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Jurisdiction of Courts in Nigeria



Introduction to jurisdiction of courts in Nigeria.

Courts in Nigeria are categorized into two: Superior Courts of Records and Inferior courts of Record. As noted by Resolution firm, the Superior Court of Records are expressly stated in the 1999 constitution as amended and are:

Supreme Court of Nigeria, Court of Appeal, High Court of the States, High Court of the Federal Capital territory. Sharia Court of Appeal of States. Coustomary Court of Appeal, The National Industrial Court.

On the other hands, the Inferior courts are not expressly mentioned in the constitution. The Constitution however gave the States House of Assembly power to make law for their establishment. These Inferior Courts are:


Magisterate Court, Area Courts, and customary courts.

The meaning of Jurisdiction of court

The jurisdition of Court is the power of Court to hear and determined matters brought before it. The power of Court to entertain the matter brought before it, include the power of Court to make necessary orders as regards to application brought before it and as regards to its resolve to do Justice.

Such inherent power of  courts is conferred on the Courts by statutes such The Constitution, the various Acts of the National Assembly, the laws of states, and where necessary Rules of Court.

Where the law confers jurisdiction on Court, the scope of such power is also defined. A court of law cannot act above the jurisdiction conferred on it and court has no power to even expand the jurisdiction confered on it by law. See the case of Mudiaga Erhueh v N.E. C(2003) FWLR(PT.137) 1066 at 1069.

The Case of Madukolum v Nkemdilim Revisited.

The court in the above ageless case reported in (1992) 9NWLR(PT.263) 69 at 84, gave a flawless yardstick for measuring whether a court has jurisdiction or not to wit:

a. The court must be properly constituted
b. The subject matter must be within the jurisdiction of the court.
c.The matter must have come to court initiated under due process of law.

Jurisdiction of Courts in Nigeria.

a. Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court is the Nigeria’s Apex court in the hierarchy of courts.The jurisdiction of Supreme Court is conferred on it by the 1999 Constitution of FRN as amended.

Section 232(1) and (2) of the said Constitution defines the original jurisdiction of the court to include matter or dispute between the federation and states or between States and States.

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The Supreme Court(additional original jurisdiction) Act 2002 cap S16 LFN 2004, further conferred on the Supreme Court exclusive jurisdiction over disputes between National Assembly and President FRN, State and National Assembly, or between any State House of Assembly and House of Assembly.

For the court to assume it’s Original jurisdiction it must be composed of at least 7 justices of the court.

The Supreme Court also has appellant jurisdiction. The Supreme Court entertains appeal from the Court of Appeal under it’s appellant jurisdiction and shall assume this kind of jurisdiction, when it is composed of at least 5 members. See Section 233 of the Constitution supra.

Decision of Supreme Court is final and unquestionable. See Section 235 of the Constitution. See the case of Adigun v Attorney General of Oyo State(1987) 2 NWLR (PT.56) 197


B.Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal is provided under Section 237(1) of the Constitution (supra). The court like Supreme Court has both original jurisdiction and appellant jurisdiction. The original jurisdiction of the court is provided under Section 239 of the Constitution to include determination as to:

a. Whether any person has been validly elected to the Office of the president and Vice president
b. Whether or not the terms of the office of the President or Vice president has ceased
c. Whether or not the office of the president or Vice President has become vacant.

The Court of Appeal has appellant jurisdiction over all appeals emanating from:
a. Federal High Court
b. High Court of the States
c. High Court of the Federal Capital Territory
d. Customary Court of Appeal of the FCT
e Customary Court of Appeal of States
f. Sharia Court of Appeal of State
g. Sharia Court of Appeal of FCT
h. Decision of Court martial or tribunals that may from time to time prescribed by Act of National Assembly.

Decision of the Court of Appeal whether sitting on matters within it’s Original jurisdiction or sitting over appeals under appellant jurisdiction are not final. An aggrieved party can further appeal against it to Supreme Court.

In excercising it’s jurisdiction, the court shall be properly constituted if it is composed of 3 justices of the court. See Section 247 of the Constitution


Decisions of Court of Appeal are final on
a. Appeals from the National and State House of Assembly Election Tribunals.See section 246(3) of the 1999 Constitution
b.Decision on appeals from National Industrial Court. See Section 243(4)



C. Federal High Court

The Federal High Court is also one of the courts enshrined in the constitution. The federal court has four jurisdiction to wit exclusive jurisdiction, concurrent jurisdiction, appellant jurisdiction and admiralty jurisdiction.

