In The Supreme Court of Nigeria
Holden at Abuja on Friday,
The 12th day of April, 2019
Walter Nkanu Onnoghen
Musa Dattijo Muhammad
John Inyang Okoro
Sidi Dauda Bage
Uwani Musa Abba-Aji
Governor, Imo State——- Appellant
- Chief Char
- Chief Francis Nwoha
- Chief Thomas Ojionyeaka (for themselves and as representing Members of Ndeziama Okwuama village of Amakor Autonomous Community)
- Chief Innocent Mmeremikwu
- Chief Julius Onumara
- Chief Paulinius Osunwa
7 .The Transition Committee Njaba Local Govt
(Judgement Delivered by Musa Dattijo Muhammad, JSC)
The 1st to 3rd Respondent filed an action against the Appellant and the 4th to 7th Respondent before the High Court of Imo State seeking, inter alia, a declaration that the 1st Respondent is the duly elected and installed Eze of Amakor Autonomous Community. They also sought a declaration that the selection and installation of the 4th Respondent as Eze of Amakor Autonomous Community, was not done in accordance with the applicable customs and thus, same was null, void and of no effect. The Appellant, as the 5th Defendant at the trial court, filed a Notice of Preliminary Objection challenging the jurisdiction of the trial court to entertain the suit. The court heard arguments thereon, and dismissed the objection for lack of merit. The appeal against the decision to the Court of Appeal, was also dismissed. The Appellant further appealed to the Supreme Court.
Issues for Determination
- Whether the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were right to resolve the issue of jurisdiction in favour of the Respondents, when the Appellant had not exercised his statutory power of recognition in favour of any of the parties.
- Whether it was proper for the 1st to 3rd Respondent to have commenced this action without exhausting the administrative remedy, as well as fulfilling the condition precedent created by the law.
- Whether the failure of the lower court to consider issue 2 arising from ground 3 of the Grounds of Appeal, amounted to a denial of the right to fair hearing.
- Whether the Court of Appeal was wrong, when it held that the 1st to 3rd Respondent have the locus standi to institute this action.
Arguments On the first issue, counsel for the Appellant relied on the decision of the Supreme Court in ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF ANAMBRA STATE v OKAFOR (1992) 2 NWLR (Pt. 224) 306 at 419 in arguing that, in matters pertaining to the exercise of statutory power, the jurisdiction of court enures, only where it is alleged that the power has not been exercised in accordance with the enabling law. He argued that, the suit relates to a chieftaincy matter, and by the provisions of Sections 7(1) and 12(2) and (4) of the Imo State (Traditional Rulers and Autonomous Communities) Law No. 3 of 1999, the Appellant is vested with power to recognise a person as an Eze, and that the Appellant had not exercised this power. He posited that, the action was premature, and the trial court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the suit. He argued further that, by the doctrine of stare decisis, all courts are bound to apply the decisions of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, and was wrong when it refused to apply the decision of the Supreme Court in ATTORNEY- GENERAL ANAMBRA STATE v OKAFOR, but rather applied its decision to the contrary in ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF ABIA STATE & ORS v AGHARANYA & ORS (1999) 6 NWLR (Pt. 607) 362.
The 1st to 3rd Respondent submitted in response that, the provisions referred to by the Appellant, which creates the jurisdiction of the trial court in respect of the claim, does not state that the jurisdiction enures only after the Governor has exercised his discretion in recognising one of the contending parties to the chieftaincy title. They argued that, it is only where the law has clearly made such stipulation that the jurisdiction of the court will be ousted, and that the insistence by the Appellant that the Court of Appeal was wrong in its failure to apply the Supreme Court’s decision in A-G ANAMBRA STATE v OKAFOR, was misplaced. Counsel submitted that, the decision in the suit is inapplicable to the instant case, as the facts and legislation considered in the case were different.
On issue two, the Appellant submitted that the 1st to 3rd Respondent failed to show the fulfilment of a statutory pre-condition prescribed in Sections 12 and 13 of the Imo State of Nigeria (Traditional Rulers and Autonomous Communities) Law No. 3 of 1999, which required that where there is serious chieftaincy dispute in any autonomous community, the Appellant shall, subject to the approval of the Imo State House of Assembly, set up a panel to look into the dispute, and submit its report and recommendations to the Appellant.
Arguing the third issue, the Appellant submitted that, the failure of the Court of Appeal to consider and resolve his second issue for determination, constitutes a denial of his right to fair hearing. He urged the court to declare the entire proceedings at the lower court, null and void.
