs 14 and 15 thereof thus:
"14. The Defendant shall further contend at the trial of this action that the Defendant is not entitled to pay compensation twice over the said land.
15. The Defendant shall further contend at the trial of this action that this honourable court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain this suit as it is a matter pertaining to oilfield and mining."
The Appellant followed this up by filing a Notice of Preliminary Objection dated 5th day of November, 2001 on 6th day of November, 2001. It reads:
"NOTICE OF PRELIMINARY OBJECTION
TAKE NOTICE that Counsel on behalf of the Defendant/Applicant shall on the 22nd day of January, 2002 raise the following preliminary objection to this suit. The Plaintiffs' action before this Honourable Court is incompetent as this Honourable Court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the matter by virtue of section 230(1)(0) of the Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree No. 107 of 1993 and S.7(1)(p) of the Federal High Court (Amendment) Decree No. 60 of 1991)
GROUNDS OF OBJECTION
1. That the alleged/purported cause of action in this suit is based upon the oil mining and oil exploration activities of the Defendant/Applicant at its oilfields which is covered by the Defendant's Oil Mining Lease.
2. By virtue of S.230(1)(0) of the Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree No. 107 of 1993 and s. 7(1)(p) of the Federal High Court (Amendment) Decree No. 60 of 1991, all such civil causes and matters arising therefrom are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court."
The said Notice of Preliminary objection was supported by 7 paragraph Affidavit deposed to by one EKERE AKPAN and it was therein deposed as follows:
"I, Ekere Akpan, Nigerian, male, Christian, Litigation Clerk of No. 23 Mbonu Street D/Line, Port Harcourt, Rivers State do hereby make oath and state as follows:
1. That I am a Litigation Clerk in the firm of Miannaya Aja Essien & Associates, Legal Practitioners to the Defendant/Applicant herein and by virtue of this, I am familiar with the facts of this case.
2. That I have the consent and authority of the Defendant/Applicant herein and the said firm of Legal Practitioners to depose to this affidavit.
3. That I am informed by C. D. Nwankwo Esq. Counsel in the firm of Miannaya Aja Essien & Associates whom I verily believe that the claim of the Plaintiffs/Respondents as endorsed on the writ of summons is from matters arising from the activities of the Defendant/Applicant in the course of its oil mining activities at its Amara Location oil field.
4. That I am informed by the said Mr. C. D. Nwankwo, whom I verily believe that, paragraph 15(b) of the statement of claim in this suit clearly states that the land, the subject matter of the suit is being used by the Defendant/Applicant for carrying on the exploitation and/or exploration of mineral oil.
5. That this affidavit is in support of our notice of preliminary objection.
6. That it is in the interest of justice that this application be granted and the grant of same shall not prejudice the Plaintiffs/Applicants.
7. That I make this affidavit conscientiously and in good faith believing same to be true and correct and in accordance with the Oaths Act Cap. 33 L.F.N. 1990.
Sworn to at the High Court
Registry, Oguta this 6th day of November, 2001.
(Sgd) Commissioner for Oaths."
The main pedestal upon which the Appellant founded her objection was that the matter or action of the Respondent has to do with Oil mining and oil exploration. The Appellant consequently claimed that by combined provisions of section 230(1)(0) of the constitution (suspension and Modification Decree No. 107 of 1993 and Section 7(1)(p) of the Federal High Court (Amendment) Decree No. 60 of 1991, the Respondents suit and reliefs therein could only be adjudicated upon at the Federal High Court and NOT at Imo State High Court.
The Lower Court took arguments on the application and in his Ruling on the objection, the learned trial Judge held as follows:
"S. 251(1)(n) of the 1999 Constitution contains similar provisions except that the words "arising from" as used in s.230(1)(0) of Decree 107 of 1993 and "connected with or pertaining to" used in S. 7(1)(p) the Federal High Court Act as amended are omitted.
