Ike Nnachi, Abakaliki
The Port Harcourt Division of the Appeal Court has upturned a Federal High Court judgment which had awarded over N30bn against Ebonyi State Government and a garnishee order.
The Appellate court in a unanimous judgment set aside the lower court’s judgment for lack of jurisdiction and proceeded to strike same out for lack of merit.
The Federal High Court Port Harcourt presided over by Justice Stephen Daylop Pam had on the 15th day of July, 2022 delivered judgment against Ebonyi State Government in a suit brought to it by Andrew Bishopton Limited and two other claimants over a failed/discontinued contract for the recovery of excess deductions from Paris Club loan.
The Claimants had approached the lower Court to claim, among other things, the sum of N30bn and other ancillary claims against the State Government as irreparable damages for failure to pay a 25 percent Commission on the failed contract, which the Federal High Court granted.
Dissatisfied with the lower court’s judgment, the State Government appealed the matter.
The Appeal had Ebonyi State Government and the State Attorney General as Appellants in the suit marked: Appeal No: CA/PH/321/2022.
Andrew Bishopton Limited, Mauritz Walton Nigeria Limited and Central Bank of Nigeria were the respondents.
The State Government challenged the judgment of the lower Court on the grounds of improper determination of the jurisdiction of the trial Court, the facts of the case and circumstances surrounding the suit.
In his argument, Counsel to the Appellants, Emeka Etiaba, (SAN) while referring to section 251(1) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, and the Order 2 rule 2 of the Federal High Court Civil Rule 2019, submitted that the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt had no jurisdiction to handle the matter.
He contended that the facts before the Court were hotly contested by the parties, asserting that the seriousness of the conflict was one that documents could resolve.
Mr Etiaba also submitted that the evidence before the trial Court showed that the 1st Respondent never recovered any money for the Appellants as shown in the available exhibits.
He noted, however, that the lower court erred when it failed to take into account exhibits tendered by the appellants which would have swung the case in their favour.
In a ruling on the suit delivered by Justices Gabriel O. Kolawole, Olabode A. Adegbehingbe and Abdul-Azeez Waziri, on the 3rd day of April, 2023, the Court of Appeal unanimously resolved all the four grounds of appeal in favour of the Appellants which is Ebonyi State government and the State Attorney-General.
The lead Justice, Justice Waziri held that the trial judge was wrong to have assumed jurisdiction arguing that he does not have the competence and jurisdiction to do so
Justice Waziri therefore, submitted thus: “With the resolution of the four issues donated by the Appellants in their favour, the destiny of this appeal is obvious.
“The appeal is allowed, and the judgment of the trial Court is hereby set aside for lack of jurisdiction, same therefore is struck out.
“Parties are to bear their respective costs for prosecuting and defending the appeal,” he said.