Whether lower courts can review decision of Supreme Court
CITATION: (2017) LPELR-51365 (CA)
In the Court of Appeal
In the Abuja Judicial Division
Holden at Abuja
ON THURSDAY, 6TH APRIL, 2017
Suit No: CA/A/289/2009
Before Their Lordships:
ABDU ABOKI Justice, Court of Appeal
PETER OLABISI IGE Justice, Court of Appeal
MOHAMMED MUSTAPHA Justice, Court of Appeal
IFEANYICHUKWU OKONKWO – Appellant(s)
1. ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION AND MINISTER OF JUSTICE
2. CHIEF REGISTRAR, SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA – Respondent(s)
LEADING JUDGMENT DELIVERED BY PETER OLABISI IGE, J.C.A.
The Appellant by an originating summons filed at the Federal High Court sought for the Enforcement of his Fundamental Rights by virtue of SECTIONS 6(6)(B), 54(1) (2) OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA AND ARTICLES 2, 3, 4 AND 7 OF AFRICAN CHARTER ON HUMAN AND PEOPLES RIGHTS (RATIFICATION AND ENFORCEMENT) ACT CAP. A. 9 LFN 2004.
The Appellant sought the Federal High Court to declare a judgment delivered by the Supreme Court, illegal and unconstitutional for breach of right to fair hearing amongst other reliefs.
Notwithstanding service on the Respondents, the Respondents did not appear nor did they file any process to challenge the Appellant’s originating summons and the affidavit in support thereof.
The learned trial Judge heard the originating summons, justifiably, in the absence of the Respondents but entered judgment against the Appellant. Thus, the Appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal.
ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION
The appeal was determined on the following issues: 1. Whether it was proper for the learned trial Judge to have proceeded to judgment after he raised suo motu issue of want of jurisdiction, without hearing or affording the Plaintiff/Appellant any iota of opportunity of a hearing on the issue of jurisdiction.
2. Whether the learned trial Judge was justified in dismissing the Plaintiff/Appellant’s suit suo motu in limine on the ground that the pleading did not disclose any cause of action against the Defendants/Respondents?
3. Whether the trial Court was right by declining jurisdiction for Enforcement of the Fundamental Rights of the Plaintiff/Appellant breached by the Supreme Court, which occurred extrinsically in the proceeding in Suit No. SC/23/2007.”
On issue 1, the learned Appellant’s counsel submitted that the issue of jurisdiction can be raised suo motu by the Court as in the instant case, so long as the parties are given the opportunity to react to it. Relying on the case of AJUWON V. AKANNI (1993) 9 NWLR (PT. 316) 182 AT 198 -199; he stated that the learned trial Judge failed to invite the Appellant before deciding the issue of jurisdiction. He emphasized that when a Court raises an issue suo motu, the parties must be given opportunity of being heard. He cited the case of OSHODI V. EYIFUNMI (2000) 13 NWLR (PART 684) 298.
On issue 2, learned counsel submitted that it is the Plaintiff that nominates who to sue and the cause of action before the Court. That, the Plaintiff has the liberty to choose who to sue among joint tortfeasor. That, the success of an action against one of the parties does not bar action against other tortfeasors. He submitted that the complaints of the Appellant were never a case of allegation of bias against the Judicial Officers in the Supreme Court, which will warrant the need to join Judicial Officers in the proceedings to determine the veracity of the allegation of bias against the seven Justices of the Supreme Court.
Appellant’s counsel contended that the action of the Appellant is for enforcement of his fundamental rights, which were invaded and violated by the agents of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that he could rightly maintain an action against the Principal/State. He relied on the case of ABDULHAMID V. AKAR (2006) 13 NWLR (PT. 996) 127 AT 149 C – F.
That where a Plaintiff has standing to sue, failure to join a party as Defendant will not defeat the action as the Court can determine the parties actually before it. He asserted that the trial Judge has powers under the Federal High Court Rules to join necessary parties instead of dismissing the Appellant’s case. He relied on the case of ONIBUDO V. ABODULLAI (1991) 2 NWLR (PT. 172) 230.
On the 3rd issue, counsel submitted that the case is within the geographical jurisdiction or venue of the Federal High Court of Nigeria, Abuja Judicial Division. He relied on SECTION 251 OF THE CONSTITUTION. That the constitutional jurisdiction of the Court extends to the acts and pronouncement of the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature. The case of TONY MOMOH V. SENATE (1981) 1 NCLR 10 AT 114 – 115.
He stated that the lower Court has jurisdiction because, all the complaints are within SECTIONS 34 AND 36 OF THE CONSTITUTION AND ARTICLES 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 19 AND 29 OF AFRICAN CHARTER ON HUMAN AND PEOPLES RIGHT.
On issue 1, the 1st Respondent’s counsel stated that from the facts placed before the trial Court by the Appellant and the decision in OBI V. INEC & 7 ORS (2007) 11 NWLR (PT. 1046) 56, the Supreme Court Justices that sat on the case were not made parties to the suit. That, granting the reliefs of Appellant would mean allowing Appellant to relitigate issues already decided to finality in OBI V. INEC & ORS supra by Supreme Court on 14/6/2007. Counsel relying on OKONKWO V. FRN (2011) 11 NWLR 1258) 215, stated that the action was not justiciable and was rightly struck out by the trial Court.