The question now to be addressed is whether from the claim of the plaintiffs as contained in the writ of Summons and Statement of Claim, this court has no jurisdiction to entertain this suit in the light of S. 230(1)(o) of the 1979 Constitution as amended and S.7(1)(p) of the Federal High Court Act as amended. From the claim of the plaintiffs it is evident that it is for compensation for loss of use of the land in question. The purpose for which the defendant is using the land is not material. This is because the claim does not arise, from nor is it connected with or pertain to that purpose but it is a claim purely for compensation to the plaintiffs for the loss of use of the land in question. In my view the laws above mentioned relied on by the defendant/applicant cannot preclude this court from entertaining the present suit. The cause of SPDC v. Isaiah (supra) referred to by learned counsel for the defendant/applicant has to do with a Claim for compensation for damage oil pipeline and does not apply to the present case which has nothing to do with oil spillage from pipelines. The case of Nigeria Agip Oil Co. Ltd. v. Kemmer (supra) which has to do with compensation from the defendant for the defendant's disturbance of the plaintiffs' surface rights and loss of use of the plaintiff's land is, in my view, relevant to this case. In that case the Court of Appeal at page 1264 paragraphs C. D. stated inter alia, per Acholonu, J.C.A. as he then was that a mere landlord and tenant relationship cannot be made to wear a garb connecting it with subject matters of mining of Oil prospecting.
In the light of the forgoing, I am satisfied that this Court has jurisdiction to entertain this suit I so hold. This application of the defendant/applicant is misconceived and accordingly hereby dismissed. The defendant/applicant shall pay the sum of N1,000.00 as costs to the Plaintiffs/Respondents.
(Sgd) U. D. Ogwurike
Aggrieved by the decision of the Learned trial Judge, the Appellant lodged this appeal against the Ruling of the Lower Court.
The Appellant's Notice of Appeal dated 30th day of January, 2004 was filed pursuant to the leave of this Court on 3rd day of February, 2004. The said Notice of Appeal contains two grounds of appeal which are as follows:
3. GROUNDS OF APPEAL
(1) The Learned Trial Judge erred in law when he held that the High Court holden at Oguta had jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
i. The Plaintiff's Claim as disclosed on the writ of summons and statement of claim directly relates to and is connected with and or pertains to oil mining activities of the Defendant at its oilfield.
ii. The Defendants said operations are within the contemplation of S. 230(1)(o) of the 1979 Constitution as amended by the Constitution (Suspension and Modification Decree No. 107 of 1993 and S. 7(1)(p) of the Federal High court Act (as amended).
iii. An action for payment of compensation over an oilfield wherein the Appellant is carrying out oil mining and oil exploration is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High court.
2. The Learned trial Judge misdirected himself when he held that the purpose for which the Defendant was using the land is immaterial.
Particulars of Misdirection
i. Paragraphs 3 and 4 of the Plaintiffs Statement of Claim clearly state that the Defendant is using the said land for mineral oil exploitation and or exploration.
ii. S.230(1)(0) of the said Constitution confers jurisdiction in any civil cause and matters arising from oilfields within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court.
iii. Any such civil cause or matter such as payment for compensation for loss of use is connected to and pertains to oilfields and oil mining.
4. RELIEFS SOUGHT FROM THE COURT OF APPEAL
i. To set aside the ruling and orders of the Lower Court.
ii. To strike out and/or dismiss the Plaintiff/Respondents' action on the grounds that the Lower Court lacks the jurisdiction."
The Appellant filed her Brief of Argument dated 22nd day of May, 2006 on the 25th day of May 2006. The said Appellant's Brief was deemed properly filed on 21st day of May, 2007.
The Respondents Brief of Argument dated the 27th day of June, 2007 was filed on 28th day of June 2007. The appeal was heard on 30th day of September, 2014 when the Learned Counsel to the Appellant and the Respondents adopted their respective Brief of Arguments.
The Appellant formulated one (1) issue for determination of this appeal namely:
"THE APPELLANT SUBMITS THAT FROM THE GROUNDS OF APPEAL THE SOLE ISSUE FOR DETERMINATION THAT ARISES IS WHETHER THE STATE HIGH COURT HAS THE JURISDICTION TO ENTERTAIN THE SUIT"
On their own part the Respondents also distilled one issue for determination of the appeal thus:
"WHETHER THE LEARNED TRIAL JUDGE WAS RIGHT IN HOLDING THAT THE COURT HAS JURISDICTION TO ENTERTAIN THE PLAINTIFFS' CLAIM."
