CARAVELLE RESOURCES AND INVESTMENT LTD & ANOR. v. GANI TARZAN MARINE ENTERPRISES LTD & ANOR
COURT OF APPEAL LAGOS DIVISION
(IKYEGH; ABUBAKAR; GEORGEWILL, JJ.CA)
The appellants filed a suit against the 1st respondent at the High Court of Lagos State for among other reliefs, a declaration that the statutory right of occupancy over a piece of land described in a deed of lease and registered at the Federal Lands Registry, Ikoyi, Lagos belongs to the 1st appellant. The 1st respondent responded to the suit by filing its defence and in addition, a motion seeking to join the 2nd respondent since its claim to the land in dispute was derived through the 2nd respondent. The 1st respondent also challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear and determine the matter. The court however, struck out the objection and held that it had jurisdiction. The court also struck out the 1st respondent’s application to join the 2nd respondent. The 1st respondent was dissatisfied with the rulings of the court and consequently filed two appeals at the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, one challenging the court’s decision on jurisdiction and the other challenging the court’s ruling on the joinder of the 2nd respondent. The Court of Appeal in its separate decisions, allowed the appeal of the 1st respondent concerning the joinder of the 2nd respondent in the suit, while dismissing the appeal challenging the ruling of the court concerning its jurisdiction. The decisions of the Court of Appeal were complied with by the parties and the trial court and consequently, the parties amended their pleadings.
The 2nd respondent having been joined by the order of the Court of Appeal, filed its own notice of preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the trial court to hear and determine the matter on grounds bordering mainly on the fact that the 2nd respondent is an agency of the Federal Government and as such only the Federal High Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine the matter. The trial court heard the preliminary objection and after considering the arguments of the parties delivered a bench ruling in which it allowed the application of the 2nd respondent and dismissed the suit of the appellant on the ground that the joinder of the 2nd respondent had changed the status of the suit and that the Federal High Court was the court with requisite jurisdiction to hear the matter. The appellants were aggrieved and filed a notice of Appeal at the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division challenging the ruling of the trial court and praying the court to reverse same. One of the issues distilled for determination is whether the trial court was right in declining jurisdiction over the matter merely because of the joinder of the 2nd respondent in spite of an earlier decision of the court between the parties affirming the subject matter of the suit as falling under the jurisdiction of the State High Court and not the Federal High Court.
Arguing the issue, learned counsel for the appellants submitted that since the claims of the appellants remained unchanged and within the jurisdiction of the trial court, the joinder of the 2nd respondent alone was incapable of and did not divest the court of its jurisdiction as erroneously held by the trial court. Learned counsel cited Dingyadi v. INEC; Adebayo v. Ademola and Odunukwe v. Ofomtta. Furthermore, learned counsel submitted that from the main and dominant reliefs claimed by the appellants, it is the court below that has the jurisdiction to determine them since in law it is the claims of the claimant that determine the jurisdiction of the court and contended that in law the joinder of the 2nd respondent, which was a subsequent intervening factor during the pendency of the suit will not affect the jurisdiction of the court where the claims of the Appellants have not changed. Counsel referred the court to, among several authorities, the decision in Tukur v. Gov. Gongola State and urged the court to resolve the issue in favour of the appellant.
Countering the argument of the appellants, learned counsels for the respondents submitted in effect that although it is not in doubt that it is the claim of the claimant that determines jurisdiction of the court, the ruling of the trial court declining jurisdiction was simply to align with and respect the decision of the Supreme Court as required of it by law that once a Federal Government agency is a party to a suit, irrespective of the claims, the Federal High Court has exclusive jurisdiction. C.B.N. v. Auto Import Export; Osakue v. F.C.E, Asaba and Osho v. Foreign Finance Corporation were cited as authorities to support the submission. It was further contended that by virtue of section 251(1) of the 1999 Constitution, that it is the Federal High Court that is vested with requisite jurisdiction to entertain the claim. Nnonye v. Anyiche; Adetona & Ors v. Igele Gen. Enterprises Ltd and Kotoye v. Saraki among other authorities were relied upon. Learned counsels urged the court to discountenance the submissions of the appellant and resolve the issue in favour of the respondents.
In resolving the issue the court held thus:
The claims of the Appellants have been reproduced earlier in this judgment and having calmly and critically examined and scrutinized the same, I am inclined to lean more in favor of the first school of thought that says that in the determination of the jurisdiction of court below and also of the Federal High Court it is the subject matter and not necessarily the status of the parties involved that determines the jurisdiction of the court. See Felix Onuorah v. Kaduna Refilling and Petrochemical Co. Ltd. (2005) 6 NWLR (Pt. 921) 393; Wema Securities and Finance Plc v. Nigeria Agricultural Insurance Corporation (2015) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1484) 93; Adetayo v. Ademola (2010) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1215) 169; Ogunyade v. Oshunkeye (2007) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1057) 218; Opia v. I.N.E.C (2014) 7 NWLR (Pt 1407) 41 @ p. 465; Adetona v. Igele Gen. Ent. Ltd. (2011) 197 LRCN 138.
In Felix Onuorah v. Kaduna Refilling and Petrochemical Co. Ltd. (Supra), Akintan JSC, had emphatically pronounced thus:
“The question whether the Respondent is a subsidiary or agent of NNPC or not has no role when a consideration of the jurisdiction of the court is being made”
As recent as 2015, the Supreme Court had reiterated and reechoed the above well settled position of the law in Wema Securities and Finance PIc v. Nigeria Agricultural Insurance Corporation (Supra) @ p. 130, where Nweze, JSC had restated the law inter alia thus:
“As if it was minded to perpetuate the said frenzy of doctrinal debates, the lower court, as already shown above, took the view that the trial court had no jurisdiction to entertain the matter before it just because the second defendant (the respondent in this appeal) was an agency of the Federal Government! …. In my humble view, while it, rightly, found that the respondent is an agency of the Federal Government….its conclusion that the mere presence of that agency of the Federal Government robbed the trial Court of jurisdiction must rankle all liberal constitutional jurisprudents and judicial exegetes.”
Issue resolved in favour of the appellants.
Chief G. N. Uwechie SAN, with Mrs. J. Halim – Ubahakwe for the Appellants
Anthony Nwogbe Esq., for the 1st Respondent
Babatunde Oshilaja Esq., for the 2nd Respondent