By Legalpedia

A. AISOWIEREN & SONS LTD V. MR. STEPHEN OSAGIEDE & ANOR

suit no: CA/B/98/2014

Legalpedia Electronic Citation: (2021) Legalpedia (CA) 01195

Areas Of Law:

APPEAL, COURT, JUDGMENT AND ORDER, JURISDICTION, LABOUR LAW, PRACTICE, AND PROCEDURE

Summary Of Facts:
The Appellant commenced the suit before the High Court of Edo State, sitting in Benin, vide writ of summons and statement of claim against the 1st and 2nd Respondents wherein the Appellant sought jointly and/or severally the cost of the Guinness small stout amounting to N4, 880, 800 (four million, eight hundred and eighty thousand, eight hundred Naira ) or in the alternative a declaration that the 2nd Respondent should forfeit his house used as guarantee of the 1st Respondent’s employment to the Appellant via an agreement date 22nd March 2003.

The 2nd Respondent entered conditional appearance to the suit and filed his statement of defence denying the claims of the Appellant.

However, before the adoption of the final written addresses, the 2nd Respondent filed a notice of preliminary objection pursuant to Sections 272(1) and 254 (l)(a) of the 1 999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) (Constitution) and Sections 7 and 11 of the National Industrial Court Act, 2006 (NIC Act] challenging the jurisdiction of the trial Court to determine the suit on the ground that the subject matter of the suit relates to dispute between employer and employee and connected with the employment of the 1st Respondent with the Appellant, as such the trial Court lacks jurisdiction to grant the relief the Appellant sought in paragraph 15 of its statement of claim.

The Appellant opposed the objection by filing a Counter Affidavit.

The trial Court upheld the objections of the 2nd Respondent by declining jurisdiction and ordered the suit to be transferred to the National Industrial Court in accordance with the provisions of Section 24(3) of the National Industrial Court Act, 2006.

Aggrieved with the ruling of the trial Court, the Appellant has appealed against same vide a Notice of Appeal which was subsequently amended containing ten Grounds of Appeal.

HELD:

Appeal Allowed

ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION

Whether the provisions of Section 11(1) and (2) of the National Industrial Court Act 2006 are inconsistent with Section 272 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 which conferred the widest jurisdiction on the State High Court.

Whether Section 11(2) of the National Industrial Court Act 2006 which prescribed a time frame for hearing and determination of labour matters or causes to be completed, breaches the Claimant’s right to fair hearing and constitutes an unwarranted interference in the affairs of the Court’s of judicature?

Whether the trial Court was right in striking out the suit for want of jurisdiction in view of section 254C(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and Section 6(1) of the Interpretation Act, CAP. 123 LFN 2004.

Whether or not the trial Court was right when it held that the employment contract is not distinct and severable from the guarantee agreement.

RATIONES

JURISDICTION OF COURT – DETERMINANTS OF A COURT’S JURISDICTION
“It is the law, beyond any argument that the court’s jurisdiction to determine a suit is determined by the reliefs sought therein, compared with the statutorily provided jurisdiction of the court. – PER B. B. ALIYU, J.C.A

JURISDICTION OF COURT – COURT WITH JURISDICTION OVER DISPUTE RELATING TO LABOUR OR EMPLOYER/EMPLOYEE
“Now the question is whether the reliefs the Appellant sought, which arose from these facts amount to a dispute relating to labour or employer/employee to which Section 2540(1] of the Constitution apply. The said Section 254C(l)(a] provides:

1. Notwithstanding the provisions of Sections 251, 257, 272 and 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 National
Industrial Court shall have and exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in civil cause and matters:

a. Relating to or connected with any labour, employment, trade unions, industrial relations and matter arising from workplace, the conditions of service, including health and matters incidental thereto or connected
therewith.