This appeal will be determined on the sole issue formulated by the Appellant viz:
"WHETHER THE STATE HIGH COURT HAS THE JURISDICTION TO ENTERTAIN THE SUIT"
The Learned Counsel to the Appellant submitted that the Lower Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the suit. Reference was made to paragraphs 4, 6-7, 11, 13 and 15(b) of Statement of Claim to state that the pleaded case of the Respondents is that the Land over which the Respondents are claiming compensation is being used by the Appellant for carrying on the exploitation or exploration of oil and that the Appellant damaged their economic trees and crops in the course of its oil mining and exploration activities the Appellant stated the Appellant supported her objection with an Affidavit but the Respondent did not file any Counter Affidavit to the said Affidavit in Support while conceding that in determining whether the Court has jurisdiction the writ and Statement of Claim are to be examined. The Appellant posited that Affidavit evidence filed is also relevant in the determination of jurisdiction because the Affidavit has put all the facts before the Court. Reliance was placed on the cases of:
1. A-G FED v. ANPP 2003 18 NWLR (PART 851) 182 at 207 and
2. NWAGBOSO v. EJIOGU (1997) 10 NWLR (PART 527) 173 at 177 F - H.
The Appellant submitted that the combined effect of Section 230(1)(0) of the Constitution (suspension and modification) Decree No. 107 of 1993, and Section 7(1)(p) 7(3) and 7(5) of the Federal High Court Act 60 is that the State High Court cannot entertain matters that are ancillary to, relating to, arising from, connected to or pertaining to oil fields and mining. The Appellant submitted that the facts of this case fall within the definition of matters connected within or pertaining to oil field, oil mining etc., and that this case is not a simple claim concerning entitlement to compensation for land according to the Learned Counsel to the Appellant. That the Respondents' case was that their crops were damaged while the Appellant was mining for oil at the oilfield in question and that that was the Respondents cause of action. That the Learned trial Judge erred in holding that the Respondents claim is purely for compensation for the loss of use of land in question. That the Learned trial Judge was wrong because Section 230(1)(0) of the 1979 Constitution as amended and Federal High Court Amendment Act specifically mentioned "Oil fields and Oil Mining". Appellant submitted that since the Supreme Court decision in SDPC v. ISAIAH (2001) 11 NWLR (PART 723) 179 at 180 H-A it has been settled that jurisdiction to entertain all causes or matters connected to or pertaining to oil mining etc lies within the exclusive purview of the Federal High Court. The Appellant also relied on the Supreme Court decision in the case of C.G.G. (NIG) LTD. v. CHIEF LAWRENCE OGU (2005) & NWLR (PART 927) 36 at 381 C-F and the cases of (1) SDPC v. MAXON (2001) 9 NWLR (PART 719) 541 at 553-554 G-D (2) MPIDI BARRY v. ERIC (1998) & NWLR (PART 562) 404 and (3) C.G.G. v. ASAGBARA (2001) NWLR (PART 693) 155.
That the jurisdiction of the State High Court has therefore been entirely Ousted with regard to the Respondents' Claims in the matter which the Appellant insists relates to claims arising from the exploration for mineral oil. That the Court can only exercise its jurisdiction in accordance with the Primary Law of the Land and that it is obliged to interpret the Law accordingly.
It was the further submission of the Appellant that under the doctrine of stare decisis, the principle of Law in SDPDC v. ISAIAH and C.G.G. v. OGU Supra are applicable. That the Lower Court was therefore in error when it held that the applicable case was NIGERIAN AGIP CO. LTD. v. DEMMER (2001) & NWLR (PART 716) 506. The Appellant is of the view that the case relied upon by the trial Judge was strictly on the interpretation of a leasehold agreement and had nothing to do with oil mining or compensation payable for damages caused in the course of oil exploration. This Court is being urged by the Appellant to allow the appeal in favour of the Appellant by setting aside the ruling of the Lower Court and uphold the preliminary objection.
In response to the Appellant's submissions L. C. Ugorji Esq. for the Respondents stated that in determining the jurisdiction of the Court, the only documents to look at are the Writ of Summons and Statement of Claim and not Statement of Defence or Affidavit. He relied on the case of GARJI v. GARJI (2007) ALL FWLR (Pt. 346) 494 at 497. That it is the substantive law at the time the cause of action arose that governs the case while the procedural law at the time of the hearing of action will be applicable to the case. He relied on the following cases:
1. C.G.G. NIG. LTD. v. ASAGBARA (2000) FWLR (PART 17) 110 at 112.
2. MOBIL PROD. (NIG) UNLIMITED v. LASEPA (2002) 18 NWLR (PART 79) 1 at 12.
3. and OLUTOLA v. UNIVERSITY OF ILORIN (2005) ALL FWLR (PART 245) 1143, at 1154.
That as at year 2000 when the Respondent instituted the action, it was Section 251(1) of the 1999 Constitution that conferred jurisdiction on the Federal High Court and no other Law. The Respondent are of the view. That all the cases cited and relied upon by the Appellant were decided based on Procedural Law in force at the time those cases were decided which were Section 7 of Decree No. 60 of 1991 and Section 230 of Decree No. 107 of 1993.
