IN THE NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT OF NIGERIA
IN THE CALABAR JUDICIAL DIVISION
HOLDEN AT CALABAR
BEFORE HIS LORDSHIP: HON. JUSTICE M. N. ESOWE
DATE:23RD OCTOBER , 2019 SUIT NO:NICN/CA/28/2016
1. PATRIOT KATE ODI
(CRS COMMANDANT) CLAIMANTS/RESPONDENTS
2. PATRIOTJAMES OCHICHE
(DEPUTY CRS COMMANDANT)
1. DOMINIC OKWECHE
2. BISONG ODU DEFENDANTS/RESPONDENTS
(For themselves and on behalf of Dominic Okweche led
Peace Corps of Nigeria)
3. THE INCORPORATED TRUSTEES OF PEACE CORPS OF NIGERIA……… DEFENDANT/APPLICANT
2. F.N NACHAMADA Esq. for the 1st and 2nd Defendants
3. J.E CHUKKWUEMEKA Esq. for the 3rd Defendant
This suit was instituted via a general form of Complaint dated 30thof March, 2017 and filed same day. The reliefs sought by the Claimant are as follows:
a. A DECLARATION that Dominic Okweche and Bissong Odu are not the legitimate Commandant and Deputy Commandant respectively of the Peace Corps of Nigeria Cross River State Command.
b. A DECLARATION that Patriot Kate Odi and Patriot James Ochiche are the State Commandant and Deputy State Commandant of the Peace Corps of Nigeria and only them have the Right and Power to act as such in their various capacities in which they are entitled to.
c. AN ORDER prohibiting Dominic Okweche and Bissong Odu from acting, operating or parading themselves as Commandant and Deputy Commandant of the Peace Corps of Nigeria, Cross River State Command or doing anything that will conflict with the rights and duties of the claimants.
d. AN ORDER directing the 3rd Defendant to refrain from dealing with the 1st and 2nd Defendant whether directly or indirectly instead of Claimants who are the legitimate leaders of the 3rd Defendant.
e. AN ORDER of perpetual injunction restraining the 1st and 2nd defendants from operating as state Commandant and Deputy State Commandant of the Corps in Cross River State or parading themselves as such while the Claimants are still the leaders of the Corps in Cross River State Command.
f. AN ORDER of perpetual injunction restraining the 3rd Defendant from dealing with 1st and 2nd Defendants as if they are leaders of Corps in Cross River State while the Claimants are still the leaders of the Corps in Cross River State Command.
g. General damages in the sum of N50,000,000.00 (Fifty Million Naira) only for interfering with the rights and functions that are only meant to be exercised by the Claimants , embarrassment, intimidation, harassment meted to the Claimants by the Defendants.
By an Application brought by way of Motion on Notice dated and filed on the 16th of June 2017; brought pursuant to Order 17 Rule 1 of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria Rules 2017 and the inherent jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, the Applicant/Defendants prays the Court for:
AN ORDER of this Honourable Court dismissing this suit for want of jurisdiction
The last prayer is the omnibus prayer.
The grounds for the objection are:
a. That section 254 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides for the subject matter jurisdiction of the Honourable Court.
b. That the facts and circumstances of the case is not within the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court i.e. this Honourable Court.
c. That this Honourable Court lacks the jurisdiction to handle cause of action arising from the operation and administration of the Incorporated Trustees registered pursuant to the provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA).
d. That the Peace Corps of Nigeria is registered and incorporated under Part C of Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2004.
e. This Honourable Court does not have the subject matter jurisdiction to hear and determine the claims herein.
f. The suit is an abuse of court process.
In support of the Application is a 10-paragraphs affidavit deposed to by one Abdusalami Shuaibu, the Director of Administration of the 3rd Defendant. The Applicant also filed a written address in compliance with the rules of this Honourable Court.
3RDDEFENDANT/APPLICANT’S WRITTEN ADDRESS IN SUPPORT OF PRELIMINARY OBJECTION
In Applicant’s written address, Counsel on behalf of Applicant formulated a sole issue for determination, that is:
Whether this Honourable Court has the jurisdiction to entertain the suit of the Claimants/Respondents
Counsel to the 3rd Defendant/Applicant submitted that for a Court to exercise jurisdiction in a case, it must be statutorily or constitutionally conferred on it. Also, for a Court to determine whether it has the jurisdiction to entertain a matter, the Court has to examine the pleadings of the Claimant. He referred the Court to the cases of Nnonye v. Anyicha (2005) All FWLR (Pt. 253) 604.
He submitted that the claims of the Claimants do not fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Court as they are not challenging their removal or dismissal as members of the Peace Corps of Nigeria, rather, they are challenging an alleged attempt to hijack the Cross River State Command Peace Corps.
Furthermore, he submitted that the affairs of the 3rd Defendant is regulated by its constitution in accordance with the provisions in the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA).
Learned Counsel to the 3rd Defendant/Applicant therefore urged the Court to strike out Claimant’s suit for want of jurisdiction.
