The vacation of warrants of arrest, search and commitment to prison on remand against Dr. Akintoye Akindele, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Duport Midstream Company Limited in suit no. CMC/MG/CR/17S/2023 by a Chief Magistrate Court in Nasarawa State sitting at Mararara Gurku is of topical interest.
The Inspector General of Police was the complainant in the suit. By vacating its own order, the court has provided further proof as to the robustness of the judicial system to resist attempts at pressing it into service as a tool for impunity.
There are instances where the police may arrest a person in circumstances where the arrest ought not have been made in the first instance. Such arrests may be nullified by the same court or by courts of equal jurisdiction.
The question which arises is the legal status of such nullified orders of arrest. The grounds for nullification may include defects in the jurisdiction of the court, non- disclosure and/or suppression of crucial information by the police, et cetera.
This publication seeks to lay to rest the status of the unlawful arrest by the police of such a person.
This opinion addresses a pivotal issue:
Can a Magistrate Court in Nasarawa State, for example, lawfully issue warrants and committal orders on the bases of untrue/concealed information from the police concerning alleged offenses committed beyond the court’s jurisdiction?
And, where such orders of arrest are made but subsequently quashed, what is the legal status of the quashed order of arrest?
Jurisdictional authority of Magistrate Courts in Nasarawa State
The bedrock of the authority of Magistrate Courts in Nasarawa State to issue arrest and search warrants is rooted in the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) of Nasarawa State.
This legal framework, meticulously detailed in Sections 35, 36, 143, and 144 of the ACJL Nasarawa State, provides a precise avenue through which these courts can empower law enforcement agencies to apprehend suspects and secure crucial evidence.
However, it is crucial to acknowledge the limitations stemming from the territorial jurisdiction of these courts.
For instance, the jurisdictional scope of the Chief Magistrate’s Court in Maraba-Gurku, Nasarawa State, is explicitly defined within the official gazette.
Legal Analysis of the Issue
The key issue for determination is as follows: Do Magistrate Courts possess the capability to extend their arm of authority to issue warrants for offences that transpire beyond the territorial confines of their jurisdiction? This question emanates from the bedrock of Nigerian legal principle on the doctrine of territorial jurisdiction.
The landmark case of REX V. SHODIPO 12 WACA 374 resonates adequately with the geographical limitations on jurisdiction.
Territorial Constraints on the Jurisdiction of Magistrate Courts
It is crucial to acknowledge the limitations that govern the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Court in criminal cases.
This jurisdiction is inherently restricted to the geographical scope of its corresponding state, often defined by delineations within magisterial districts where applicable.
In REX v. SHODIPO 12 WACA 374, the facts, circumstances, and rulings of the West African Court of Appeal vividly demonstrate the profound consequences of errors in jurisdiction.
In this case, an appellant arrested in Lagos for a crime committed in Ijoko, situated within the Abeokuta Magisterial District, triggered a preliminary inquiry that resulted in the appellant’s trial in the Lagos Division of the then Supreme Court.
The charge primarily revolved around fraudulent false accounting, as stipulated under Section 6 of the Criminal Code. Central to the appellant’s argument was Section 64 of the Criminal Procedure Ordinance, contending that the preliminary inquiry should have transpired within the Abeokuta Magisterial District, rendering the Lagos Magistrate’s proceedings null. The West African Court of Appeal concurred, establishing that the Lagos Magistrate lacked jurisdiction over the preliminary inquiry. Consequently, all ensuing proceedings, including the Supreme Court trial, were null and void. This fundamental principle of criminal justice administration is further enriched by the 2017 reported case of MATHEW V. THE STATE (2017) LPELR-44072(CA), wherein the Court of Appeal, per FATIMA OMORO AKINBAMI, JCA underscored the essence of jurisdiction as the bedrock of adjudication: “Jurisdiction defines the power of the Court to inquire into facts, apply the law, make decisions and declare judgment. The Constitution and statutes which set up the Courts cloak them with powers and jurisdiction of adjudication which are basically substantive and procedural. Thus, where ingredients of an offence occur outside the territorial jurisdiction of the Court asked to adjudicate over the matter, such a Court will not assume jurisdiction over the offence for apparent lack of jurisdiction.” On this score, it is our opinion and as supported by the order voiding the arrest, that the magistrate, ab initio, lacked the jurisdiction to issue the warrant of arrest as none of the alleged elements of the case occurred within his jurisdiction in Nassarawa State.
Non-Disclosure and Suppression of Facts
The issue of non-disclosure of material facts by the Police to the Magistrate is fatal to the legality of the original warrant of arrest. Complainants in criminal litigation, bear the obligation of offering forthright disclosure of facts before the court.
