DEROGATION OF ADMIRALTY JURISDICTION
It is of grave concern that a new dimension is emerging in Nigerian Admiralty Jurisprudence. These issues are gradually eroding the admiralty and other jurisdictions of the Federal High Court in Nigeria. It is inadvertently returning admiralty jurisdiction to the State of flux reminiscent of jurisdictional wars between Federal High Court and State High Courts in the 1980s. It seems to be resurrecting the “ghost” of Savanah Bank v. Pan Atlantic Shipping & Anor , which heralded the definitive pronouncement of the Supreme Court that the Federal High Court had exclusive jurisdiction in admiralty matters to the exclusion of the State High Courts. This position was further confirmed by the enactment of the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act 1991 (AJA), the Federal High Court Act 1973 as amended in 1991 and consolidated by Section 251 (1)(g) of the amended 1999 Constitution of the Federation of Nigeria.
Section 251 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution expressly states that jurisdiction conferred on the Federal High Court is to the exclusion of any other Court in civil causes and matters. It stipulates as follows:
(g) any admiralty jurisdiction including shipping and navigation on the River Niger or River Benue and their affluent and on such other inland waterways, all Federal Ports (including the constitution and powers of the port authorities for Federal Ports) and carriage by sea.
This Constitutional provision is further elaborated upon by the scope of Admiralty Jurisdiction set out in the Sections 1 and 2 of the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act 1991.
Section 1 of the said Admiralty Jurisdiction Act provides:
1. Extent of the Admiralty Jurisdiction of the Federal High Court
(1) The admiralty jurisdiction of the Federal High Court (in this Act referred to as “the Court”) includes the following, that is-
(a) Jurisdiction to hear and determine any question relating to a proprietary interest in a ship or aircraft or any maritime claim specified in section 2 of this Act;
(b) Any other admiralty jurisdiction being exercised by any other court in Nigeria immediately before the commencement of this Act;
(c) Any jurisdiction connected with any ship or aircraft which is vested in any other court in Nigeria immediately before the commencement of this Act;
(d) Any action or application relating to any cause or matter by any ship owner or aircraft operator or any other person under the Merchant Shipping Act or any other enactment relating to a ship or an aircraft for the limitation of the amount of his liability in connection with the shipping or operation of aircraft or other property;
(e) Any claim for liability incurred for oil pollution damage;
(f) Any matter arising from shipping and navigation on any inland waters declared as national waterways;
(g) Any matter arising within a Federal port or national airport and its precincts, including claims for loss or damage to goods occurring between the off-loading of goods across space from a ship or an aircraft and their delivery at the consignee’s premises, or during storage or transportation before delivery to the consignee;
(h) Any banking or letter of credit transaction involving the importation or exportation of goods to and from Nigeria in a ship or an aircraft, whether the importation is carried out or not and notwithstanding that the transaction is between a bank and its customer;
(i) Any cause or matter arising from the constitution and powers of all ports authorities, airport authority and the National Maritime Authority;
(j) Any criminal cause and matter arising out of or concerned with any of the matters in respect of which jurisdiction is conferred by paragraphs (a) to (i) of this subsection.
(2) The admiralty jurisdiction of the Court in respect of carriage and delivery of goods extends from the time the goods are placed on board a ship for the purpose of shipping to the time the goods are delivered to the consignee or whoever is to receive them, whether the goods were transported on land during the process or not.
(3) Any agreement or purported agreement, monetary or otherwise connected with or relating to carriage of goods by sea, whether the contract of carriage is executed or not, shall be within the admiralty jurisdiction of the Court. More…