CLAIMANT/RESPONDENT’S RESPONSE TO APPICANT’S MOTION
Counsel to the Respondents made an oral submission before this Court on the 11th of June 2019. He referred the Court to the case of Royal Exchange Assurance Nigeria Ltd V. Aswani Textile Ind. Ltd (2012) 7 QRR Pt. 51. He also referred to Order 17 Rule 12 of the rules of this Honourable Court and submitted that the affidavit in support of Applicant’s motion is not in compliance with the Evidence Act. That paragraphs 3,4,5 and 7 of the said affidavit are law and not facts. He therefore urged the Court to strike out the said paragraphs.
Having gone through the Application and Learned Counsel arguments for and against the grant of this Application, this Court has distilled a sole issue for the just determination of this Application, to wit:
Whether given the circumstances, there is merit in this Application.
The Application herein seeks an order of this Honourable Court striking out this suit for want of jurisdiction. It is trite that jurisdiction is the blood that gives life to the survival of an action in a Court of law. Jurisdiction must be vested on a Court by the constitution or a statute without which a Court cannot rightfully determine the rights of parties or make declarations or binding orders. See Kalu V. Odili (1992) 6 SCNJ (Pt. 1) 76 at 90.
Specifically, Section 254 C (1) (a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides that:
Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 251, 257, 272 and anything contained in this constitution and in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly, the National Industrial Court shall have and exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in civil cases and matter:
a. relating to or connected with any labour, employment, trade unions, industrial relation and matters arising from workplace, the condition of service, including health safety, welfare of labour, employee, worker and matter incidental thereto or connected therewith…
On the other hand, Section 251(1)(e) of the 1999 constitution confers exclusive jurisdiction on the Federal High Court in matters arising from the operation of the Companies and Allied Matters Act or any other enactment replacing the Act or regulating the operation of companies incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act. For the avoidance of doubt, the said section provides as follows:
251(1) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in this Constitution and anything in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly, the Federal High Court shall have and exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other Court in civil causes and matter:
(e) Arising from the operation of the companies and Allied Matters Act or any other enactment replacing the Act or regulating the operation of companies incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act.
The Court in Amalgamated Trustee Ltd V. Assoc. Discount Houses Ltd (2007) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1056) 118 held that it is the Federal High Court that has the exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine such civil cause and matter if the complaint deals with actions involving regulating, control or management of companies.
In order to determine whether a Court of law has the jurisdiction to entertain a matter, the court process to be examined is the Claimant’s pleadings. See Nnonye v. Anyichie (2005) All FWLR. From the pleadings of the Claimant in this suit, it can be deduced that there is a tussle between the Claimants and the 1st and 2nd Defendants as to who are the Commandant and Deputy Commandant of the Peace Corps of Nigeria, Cross River State Command. From what I can deduce from the pleadings before the Court, the Peace Corps of Nigeria was initially registered. At a time, a resolution was passed by the Cross River State House of Assembly to the effect that the State Government should engage and deploy the Corps members to provide security in primary and post primary schools so as to complement the Governments efforts in the fight against cultism, kidnapping and other social vices and such ancillary services that the government may consider necessary. That the government should allocate office, accommodation and operational vehicles to enable the Corps operate etc. From the pleadings before me, it is also evident that in the course of time, members of the Peace Corps of Nigeria took a step further to register the trustees of the Corps with the Corporate Affairs Commission under Part C of the Companies and Allied Matter Act.
From the appraisal of the facts before me, the Peace Corps of Nigeria is a Non-Governmental Organisation which can be likened to the Boys Scout, Girls Guild, Boys Brigade etc, but has Trustees registered/incorporated with the Corporate Affairs Commission for the purpose of management and control of the Peace Corps. It is also public knowledge that a bill was sponsored at the National Assembly for an Act establishing the Peace Corps of Nigeria. Though the bill was passed, it is yet to be assented to by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Furthermore, the Peace Corps of Nigeria has a wide net of employees under it which are recruited for sundry purposes.
For all intents are purposes, there is no evident before me, as it stands, that the Claimants and the 1st and 2nd Defendants are members of the Board of Trustees of the Incorporated Trustees of the Peace Corps of Nigeria but employees of the Peace Corp of Nigeria, and I so hold.
With regards to the 3rd Defendant (Incorporated Trustees of the Peace Corps of Nigeria), I could recall they were not initially joined in this suit but sought to join themselves, and they were accordingly joined by the order of this Honourable Court. As the Incorporated Trustees of the Peace Corps, the overall control and management of the Peace Corps is vested on them. If the dispute herein was between a member of trustees and a fellow member of trustees, perhaps the Court would have found merit in the Applicant’s Application as to the Court not having jurisdiction to hear the matter in consideration of Section 251 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the decision of the Court in Amalgamated Trustee Ltd (Supra). However, being that the dispute before me is between employees of the Peace Corps of Nigeria, this Court has the requisite jurisdiction to adjudicate in this matter being a matter arising from workplace and employment by virtue of Section 254C of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), and I so hold. The Court therefore finds no merit in this Application and same is hereby dismissed.
I would want to also state at this junction that I noticed that the affidavit filed in support of the processes so far filed by the 3rd Defendant were deposed to not by a member of the board of trustees but a member and staff of the Peace Corps of Nigeria. The proper person to depose to such affidavit is either the Chairman, secretary of the board of trustees or member of the board of trustee. Counsel to 3rd Defendant should take note of this in subsequent processes.
From all that have been said above, the Application fails and same is hereby dismissed.
Ruling entered accordingly.
HON. JUSTICE M.N. ESOWE