The Supreme Court is the apex court in Nigeria and it is located in the Federal Capital of the FCT Abuja. It is established under Section 230(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) to have both original and appellate jurisdiction in civil and criminal disputes.
Structure and Organization
The Supreme Court is composed of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (currently Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed), who is the head of the judicial arm of the government and not more than twenty-one (21) Justices of whom are appointed by the President of the Federal Republic on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) subject to the confirmation of the Senate as provided by Section 230 (2) and 231 of the Constitution. It goes further to state that a person will not be qualified to hold the office of the CJN or Justice of the Supreme court unless he is a qualified legal practitioner for not less than fifteen (15) years.
In respect to the constitution of the Supreme Court, Section 234 of the Constitution provides that “for the purpose of exercising any jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal conferred by this section, the court shall be duly constituted if it consists of not less than five Justices of the Supreme Court”. However, where the Supreme Court is sitting to consider an appeal brought under Section 233 (2) which will be highlighted below or to exercise its original jurisdiction in accordance with Section 232, the Court will be constituted by seven (7) Justices.
Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court
Jurisdiction is the inherent power of the court to decide a dispute between parties. Every court in Nigeria is established by some laws and it usually the law establishing the court that also defines the jurisdiction of the court. Before a court can have jurisdiction it must be properly constituted as to qualification, numbers of members of the bench, and the subject matter of the dispute must be within the jurisdiction of the court.
In the case of the Supreme Court, it has both original and appellate jurisdiction in disputes between the Federation and State government and in any dispute between States as provided in Section 232(1) which states that “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 the dispute involves any question of law or fact on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends”.
It goes further to provide that the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is also conferred on by any Act of the National Assembly, provided that no original jurisdiction shall be conferred in respect to any criminal matter.
The Supreme Court also has the sole authority to determine appeals from the Court of Appeal as Section 233 of the Constitution provides that “the Supreme Court shall have the jurisdiction, to the exclusion of other courts of law in Nigeria to determine appeals from the Court of Appeal”.
An appeal in a dispute shall lie from the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court as of right for the following cases as provided in Section 233 (2) of the Constitution as follows;
- Where the ground of appeal involves questions of law alone, on decisions in any civil or criminal proceedings before the Court of Appeal;
- Decisions in any civil or criminal proceedings on questions as to the interpretation or application of the Constitution;
- Decisions in any civil or criminal proceedings on questions as to whether any of the provisions of Chapter IV of the Constitution has been, is been, or is likely to be contravened in relation to any person;
- Decisions in any criminal proceedings in which any person has been sentenced to death by the Court of Appeal or in which the Court of Appeal has affirmed a sentence of death imposed by any other court;
- Decisions on any questions-
- Whether any person has been validly elected to the office of the President or Vice-President under the Constitution
- Whether the term of the office of the President or Vice-President has ceased;
- Whether the office of the President or Vice-President has become vacant and,
- Any other cases as may be an Act of the National Assembly.
Subject to the provisions of the above, an appeal shall lie from the decisions of the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court with the leave of the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court may dispose of the application for leave if it is of the opinion that the interest of justice does not require an oral hearing of the application.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in Nigeria and is has both original and appellate jurisdiction, the subject matter of which has been enunciated above.
By Winifred Idiaru, an Associate at Resolution Law Firm