By Onuzure Dania
THE Court of Appeal will this year turn 40. The court chose not to celebrate this landmark event with much fanfare despite its great strides in the face of monumental challenges.
Established 40 years ago, the evolution of the Nigerian Court of Appeal is intriguing and fascinating.
Establishment and evolution: The court’s history and evolution can be understood from the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1963. That Constitution did not provide expressly for the establishment of a Federal Court of Appeal and the different regions as they existed at that time had their appeal courts which served as intermediate courts. This was provided for at Section 127 of the 1963 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and it gave the right of appeal from the High Court to that Court.
Ironically, the incursion of the military in Nigerian body polity on the 15th January, 1966 suspended the 1963 Constitution and its provisions for regional courts of appeal.
Eventually, the military government established the Federal Court of Appeal in 1976 by the Constitution (Amendment) by Decree No. 2 of 1976, (by amending Section 121 of the 1963 Constitution), thus giving birth to the Court of Appeal as we know it today.
Section 217(1) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979 formally established the Court and it provided:
“There shall be a Federal Court of Appeal.”
Again, another military Decree changed the nomenclature of the court when there was a change of baton in military rulership on December 31, 1983. The court’s name changed from Federal Court of Appeal to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal is the only court directly below the Supreme Court in hierarchy and jurisdiction. Appeals from the court go directly to the Apex Court.
Jurisdiction: The court is empowered to entertain and hear appeals directly from the Federal High Court, High Court, Sharia Court of Appeal, Customary Court of Appeal, court martial or any other tribunal as specified by an act of the National Assembly.
Exclusivity of Jurisdiction
The Court by the provisions of S.239 (1) CFRN has exclusive jurisdiction to:
- Determine whether or not the President or Vice President has been validly elected.
- The term of office of the President or vice President has ceased.
- The office of the President or vice President has become vacant.
In addition to these, by the provision of the Electoral Act (as amended) 2011 all appeals arising from electoral tribunals with relation to legislative office at state and federal levels terminate at the this court.
Appointment and Qualification for Justices of the Court of Appeal
Justices of this court are appointed by the President on the recommendation of the national judicial council, Section S.238 (1) of the Constitution. Before a person can be qualified to hold the office of Justice of this court, such person must have been a legal practitioner for not less than 12 years.
The head of the Court of Appeal is usually referred to as the President of the Court of Appeal and present President is the Honourable Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa (CFR) who has the privilege of superintending its 40th anniversary.
One of the court’s greatest strengths lies in the constitutional provision ‘The Court of Appeal shall, to the exclusion of any other court of Law in Nigeria, have original jurisdiction to hear and determine any question.as to whether: (a) any person has been validity elected to the office of President or Vice-President under this Constitution; or (b) the term of office of the President or Vice-President has ceased; or (c) the office of President or Vice-President has become vacant.’
Saving the Nation’s Democracy
The Court has on several occasions and in several cases courageously defended the nation’s democracy by its timely judicial interventions in sensitive and chaotic highly volatile political cases to save the day. The recent Ondo and Rivers states election cases could be recalled.
Quick Facts of Profile
The Courts statistics shows that between 2010 and July 2016 the Court received a total of 52, 550 appeals in its various divisions, out of which it successfully decided 30, 869 appeals and motion with Lagos, Benin and Port Harcourt and Enugu having the highest of these appeals. Lagos – 8,878, Benin 5,795, Port Harcourt 4,706 and Enugu 3,656.