JURISDICTION – JURISDICTION OF THE STATE/FEDERAL HIGH COURT – Whether the Federal and State High Court have concurrent jurisdiction to entertain matters on enforcement of fundamental rights

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“the main issue in controversy in this case is whether the Federal High Court has jurisdiction to entertain, hear and determine, as State High Courts, actions on fundamental human rights. Generally, the relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) on the issue in question are Section 46 (1), (2) and (3), Section 272 (1) and Section 251 (p), (q) and (r). For ease of reference, Section 46 of the said Constitution reads thus: “46 (1) Any person who alleges that any of the provisions of this Chapter has been, is being or likely to be contravened in any State in relation to him may apply to a High Court in that State for redress. (2) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, a High Court shall have original jurisdiction to hear and determine any application made to it in pursuance of the provisions of this section and may make such order, issue such writs and give such directions as it may consider appropriate for the purpose of enforcing or securing the enforcement within that State of any right to which the person who makes the application may be entitled under this Chapter. (3) The Chief Justice of Nigeria may make rules with respect to the practice and procedure of a High Court for the purposes of this Section. Section 272 (1) provides thus: “Subject to the provisions of Section 251 and other provisions of this Constitution, the High Court of a State shall have jurisdiction to hear and determine any civil proceedings in which the existence or extent of a legal right, power, duty, liability, privilege, interest, obligation or claim is in issue or to hear and determine any criminal proceedings involving or relating to any penalty, forfeiture, punishment or other liability in respect of any offence committed by any person, Section 251 (1) provides as follows: “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, the Federal High Court shall have and exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other Court in civil causes and maters (relating to): (p) the administration or the management and control of the Federal Government or any of its agencies; (q) subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the operation and interpretation of the Constitution in so far as it affects the Federal Government or any of its agencies; (r) any action or proceedings 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. Generally, fundamental rights are provided for in the Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) in Sections 33-46. As earlier reproduced, the Constitution in Section 46(1) requires that any person who alleges that any of the provisions of Chapter IV has been, is being or is likely to be contravened in any State in relation to him, may apply to a High Court for redress. The same Constitution created the High Courts. The Federal High Court is created by Section 249; the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory by Section 255(1) and the High Court of a State by Section 270 (1). As clearly provided, these Courts enjoy unlimited jurisdiction subject only to the provisions of Section 251 of the Constitution and any other provision thereof and in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon them by the Act of the National Assembly. In Bronik Motors Ltd Vs. Wema Bank Ltd (1983) 1 SCNLR 296 and Tukur Vs. Government of Gongola State (1989) 9 SC1; (1989) 4 NWLR (Pt. 117) 517 reference was made to Section 42 (1) of the 1979 Constitution which is in pari materia with Section 46(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and was considered by this Court, it was opined that where both the State High Court and the Federal High Court exist in a State, they have concurrent jurisdiction in matters pertaining to fundamental rights. In Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Vs. Wolfgang Reinl (2020) LPELR – 49387 (SC) per Kekere Ekun, JSC, reference was made to another recent decision of this Court in Federal University of Technology Minna, Niger State & Ors Vs. Bukola Oluwaseun Olutayo (2017) LPELR – 43827 (SC) at 27-32 where his Lordship has expressed the following opinion – “It is quite evident that Section 46(1) of the 1999 Constitution, (as amended) above refers to “a High Court of a State” without any restriction. The violation of a citizen’s fundamental right is viewed so seriously that the framers of the Constitution ought to ensure that no fetters are placed in the path of a citizen seeking to enforce his rights. In other words, the provision ensures that he has access to any High Court as long as it is within the State in which the alleged infraction occurred. Indeed, it would negate the principle behind the guarantee of fundamental rights if a citizen were to have only obstacle placed in the path of enforcing those rights. There is no ambiguity in the provisions of the Constitution or of the fundamental rights (Enforcement procedure) Rules … Regarding which Court has jurisdiction, to entertain any application for the enforcement of fundamental rights.” There is no doubt that the applicable enforcement procedure rules to the provisions of Section 46 of the 1999 Constitution is the 1979 Rules, which clearly defines “Court to include the Federal High Court, As earlier quoted above, Section 46 (1) of the Constitution refers to the special jurisdiction conferred on ‘”a High Court of a State”. If the framers of the provisions had intended to exclude the Federal High Court in the State from the special jurisdiction conferred in relation to the fundamental Human Rights provision, the Section would have been clearly couched as “the High Court of the State” and not the “High Court in that State”. In other words, the words “High Court in that State” means either the Federal High Court in that State or the High Court of the State. Both Courts have concurrent jurisdiction. An application may therefore be made either to the Judicial Division of the Federal High Court in the State or the High Court of the State in which the breach occurred, is occurring or about to occur. See Jack Vs. University of Agriculture, Markudi (2004) LPELR – 1587 (SC). In the instant case, the trial Court was right in dismissing the appellant’s objection to its jurisdiction to entertain the complaint of the 1st respondent. The Court has jurisdiction so to do and the Court below was right in dismissing the appellant’s appeal. Both the Federal High Court in a State and the High Court of the State have concurrent jurisdiction to entertain action on fundamental human rights breach.” Per OLUKAYODE ARIWOOLA, JSC in INSP. GABRIEL v. UKPABIO & ORS (2022-LCER-46524-SC) (Pp 16 – 22; Paras F – D)

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