although a counterclaim is a separate action and a separate decision is made with respect to the counterclaim, it must be directly related to the main claim and not external and independent of the subject matter of the main claim. See Oyembola v Esso West Africa (1966) 1 all NLR 170.
Awosanya v. Federal Ministry for the Environment, Housing and Urban Development and ORS.(2021) LCN/14971(ca).
Question: Counterclaim – Whether a court with jurisdiction to hear a main claim may lack jurisdiction to hear a counterclaim (question is mine)
“I think counsel for the appellant only grew when he attempted to challenge the jurisdiction of the trial court, on appeal, to entertain the counterclaim, on the allegation that the 4th Defendant sought “a declaration of title to land and possession”, which falls outside the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court. The Appellant did not raise such an issue of lack of jurisdiction before the Court of First instance, because, I believe, he knew the truth that the real issue in the case was the sale of the property to the 4th Defendant by the 1st to 3rd Defendants, rather than to him, appellant!
The case was never a land title case, despite the inelegant formulation of reparations by the 4th defendant in the trial court. It could not be a question of title and possession of land, as the Appellant and the 4th Defendant had both acknowledged the Government (represented by the 1st to 3rd Defendants) as the owner of the property, No. 9 Mekunwen Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, and that the same thing was sold to the 4th defendant, even when he (the appellant) was still on the property and wanted the same thing sold to him (the appellant)! See reliefs 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the Appellant in this case (previously produced).
And so all the legal gymnastics/arguments and cases cited as to whether the Court of First Instance (Federal High Court) had jurisdiction to hear and determine a case seeking land title and possession of land, were, to my opinion, totally unnecessary, and a distraction in this case, like the case of the 4th Defendant, was evidently, a counterclaim, to affirm the sale of the property to him by the 1st to 3rd Defendant and for the consequential orders for the Caller to leave the property!
It is admitted, however, that the wording of the remedies sought by counsel for the 4th defendant in the counterclaim was quite inelegant, speaking of the statement that the 4th defendant was the rightful owner and title holder; and for possession of said piece or parcel of land.
I do not think that the appellant or any of the parties misunderstood the real issues submitted to the trial court, by both parties, for decision, as stated earlier in this judgment, and therefore no one can claim to have been misled by the said in -elegance in the drafting and presentation of the claims (reliefs) in the counterclaim, nor by the findings and decision of the trial court thereon. Courts are supposed to seek substantive justice, not technicalities.
It is also quite egregious that the substance of the two matters challenged or solicited justifies the power of the 1st to 3rd defendants to deal with the property, No. 9 Mekunwen Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, by selling it to the 4th defendant, and how the sale was made. While the Appellant questioned the sale, the 4th Defendant justified it and sought an order for the Appellant to vacate the property, and because the 1st through 3rd Defendants are federal government agencies, which controlled and administered the property under Section 49 of the Land Use Act. , 1978. The Section grants the federal government or its agency the right to hold title to land. The layout says:
“49(1) Nothing in this Act shall affect title to land, whether developed or undeveloped, held by the Federal Government or any agency of the Federal Government on the coming into force of this Act and therefore , these lands and will continue to belong to the Federal Government or the agency concerned.
49(2) In this section, “agency” includes any body corporate or other public body (whether incorporated or unincorporated) or any corporation wholly owned by the federal government. »
Of course, Section 251 (1) (r) of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999, as amended, states: “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in this Constitution and in addition to any other power which may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly, the Federal High Court has jurisdiction and exercises its jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other jurisdiction in civil matters;
(r) any action or proceeding for a declaration or injunction affecting the validity of any executive or administrative action or decision of the Federal Government or any of its agencies and…”
There is no doubt that the action or decision of the 1st through 3rd Defendants (Federal Agencies) to sell the government-owned property to the 4th Defendant is at the root of this case of the Appellant and 4th Defendant. The court of first instance (Federal High Court) is therefore, in my view, the appropriate court with jurisdiction to decide the dispute(s). See the views of my Lord *Okoro, JCA,* (as he then was) in the case of *Minister, Federal Housing Authority & Urban Development & Anor. Vs. Bello (2009) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1155) 345 at 364-365.*
Admittedly, this was not a land case, nor a declaration of title, since the parties had agreed that title vested in the federal government, and who transferred title to the 4th defendant. The appellant only contested the sale, saying that it should have been his! The Court of First Instance was therefore well placed to rule on the sale, whether it was valid or not, and whether the Appellant was entitled to it or not.
I believe that even if the trial judge/court lacked jurisdiction to hear the 4th defendant’s counterclaim due to inelegance or errors in the drafting of the relief sought, the striking out of the counterclaim n would not affect the value transmitted to the 4th Defendant by the 1st to 3rd Defendants in the property, upon the dismissal of the Appellant’s case by the Court of First Instance. The challenge to jurisdiction, in the circumstances, has not been carefully considered, in my view. By MBABA, JCA.
By: King Onunwor with reports by James Atsor
Atsor wrote from N.Ngbea & Co Chambers, Makurdi, Benue State.