It is improper to raise issues of jurisdiction in piecemeal fashion.

 

Oko v. State [2017] 17 NWLR (Pt. 1593) 24 at 65-66, paras. H-A, per Peter-Odili, JSC:

“Clearly, this partition or fragmentation of the jurisdictional question is one to which the appellant is estopped from embracing. It is all the more foreclosed as counsel had the time and opportunity of raising the issue of the lack of consent in the trial court and failed to do so. He lost his chance which he cannot call up as the fancy takes him.”

Blogger’s Note:

The pronouncement of the Supreme Court above is significant in addressing the practice of some counsel who might have observed some objectionable points touching on jurisdiction but would rather elect to raise the points piecemeal. That is to say, as a matter of tactics, counsel may observe 3 jurisdictional questions but would file a preliminary objection or motion raising one or two grounds only; leaving the third as a ‘spare bullet’ to be used (either at the court of first instance or on appeal) should the earlier application fail.

Issue of jurisdiction

The apex Court has moved against such practice holding that it is not proper to split jurisdictional questions piecemeal and in different courts. The reasoning of the Supreme Court is that ‘a party cannot be allowed to partition his course of action in bits and pieces’ as such runs contrary to the principle that there must be an end to litigation. The Court relied on the earlier case of Ejiofodomi v. Okonkwo (1982) 12 NSCC 422 where the Supreme Court observed that challenge to court’s jurisdiction could be based on diverse points; nevertheless, it is wrong for a party to argue a particular issue of jurisdiction up to appeal court and then jettison the issue, only to raise a new jurisdictional issue for the appellate court to consider.

At a glance, it would appear like the foregoing runs against the principle that an issue of jurisdiction can be raised at any time even for the first time on appeal and without leave. See Nasir v. Kano State Civil Service Commission [2010] 6 NWLR (Pt 1190) 253 at 276.

However, one is persuaded by the ‘mischief’ which the Supreme Court seeks to cure and that is to avoid needless delay and put an end to litigation. It is incumbent on counsel to ensure a prior thorough review of a case and to raise any issue of jurisdiction in good time. After all, it is trite that an issue of jurisdiction, though a threshold issue, should be raised at the earliest opportunity. See Nonye v. Anyichie [2005] 2 NWLR (Pt. 910) 623.

Jurisdictional issues

Indeed, in deserving cases, the courts are inclined to determine an issue of issue of jurisdiction raised for the first time even on appeal. Put simply, the apex Court did not consider the instant case (Oko v. State) as falling under one of those deserving cases. Why? In the case, a charge was before the Chief Magistrate, Yala, Cross River State against the Appellant and others. Subsequently, Information was preferred before the Cross River State High Court against them. The Appellant challenged the jurisdiction of the High Court on the ground that the charge was earlier on before the Chief Magistrate. The High Court Judge presiding considered the objection in the light of all that transpired and ruled that it had jurisdiction and proceeded with the trial. At the close of the prosecution’s case, the Defendant made a no case submission which was overruled by the learned trial Judge and the Court of Appeal. On a further appeal to the Supreme Court, the Appellant contended for the first time that the prior consent or direction of the High Court was not obtained before the Information was preferred and so, the trial Court lacked jurisdiction to try the case. The Supreme Court held that the Appellant cannot be allowed to challenge the jurisdiction of court in a fragmented style. The apex Court however had no difficulty in holding that the failure to obtain the said consent did not invalidate the trial. The no case submission was also overruled upon due consideration and appeal consequently dismissed.

The brutality of SARS has long been judicially noticed.

 

David Alunyo v. Inspector General Police & Ors – Suit No. FCT/HC/M/5449/09, per Belgore, J.:

 

But was the detention beyond the prescribed limit and was the injury inflicted right in law? The answer is in the negative. The applicant was detained for 3 days. This is unconstitutional. By the provisions of Section 35(5) of the 1999 constitution as amended, arrest and detention of a citizen should only be for ONE DAY. The point must be made clearly that any violation of a citizen’s guaranteed fundamental right, for however short a period, must attract penalty under the law. See Alabo v. Boyes (1984) 5 NCLR 830; Jimoh v. A. G. Federation (1988) 4 RLRA 513. To make the matter worse, the applicant was subjected to grave inhuman condition, indignity and brutality which is not expected of any civilized police force. The conduct of the affected police officers who handled the investigation left much to be desired. It is roundly condemnable. A person or state agents who are called upon to deprive other citizens or persons of their personal liberties in the discharge of what they consider to be their duty should strictly observe the civilized forms and rule of law.

Blogger’s Note:

This was a fundamental rights suit filed by the Applicant against the Inspector General of Police, Commissioner of Police, FCT and SARS. The facts of the case accepted by the Court are that the applicant was accused of stealing a car. The applicant was arrested and detained by the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) for 3 days -i.e., from 1/7/09 to 4/7/09. Consequent upon the arrest and detention of the Applicant, he was thoroughly beaten, stripped naked, handcuffed, tied with a rubber as a result of which his health rapidly deteriorated. The Applicant’s vehicle that was taken from him was later released to him. On the 2nd day of his detention, he was taken to hospital. The Applicant was on the 4th day of his detention granted police bail. The Court found the conduct of SARS in the process as condemnable and delivered Judgment in favour of the Applicant, awarding him 2 Million Naira as damages.

The above case represent one of the numerous fundamental rights cases hanging over the Nigeria Police and SARS following several cases of fundamental rights breaches. In view of the unlawful activities of some members of the Squad nationwide in fairly recent years, one can reasonably liken SARS to a “terror group”. Currently, the public has raised alarm over the excesses of SARS, pressing for the scrapping of the Squad. In a swift reaction, the IGP has indicated that SARS would undergo some form of reorganisation and that all the allegations levelled against them would be investigated. It is to be recalled that SARS (which is one of the sections in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Nigeria Police, headed by a Commissioner of Police) was actually formed to specially battle the menace of armed robbery plaguing the nation.

SARS brutality judicially noticed

Image credit: The Guardian.

Our suggestion is that the reorganisation should involve a total re-orientation, re-education and re-training of the Squad members. At present, even the dress code of the Squad members sometimes while on patrol makes it difficult to differentiate them from real armed robbers. This leaves much to be desired, and should also be looked into. The Nigeria’s SARS should, for instance, appear like the United States’ SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics).

It is our hope that this exercise by the IGP would be decisive and effective, yielding the desired profits so that the Squad can focus on the primary reason for its formation.

Read the Judgment here.

Featured Image credit: YNaija.