Jurisdiction of the Federal High Court: Parties and subject matter must be considered.

John Shoy Int’l Ltd. v. F.H.A. [2016] 14 NWLR (Pt. 1533) 427 at 456-457, paras. G-B, per Nweze, JSC:

“Now, from a conspectus of recent decisions, it would be correct to assert that this court has, now, taken the position that in considering the issue of the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court under section 251(1) (supra), both the status of the parties (that is, whether it is the Federal Government or any of its agencies) and the subject matter of the claim (that is, whether it relates to any of the enumerated items in the said section) have to be looked at.”


Interestingly, the apex court in finally laying the matter to rest, relied on and considered a host of previous decisions.

The facts of the above case are as follows:

The Appellant was awarded some building construction contracts by the Respondent, Federal Housing Authority (F.H.A.). A dispute subsequently arose as to the contract sum payable by the Respondent. The Appellant therefore filed an action against the Respondent at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory. The trial Court entered Judgment in favour of the Appellant. The Respondent appealed to the Court of Appeal where it contended that as an agency of the Federal Government, the High Court of the FCT had no jurisdiction to try the case. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal. An appeal by the Appellant to the Supreme Court was allowed based on the above stated position of the law. The apex Court concluded that the High Court of the FCT had jurisdiction to try the matter, being a case of simple contract. Contract is not one of the matters enumerated under Section 251(1) of the Constitution. It was immaterial even if the Respondent were to be a Federal Government agency.
Interestingly, the Supreme Court had the opportunity to pronounce on the status of the Respondent as to whether or not it is an agency of the Federal Government.
At page 450, paras. E-F of the report, the Court held that the Respondent, Federal Housing Authority, is not a Federal Government agency. Ogunbiyi, JSC stated the position thus:
“As rightly conceded by learned counsel to the appellant, in as much as the respondent is a property of the Federal Government, it is no more than a commercial outfit set up by the said Government with the sole aim of executing its National Housing Programme as enunciated in the Federal Housing Act. The respondent given the functions it performs has no connection with the affairs or the running of the Federal Government.”

Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has worked with a number of startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.
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