To Appeal or Not to Appeal: That is the question

Appealability of National Industrial Court decisions on civil matters: the case of Skye bank Plc v. Victor Anaemem Iwu

Before the recent Supreme Court decision in Skye Bank Plc v. Victor Anaemem Iwu (2017) 16 NWLR (Pt. 24) 1, the issue of whether the decision of the National Industrial Court (NIC) on civil matters outside fundamental rights was appealable or not was sharply divided between two divergent decisions of the Court of Appeal. The two Divisions of the Court of Appeal interpreted the provisions of Sections 240, 241, 242, 243(2)- (4); 254C(5) and 254C(6) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

The Ekiti Division of the Court of Appeal in four judgments: Local Government Service Commission, Ekiti State & Anor. v. Jegede (2013) LPELR – 21131 (CA); Local Government Service Commission, Ekiti State & Anor. v. Bamisaye (2013) LPELR – 20407(CA); Local Government Service Commission, Ekiti State & Anor. v. Olamiju (2-013) LPELR- 20409 (CA) and Local Government Service Commission, Ekiti State & Anor. v. Asubiojo (20130 LPELR – 20403 (CA), held that the decision of the NIC are appealable while the Lagos division of the Court of Appeal in Coca-Cola Nigeria Ltd v. Akinsanya (2013) 18 NWLR (1386) 225 and Lagos Sheraton Hotel & Towers v. HPSSA (2014) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1426) 45, held that the decisions of the NIC are not appealable, other than decisions on fundamental rights and criminal matters.

The Appellant in Skye Bank Plc v. Victor Anaemem Iwu (supra) at the Court of Appeal faced the quagmire that the panel of Justices constituted to hear the appeal may concur with either the views of the Lagos Division or the Ekiti Division of the Court of Appeal and still leaves the issue not fully settled. It was therefore apposite and commendable that Appellant’s counsel filed an application seeking the Court of Appeal to state a case on the appealability or otherwise of the judgment of the NIC to the Supreme Court in view of the constitutional issues and substantial points of law involved.

The Court of Appeal granted the application and formulated three issues for determination by the Supreme Court namely:

The Court of Appeal granted the application and formulated three issues for determination by the Supreme Court namely:

“(1) Whether the Court of Appeal as an appellate court created by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) has the jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court of law in Nigeria to hear and determine all appeals arising from the decisions of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria?

(2) Whether there exists any constitutional provision which expressly divested the Court of Appeal of its appellate jurisdiction over all decisions on civil matters emanating from the National Industrial Court of Nigeria?

(3) Whether the Court of Appeal’s jurisdiction to hear civil appeals from the decisions of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria is limited to only questions of Fundamental rights.

The Supreme Court in a full panel of seven Justices out of which only one Justice gave a dissenting judgment, and after considering all the relevant laws including the organic law and the Third Alteration to the Constitution 2010, the Court of Appeal Act and Rules s establishing the Court of Appeal and the National Industrial Court as well as the various decided cases, led to rest the divergent views that held sway prior to 30 June 2017. The Supreme Court in an illuminating judgment held as follows:

“In all, then, on a holistic interpretation of sections 240 and 243(1) of the 1999, appeals lie from the National Industrial Court to the Court of Appeal, that is, all decisions of the trial court are appealable to the Court of Appeal: as of right in criminal cases – Section 254C (5) and (6) and fundamental rights cases –section 243(2); and with the leave of the Court of Appeal, in all other civil matters where the National Industrial Court has exercised its jurisdiction, section 240 read conjunctively with section 243(1) and (4).

The apex court therefore answered the questions posed above as follows:

(a) The Court of Appeal has the jurisdiction, to the exclusion of any other court in Nigeria, to hear and determine all appeals arising from the decisions of the National Industrial Court;
(b) no constitutional provisions, expressly, divested the said Court of Appeal of its appellate jurisdiction over all decisions on civil matters emanating from the National Industrial Court, and
(c) as a corollary, the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal to hear and determine civil appeals from the decision of the National Industrial Court is not limited, only to fundamental rights matters.”

We opine that the above decision of the Supreme Court has removed all barriers and assumptions that shrouded the issue of whether the judgment of the National Industrial Court is appealable or not and has stated in unequivocal terms that the decisions of the National Industrial Court on civil matters apart from fundamental rights are appealable but only with the leave of the Court of Appeal.