E.T. Awoleye v Board of Customs & Excise & Anor ()  NGSC 76 (16 January 1990);
E.T. AWOLEYE (APPELLANT)
BOARD OF CUSTOMS & EXCISE & ANOR (RESPONDENT)
(1990) All N.L.R. 127
Division: Supreme Court of Nigeria
Date of Judgment: 16th January, 1990
Before: Nnamani, Uwais, Kawu, Agbaje, Nnaemeka-Agu JJ S.C.
The appellant claimed from the respondent at the High court the sum of
N546,000.00 being cost of his goods unlawfully converted to the use of the respondent, or alternatively damages for unlawful sale of the said goods.
After the filing of pleadings by both sides, the respondents applied for a transfer of the action to the Federal High Court to entertain the matter and that by virtue of section 7 of the Federal High Court Act, 1973, jurisdiction in respect of Customs matters is vested in the Federal High Court.
In his ruling the trial Judge held that if the High Court lacked jurisdiction to try the action, it could not be valid in law for that same court to transfer a case it lacked jurisdiction to by. He then struck out the action.
The appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal contending that by virtue of section 22(3) of the Federal High Court Act as amended by Decree 36 of 1975 a State High Court before which a cause of action had been taken instead of the Federal High Court is empowered to transfer such matter to the appropriate Judicial Division of the latter court instead of striking it out, and that the trial Judge in the instant case was in error in striking out the action.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal holding that the trial Judge no longer had the power of transfer since the coming into force of the 1979 Constitution. The appellant appealed to the Supreme Court.
(1) By virtue of section 236 of the 1979 Constitution a State High Court has unlimited jurisdiction to hear all matters.
(2) Section 22(3) of the Federal High Court 1973 which confers a State High Court Judge with power to transfer a case before him to the Federal High Court instead of striking same out on the ground that he had no jurisdiction to hear the matter serves no purpose. The trial Judge was therefore in error to have struck out the appellant's case.
Appeal allowed, case remitted back to the High Court for trial
Statutes referred to:
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1979.
The Federal High Court Act 1973.
M.A. Shode for the Appellant.
O.O. Falunde (Senior law Officer) for the Respondent.
Nnamani, J.S.C.:-Having heard learned counsel to the parties, and having read the proceedings, I am of the view that the law is well settled that since the commencement of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979, the State High Court can no longer exercise the power hitherto conferred by section 22(3) of the Federal High Court Act 1973 to transfer to the Federal High Court a matter before it in which it had no jurisdiction. Being of this view, the court however raised suo motu the question of the jurisdiction of the State High Court at the time the case came before it in 1983. This was raised pursuant to the powers of this Court under Order 8, rules 2(6) and 12(5) of the Supreme Court Rules 1985. There is no doubt that the State High Court in the present suit had jurisdiction pursuant to section 236 of the Constitution. I am of the view that if the learned trial Judge had adverted to this matter, he would not have struck out the case and this long journey to this Court would have been averted. In the circumstances, I would allow the appeal, set aside the judgments of the High Court and the Court of Appeal and order that the suit No. LD/915/83 be taken by the High Court of Lagos State. No order as to costs.
Uwais, J.S.C.:-I agree with the judgment read by my learned brother Nnamani, J.S.C. Accordingly, I too will allow the appeal on the point this Court raised suo motu. The decision of the Court of Appeal is hereby set-aside. The case is remitted to the Lagos State High Court for trial. No order as to costs.
Kawu, J.S.C.:-I agree that the Court of Appeal was wrong to have confirmed the decision of the High Court striking out the suit. Accordingly I will allow the appeal.
Agbaje, J.S.C.:-I agree entirely to the judgment just delivered by my learned brother Nnamani, J.S.C.
Nnaemeka-Agu, J.S.C.:-I entirely agree with the judgment of my learned brother, Nnamani, J.S.C., just delivered and have nothing to add. I subscribe to the orders made in the said judgment.