By Hassan Habib Alhaji Esq

A Non-Governmental Organization- Niger-North Progressives Youths Initiative has filed two separate actions before the High court of Niger state against the Hon. Chief Judge, the Executive Governor, and the Chief Registrar of the High Court of Niger State as 1st 2nd and 3rd Defendants in the first action, as well as the Grand Khadi, Niger State Shariah Court of Appeal and Chief Registrar of the Niger State Shariah Court of Appeal as 1st and 2nd Defendants in the second action.

The Hon. Chief Judge of Niger State and the Hon. Grand Khadi of the Shariah Court of Appeal of Niger State had in April 2019, with the approval of the Executive Governor of the State, made rules imposing upward increment of filing fees in the High Court, District Courts and Shariah Courts of Niger State respectively.

In the Suits initiated via Originating Summons filed on 24/5/19, the plaintiff through its lead Counsel Mr. A. A. Siraj Esq. and Mr. A. N. Musa Esq. argued in the respective written addresses filed in Support of the Originating Summons that the high increment of filing fees between the range of 500-1000 percent is not in consonance with the intendment and objectives of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As amended), which guarantees every citizen the right of easy and affordable access to courts of justice. The Counsel also argued that having sworn to uphold, preserve and protect the Constitution, the Chief Judge, the Grand Khadi and the Governor of Niger State must act in accordance with the Constitution in the exercise of their powers to make rules of practice and procedure for the Courts.

The Plaintiff’s lead Counsel- A. A. Siraj Esq. and A. N. Musa Esq. further noted in the respective written addresses in support of the originating summons that the new filing fees prescribed for the High Court, District Courts and Shariah Courts are extortionately exorbitant, and that a filing fee of #250, 000.00 is payable for the filing of a single originating process in the High Court which may even go higher depending on the amount of money being claimed by a plaintiff and that the problem is further worsened by the prescription of double fees payable by a plaintiff who approaches the courts outside a period of five years from the date the cause of action arose, which means, using the case of the #250, 000.00 above referred as an example, the filing fee will double the amount and a plaintiff will have to pay #500, 000.00 before he can access the court to seek legal redress if he is filing after five years.

It was further argued on behalf of the plaintiff that by the provisions of the rules of the High Court, District Courts and Shariah Courts on the increment of filing fees, it is worrisome that filing fees may run into hundreds of thousands, millions or even billions of Naira depending on the amount of money being claimed and that such provisions have certainly created a barrier between the poor masses and the courts, thereby taking away the citizens constitutional right of access to the courts and by extension, to justice.

Relying on the case of JOSIAH V. THE STATE (1985) NWLR (Pt.1) 125, 141, the Counsel submitted with great concern and queried what the value of say, fair hearing is to the poor man who cannot pay for Summons let alone afford the services of Counsel?

Similarly, the plaintiff’s Counsel contend that by the respective new High Court, District Courts and Shariah Courts rules on the increment of filing fees, an administrative fee of #5000 is also prescribed for any complaint or petition to the office of the Chief Judge, Grand Khadi, Chief Registrar of the High court, as well as the Chief Registrar and Director of the Shariah court of Appeal. The plaintiff’s Counsel are therefore seeking for interpretation of Section 116 of the High Court Law, CAP.53, Laws of Niger state, Section 89 of the District Courts Law, Cap. 37, Laws of Niger state, 1989 and section 60 of the Niger State Sharia Administration of Justice Law, 2015 as to whether the prescription of fees payable for administrative complaints or petitions fall within the powers conferred on the Hon. Chief Judge and the Hon. Grand Khadi of the Shariah Court of Appeal of Niger State.

