Civil Jurisdiction Of Courts In Nigeria


Civil jurisdiction refers to the adjudicatory
powers exercisable by courts over civil matters. The term civil matters means a dispute between individuals or between individuals and government or between governments, the result of which maybe the award of damages, compensation, declaration of rights or prerogative or equitable remedies.
Jurisdiction of a court maybe in terms of its constitution or the geographical area or subject matter of its operation and it is usually conferred by statute. The Black Law dictionary defines jurisdiction simply as “A court’s power to decide a case or issue.” Judicially, the word jurisdiction has been held to mean the authority the court has to decide matters before it or to take cognizance of matters presented in a formal way for its decision per Adekeye J.C.A (as he then was) re-affirmed the definition of jurisdiction in A-G Oyo State V NLC thus:
The word jurisdiction means the authority which a court has to decide matters before it or to take cognizance of matters presented in a formal way for its decision.
It is settled law that courts are creatures of statue based on the constitution with their jurisdiction stated or prescribed therein. No court assumes jurisdiction except it is statutorily prescribed as jurisdiction cannot be implied nor can it be conferred by agreement of parties. Once a court lacks jurisdiction, a party cannot use any statutory provision or common law principle to impose it because absence of jurisdiction is irreparable in law. The matter ends there and the only procedural duty of the court is to strike it out. Also the Supreme Court in Umannah V Obon Victor Attah (2010) 12 NWLR (PF120)p.S18 per Tobi JSC held that “why the issue of jurisdiction is raised in a matter, once the court determines that it has no jurisdiction in the suit, it need not proceed further to consider any other issue, since this is no longer the jurisdiction to do so. It follows therefore that it is only after that, that it can proceed to consider other issues raised by the party invoking is jurisdiction.”
There are conditions precedent to jurisdiction as laid down in the case of Madukolu V. Nkemdilim (1962) 2SCNLR 341. The law is indeed trite that a court is only competent to exercise jurisdiction in respect of any matter where-
1.    It is properly constituted as regards numbers and qualification of its members and no member is disqualified for one reason or the other.
2.    The subject matter of the case is within jurisdiction and there is no feature in the case which prevents the court from exercising its jurisdiction.
3.    The case comes by due process of the law and upon fulfillment of any condition precedent to the exercise of jurisdiction.
Conclusively I will like to state that jurisdiction of court is very fundamental and lack of it robs the court of the competence to hear and decide a matter. In other words, once a court has no jurisdiction to adjudicate on a matter, its adjudication of the matter will be declared a nullity by an appellate court.


Nkechi Bright-Ewere