Alidu Adah V National Youth Service Corps (2004)
LAWGLOBAL HUB Lead Judgment Report
The appellant was employed as a driver by the respondent in 1977. He was based in the respondent’s office in Makurdi. In the course of his official duty in December, 1990, he was involved in an accident. He was issued with a query and suspended from duty. On 28 June, 1991, his employment was terminated. On 28 July, 1995, he instituted an action in the Benue State High Court, holden at Makurdi in which he claimed for (a) a declaration that his suspension from duty was null and void; (b) a declaration that the termination of his employment was null and void; (c) a declaration that he is still in the employment of the respondent, and (d) an order reinstating him as driver and for the payment of all his entitlements and allowances including the salary due to him.
The main thrust of the appellant’s case was that the proper procedure was not followed before his employment was brought to an end. On 26 June, 1996, in a considered judgment, Puusu, J. dismissed the suit, holding that the proper procedure was observed. The appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal, Jos Division. In that court, the question of the jurisdiction of the High Court of Benue State to entertain the suit was canvassed on the basis of the Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree No. 107 of 1993 which amended section 230(1) of the 1979 Constitution. In the leading judgment of Chukwuma-Eneh, JCA, with which Umoren and Mangaji, JCA concurred, the question was fully considered. The learned Justice of Appeal ended his judgment thus:
“In the result, the proceedings and the judgment of the court below having been embarked upon without jurisdiction, I declare them null and void and they are hereby set aside. Accordingly, the suit is hereby struck out with N2000.00 costs against the respondent.” (sic: appellant).
There is a further appeal to this court in which the appellant has raised the following two issues: “(i) Whether the Court of Appeal was right to hold as it did that the trial High Court lacked jurisdiction to have heard the claim of the appellant in view of S.230(1) of the 1979 Constitution as amended by Decree No.107 of 1993, having regard to the date of the cause of action in this case. (Ground 1 of the grounds of appeal).
(ii) Was the Court of Appeal right when it did not Consider other issues for determination submitted for adjudication, notwithstanding its view that the Benue State High Court lacked jurisdiction to have heard the case of the appellant (Ground 2 of the grounds of Appeal).
On issue (i), the appellant has made three concessions, namely (a) that the respondent is a Federal Government agency; (b) that what the appellant challenged before the trial court was an administrative decision of the respondent; (c) that at the time this action was filed in the High Court of Benue State, Decree No. 107 of 1993 which amended section 230(1) of the 1979 Constitution had been promulgated. But he has submitted that the law applicable to a cause of action is the law prevailing at the time the cause of action arose, even if the said law had been repealed. He relies on Uwaifo v. Attorney-General Bendel State (1982) 7 SC 124; Governor of Oyo State v. Folayan (1995) 8 NWLR (Pt.413) 292, (1995) 9 SCNJ 50 among others. He therefore argues that since his cause of action arose in 1991, the Benue State High Court was seised of jurisdiction to entertain it from that time, and not the Federal High Court which acquired jurisdiction in 1993. The respondent argues, on the other hand, that the jurisdiction of a court is the authority it has to entertain matters that are brought before it, citing Erhumnunse v. Ehanire (1998) 10 NWLR (Pt.568) 53, and that as at 1995 when the appellant brought his action to court, only the Federal High Court had jurisdiction to entertain it.
I think there is much merit in the contention of the respondent. The appellant appears to me to have misconceived the essence of a court’s jurisdiction. It ought to be understood that the law which supports a cause of action is not necessarily co-extensive with the law which confers jurisdiction on the court which entertains the suit founded on that cause of action. The relevant law applicable in respect of a cause of action is the law in force at the time the cause of action arose whereas the jurisdiction of the court to entertain an action is determined upon the state of the law conferring jurisdiction at the point in time the action was instituted and heard: see Utih v. Onoyivwe (1991) 1 NWLR (Pt. 166) 166 at 201 per Bello CJN. The jurisdictions of courts in this country are conferred upon them by the Constitution or by statutes as may be permitted by the Constitution: see Osadebay v. Attorney-General Bendel State (1991) 1 NWLR (Pt. 169) 525. Thus when a court is denied jurisdiction at the time a cause of action arose, it cannot assume jurisdiction when action is instituted later in respect of the subject-matter even if its jurisdiction to entertain similar matters is then restored: see Uwaifo v. Attorney-General Bendel State (supra). Similarly, when a court had jurisdiction over a subject-matter at the time of the cause of action but loses jurisdiction at the time action is instituted, it cannot entertain such action: see Mustapha v. Governor of Lagos State (1987) 2 NWLR (Pt.58) 539; Alao v. Akano (1988) 1 NWLR (Pt. 71) 431.
The present action was filed in the Benue State High Court at the time Decree No. 107 of 1993 had effectively denied every State High Court jurisdiction to entertain any suit coming within the provisions of section 230(1) of the 1979 Constitution as amended by it thus inter alia:
“230(1) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in this Constitution and in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly or a Decree, the Federal High Court shall have and exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in civil causes and matters arising from –
(S) any action or proceeding for a declaration or Injunction affecting the validity of any executive or administrative action or decision by the Federal Government or any of its agencies:
Provided that nothing in the provisions of paragraphs (q), (r) and (S) of this subsection shall prevent a person from seeking redress against the Federal Government or any of its agencies in an action for damages, injunction or specific performance where the action is based on any enactment, law or equity.”
Although the Federal Government or its agencies may be sued in court for damages, injunction or specific performance under the said provision in paragraph (s) of subsection (1) of section 230, the action will have to be commenced in the Federal High Court unless any other provision specifically provides that the action may be brought either in the Federal High Court or State High Court. I therefore answer issue (i) in the affirmative.
As regards issue (ii), this can be answered briefly. The court below, not being the final court had a duty to decide the merit of the case upon the issues canvassed before it, notwithstanding that it resolved the issue of jurisdiction to the effect that the Benue State High Court lacked jurisdiction. This is because if on appeal to this court it was reversed on that issue, it would prevent the necessity of remitting the appeal to it to resolve the other issues arising from the appeal as originally made to it: see Ezeoke v. Nwagbo (1988) 1 NWLR (Pt.72) 616; Bayol v. Ahemba (1999) 10 NWLR (Pt.623) 381, (1999) 7 SCNJ 223. The court below was in error to have failed to resolve all the issues canvassed before it rather than confine itself only to the issue of jurisdiction. I answer issue (ii) in the negative.
However, notwithstanding that issue (ii) is resolved in favour of the appellant, issue (i) is decisive of this appeal. In view of that issue, I find no merit in this appeal. I accordingly dismiss it and affirm the decision of the court below. I award the respondent N10,000.00 costs.