Consequently, in the first Suit the Plaintiff seeks the following reliefs against the defendants;

  1. A DECLARATION that the 1st and 2nd Defendants are duty bound in their official capacity to act in accordance with the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As amended).
  1. A DECLARATION that for any Rules made by the 1st Defendant pursuant to Section 116 of the High Court Law, CAP.53, Laws of Niger state and Section 89 of the District Courts Law, Cap. 37, Laws of Niger state, 1989 to be lawful, valid and binding, such rules must be in conformity with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As amended).
  1. A DECLARATION that the; High Court (Niger State) Increment of Fees) Rules, 2019 and District Courts (Niger state) (Increase of Fees) Rules, 2019 as made by the 1st Defendant (with the approval of the 3rd Defendant) which are highly expensive and provides no limit to the amount that may be charged as filing fees will serve to deny the Plaintiff, its members, and the general public easy and ready access to the High Court and District Courts of Niger state and is therefore, improper, unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void.
  1. AN ORDER directing the 1st and 3rd Defendants to immediately cease the implementation, operation and application of the; High Court (Niger State) Increment of Fees) Rules, 2019 and District Courts (Niger state) (Increase of Fees) Rules, 2019.
  1. AN ORDER directing the 1st , 2nd and 3rd Defendants to immediately restore the old rules prescribing reasonably affordable courts fees which were hitherto in operation before the 28th day of April, 2019 and 15th day of April, 2019 in respect of the High Court and District Courts of Niger state
  1. ALTERNATIVELY, AN ORDER directing the 1st and 2nd Defendants to immediately effect a downward review of the; High Court (Niger State) Increment of Fees) Rules, 2019 and District Courts (Niger state) (Increase of Fees) Rules, 2019, by bringing the prescribed court fees within the range of maximum of 100% increment having regard to the fees prescribed in the old rules, and to fix a reasonably affordable fee, not exceeding 50, 000.00, as maximum amount payable for filing regardless of the subject matter and/ or the amount of money being claimed by a plaintiff.

While in the second action, the plaintiff seeks for the following reliefs against the defendants;

  1. A Declaration that the 1st Defendant is duty bound in his official capacity to act in accordance with the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As amended).
  2. A Declaration that for any Rules made by the 1st Defendant pursuant to Section 60 of Niger State Sharia Administration of Justice Law, 2015 to be lawful, valid and binding, such rules must be in conformity with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As amended).
  3. A Declaration that the; Sharia Courts (Niger State) (increase of fees) Rules, 2019 as made by the 1st Defendant which is highly expensive and provides no limit to the amount that may be charged or payable as filling fees will serve to deny the Plaintiff, its members, and the general public easy and ready access to the Sharia Courts of Niger State and is therefore, improper, unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void.
  4. A Declaration that the 1st Defendant’s powers under section 60; Niger State Sharia Administration of Justice Law, 2015 does not extend to imposing/fixing fees for petitions and complaints as in part I, paragraph 18 of Shariah Courts (Niger State) (increase of fees) Rules, 2019.
  5. A Declaration that the 1st Defendant’s powers under section 60 of Niger State Sharia Administration of Justice Law, 2015 does not extend to imposing/fixing allowances of witnesses and if it does, it is in the circumstance, exorbitant, in view of ORDER 8 RULE 1 (b) of the Sharia Court of Niger State Civil Procedure Rules 2009 and thereby renders the Plaintiff’s members and ordinary citizens’ access to court/justice difficult or impossible.
  6. AN ORDER directing the 1st and 2nd Defendants to immediately cease the implementation, operation and application of the; Shariah Courts (Niger State) (increase of fees) Rules, 2019.
  7. AN ORDER directing the 1st Defendant to immediately restore the old rules prescribing reasonably affordable courts fees which was hitherto in operation before the 15th day of April, 2019.
  8. ALTERNATELY, AN ORDER directing the 1st Defendant to immediately effect a downward review of the Sharia Courts (Niger State) (increase of fees) Rules, 2019 by bringing the prescribed Court fees within the range of maximum of 100% increment having regard to the fees prescribed in the old rules and fixing a reasonably affordable fees, not exceeding 5, 000.00, as maximum amount payable for filing of complaints, regardless of the subject matter and the amount of money being claimed by a plaintiff.

Meanwhile, the cases are yet to be assigned to any judge of the High court,

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