Upon the facts of the case and the reliefs sought, I have no doubt in my mind that the Appellant’s suit is within the ambit of the provisions of Section 254C quoted supra, which conferred exclusive jurisdiction on the employment dispute and the matters connected therewith on the NIC. This provision effectively takes away the jurisdiction of the State High Courts such as the trial Court on employment related causes and matters. In fact, in paragraph 4.18 of the Appellant brief, its counsel conceded that the above provisions “drained the jurisdiction of the High Court” in respect of the matters relating to labour and employment etc. – PER B. B. ALIYU, J.C.A

JURISDICTION OF COURT– THE JURISDICTION OF A COURT IS DETERMINED BY THE LAW IN FORCE AS AT THE TIME OF THE COMMENCEMENT OF AN ACTION
“It is settled law that the law in force as at the time of the commencement of an action determines the court vested with jurisdiction to determine the case. See Goldmark (Nig.) Ltd Vs. Ibafon (supra) cited by the Appellant and can also be found in 2012) LPELR-9349 (SC). O. H. M. B. Vs Garba (supra). Ekong & Ors. Vs. Oside & Ors. (2004) LPELR-5735 (CA). Eze & Ors. Vs. Udeh & Ors. (2017) LPELR-42716 (CA). Nasarawa State University & Anor. Vs. Nekere (2018) LPELR-44550 (CA) and Standard Chartered Bank Vs. Adegbite (2018) LPELR-4350. And as stated supra, the law in force as at the time the Appellant instituted his claims was Section 272 of the
Constitution and the trial Court was the right Court with jurisdiction to determine the complaint relating to employment of the 1 st Respondent and the guarantee agreement in respect thereof.

See also the provisions of Section 6(1) (c) and (e) of the Interpretation Act relied on by the Appellant which have been interpreted to be of the effect that the rights and obligations that accrued or acts done under a previous legal regime do not cease to be valid or cease to subsist because a new legal regime has replaced the previous one under which they accrued or were done. In that regard, new statute, including constitutional provisions, which are also interpreted in line with the Interpretation Act, must not be interpreted to have retrogressive effect to the detriment of existing rights or obligation. See Afolabi & Ors. Vs. Gov. Of Oyo State (19851 LPELR-196 (SC). Nasarawa State University & Anor. Vs. Nekere (supra). B.B. Apugo Ltd Vs. O.H.M.B. (2016) 13 NWLR (PT. 1529) 206 at 246 (SC). – PER B. B. ALIYU, J.C.A COURT

COURT – THE PRIMARY DUTY OF A COURT OF JUSTICE
“My lords having found that the trial Court was wrong to decline jurisdiction, what is the consequential order that this Court ought to make in the circumstances that will serve the interest of justice. There is no doubt that, where there is a wrong, there must be a remedy to right that wrong. Ubi jus ibi remedium. And doing justice is the cornerstone and foundation of our judicial system and our only aim as adjudicators. We must provide
a remedy where a party establishes a right, and we have the bounden duty in all causes and matters to make order necessary for doing justice to the parties deserving it. See Kayili V. Yilbuk f2015) LPELR-24323 (SC). – PER B. B. ALIYU, J.C.A

COURT OF APPEAL – CONDITIONS THAT MUST EXIST TO NECESSITATE THE COURT OF APPEAL INVOKING SECTION 15 OF THE COURT OF APPEAL ACT
“I have referred to Section 15 in my resolution of issues 3 and 4 supra and I adopt what I stated that the section empowers me to make order or to rehear the case as if the suit was initiated before this Court as court of first instance. See Obi Vs. INEC (2007) 11 NWLR (PT. 1046) 565 or (2007) LPELR-2166 (SC), where the Supreme Court interpreted the provisions of Section 16 now Section 15 of the Court of Appeal Act and stated five conditions that must exist to necessitate the Court of Appeal invoking Section 15. These are (1) the trial court must have the legal power (jurisdiction) to adjudicate on the matter; (2) the real issue raised upon by the claim of the Appellant at the trial Court must be seen to be capable of being distilled from the grounds of appeal; (3) all necessary materials must be available to the court for consideration; (4) the need for expeditious disposal of the case to meet the ends of justice must be apparent on the face of the materials presented and (5) the injustice of hardship that will follow if the case is remitted to the trial Court must manifest itself. – PER B. B. ALIYU, J.C.A

Statutes Referred To:

Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999(as amended)
Court of Appeal Act 2004.
Interpretation Act, CAP. 123 LFN 2004
National Industrial Court Act, 2006

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