The Respondent contended that the provisions of those Laws and jurisdiction conferred are not the same as the jurisdiction provided by Section 251(1)(n) of the 1999 Constitution, the provisions of the said Laws and the Constitution were reproduced by the Respondent's Learned Counsel while arguing that the words "connected with" "pertaining to" arising from are words of expansion of jurisdiction of Federal High Court while diminishing the jurisdiction of the State High Court as contained in Section 236 of 1979 Constitution. He cited and relied on the case of ACHEBE v. NWOSU (2003) 7 NWLR (Pt. 818) 103 AT 117 - 118 and the case of JOHN ERONINI v. C.G.G. NIG. LTD. which Learned Counsel said was delivered on 16th day of July, 2002 by U. D. Ogwuruike, J. that the contention of the Appellant stating that the applicable Law are Section 230(1)(0) of the Constitution (Suspension and modification) Decree No. 107 of 1993 and Section 7(1)(p), Section 7(3) and Section 7(5) of the Federal High Court Act (as amended by Act 60) is highly erroneous. The Respondent submitted that the said Laws are deemed to be Act of National Assembly. He submitted that the National Assembly has no powers to make Law which has the effect of adding or subtract from any provision of 1999 Constitution. The following cases were cited and relied upon namely;
1. MINISTER FOR WORKS AND HOUSING v. THOMAS (NIGERIA) LTD. (2002) 2 NWLR (PART 752) 750 AT 754.
2. MUSA v. INEC (2002) 11 NWLR (PART 778) 223 at 255-258 and
3. ABIA STATE & ORS v. A-G FEDERATION (2002) 6 NWLR (PART 763) 64 at 369.
The Learned Counsel to the Respondents then submitted that:
"The provisions of Section 251(1)(n) of 1999 Constitution is very clear and unambiguous on the jurisdiction it provided i.e. dispute involving mines, oil field etc. therefore to the extent that decree No. 60 of 1991 and DEGREE NO. 107 of 1993 contained the expansive words "connected with" pertaining to "arising from" all of the tendency to expand the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court as provided in Section 251(1)(n) of 1999 Constitution and diminishing the jurisdiction of the State High Court as provided in Section 276(sic) of the 1999 Constitution, then (Decree 60 of 1991) and (Decree 107 of 1993) are in conflict with the provisions of Section 251(1)(n) of the Constitution and therefore void.
Decrees No. 60 1991 and No. 107 of 1993 are equally invalid and in operative for duplication and inconsistency"
That where the Language of a Law is clear no other intention should be imported into it relying on the cases of;
UMOH v. NKAN (2001) 3 NWLR (Pt. 701) 512 at 515 and SHELL PETROLEUM NIGERIAN LIMITED v. AMARO (2000) 10 NWLR (PART 675) 248 at 252-254.
That even if it can be said that the provisions of Section 251(1)(n) of the Constitution is not clear, the Respondent admonish this Court to look at the intention of the Legislature. He cited the following cases:
1. NIGERIAN POSTAL SERVICES v. ADEPOHI (2003) FWLR (Pt. 147) 1060 at 1064.
2. DANTOSHO v. MOHAMMED (2003) 6 NWLR (PART 817) 547 at 474.
3. ENYINNAYA v. C.O.P. (1985) NCLR 464 at 468.
4. ALAMESEIGHA v. TEIWA (2002) FWLR (Pt. 96) 552 at 559.
5. ACHEBE v. NWOSU (2003) 7 NWLR (PART 818) 103 at 117-118.
6. SHITTU v. NIGERIAN AGRIC & COOPERATIVE BANK LTD. (2001) 10 NWLR (Pt. 721) 298 at 304-305.
7. TOGUN v. OPUTA (NO. 2) (2001) 16 NWLR (PART 740) 597 at 621.
8. BRONIK MOTORS LTD. & ANOR v. WEMA BANK LTD. (1983) ALL NLR 272 at 272-273.
The Respondents submitted further that the Legislature has seen the problems created by the words "connected with" "pertaining to" a arising from contained in Section 7 of Decree No. 60 of 1991 and Decree No. 107 of 1993 Section 230(1) thereof hence the Phrases were omitted in Section 251(1)(n) of 1999 Constitution, leaving only the dispute involving mines and minerals (including oil fields etc.) within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court.
