Administrative Law

CAUSE OF ACTION VIS-À-VIS ITS PREVALENT EFFECT ON THE JURISDICTION OF THE COURT

INTRODUCTION

It is trite law that where a party has no Cause of Action it can affect the Jurisdiction of a Court, that is, where a Suit is commenced by a party who has no Cause of Action, the Court is not vested with jurisdiction to try such a matter.

Firstly, we need to understand the meaning of the concepts CAUSE OF ACTION and JURISDICTION.

Cause of Action simply means a set of facts which gives rise to a Claim enforceable in Court. It’s a legally recognized wrong which gives rise to the right to sue. Jurisdiction on the other hand means the power of the Court to determine a dispute between parties on a matter and give its judgment.

The Court can only exercise its jurisdiction where a reasonable Cause of action has arisen. That is, a wrong must be committed and the aggrieved party would turn to the Court as the last resort to help settle the issue. The Court can only step in where the claim shows that a wrong has actually been committed.

The locus classicus case of Madukolu vs. Nkemdilim [1962] 1 ALL NLR 587 outlined conditions before the Court can have jurisdiction to entertain any matter to wit;

[1]    It is properly constituted as regards numbers and qualifications of its members; and

[2]    The subject matter of the case is within its jurisdiction, and there is      no feature in the case which prevents the Court from exercising its      jurisdiction: and

[3]    The case comes before the Court initiated by due process of law; and

[4]    Any condition precedent to the exercise of its jurisdiction has been fulfilled.

It suffices to say that where any of these conditions are lacking, the Court is divested of jurisdiction. That been said, brings us to the crux of our discussion on whether the absence of a reasonable Cause of Action can divest the Court of its jurisdiction.

One might say that none of the above conditions bothers on Cause of Action and that is true however a thorough look at the second part of No.2 above which says ‘…and there is no feature in the case which prevents the Court from exercising its jurisdiction’ is all-encompassing and can be said to be a feature which can prevent the Court from exercising its jurisdiction, and as such, we can say that Cause of action is a feature which can divest the Court of its jurisdiction.

Does the Court have jurisdiction to determine a suit commenced by a party who has no Cause of action?

The Supreme Court stated in the case of F.R.I.N vs. Gold [2007] 11 NWLR [pt 1044] 7 @ 18-19 [H-A]

Jurisdiction is a very fundamental issue that robs on the competence of a Court to hear and decide a matter. A party that submits itself to a Court for adjudication of a matter for which he is seeking redress, but without cause of action, cannot clothe the court with jurisdiction to hear and determine the matter, and even if by an oversight the Court vests itself with jurisdiction and decides the case, an appellate Court is bound to nullify the decision.

From the foregoing, it can be deduced that where a suit has commenced and at whatever stage of legal proceedings, the defendants can raise the issue of jurisdiction be it at the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court OLORIODE vs. OYEBI [1984] 1 SCNLR 390, EZOMO vs. OYAKHIRE [1985] 1 NWLR [2] 195, OLOBA vs. AKEREJA [1988] 3 NWLR [84] 508. Likewise, where the defendant at whatever stage of the proceeding can prove that the Claimants have no Cause of action the trial Judge is bound to strike it out and dismiss the action because lack of jurisdiction robs a Court of competence, and where the trial Judge proceeds to try same, an appellate Court is bound to nullify the decision. See F.R.I.N vs. GOLD [supra].

Finally, The Supreme Court again was vivid in stating the true position of the law on this issue. MUHAMMAD J.S.C. put the matter succinctly in ONUEKWUSI v. THE REGISTERED TRUSTEES OF THE CHRIST METHODIST ZION CHURCH (2011) 6 NWLR [PART 1243]  PG 341 where he held that:

“Each of the factual elements making up a cause of action should come into being before any proceedings are commenced, otherwise the proceedings will be premature and consequently unsustainable”

It is pertinent at this juncture to state unequivocally that a cause of action is a specie of Jurisdiction.