On the 8th of February 2023, the Supreme Court restrained the Central Bank of Nigeria from putting a deadline on the collection of old notes by commercial banks in Nigeria. The ruling, led by Justice John Okoro, was issued by a seven member panel based on an exparte application brought by three (3) states namely, Zamfara Kogi, and Kaduna.
The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to make this ruling and entertain the matter was challenged. The Central Bank of Nigeria maintained that the Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court of Nigeria is the apex court in the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria. In this article, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court will be considered.
Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court
The jurisdiction of the Supreme court is provided in section 232 of the 1999 constitution sets out as follows:
“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.
Following the provisions of section 232, the Supreme Court can only invoke its original jurisdiction in two instances viz (i) any dispute between the federation and a state or (ii) any disputes between states. The supreme court also possesses original jurisdiction on disputes arising from law or facts between the National Assembly and the president; the National Assembly and any state House of Assembly; and the National Assembly and a state of the federation.
The Federation is referred to as the federal government. However, in the Instant case, the Central Bank is an agency of the Federal Government, and not the federal government.
From the foregoing, although contrary view exists, I am of the opinion that the Supreme court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the matter and that the Federal Government has the jurisdiction to do so. To back up this point, it is pertinent to consider section 251 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which set out the matters over which the Federal High Court has jurisdiction.
By section 251 of the Constitution, the proper court to exercise jurisdiction over the matter of ‘currency’ between the agent of the federal government and any person or entity is the Federal High Court. This means as long as the matter is on a currency policy by the federal government, the proper venue for adjudication is the Federal High Court. Section 251(1)(d) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides as follows:
notwithstanding anything contained in the 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 cases and matters connected with or pertaining to banking, banks, other financial institutions, including any action between one bank and another, any action against Central Bank of Nigeria arising from banking, foreign exchange, coinage, legal tender, bills of exchange, letters of credit, promissory notes, and other fiscal measures. (Provided that this paragraph shall not apply to any dispute between an individual customer and his bank in respect of transaction between the individual customer and the bank).
The wording of the Constitution is very specific as to the court of first instance when the Central Bank of Nigeria is involved.
Jurisdiction is a threshold matter in law and the foundation of any case. The propriety of the Supreme Court order or otherwise lies in whether the supreme court has the jurisdiction to give the order.