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Onyeanusi v. Miscellaneous Offences Tribunal

CHIKEZIE ONYEANUSI

V

MISCELLANEOUS OFFENCES TRIBUNAL,

EASTERN ZONE, OWERRI

SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA

SALIHU MODIBBO ALFA BELGORE, JSC ( Presided )

EMANUEL OBIOMA OGWUEGBU, JSC ( Read the Lead Judgment )

UTHMAN MOHAMMED, JSC

SAMSON ODEMWINGIE UWAIFO, JSC

AKINTOLA OLUFEMI EJIWUNMI, JSC

SC.49/1996

FRIDAY, 31ST MAY, 2002

COURT - Inferior Court or Tribunal - Ouster clause in law establishing same - Intention thereof - Whether can protect the Court or Tribunal against a violation of its jurisdictional limit

COURT - Jurisdiction of - When ousted by provision of a statute - When court is bound to apply

CRIMINAL LAW AND PROCEDURE - Arson - Whether the offence of covers both public and private buildings - Whether same comes within the provision of section 3(4)(a), of Decree No. 20 of 1984 as amended

INTERPRETATION OF STATUTE - Decree 20 of 1984, section 3(4) (a) Dwelling home in the context thereof - Whether restricted to public dwelling home

INTERPRETATION OF STATUTE - Decree 22 of 1986, section 3(4) - Public building thereunder - Whether house rented by Federal Government acquires characteristic of public building

INTERPRETATION OF STATUTE - Decree No. 20 of 1984, section 10 - Definition of ‘public building’, ‘dwelling house’, ‘office’ thereunder

INTERPRETATION OF STATUTE - Decree No. 20 of 1984, section 8(1) Whether deprives the court of jurisdiction over the Miscellaneous

Offence Tribunals jurisdictional limits

INTERPRETATION OF STATUTE - Mischief rule - Application of

INTERPRETATION OF STATUTE - Mischief rule - Decree No. 20 of 1984, section 3(4)(a) - The mischief same is directed against

LAND LAW - Real estate - ‘Public building, dwelling house and office Definition of section 10 of Decree No. 20 of 1984 (Interpretation section) applied

NOTABLE PRONOUNCEMENT - Impropriety of court ignoring unambiguous provisions of an enactment such as section 3(4)(a) of Decree No. 20 of 1984

STATUTE - Decree No. 22 of 1986, section 3(4) - Public building thereunder -  Whether house rented by Federal Government acquire character of public building

STATUTE - Enactments - Unambiguous provisions of - Where treated by court with cant respect or ignored without strong reason - Impropriety of

STATUTE - Ouster clause - Ouster clause on law establishing an inferior court or tribunal - Intention thereof - Whether same can protect such court or tribunal against a violation of its jurisdictional limits

STATUTE - Provision of - Where ousts jurisdiction of court - When the court is bound to apply

WORDS AND PHRASES - ‘Dwelling home’ - Meaning of

WORDS AND PHRASES - ‘Office’ - Meaning of WORDS AND PHRASES - ‘Public building’ - Meaning of

Issues:

1.            Whether the question of the construction/interpretation of section 3(4)(a) of Decree No. 20 of 1984 as amended by Decree

No. 22 of 1986 was the very thing referred to the Court of Appeal by the appellant.

2.            Whether on a true and correct construction/interpretation of section 3(4) of Decree No. 20 of 1984 as amended by Decree No. 22 of 1986, the Court of Appeal was right in its conclusion, that the offence under which the appellant and 33 others were charged in count one comes under section 3(4)(a) of Decree No, 20 of 1984 as amended by Decree No. 22 of 1986.

3.            Whether section 8(1) of Decree No. 20 of 1984 as amended by

Decree No. 20 of 1986 ousts the jurisdiction of Imo State High Court of Justice for all purposes as held by C.B.C. Ubah, J. and affirmed by the Court of Appeal.

4.            Whether taking into account the circumstances of this case, the Court of Appeal should not have made an order setting aside the ruling of the High Court of Imo State (C.B.C. Ubah, J.) dated 30th April, 1991 and prohibited the respondent from further proceeding with the trial of charge No. M.O.J./IM/ 16C/90; the Federal Republic of Nigeria versus Chikezie Onyeanusi and 33 Others.

Facts:

The appellant and 33 others were arraigned before the respondent (The Miscellaneous Offences Tribunal, Eastern Zone, Owerri) on a twocount charge of arson of dwelling houses under (i) section 3(4)(a) of Special Tribunal Decree, 1984 as amended by Decree No. 22 of 1986 and (ii) arson of cultivated crops under section 3(5) of the said Decree.

The appellant’s ex-parte application for leave to apply for an order of prohibition to restrain the respondent (the Tribunal) from further proceeding with the matter on the ground that the respondent lacked the jurisdiction to hear and determine the said charge was however granted by the High Court. Subsequently, the appellant filed a motion on notice for an order of prohibition against the respondent. At the conclusion of hearing of the motion the trial court ruled that it can not properly issue a prerogative order or otherwise entertain anything done or purported to be done under the decree, the court therefore struck out the motion and discharged the interim order.

The appellant’s appeal to the Court of Appeal was also dismissed. Dissatisfied, the appellant further appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court considered and interpreted section 3(4)(a) of Decree No. 20 of 1984 as amended by Decree No. 22 of 1986.

The Supreme Court considered the provisions of some statutes:

Section 3(4)(a) and (5) of Decree No. 20 of 1984 as amended by Decree No.

22  of 1986 provides :

“4.    Any person who wilfully or maliciously sets fire -

(a)          to any public building, dwelling house, office or structure whatsoever,  whether completed or not, occupied or not; or

(b)          ...

(c)          ..., shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to be sentenced to imprisonment for life.

(5) Any person who wilfully or maliciously sets fire to any stack of cultivated vegetable produce or mineral or vegetable field shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years without option of fine.” Section 3(2)(a)(i) provides:

“3(2) Without prejudice to sub-section (1) of this section, any person who does any of the following things shall be guilty of an offence under this Decree and shall be proceeded against and punished as provided in this Decree, that is to say -

(a) commits arson, that is, the wilful and unlawful burning of any of the following things:-

(i) any public building or structure whatsoever whether completed or not;”

Section 8(1) of Special Tribunal (Miscellaneous Offences) Decree No. 20 0f 1984 provides:

“No civil proceedings shall lie or be instituted in any court for or on account of or in respect of any act, matter or thing done or purported to be done under or pursuant to this Decree and if any such proceedings are instituted before, on or after the commencement of this Decree the proceedings shall abate, be discharged and made void.”

Section 12 of Decree No. 67 of 1968 provides:

“12.  The validity of any direction, notice or order given or made or of any other thing whatsoever done, as the case may be,  under this Decree, or the  circumstances under which such direction, notice or order has been given or made or other thing whatsoever done, shall not be inquired into in any court of law, and accordingly nothing in the provision of Chapter III of the Constitution of the Federation (1963) shall apply in relation to any matter arising out of this Decree or out of any enactment or other  law repealed by this Decree.” Section 443 of the Criminal Code provides:

“443.  Any person who wilfully and unlawfully sets fire to any

of the following things:-

(a) any building or structure whatever, whether completed or not;

...

is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment

for life.”