Barristers & Solicitors
Interpretation of Judgement Vide Originating Summons by Courts of Co-ordinate Jurisdiction

In the Supreme Court of Nigeria

Holden at Abuja

Before Their Lordships

Chima Centus Nweze

Amina Adamu Augie

Helen Moronkeji Ogunwumiju

Ibrahim Mohammed Musa Saulawa

Emmanuel Akomaye Agim

Justices, Supreme Court

SC.337/2018

Between

Riok Nigeria Limited Appellant

  And

1. Incorporated Trustees of Nigerian Governors’ Forum

2. The Director-General, Nigeria Governors’ Forum

3. The Federal Government of Nigeria

4. The Hon. Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice

5. The Hon. Minister of Finance

6. Incorporated Trustees of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria

(Also known as Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON)

Representing all the Local Government Council and Area Councils of Nigeria)

7. Guarantee Trust Bank Plc (GTB)

8. Access Bank Plc                                     Respondents

(Lead Judgement delivered by Honourable Emmanuel Akomaye Agim, JSC)

Facts

By an Originating Summons, the Appellant commenced the action leading to this appeal against the Respondents at the Federal High Court, Abuja seeking inter alia, an order of court directing the banks (7th and 8th Respondents) to pay to it, the money in account numbers: 0231533758 and 0720380244 respectively, in the name of Nigerian Governors’ Forum, to defray the judgement sum against the 6th Respondent herein or part thereof, as ordered in Suit No. FCT/HC/CV/2129/14 between RIOK NIG. LTD. & 3 ORS. v THE INCORPORATED TRUSTEES OF ASSOCIATION OF LOCAL GOVERNMENTS OF NIGERIA (ALGON) as a first line charge from the money to the 1st to 3rd Respondent set aside from the London/Paris Club refund, for the payment or derivation for oil producing States and Local Governments and commitments on behalf of the Local Governments. It sought in the alternative, an order for the money due to the Appellant in the judgement in the referenced suit, be transferred to the Ministry of Justice to pay the Appellant after confirmation that the project for which the judgement was obtained has been commenced by the Appellant.

In the affidavit in support of the Originating Summons, it was averred that ALGON (6th Respondent herein), had obtained a judgement of the Federal High Court in FHC/ABJ/CS/130/13 – LINAS INTERNATIONAL LIMITED & 235 ORS. v THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA AND & 3 ORS., wherein it was adjudged entitled to the sum of US $3,188,079,505.96. Further to the foregoing judgement, the 6th Respondent awarded to the Appellant, a contract for the drilling of boreholes in the 774 Local Governments of the Federation, on the agreement that the contract would be funded from the judgement debt obtained in FHC/ABJ/CS/130/13. The Appellant commenced the execution of the contract, but owing to the disagreement between the Appellant and the Hon. Minister of Finance (5th Respondent), the Appellant instituted a suit at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, which court ordered that the Appellant be paid the total sum of US $797,019,876.49, representing 25% of the judgement sum in FHC/ABJ/CS/130/13, with a directive that the Appellant must first be paid, the sum of US $318,807,950,596 from the said fund.

Upon failure of the 3rd to 5th Respondent who had custody of the judgement sum in FHC/ABJ/CS/130/13 to honour the directive of court above, the Appellant instituted the suit leading to the present appeal. The court in the suit held that the Appellant was entitled to priority of payment, and the order bound both parties and non-parties to the suit. The court found for the Appellant, and granted the alternative relief prayed for by the Appellant. The 1st and 2nd Respondent, as well as the 4th Respondent, appealed the decision of court. The appellate court allowed the appeal of the 1st and 2nd Respondent. The appellate court held that by the reliefs sought by the Appellant, its action is for interpretation of the judgements in Suit Nos. FHC/ABJ/CS/130/13 and FHC/HC/CV/2129/2014. The Court of Appeal held that the whole exercise is an aberration in judicial process and a complete nullity, as the trial court lacked the jurisdiction and competence to adjudicate on the questions in the Originating Summons, as well as the reliefs sought. Dissatisfied with the decision, the Appellant has now appealed to the Supreme Court.

Issues for Determination 

The following issues were determined by the court:

1. Whether the Court of Appeal was not in error, when it held that the trial court (the Federal High Court) lacked the requisite jurisdiction to hear and determine the Appellant’s suit as constituted.

2. Whether from the questions for determination and reliefs sought in the Amended Originating Summons, the court below was not in grave error in its decision in reversing the judgement of the trial court, by holding that the Appellant’s case was for the interpretation of the extant judgements.  

Arguments

Arguing issues one and two together, counsel for the Appellant submitted that the lower court failed to scrupulously examine the questions for determination, the reliefs and affidavit evidence before abdicating its duty to determine the rights of the parties on its merits. He argued that although the court held that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit, the lower court turned around to determine issue two in the appeal, thereby unguardedly conceding that there was in the case over which the courts below can exercise jurisdiction and that the trial court rightly assumed jurisdiction over it. Counsel contended, relying on Section 251(1)(q) and (r) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) that the totality of the action leading to the appeal was an invitation for the trial court to interpret the provisions of Sections 6(6)(b) and 287(3) of the Constitution, which falls within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, contrary to the position of the lower court that the action was for interpretation of judgements. The Appellant sought protection of its indisputable right acquired under the judgement, and challenged the actions of the Respondents which constituted a threat/breach of its acquired rights and abdication of the Respondents’ constitutional duties. Counsel argued further that the issue of interpretation of judgement was considered by the trial court, and same was not made a live issue at the Court of Appeal by the parties. Thus, the consideration of the issue by the lower court who raised same suo motu without inviting parties to address the court thereon, was out of context.

