The Supreme Court in the recent case of Mainstreet Bank Ltd  (now Skye Bank Limited) vs Victor Anaemen Iwu has held that all decisions of the National Industrial Court can be appealed. This decision has laid to rest the substantial question of law on finality of decisions of the National Industrial Court. The apex court held inter alia, that the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal to hear and determine all civil appeals on decisions of the National Industrial Court was not limited to only fundamental human rights.

According to Justice Centus Nweze, who read the lead (majority) judgment, the key issue that was determined was, “Whether the Court of Appeal, as an appellate court created by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, has the jurisdiction, to the exclusion of any other court of law in Nigeria, to hear and determine appeals arising from decisions of the National Industrial Court.”

It is noteworthy that the substantive appeal in Mainstreet Bank Ltd  (now Skye Bank Limited) vs Victor Anaemen Iwu was consolidated with another related appeal – Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited vs Mrs. Titilayo Akinsanya in which the Court of Appeal Lagos Division had in 2013 held that there is no general right of appeal for a litigant against the decision of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria except as limited in Section 243(2)-(4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

The issue of ‘finality’ of the decisions of the National Industrial Court has recently generated a lot of  controversy in the legal profession; among litigants, employees and employers of labour and the academia  resulting in conflicting decisions by the Court of Appeal in various divisions.

The conflicting decisions of the Court of Appeal arose mainly in their interpretation of Sections 240 and 243 (1-4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) by the 3rd Alteration Act of 2010. The 3rd Alteration had promoted the National Industrial Court (NIC) from the status of  an inferior court to a superior court of record having the same powers like a High Court.  Section 240 of the Constitution as amended listed the National Industrial Court as one of the courts from which an appeal can lie from their decisions to the Court of Appeal.

However, section 243(2) granted a right of appeal to litigants in matters relating to fundamental rights connected to the jurisdiction of NIC as of right but section 243(3) provided that “An appeal shall only lie from the decision of the National Industrial Court to the Court of Appeal as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly … while Section 243(4) then provided that “…the decisions of the Court of Appeal on appeals on the civil jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court shall be final.”

It will be recalled that on February 13 and 15, 2013, the Court of Appeal sitting at Ado-Ekiti Division decided four cases viz: Local Government Service Commission, Ekiti State and Anor. Vs Mr. M. A. Jegede (2013) LPELR-21131; Local Government Service Commission, Ekiti State and Anor. Vs Mr. M. K. Bamisaye (2013) LPELR-20407; Local Government Service Commission, Ekiti State and Anor. Vs Francis Oluyemi Olamiju (2013) LPELR-20409, and Local Government Service Commission, Ekiti State and  Anor. Vs Mr. G. O. Asubiojo (2013) LPELR-20403, to the effect that litigants have right of appeal as of right in matters relating to fundamental rights as granted by section 243(2) of the Constitution and also that litigants can appeal with leave of the Court of Appeal on all other matters.

The implication of the above decisions of the Court of Appeal is that the National Industrial Court is not a final court and that the decisions of the National Industrial Court are appealable to the Court of Appeal.

However, later in the same year, the Lagos Division of the  Court of Appeal surprisingly, in the case of Coco-Cola (Nig) Limited vs. Akinsanya (2013) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1386) 225 – delivered on  July 4, 2013, held that until the National Assembly passes a law granting  litigants right of appeal with leave, that the right does not exist. The implication of this decision is that the right of appeal from decisions of the National Industrial Court to the Court of Appeal is limited to decisions of the National Industrial Court relating to fundamental rights.

The foregoing was the confusing state of the law until Dr. Charles Mekwunye, a Lagos-based lawyer, appearing for Skye Bank, lodged an appeal at the Court of Appeal and thereafter applied for a reference to the Supreme Court, seeking the interpretation of the said sections of the constitution.

As a consequence thereof, a five-man panel of the apex court, in a majority decision of four against one, held that the Court of Appeal had exclusive appellate jurisdiction over all decisions of the National Industrial Court.

The court further held that the lower court, that is, 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 trial court. No constitutional provision expressly divested the said Court of Appeal of its appellate jurisdiction over all decisions on civil matters emanating from the trial court. And, as a corollary, the jurisdiction of the court to hear and determine all civil appeal on decisions of the National Industrial Court is not limited to only fundamental human rights.

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