In 2005, the appellant entered into contract with the 2nd respondent for the provision of security services at the Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Kano Airports. The appellant was required to offer among other services, aircraft guarding, aircraft search, document checks, secondary search, crew escort protocol, facilities guarding and intelligence gathering. The appellant performed its contractual obligations and requested to be paid for the services rendered. The parties agreed that payment for the appellant’s services was to be in monthly instalments. The 2nd respondent defaulted in payments and the appellant made several demands to no avail. By January 2009, the 2nd respondent’s indebtedness to the appellant stood at N184,233,765.34 (One Hundred and Eighty Four Million, Two Hundred and Thirty Three Thousand, Seven Hundred and Sixty Five Naira, Thirty Four Kobo). The parties had a meeting and agreed that the outstanding debt will be paid in weekly instalments of N5,000,000.00 ( Five Million Naira). The appellant continued to carry out its obligations under the contract even though the 2nd respondent defaulted and failed to live up to its promise. By 2013, the debt had risen to N231,544,883.99 (Two Hundred and Thirty One Million, Five Hundred and Forty Four Thousand, Eight Hundred and Eighty Three Naira, Ninety Nine Kobo).
The appellant filed a suit against the respondents at the Federal High Court, Lagos Division seeking reliefs for payment of the debt and accrued interest. The case of the appellant against the 1st respondent was premised on the allegation that the 1st respondent acquired the 2nd respondent and was ready to put it up for sale to foreign investors. The 3rd respondent was joined as a party on the basis that it is the body responsible for regulation of the activities of the 2nd respondent. The appellant also filed an ex parte application at the same court for Mareva injunction and interim attachment of properties belonging to the 2nd respondent. The application was granted. After being served with the originating process, the 1st respondent filed its memorandum of appearance and a preliminary objection to the suit. The gravamen of the preliminary objection was that the relationship between the appellant and the 2nd respondent was a case of simple contract and that the Federal High Court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the claim. The other respondents filed similar applications but predicated them on the ground that the suit was incompetent since the appellant failed to give them the necessary pre-action notices as provided by the enabling Acts establishing the two agencies. It was however agreed by the respondents that the application of the 2nd respondent be allowed to determine whether or not the Federal High Court had jurisdiction. The appellant opposed the application on the ground that the contract between the parties borders on aviation and security of aircrafts and that the Federal High Court has the subject matter jurisdiction to hear and determine the matter.
After hearing the parties on the preliminary objection, the trial judge ruled in favour of the respondents and struck out the suit on the ground that the Federal High Court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the suit being a simple contract. The appellant became aggrieved and consequently filed a notice of appeal at the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division. The issue for determination is whether in view of the provisions of section 251 of the Constitution, the Federal High Court has jurisdiction to hear the appellant’s suit.
Held: (Unanimously dismissing the appeal)