BY CALEB AYANSINA
A suit challenging the power of the President of the Customary Court of Appeal, Abuja to adjudicate over a civil matter, recently became a subject of argument before an Abuja High Court, as two senior members of the Bar, who appeared before the High Court on the fateful day argued extensively.
Although the two legal practitioners, Dr. Alex Izinyon, SAN and Dr. Olumide Ayeni, were not party to the suit before the High Court, in which the plaintiff is asking the court to declare that the 2007 Act of the Customary Court of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT is illegal, null and void, but they argued in support of the case before Justice Ugochukwu Ogakwu, that one would believe they were briefed to handle the matter.
The matter was filed by Proforte Limited against the President of Customary Court of Appeal, Abuja and nine others, following the order granted by the Customary Court, Mpape, Abuja in a suit by Uvona Ezekiel Agocha and Idibe Francis Oko, where the company had claimed that it was dispossessed the of its property valued at about N1million wrongly.
Joined as defendants in the suit are the Chairman, Customary Court, Mpape, Abuja, Jibo Danladi, Uloma Ukomadu, Rabi Agora Remawa, Eric Opia , CAC Agidi, Uvona Ezekiel Agocha, Idibe Francis Oko and Attorney-General of the Federation.
The plaintiff is praying the court to invalidate all sections of FCT Customary Court Act 2007, which vested the customary court with unlimited civil jurisdictions.
The plaintiff is further praying the court to determine “whether the originating summons procedure is appropriate for instituting the reliefs sought, having regard to the circumstances of the case. The plaintiff is also praying the court to determine “whether the Federal Capital Territory Customary Court Act no. 8, 2007 is constitutional in determining issues raised in the light of the composite effect of sections 6(1), (2), (3), (4), (6)(a) & (b); 257 as well as other provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, and whether the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja has the jurisdiction, power and/or vires to determine and pronounce on the constitutionality or otherwise of the FCT Customary Court Act no. 8, 2007 or any part thereof.”
But Izinyon, SAN, in his argument, posited, “I respectfully submitted that the action is incompetent as the remedy of judicial review cannot lie against the Customary Court constituted by an Act of the National Assembly, which has specifically laid down the procedure for challenging the propriety or otherwise of the decision of the customary court. This is clearly spelt out in sections 48 and 29 of the Customary Court Act, 2007. “This issue canvassed here can be raised before the customary court and if dissatisfied, appeal to the customary court of appeal vides section 267 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. If further dissatisfied appeal lies to the court of appeal. See section 240 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
“This court cannot pronounce on the validity of the Customary Court FCT Act, 2007 just because the use of unlimited jurisdiction on any court, having regard to section 6(4) of the constitution.
“It is now settled law that where the words of a statute are clearer and unambiguous, the court function is to give it the liberal interpretation and no more. See the case of Grosvenor Casinos Ltd. V. Halaou (2009) 10 NWLR. It is left to the National Assembly, if they felt that, it conflicts with any other law to amend it but until this is done, the extant law remain valid, in this case the provision of section 14(1) & (2) and the Schedule thereto. “It is therefore submitted that there is no need for this court to waste time pronouncing on the validity or otherwise of the customary court Act or section 14 (1, 2) and 16 as they are clear from above submission.” He prayed the court to strike out the suit.
However, Dr, Olumide Ayeni said the suit before the court is properly constituted because any argument pertaining to law made for the FCT is best adjudicated upon by the court.
“It is the respectful submission of Amicus Curiae that issue one as formulated in this brief, be resolved in the affirmative and that the respective defendants’ preliminary objections or challenges on this ground be adjudged misconceived and therefore ought to be dismissed.
“Further support for the foregoing position appears to be well settled since it is indisputable that in matters relating to the construction of a written law or statute as in the case of the present circumstances involving the FCT Customary Court Act No. 8, 2007 originating summons procedure is not only appropriate but indeed apt.
“In this regard, Amicus Curiae intends to canvass arguments towards demonstrating and inviting this Court to resolve issue no.2 in the negative. That is to say, that the FCT Customary Court Act No. 8, 2007 is unconstitutional and therefore null, void and of no effect whatsoever. Resolving issue No.3 in the affirmative that is to say, that this court sitting as the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja has complete jurisdiction, powers to determine and pronounce on the constitutionality or otherwise of the Federal Capital Territory Customary Court Act No. 8, 2007. See Attorney-General, Abia State & 2 Ors. V. Attorney-General, Federation & 33 Ors (2006) 16 NWLR (Part 1005) 265, 3373-374 H-B”, Ayeni submitted. Meanwhile, the court has said it will on March 17, 2011 decide on the suit.