Justice Nelson Ogbuanya of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN), Yola Division, has held that the court has one jurisdiction throughout the country.
He ruled that it is not necessary for a claimant to obtain leave of court and endorse his processes before it can be served in a state for an action commenced in another state in Nigeria.
His Lordship ruled on a preliminary objection filed by the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) through its counsel I. D. Midala.
The defendant had argued that the claimant, Yusuf Yahaya, commenced the suit outside Abuja and served it in the Federal Capital Territory without first obtaining the court’s leave to file and serve the processes out of jurisdiction.
Midala contended that by the combined provisions of Order 8, Rule 1 and 3 of the NICN (Civil Procedure) Rules 2017 and Section 97 of the Sheriff and Civil Process Act, the claimant ought to have obtained leave to serve the defendant, who is based outside the court’s jurisdiction.
He cited the Supreme Court cases of M.V Arabella vs NIAC (2008) and Drexel Energy and Natural Resources Lit and 2 ors vs Trans International Bank Ltd & Ors (2008).
The counsel added, among other arguments, that the court lacked the jurisdiction to determine the matter, being incurably defective.
But, the claimant’s counsel, S. Wilson, argued that the court’s rules states that the NICN has one jurisdiction throughout the federation, and urged the court to dismiss the objection.
In his ruling, Justice Ogbuanya noted that lower courts were bound by decisions of superior courts based on the principles of stare decisis and judicial precedents, but are allowed to distinguish the factual application of the principles of the cases .
While acknowledging that the Supreme Court in M.V Arabella emphatically held that the respondent was outside the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, where the writ was issued from, Justice Ogbuanya, however, distinguished the cases, finding that the legal principles and facts were not similar.
According to the judge, the Supreme Court, in the cases, based its decisions on the fact that there was nothing in the Federal High Court’s Act or its rules that excluded the application of the provisions of the Sheriff and Civil Process Act regarding the requirement for leave and endorsement of processes.
He said that was not the case with the NICN’s Rules.
“In the instant case, the provisions of the NICN (CP) Rules 2017 clearly exclude the application of the provisions of the Sheriff and Civil Processes Act,” the judge said.
Justice Ogbuanya held that NICN has only one territorial jurisdiction within Nigeria, as ‘out of jurisdiction’ in the rules mean “out of Nigeria/foreign territory”.
Another distinguishing feature of the Supreme Court’s decision, the judge said, was that it relied on the now repealed Federal High Court Rules of 1976.
He held that the apex court’s decision would not be the same under the current FHC 2009 Rules and under the extant NICN Civil Procedure Rules 2017.
Justice Ogbuanya said the NICN rules of 2017 has clarified and expanded on the court’s jurisdiction to be “only one jurisdiction throughout the territory of Nigeria”.
Among other reasons, he held that the arguments made by the defence counsel were inapplicable to the matter, as the originating processes were served within Nigeria.
“I also need to add and hold that the general provisions of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act cannot override the specific provisions of the Rules of this court, which derives its force directly from the Constitution and its enabling statute, the NIC Act 2006,” Justice Ogbuanya said.
According to the Judge, “where there is a specific law and a general law on the same issue, the specific law prevails”.
“Accordingly, I hold that this notice of preliminary objection is grossly misconceived, and is hereby discountenanced and dismissed. Ruling is entered accordingly,” Justice Ogbuanya ruled.