That when the Constitution has made provision for a particular act or has provided for a particular jurisdiction any Legislation which attempts to add, alter or duplicate or even repeat what the Constitution has already provided will remain invalid. He relied again on MUSA v. INEC Supra and A-G OF ABIA STATE & 35 ORS v. A-G Federation Supra.
The Learned Counsel therefore submitted that
"... the issue of stare decisis which the Appellant laid so much emphasis on becomes a non issue" relying on JUSTICE PARTY v. INEC (2003) 52 WRN 84 at 88.
That Section 251(1)(n) was not in issue in some of the cases to warrant the decisions on it to be binding on the lower Court. He cited and relied on the following cases viz:
1. BUHARI v. OBASANJO (NO. 3) (2004) 1 WRN 1 at 5.
2. C.G.G. (NIG) LTD v. CHIEF LAWRENCE (2005) & NWLR (Pt. 927) 36 and
3. ADISA v. OYINWOLA (2000) 10 NWLR (Pt. 674) 116 at 128-129.
The Respondents further went on to contend that the National Assembly has powers to make Law in respect of matters on exclusive and Concurrent Legislative List but has no power to make any Law within Residual List. That tort and land matters are not within the Legislative List over which National Assembly can make Laws. He relied on the cases of ELEGUSHI v. ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION (2000) FWLR (Pt. 1) 89 at 93 and NIGERIA AGIP OIL COMPANY LIMITED v. KEMMER (2001) 8 NWLR (PART 716) 506 at 511.
The Respondents concluded by stating that the claim endorsed on the Statement of Claim is for compensation for acquired Land and not dispute involving mines and mineral including oilfield and geological survey as provided for in Section 251(1)(n) of 1999 Constitution.
The Respondents urged this Court to hold that the Lower Court was right in holding that it has jurisdiction to entertain the Plaintiffs Claim.
In its reply brief the Appellant insisted that the applicable Law is Section 230(1) of the Constitution (Suspension and Modification Decree No. 107 of 1993 but also argued that even if Section 251(1)(n) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic is the applicable Law, the provisions of the said Section 230(1) of the Decree 107 of 1993 are in part material with Section 251(1)(n). That the position of the Law remains the same and that all the cases cited by the Appellant are relevant and applicable. Reliance was placed on the cases of NDIC v. OKEM (2004) 10 NWLR (PART 880) 107 at 173 C-D and 182-183 H-A.
The Appellant Learned Counsel MRS. M. A. ESSIEN who settled the Appellants brief also made reference to the case of OBI v. INEC (2007) 11 NWLR (PART 1046) 565 at 636-637 on the meaning of the word "notwithstanding" in Section 251(1) of the 1999 Constitution and the dictionary meaning of the words "in addition to" to submit as follows:
"It is clear that the combination of "notwithstanding" and in addition to" as used in Section 251(1) means nothing shall derogate from the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court as contained in both S.251 and S.7 of the Federal High Court Act in its entirety. We further submit that S. 251(1) is a special Section that cannot be derogated from by the Constitution, as the Constitution itself has said nothing shall impede it. Therefore even S. 1(3) of the 1999 Constitution will not apply. This is in accord with decision of the Supreme Court in NDIC v. OKEM Supra."
That the Respondent's arguments be rejected and the appeal allowed.
The mainstay of the Appellant's appeal is that the Lower Court has no jurisdiction to entertain the Respondent's suit having regard to the provisions of the provisions of Section 230(1)(0) of the Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree No. 107 of 1993 which is similar to Section 251(1)(n) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and Sections 7(1)(p), 7(3) and 7(5) of the Federal High Court Act (as amended) by Decree No. 60 of 1991.
It is trite Law that a Defendant who conceives that ex-facie he has a good point or points of Law or jurisdiction that can in limine dispose or terminate a Claimant's Suit or action is entitled to bring an application before the trial court or appellate court where it concerns or touches the jurisdiction of the court trying the matter or the Appellate Court hearing an appeal. The jurisdiction has been described variously as the backbone, spinal cord, life wire and life line of a Court. Thus the nature and importance of jurisdiction has been underscored and lucidly stated and restated by the Supreme Court of Nigeria and this Court in many cases. See:
1. AFRO CONTINENTAL (NIG) LTD & ANOR v. COOPERATIVE ASSOCIATION of PROFESSIONAL INC. (2003) 5 NWLR (PART 813) 303 at 318 G-H to 319a KALGO, JSC had this to say:-
"It is well settled that jurisdiction is the body and soul of every judicial proceedings before any Court or tribunal and without it all subsequent proceedings are fruitless, futile and a nullity because the issue of jurisdiction is fundamental to the proper hearing of a case."