On the fourth issue, counsel for the Appellant argued that, besides the principal claim which asserts the 1st Respondent’s nomination as the Eze elect of Amakor Autonomous community, no other facts were placed before court to show how, when and whether the 1st Respondent was so elected; hence, the 1st to 3rd Respondent lacked the locus standi to institute the action. On this point, counsel for the 1st to 3rd Respondent submitted that, by their Writ of Summons and the affidavit in support of their Motion for Interlocutory Injunction against the Appellant and the 4th to 6th Respondent as Defendants at the trial court, the 1st Respondent had been identified as having been selected and elected as the Eze of the Community, and this fact duly established their legal right to sue. Court’s Judgement and Rationale On the first issue, the court held that, while it is true that by the doctrine of stare decisis, the Court of Appeal is bound by its earlier decision or the decision of the Supreme Court when approached subsequently to determine same or similar issues, the doctrine of stare decisis is not at large, and a case is only an authority for what it decided. Where therefore, a court distinguishes the facts in the case earlier decided by it or a higher court from those it is approached to pronounce upon, the court may not be bound by its earlier decision or that of a higher court.
The facts in the instant case, are different from that of A-G ANAMBRA STATE v OKAFOR. It follows therefore, that the decision of the Supreme Court in the case is inapplicable to the instant case, and the Court of Appeal was right not to have relied on it – NIGERIA AGIP OIL CO. LTD v NWEKE & ANOR. (2016) LPELR – 26060 (SC).
Deciding the second issue, the Supreme Court held that for any statute to oust the jurisdiction of the courts, it must be construed strictly to ensure that existing jurisdiction is only withdrawn on the basis of very clear words of the statutes to that effect – A-G LAGOS STATE v DOSUNMU & ORS (1989) 3 NWLR (Pt. 111) 552. In this case, since Sections 12 and 13 of the Imo State of Nigeria (Traditional Rulers and Autonomous Communities) Law No. 3 of 1999 do not expressly oust the jurisdiction of the courts, the two lower courts were right not to have readily declined jurisdiction. More so, for a party to rely on a statutory defence in challenging the competence of an action, he must first plead the defence. In the instant case, the objection to the competence of the suit by the Appellant on the basis of Sections 12 and 13 of the Imo State of Nigeria (Traditional Rulers and Autonomous Communities) Law No. 3 of 1999, was raised when parties had not filed and exchanged pleadings, and brought for the first time at the Court of Appeal, in the manner and time the law disallows it to be raised, The Supreme Court is bound by the record of appeal before it alone, and it has no jurisdiction to venture outside the record to draw conclusions which are not supported by the record. None of the parties in this instance, complained about the correctness of the record of appeal; hence, there is an irrebuttable presumption, that the record of appeal is correct. Relying on the third issue, it was held that, PRINCE ABUBAKAR AUDU v A-G FEDERATION & ANOR (2012) LPELR – 15527 (SC), the court held that, contrary to the assertion of the Appellant in the issue under consideration, and based on the record before it, the Court of Appeal had considered and resolved the second issue placed before it by the Appellant, and it was evident that the instant issue and the ground of appeal from which it was formulated did not arise from the judgement appealed against, and were therefore, incompetent.
With regard to the fourth issue, the court held that, once a Plaintiff whose capacity to sue is challenged, shows to the satisfaction of the court that his civil rights have been infringed upon or threatened, such a Plaintiff has the legal right to approach the court for redress or protection.
Relying on ELESO v GOVT OF OGUN STATE (1990) 2 NWLR (Pt. 133) 420, the court held that, the right to sue in a chieftaincy contest may arise either where the representatives of a family show by their statement of claim and evidence, that the right being asserted belongs to their family, or where a Plaintiff is asserting his individual right to the stool.
The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeal, that the 1st to 3rd Respondent, who were suing in a representative capacity, had by their claim and their affidavit in support of their motion for interlocutory injunction, averred that they are the most senior kindred in the village of Amakor Autonomous Community, and averred their alleged right to produce the Eze, which was being violated. They had thus, shown their locus standi to institute the action. Appeal Dismissed.
M.O. Nlemedim A-G Imo State and others for the Appellant.
- C. Kingsley Akano for the 1st to 3rd Respondent.
Chief (Sir) E. C. Nnanedo for the 4th Respondent.
- N. Opara for the 5th and 6th Respondents
F.A. Onuzulike and another for the 7th Respondent.