Court’s Judgement and Rationale

Deciding the issues together, the Supreme Court disagreed with the position of the Appellant that there was no basis for the conclusion of the Court of Appeal that the questions raised for determination and the reliefs in the suit, invite an interpretation and enforcement of the judgements in Suit Nos. FHC/ABJ/CS/130/13 and FCT/HC/CV/2129/2014. The Apex Court held that the judgement of the Court of Appeal shows a consideration of the judgements referenced, the questions for determination, the reliefs claimed in the Originating Summons and paragraphs of the affidavit in support of the Originating Summons. Reproducing the questions and reliefs before the trial court, the Supreme Court held that the question posed by the Appellant, was whether the payment of the judgement sum to the several Plaintiffs in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/130/13 as ordered in the judgement therein, without giving priority of first payment to the Appellant, is not a disobedience of the order in the judgement in Suit No. FCT/HC/CV/2129/2014. Another question which arose from the questions and reliefs before the court, is whether the said judgement can be understood as affecting the rights and interests of the 1st, 2nd, 7th and 8th Respondents who were not parties to Suit Nos. FHC/ABJ/CS/130/13 and FCT/HC/CV/2129/2014. The Apex Court observed that the contentions above cannot be resolved without interpreting the said judgements, especially as the Respondents herein do not agree with the Appellant on the meaning and implication of the judgements. Under the guise of enforcing the said judgements, the Appellant sought to give the judgements a meaning that will ascribe to it the rights which the judgements did not contemplate, and create obligations against the Respondents that the judgements did not create.

Their Lordships held, agreeing with the decision of the Court of Appeal, that the trial court lacked the jurisdiction to interpret its judgement in FHC/ABJ/CS/130/13 and the judgement of the High court of the FCT, a court of coordinate status, in FCT/HC/CV/2129/2014. They relied on the decision in RACE AUTO SUPPLY COMPANY LTD & ORS. v ALHAJA FAOSAT AKIB (2006) 13 NWLR (Pt. 997) 333, where it was held that: “… a judgement of a court of law cannot be subjected to interpretation by a court of co-ordinate jurisdiction like a Deed, Will or an Instrument containing right and obligation of parties under Order 46 Rule 1 of the Lagos High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules”.

The Supreme Court held that a High Court has no jurisdiction to entertain and hear a suit for the determination of the meaning or implication of a judgement of the same or another High Court or court of coordinate status or concurrent jurisdiction, to secure the enforcement of the judgement one way or the other. If it admits such a case, it would inexorably review the said judgement, an exercise it has no jurisdiction to engage in. Except actions seeking to nullify a judgement for lack of jurisdiction or fraud, a court has no jurisdiction to review its judgement or that of a court of coordinate status – SPDC (NIG.) v EDAMKUE & ORS. (2009) LPELR- 3048(SC).

Given the foregoing, the court held that the appeal failed and dismissed same accordingly.

Dissenting Opinion of Hon. Chima Centus Nweze, JSC

His Lordship opined that the Federal High Court is often called upon to interpret rules and statutes. By the specific provisions in Sections 251(1)(q) and (r) of the 1999 Constitution.

The crux of the Appellant’s action at the trial Federal High Court is the interpretation and application of the provisions of the Constitution, with respect to ensuring that its claim to the 6th Respondent’s share of the London/Paris club refund, which was released to the 1st and 2nd Respondent, is given priority consideration. Gleaning through the reliefs of the Appellant, none relates to interpretation of judgement as the decided by the Court of Appeal. The questions and reliefs of the Appellant, possess the essentials necessary to institute an action founded on an executive or administrative action or decision by the Federal Government or any of its agencies. This is within the ambit of Section 251(1)(q) and (r) of the 1999 Constitution. The Appellant did not seek to review the judgements in Suit Nos. FHC/ABJ/CS/130/2013 and FCT/HC/CV/2129/2014.

Originating Summons is one of the ways of commencing action in courts. An action commenced in this manner presupposes that the facts are not in dispute, and what is being asked for is interpretation of a document or law. The mere indication that an Originating Summons was brought pursuant to a named enactment, does not ipso facto raise questions on the cited enactment for the court to interpret. The Court of Appeal held that the Appellant was not a party to Suit No. FHC/AB/CS/130/13 and so, could not have acquired any legal interest under the judgement emanating therefrom. This issue formed part of the question raised by the Appellant for determination, in the Originating Summons. His Lordship opined that the determination of the question in this regard, would not require an interpretation of the judgement.

Appeal Dismissed by a Majority Decision of 4:1

Representation

Chief Olusola Oke, SAN with J.M. Mathew, Esq. and Tolulope Oke, Esq. for the Appellant.

Olumuyiwa Akinboro, SAN with Boniface Bassey, Esq.; Akinleye Olupitan, Esq. and Kenneth Iweka, Esq. for the 1st and 2nd Respondent.

Olumuyiwa Akinboro, SAN with O.O. Omiyere, Esq. for the 3rd and 4th Respondent.

Dele Oye, Esq. with James Udor Ebe, Esq. and Nkem Ezebunor, Esq. for the 6th Respondent.