2. NIGERIAN NATIONAL PETROLEUM CORPORATION & ANOR v. CHIEF STEPHEN ORHIOWASELE (2013) 10 SCM 126 at 134 H-I to 135 A-B where RHODES -VIVOUR, JSC.
The position was reemphasized recently in the case of CHRISTOPHER OKWARA MBAH v. THE STATE (2014) 6 SCM 102 at 114 C-D per I. T. MUHAMMED, J.S.C. who said as follows:-
"Jurisdiction, it is said, my Lords, is the Life - wire of Litigation. It is the authority which a Court has to decide matters before it or to take cognizance of matters presented before it for decision. See Ndaewo v. Ogunaya (1977) 1 SC 11; Miscellaneous Offences tribunal v. Okoroafor (2001) 18 NWLR (Pt. 745) 295 at P. 326-327 H-A. Where a Court, whether inferior or Superior, lacks it, it cannot entertain the matter, civil or criminal, sought to be placed before it for Litigation as the defect in jurisdiction is fatal to the proceedings however well conducted and is extrinsic to the adjudication."
And in the recent case of ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL CRIMES COMMISSION 7 ORS v. PHILIP ODIGIE (2013) 17 NWLR (PART 1384) 607 at 622 G - H to 623 A - B this Court PER YAKUBU, JCA, said thus:
"the paramountcy and quintessence of jurisdiction in an action in Court for adjudication is aptly captured, in the judicial words on marble by my Lord Bello, CJN (now of blessed memory) that jurisdiction is blood that gives life to the survival of an action in a Court of Law and without jurisdiction; the action will be like animal that has been drained of its blood. It will cease to have life and any attempt to resuscitate it without infusing blood into it would be abortive exercise .....Therefore, jurisdiction is the green light that gives the Court, the authority to proceed with consideration and determination of the matter placed before it for adjudication."
When jurisdiction of a Court is challenged therefore, the issue must be promptly attended to by the Court seized of the matter so as to settle it one way or another.
The sole issue for determination has brought to the fore again the implications of Section 230(1)(0) of the Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree No. 107 of 1993 which the Appellant claims is the applicable Law at the time the cause of action arose in this case and Section 251(1)(n) of 1999 Constitution which the Respondent vehemently argued is the applicable Law. Also relevant is Section 7 of the Federal High Court Act (as amended) by Decree No. 60 of 1991. This has always raised recondite or difficult issue of jurisdiction as between the State High Courts and the Federal High Court in the Federation.
In order to decipher or determine which of the two courts has or is endowed with jurisdiction recourse must be had to the endorsement on the Writ of Summons and the Statement of Claim and not on the Statement of Defence. See:
1. PDP v. TIMIPRE SYLVA & ORS. (2012) 13 NWLR (PART 1316) 85 at 127 E-F per RHODES-VIVOUR, JSC who held that:
"Jurisdiction of a Court to entertain a Suit is resolved by scrupulous examination of the Writ of Summons, the Statement of Claim and the reliefs claimed. No other document should be examined."
2. DR. TAIWO OLORUNTOBA-OJU & ORS. v. PRO. P. A. DOPAMU & ORS. (2008) NWLR (PART 1085) 1 at 22H to 23A per OGUNTADE, JSC.
I have earlier on in this judgment reproduced the reliefs laid out on the Writ of Summons. It is also relevant to reproduce the entire paragraphs of the Statement of Claim in the action. It reads:-
STATEMENT OF CLAIM
"1. The plaintiffs are farmers, hunters, etc. and natives of and reside at Umukene Ohaji in the Ohaji/Egbema Local Government Area within jurisdiction.
2. The defendant is a private Oil Company incorporated in Nigeria and carrying out commercial activities for profit with----- Division Office at Trans Amadi Industrial Layout, Port Harcourt Rivers State.
3. The plaintiffs are the beneficial owners in possession and the purposes of the Land Use Act entitled to Customary Right of Occupancy over all that pieces and parcels of Land measuring approximately 50 hectares which situate and lying at Umukene Ohaji in the Ohaji/Egbema Local Government Area of Imo State upon which Chevron Nigeria Limited (the defendant) is carrying on mineral oil exploitation and/or exploration.
4. Sometime in 1996, the defendant broke and entered the said land defined in paragraph 3 above and occupied same paying them a token sum representing compensation for all economic trees and crops it destroyed in its exploitation and/or exploration for mineral oil without paying for the lost of the surface right of the said la