Where complainants, including the Police hide, distort and or obscure the facts from the Magistrate in order to secure a warrant by such deceit, there are legal consequences for such underhand tactics.
In the case of non- disclosure leading to a remand order, the complainant’s failure to disclose pivotal facts—such as the residence and business activities of both the nominal complainant and the defendant(s) casts a shadow of doubt on the veracity and legality of the proceedings.
This concealment assumes the character of a foundational flaw, jeopardizing the structural integrity of the legal process, and ultimately rendering all acts, proceedings, and orders of the court a nullity.
As upheld by the Supreme Court, per Dr. I.T. Muhammed, JSC in DINGYADI &? ANOR V. INEC & 2 ORS (No. 2) (2010) 18 NWLR (PT. 1224), where it stated:
“The law regarding the position of any judgment or order of court which is a nullity for any reason whatsoever, is that the court in its inherent jurisdiction is entitled ex debito justitiae to have that judgment or order set aside on application of an affected or aggrieved party or even suo motu by the court itself.”
The Court’s Authority to Rectify Its Own Errors
In the final analysis, the law is clear that the courts have the inherent jurisdiction to nullify warrants which it had earlier issued in error.
The case of INTERMARKET NIG. V. ADEROUNMU (1998) 12 NWLR (PT. 576) 131 AT 145 stands as a testament to the court’s ability to undo orders erected on shaky foundations. Furthermore, the court’s capacity to set aside its own decisions upon the emergence of concealed material facts is substantiated in cases like ANAEKWE V. MASHASHA (2001) 12 NWLR (PT. 726) 70 AT 91 PARAS D-F and UNIVERSAL TRUST BANK LIMITED & ORS V. DOBMATSCH PHARMACY NIGERIA LIMITED  156 LRCN 197 AT 216 ZJJ TO 217AK. Embedded within legal doctrine is the principle that a court, upon recognizing concealed material facts that would have significantly influenced its decision, possesses the prerogative to overturn the earlier order.
The potency of concealed facts in corroding the legitimacy of proceedings is underscored by the case of BELLO OGUNDELE & ANOR V. SHITTU AGIRI & ANOR (2009) 12 SC PT 1, 135.
In this pivotal case, the court rendered the judgment of the lower court null and void due to the concealment of crucial facts.
In the words of the court: “The respondents falsely misrepresented the proceedings of Ila Native Court in Suit No HOS/1/79 by concealing the final judgment of that Court, which led to the judgment delivered by the Honorable Justice S.A Oloko in 1981. Consequently, the Judgment of the Lower Court is hereby set aside.”
Similarly, in ANAEKWE V. MASHASHA (2001) 12 NWLR (PT.726) 70, the court observed that: “This court has always the jurisdiction to set aside its own null judgment, or decision… See Chime V. Ude (1996) 7 NWLR (pt. 461) 379 at 438. Where it was held that if the court had acted under misapprehension of facts, the court had the power to set aside its own decision…”
Thus, by implication, when a court corrects its errors by setting aside a judgment or orders made, it is interpreted that such proceedings, judgment, or orders never existed– a total reversal to the circumstances prior to the order made.
In IBRAHIM v. OJONYE (2011) LPELR-3737(CA), the court held that: “It is a cardinal principle of law as submitted by the Appellant’s Counsel, that a judgment remains valid until set aside. However, it is worthy to note that a judgment can be set aside whether it has been executed upon or not. By setting aside a judgment, the said judgment becomes ineffectual and nugatory that nothing can cure it. In that circumstance, both the Court and the parties would revert to or return to their former position before the said judgment was delivered…”
It is evident that when a magistrate court issues orders founded upon concealed facts and pertains to offenses occurring beyond its jurisdiction, the entirety of the proceedings is rendered null and void.
Where such a nullification order has been made, the legal status of the nullified order is that it never existed in the first instance.
The subsequent nullification of such orders underscores the fact that, in the eyes of the law, those orders were as if they were never made.
Therefore, the very act of a Magistrate Court issuing these orders and warrants stands fundamentally illegal, and devoid of legal validity from its inception. As to the defendant, the pathway to seek redress from the complainant, in this case, the Inspector General of Police, for substantial reputational damages and financial losses suffered as a fallout of his detention, is wide open. Depending on how the case plays out in court, it may become a reference point for raising standards of police transparency when seeking a warrant.
Prof. Ikechi Mgbeoji is of Blackfriars LLP, a law firm in Lagos.
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