The 2nd Respondent’s counsel stated that the lower Court did not base its decision on any issue raised suo motu and that unless an issue raised suo motu occasions a miscarriage of justice, it will not lead to reversal of the lower Court’s decision.
He relied on the case of OGEDE V. USMAN (2011) 12 SC. (PT. 111) 34 AT 50 – 51 per GALADIMA, JSC, to submit that, an issue of jurisdiction can be raised suo motu without argument from the parties.
On issue 2, the 1st Respondent submitted that what the Appellant is claiming is for the lower Court to declare the Supreme Court’s judgment in PETER OBI V. INEC & ORS delivered on 13/7/2007 by Supreme Court as illegal and unconstitutional. That the Appellant was inviting the lower Court to act contrary to the law.
He stated the lower Court does not even possess the power to review the jurisdiction of a Court of coordinate or concurrent jurisdiction not to talk of apex Appellate Court. He relied on ONWUKA V. MADUKA (1998) 4 NWLR (PT. 545) 348.
The 2nd Respondent’s counsel defined cause of action and submitted that it is the examination of the writ of summons and statement of claim, which in this case is originating summons and affidavit in support that will disclose an action with reasonable cause. That the Appellant’s complaint about non service of hearing notice cannot give the Appellant the right to institute an erroneous action for the enforcement of his fundamental rights against Respondents.
On issue 3, the 1st Respondent contended that the lower Court was right in its decision.
The 2nd Respondent submitted that in the hierarchy of Courts in Nigeria, it is indisputable that the Supreme Court of Nigeria is at the apex and its decision is final and binding on other Courts in the country. He cited SECTIONS 233 AND 235 OF 1999 CONSTITUTION AND THE CASE OF OBIWEB V. CBN (2011) 2 – 3 SC (PT. 1) 46 AT 78. He stated that the doctrine of judicial precedent also requires that all Courts should recognize and respect the authority of Supreme Court being the highest Court with highest authority. The case of OSAKWE V. FCE (2010) 2 – 3 SC (PT. 111) 158 AT 180 per OGBUAGU, JSC.
RESOLUTION OF ISSUES
On issue 1, the Court stated the position of the law, that a Court is not entitled to raise an issue suo motu and determine it without hearing parties. The Court however pointed out that there are exceptional circumstances where the justice of the case demands it and when a Court believes that there is a jurisdictional abuse of the Court process or where a party deliberately instituted an action in a Court that has no jurisdiction. That issue can also be raised suo motu without recourse to parties for their views. See COMPTOR COMMERCIAL & IND. S.P.R. LTD VS OGUN STATE WATER CORPORATION & ANOR (PART 773) 629 AT 651 B – G per AYOOLA, JSC.
On issue 2, The Court pointed that the legal rights of a Claimant must be made clear and the obligations of the Defendant must also be discernible upon perusal of the writ of summons and statement of claim or where the action is begun or initiated by originating summons, cause of action must be clearly disclosed on the originating summons and affidavit in support thereof.
The Court stated that the Appellant did not join the Respondents at the Supreme Court to his Fundamental Rights action. That as a result of which, proper parties were not before the Court and thus, makes the action incompetent and consequently also made the lower Court lacked the necessary jurisdiction to deal with Appellant’s matter. See GOODWILL & TRUST INVESTMENT LTD. & ANOR VS WITT & BUSH LTD. (2011) LPELR – 1333 (SC).
The Court held that the case as postulated on the originating summons and the affidavit clearly showed no cause of action and how much more reasonable cause of action against the Respondents.
The Court again explained that another reason the Appellant’s action ought to remain dismissed is that, no Court in the land can review any decision or judgment of the highest pinnacle and citadel of justice in Nigeria, that is the Supreme Court of Nigeria. That the Supreme Court is the final arbiter in the judicial system of Nigeria and all Courts under it must follow, hold in the highest esteem, religiously, all its decisions and judgments, under the doctrine of stare decisis as encapsulated in SECTIONS 235 AND 287(1) OF THE CONSTITUTION OF NIGERIA, 1999 AS AMENDED.
Furthermore, the Court opined that the suit of Appellant is designed to goad the Federal High Court to review the judgment of the apex Court in the land in order to set the Federal High Court on the path of insubordination and gross misconduct. That such an action like the one initiated by Appellant and now on appeal, cannot be said to have disclosed any cause of action. The Court held that same constitutes a riotous abuse of the Court process.
On issue 3, the Court stated that the Supreme Court of Nigeria being the head and apex of Nigerian Judiciary, the Federal High Court cannot review its judgment. See B.M. DALHATU VS I. S. TURAKI & ORS (2003) 15 NWLR (PART 843) 310 AT 336. The Court then pointed out that option available to the Appellant in this instant case was to ventilate his dissatisfaction at the Supreme Court. That it is the Supreme Court itself that has the jurisdiction to listen to the Appellant pertaining to whether or not his rights were not infringed. See DR. IME SAMPSON UMANAH VS OBONG (ARCH.) VICTOR ATTAH & ORS (2006) 17 NWLR (PT. 1009) 503 AT 537 G – H.
The appeal was dismissed for lacking in merit and the judgment of the Federal High Court was affirmed.
APPELLANT absent and not represented – For Appellant(s)
CHIEF CHINEDU B. MOORE – For 1st and 2nd Respondents. – For Respondent(s)
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