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Despite some challenges, the FHC has remained in the forefront of justice administration in Nigeria 

Without much fanfare, the Federal High Court marked its 50th anniversary last week. Established on 13th April 1973 by the military government of General Yakubu Gowon as the Federal Revenue Court, it later metamorphosed into the Federal High Court (FHC). Today, it has grown to become Nigeria’s most ubiquitous court with presence in all the 36 states of the federation and boasts of no fewer than 76 judges. 

Over the years, and until recently, the FHC had to compete with other courts, especially state high courts for jurisdiction. That problem was finally laid to rest by Section 230 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). Even with that, the FHC still shares concurrent jurisdiction with the High Court of the FCT and that of the 36 states in respect of matters pertaining to fundamental rights of citizens.  

The establishment of the FHC was initially conceived to enforce the collection of public revenue which explains why it was designated as the federal revenue court. But in the last 50 years, the court has grown into a judicial behemoth dispensing justice in what a former Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) president, Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, has described as “well above average.” The golden era of the court, according to Agbakoba, were the Belgore and Auta years “characterised by major reform of the rules of Court in at least six vital areas, including winding up companies’ proceedings, bankruptcy rules, admiralty general civil procedure rules, etc.”  

The FHC has exclusive jurisdiction in civil cases and matters relating to the revenue of the government of the Federation such as taxation, customs, and excise duties, banking, copyright, admiralty, citizenship, among others. And like every institution, the FHC has had its fair share of problems, including corruption allegations. For instance, some Judges of the FHC have been interdicted for excesses bordering on abuse of office in the discharge of their duties.  

Apart from the issue of corruption that must be addressed, the FHC will have to come up with innovative ways to reduce the length of time it takes to conclude hearing cases, even though this is a malaise that is common with justice administration in Nigeria. The process of appointing new judges must also be reviewed. For more than two decades, especially since the current democratic dispensation in 1999, critical stakeholders in the justice sector have been calling for transparency and merit in the appointment of judges.  

A major problem that has afflicted the FHC is conflicting judgements, especially in high profile political cases. Several people, including the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, have had to complain about this sordid development. “The court in one judicial division may order the commission on a particular course of action only to be contradicted by another court of coordinate jurisdiction from another division or even within the same division on the same subject matter,” Yakubu had once complained about the problem that is yet to be conclusively addressed. “Conflicting court orders are negatively affecting the consistency, neutrality, and public perception, not only of the commission, but the judiciary as well.”  

Despite the foregoing challenges, the FHC has remained in the forefront of justice administration in Nigeria. It has been long established that among the three arms of government, the judiciary is the least funded and appears to be at the mercy of the other arms. Yet, many of the Judges who have at different times served at the court have also contributed to its growth in one way or the other and they all deserve commendation. On its 50th anniversary, therefore, we can only commend the FHC as it continues to arbitrate between the federal government and Nigerian citizens.  

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