NWLR This Week: “Federation”, Federal Republic of Nigeria”, Government of the Federation”, Federal Government”: Meaning and Differences.


Appeal No: SC/876/2015

Court: Supreme Court

Justices: MARY UKAEGO PETER-ODILI J.S.C. (Presided)
JOHN INYANG OKORO, J.S.C. (Read the Leading Ruling)

Citation: (2018) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1615) P.314


The Respondent claimed against the Applicant declaratory reliefs and perpetual injunction in respect of a parcel of 148.337 hectares of land at Amansea, Awka North Local Government Area of Anambra State, which he claimed, was lawfully acquired by the Federal Government in 1992, but the rights therein were revoked by Anambra State Government. The action was initiated in the Supreme Court on the ground that it is a dispute between Anambra State and the Federation in line with section 232 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

According to the Defendant/Applicant, the Writ of Summons, which was filed in Abuja, was served on her at the office of the Attorney General, Ministry of Justice, Awka, Anambra State. The Writ of Summons gave the Defendant twenty-one (21) days within which to enter appearance and that the Writ of Summons was not endorsed for service on the Defendant at Awka, Anambra State. When the action came up for hearing, the Defendant to the suit who is the Applicant herein challenged the competence of the suit and asked the court to strike same out. Based on the above facts the Defendant filed the instant Motion on Notice on 2912/16.The said Motion, was brought pursuant to section 232 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and sections 97 and 99 of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act. The grounds upon which the challenge was initiated as set out in the Applicant’s Motion are as follows:-

(i) Based on the facts disclosed in Statement of Claim, there is no dispute between the Federation and Anambra State Government.

(ii) The court processes served on the Defendant especially the Writ of Summons and Statement of Claims served at the Defendant’s office in Akwa, Anambra State were not endorsed for service outside Abuja.

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(iii) The Defendant was not allowed a period of not less than 30 days to enter appearance and file the necessary papers in defence.

(iv) Defendant is questioning the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to adjudicate over the matter and this did not comply with the directive of the writ of summons as regards entering of appearance.

In support of the motion was an eight-paragraph affidavit. Exhibits AG 1, AG2 and AG3 were annexed to the supporting affidavit filed on 29/2/16 along with the Motion on Notice. Applicant also filed further affidavit on 17/7/17. On 24/2/17, the Applicant filed Written Address and a Reply on 3/3/17. At the hearing of the application on 26/9/17 which was moved by learned senior counsel, Onyechi Ikpeazi, SAN, leading others for the Defendant/Applicant, he urged the court to grant the application and strike out the suit.

However, the counsel for the Plaintiff/Respondent Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, filed a six paragraph counter-affidavit on 915116. Ile also filed a written address or 21/2/17 in opposition to the motion of the defendant. He adopted and relied on these documents and urged the court to refuse the application.

In determining the application, the Supreme Court considered the provision of section 232 (1) and (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which provides as follows:-

“232 (1) the Supreme Court shall, to the exclusion of any other court, have original jurisdiction in any dispute between the Federation and a State or between States if and in so far as that dispute involves any question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends.

(2) In addition to the jurisdiction conferred upon it by subsection of this section, (1) of this section, the Supreme Court shall have such original jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by any Act of the National Assembly.

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Provided that no original jurisdiction shall be conferred upon the Supreme Court with respect to any criminal matter.”


  1. On Meaning of Federation- By section 318 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), “Federation” is defined as “the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. The word “Federation” or “the Federal Republic of Nigeria” are further explained in the said Constitution. For the avoidance of doubt, Section 2 (1) and (2) of the said Constitution provide: ‑

    “2(l)  Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state to be known by the name of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

    (2) Nigeria shall be a Federation consisting of states and a Federal Capital Territory.”

    Simply put, the word Federation means Federal Republic of Nigeria, which presently consists of 36 states, and the Federal Capital Territory called Abuja. It follows that for a dispute to come within the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the subject matter of the dispute must be a matter in which the interest of the Federation as a unit consisting of the interest of the thirty-six (36) states and the Federal Capital Territory is in issue. In the instant case, the interest of the thirty five other states (excluding Anambra State) and the Federal Capital Territory in the control over and development of the A mansea land in Anambra State must be paramount and clearly seen in the Statement of Claim. This is so because in determining the jurisdiction of the court, it is the Statement of Claim which the court has to look into where the action is commenced by the filing of Statement of Claim.

  2. On Meaning of Federation –

    By Section 318 of the Constitution, Federation means the Federal Republic of Nigeria. By Section 2 (1) and (2) of the same Constitution, Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state to be known by the name of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Nigeria shall be a Federation consisting of Stales and a Federal Capital Territory. From the above definition of the Federation, Federation is clearly different from the Government of the Federation where ministries, departments of the three arms of Government are agencies of Government. Federation as mentioned in section 232 of the Constitution consists of all the States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory. In the circumstance, a dispute as is contemplated by the Constitution is which areas of legislation are available to the States and Federation. Acquisition of land in Anambra State has nothing to do with other States of the Federation. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has made adequate provision under section 251 to take care of actions of the various agencies of the Federal Government. The instant action before the Supreme Court has nothing to do with dispute between the Federation and the State of Anambra. The proper court to go to is the Anambra State High Court as provided for under section 39 (1)(a) and (2) of the Land Use Act.

  3. On Difference between the “Federation” or “Federal Republic of Nigeria” and “Government of the Federation” or “Federal Government” 

    There is a clear difference between the “Federation” or “Federal Republic of Nigeria” on the one hand and “Government of the Federation” or “Federal Government” on the other hand. Whereas the Federation refers to the federating units comprising of all the states and the Federal Capital Territory, the Federal Government or Government of the Federation refers to the Executive arm of the Government, which contrasts with the legislative powers and judicial powers domiciled in the National Assembly and the Judiciary respectively. From the Statement of Claim and its relevant paragraphs, references to the plaintiff are pertaining to the Federal Government or the Executive arm of Government of the Federation which references are distinct from the Federation, which carries with it all its three arms of Government.

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