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The Jurisdiction Of The Federal High Court – Kamo Sende Esq)

The Supreme Court’s Position in STANOIL NIG LTD & ANOR v INDUCON (NIG) LTD & ANOR

The notorious contradiction between the jurisdiction of the Federal and State High Courts has continued to linger in our Jurisprudence. 

The Supreme court has had to countlessly intervene in settling this rift. Much has not been achieved in this regard as cases bothering on same continue to lie before the Court for interpretation. 

In the recent case of Statoil (Nig) Ltd v. Inducon(Nig) Ltd & Anor [2021] 7 NWLR (Pt 1174), the issue again arose as to the interpretation of Section 251 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) in giving exclusive jurisdiction to the  Federal High Court in matters relating to mines and minerals. 

For the avoidance of doubt, the relevant part ofSection 251(1) of the Constitution is reproduced herein below;(1) Notwithstanding any thing to the contrary contained in this constitution and in addition to such other Jurisdiction as may be conferred upon 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 cases and matters;

(n) mines and minerals (Including oil fields, oil mining, geological surveys             and natural gas). 

The import of the above is that on matters relating and directly connected to, mining and minerals, to the exclusion of every other court, the Federal High Court shall enjoy jurisdiction. 

In the case at hand, the Respondents at the Apex court, Inducon (Nig) Ltd and one Dr. John Abebe sued the Appellant at the Supreme Court, Stanoil(Nig) Ltd in the Federal High Court claiming a contractual entitlement of 1.5% from the net profit of the sale of oil that accrued to the Appellant from oil blocks leased to the Appellant as a consequence of the efforts of the Respondents. The Respondents deposed that they had reached an agreement with the Appellant that upon aiding them to get oil block leases, they, the Appellants would give the Respondents 1.5% from their net profit from the sale of Oil produced. The Respondents contended that they helped the Appellant obtain the license but that the Appellant had reneged on their promise forcing their suit before the Federal High Court to claim their due. The Respondents succeeded at the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal. 

The Supreme Court resolved on a ratio of 4:1 that the Federal High Court has no jurisdiction to entertain the case at hand. In the lead Judgement, My Lord M.D Muhammad JSC stated and rightly so that the matter is deeply rooted in a simple contract. Following his logic, My Lords Mary Peter-Odili JSC, Amina Augie JSC and Aboki JSC all adopted the position of my Lord Muhammad JSC in stating that the issue at hand was a simple contract. 

In a dissenting Judgement, My Lord Agim JSC maintained a firm stand that the matter was one within the purview of and the in contemplation in Section 251 (n) and (s) of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999. He disagreed and stated that Appeal of the Appellants ought to have failed as the matter is one that could be resolved by the Federal High Court. 

The very erudite Agim JSC’s position has enjoyed a lot of support from Legal commentators. 

For clarity, My Lord Agim’s opinion is partly reproduced below as relevant to this discourse:

In my opinion, once the subject matter of the dispute is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the court, the nature of the disputed agreement or contract is irrelevant. There is nothing in S.251 (1) (n) and (s) of the 1999 Constitution  and S 7 (1) (n) and (3) of the Federal High Court Act (as amended) that justify the exclusion of a contractual dispute arising from mining oil from an oil field from the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court on the ground that it is a simple Contract…”

With respect, the logic in my Lord’s submission appears to be at loggerheads with the known provision. My Lord did not pay mind to the fact that what was before the court was the issue of the breach of terms of an agreement between the parties; an agreement by the Appellants to give the Respondents 1.5% of their net profit. The bedrock of litigation in this suit was a breach of the terms of a simple contract to pay the sum of 1.5% of the net profit; it is deducible from my Lords position that this was lost on him. 

A deeper digging into the issue may have revealed that what brought about the contract was an issue within the exclusive Jurisdiction of Section 251 of the Constitution but a proper distilling of issues would expose that there was no issue as regards the Oil license, its lease or obtaining same; the issue came with “profit sharing” of the net profit; a distinct agreement reached by the Parties. 

To have held that same would come within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court is a manifest departure from the intent of the framers of our Laws as contained in Section 251 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended)

The Apex Court where my Lord sits held in DEC Oil & Gas Ltd v Shell Nig Ltd  (2019) LPELR – 49347 (SC) per  John Inyang Okoro JSC  that disputes founded on contracts are not among those envisaged in the exclusive jurisdiction conferred on the Federal High Court under Section 251 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended). See Also Adelekan v BCU-line NV (2006) 12 NWLR (Pt 993) 33 @ 54 and Onuorah v Kaduna Refining & Petrochemical Co. Ltd (2005) 6 NWLR (pt 921) 393

The sum of the above is that Jurisdiction is conferred on the court by the issue in dispute constituting the subject matter and not by a dive into the genealogy of a matter as my Lord Agim JSC has attempted in the matter at hand. 

It must be mentioned that My Lord Ajim united in logic with the lead judgement when he did not dispute that the subject matter of litigation was a simple contract. 

What remains to be deciphered is which court has jurisdiction on simple Contracts? The answer is as obvious as the biblical “mene, mene, tekel, upharsin”. The Position remains as unshaken as the rock of Gibraltar that it is the State High Court.

Whilst I appreciate the Judicial activism of My Lord Agim JSC and state emphatically that such “radicalism” is needed to keep the soul of our jurisprudence bubbling, I’m minded to submit firmly that the lead Judgement to my mind is properly analyzed and sits in line with the spirit of our Laws. 

Kamo Sende ESQ

[email protected]

Felix C. Eze & Co LP

Kano State 

Nigeria

Lex Community
Author: Lex Community

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