The Powers of the court is exclusively defined in section 251 of the Constitution to include civil dispute between the federal government or it’s agency and individual to which award of damages, declaratory or prerogative orders may be sought and obtained.

The concurrent powers of the court is excercise together with High Court. In other words, for the matters under the. concurrent list, both the High of State and Federal High Court can hear and determine the matter. Example of such matters include:
a. Matters of fundamental rights applications.
b.Customer-Banker relationship
c.Question as regards to interpretation of Constitution
d. Questions as to whether office of the governor or Deputy Governor has become vacant etc.

See Grace Jack v University of Agriculture Markurdi(2004) 5 NWLR PT.865,208 where the court held that once it is fundamental rights, that parties can approach any of the court.
In NDIC V Okem Enterprise Ltd & Anor , Ibero v Obioha(1994) 1 SCNJ 44, the court held that banker-customer disputes are within the concurrent list.

Can Federal High Court sit on Appeal?

Yes! The Federal High Court Act under Section 28 provided for appellant jurisdiction of the court. The court under the said section can sit on Appeal over:

a. Decision of Appeal Commissioner established under the Company income Tax Act
b.Deciaon of the customs, immigration and prison services Board
c.Decision of magistrate Court with respect to matter transfered to it pursuant to this Act.
d. Decision of any other body established by or under Federal enactment or law in respect of matters concerning which jurisdiction s conferred by the Act.

Admiralty Jurisdiction of Federal High Court

The Federal High Court also has admiralty jurisdiction with respect to cause of action that arose in sea or involving Ship, carriage of goods and damages resulting from same. It equally has jurisdiction over claim arising out of any agreement relating to the carriage of goods in sheep. See Section 7(1)(g ) and (h) of the 1956 English Act 1956.

Where loss of goods are in issue, the Federal High Court will only assume jurisdiction if the goods were lost in the sea. But if the goods are lost after they had been unloaded from the ship, the jurisdiction has been lost.

The Federal High Court apart from it’s powers to try matters, has power to transfer matters wrongly instituted before it to the appropriate court. See Section 22 of the Federal High Court Act.

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D.High Courts of State.
The State High Court established under Section 270 of the Constitution with wide powers over matters whether criminal or civil, where the rights , powers, duties, interest and obligation are in issue. The only matter excepted are matters within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court. See Section 272 of the Constitution.

High Court has original jurisdiction, concurrent jurisdiction and appellant jurisdiction.

The court is constituted by a judge for the purpose of excercising the jurisdiction confirmed on it by law. See Section 273 of the Constitution.

The High Court have appellant jurisdiction, that is, the power to entertain appeal from magistrate courts. It also has concurrent jurisdiction with the federal High court for those matters discussed above(refer to Federal High Court concurrent powers).

High Court has also exclusive jurisdiction as to matters under the matrimonial causes Act and specifically with respect to marriages contracted under the Act and dissolution of same.

E. National Industrial Court

The National Industrial Court was first established under the Trade Dispute Act 1976(See Section 20(2).It is now one of the Superior Court recognized under .
The court is headed by President and such number of judges as may be prescribed from time to time by Acts of the National Assembly.

The jurisdiction of the court is as regards to Trade and industrial disputes, labour disputes and application of related laws. For this matters under Section 254(C) (1) of the Constitution, the National Industrial Court has exclusive jurisdiction.

F. Magistrate Court

Magistrate Court is not one of the courts expressly mentioned under section 6 of the 1999 Constitution of the FRN as amended. Still, the same constitution gave the various State House of Assembly the power to make laws for the establishment of Lower Courts

Therefore, it will be correct to say that magistrate court is not expressly created by the Constitution but by the different Laws of each States in the Federation.The power of the court is also defined by the State law creating it

Still, Magistrate court has jurisdiction to entertain civil and criminal matters at grass root level. The following are the only matters that Magistrate court lack jurisdiction to entertain:
i.Title to land or any interest to land.
ii.Issue as to validity of devise, bequest or limitation under any willor settlement
III.Marriage (Matrimonial causes)
iv.Family Status or guardianship of Children
v Inheritance or disposition of property on death


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