Admiralty Jurisdiction in Nigeria
Section 251(1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria confers exclusive jurisdiction on the Federal High Court to hear and determine admiralty disputes in Nigeria.
The jurisdiction conferred on the Federal High Court includes the civil and criminal admiralty matters including shipping and navigation in the
River Niger, Benue and their effluents, and also the international inland waterways and carriage by sea. In other words any dispute arising
from these transactions can only be entertained by the Federal High Court of Nigeria.
There is only one Federal High Court in Nigeria with its jurisdiction spreading throughout the country. The Federal High Court has various judicial divisions for convenience. On
this note admiralty proceedings may be filed in any judicial division of the Court in which the ship or other property is located. admiralty jurisdiction of the Federal High Court covers all ships, whether or not their owners reside or are domiciled in Nigeria and all maritime claims notwithstanding where the arose from. However the
admiralty of the Federal High Court does not cover ships demised or sub-demised to the Federal or State Government or ships being used by
the Navy. In spite of this, where a party files an action in rem against a government ship or property, the suit can be converted into and can proceed as an action in personam, if the court is satisfied that it was so commenced on the reasonable belief that the ship or the property was not a government ship or property. In addition to the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, section 7 of the Federal High Court Act and section 1(1)(a) of the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act 1991 confer on the Federal High Court the jurisdiction to hear and determine any question relating to a proprietary interest in a ship or any maritime claim specified in
section 2 of the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act. The major implication of these provisions is that, where a case that falls within the admiralty jurisdiction of the Federal High Court is filed in a court other than the Federal High Court, the suit will be incompetent and the court will lack jurisdiction to hear and determine the matter. Consequently, any order made by such a court will be null and void for being made without jurisdiction. Both the Admiralty Jurisdiction Procedure Rules, 1993 and the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2000 regulate the practice and procedure in maritime claims in the Federal High Court.