Law of Nigeria

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The Constitution of Nigeria is the supreme law of the country. There are four distinct legal systems in Nigeria:

  • English law which is derived from its colonial past with Britain;
  • Common law, a development of its post colonial independence;
  • Customary law which is derived from indigenous traditional norms and practice, including the dispute resolution meetings of pre-colonial Yorubaland secret societies and the Èkpè and Okónkò of Igboland and Ibibioland;
  • Sharia (Islamic) law, used only in the predominantly Muslim north of the country. Civil sharia law has always been enshrined in the various Nigerian constitutions since independence. The most recent constitution came into effect in 1999. With the return of the country to democratic rule in 1999, some of the predominantly Muslim northern states have instituted full sharia law (criminal and civil). Full sharia law was first passed into law in Zamfara in late 1999 and the law came into effect in January 2000. Since then eleven other states have followed suit. These states are Kano, Katsina, Niger, Bauchi, Borno, Kaduna, Gombe, Sokoto, Jigawa, Yobe, and Kebbi.[1]

The country has a judicial branch, the highest court of which is the Supreme Court of Nigeria.[2]

Hierarchy of the Nigerian Legal System[edit]

The Nigerian constitution recognizes courts as either Federal or State courts. A primary difference between both is that the President appoints Justices/Judges to federal courts, while State Governors appoint Judges to state courts. All appointments (federal or state) are based on the recommendations of the National Judicial Council.

The Federal courts are: the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the Federal High Court.

The State courts include: the High Court of a State, the Customary Court of Appeal of a State and the Sharia Court of Appeal of a State. Each of the states (currently thirty-six) is constitutionally allowed to have all of these courts. However, the predominantly muslim northern states tend to have Sharia courts rather than Customary courts. The predominantly christain southern states tend to have Customary courts and not Sharia courts.

Due to the fact that the Nigerian capital (known as Abuja or The Federal Capital Territory, FCT) is not a state, it has no Governor. It's courts that are equivalent to the state courts have their Judges appointed by the President and are thus federal courts. The FCT courts are: the High Court of the FCT, the Customary Court of Appeal of the FCT and the Sharia Court of Appeal of the FCT.

Tier 1 Court[edit]

The Supreme Court of Nigeria is the highest court in the country. It is based in Abuja. The Supreme Court is mainly a court of appellate jurisdiction and is the final appeal court in the country. It also has original jurisdiction in State vs. State and State vs. Federal Government cases. The Supreme Court is headed by a Chief Justice who is assisted by other Justices. The appointment of the Chief Justice and Justices requires confirmation by the Senate.

Tier 2 Court[edit]

The next highest court is the Court of Appeal (sometimes referred to as the Federal Court of Appeal to distinguish it from the appeal courts of the various states and the FCT). The Federal Court of Appeal is located in Abuja. However, in order to bring the administration of justice closer to the people, the Federal Court of Appeal has multiple divisions (currently sixteen) in various parts of the country. The head of the Federal Court of Appeal has the title: President of the Appeal Court. He/She is assisted by Justices. Only the appointment of the President of the Appeal Court requires Senate confirmation.

The Federal Court of Appeal is mainly a court of appellate jurisdiction, however it has original jurisdiction for presidential and vice-presidential election petitions. The Federal Court of Appeal is where the multiple legal systems (English, Customary and Sharia) of Nigeria converge. It is constitutionally required to have at least three Judges who are versed in Customary law and at least three Judges who are versed in Islamic personal law.

Judgements from the tier 2 court can be appealed to the tier 1 court (Supreme Court).

Tier 3 Courts[edit]

Just below the Federal Court of Appeal are the tier 3 courts. They include: (1) the Federal High Court and (2) the High Court of a state/FCT, (3) the Customary Court of Appeal of a state/FCT and (4) the Sharia Court of Appeal of a state/FCT.

The Federal High Court is based in Abuja. In order to bring the administration of justice closer to the people it has a division in each of the thirty-six states of the country. The Federal High Court is a court of original jurisdiction. It has no appellate jurisdiction. It is presided over by a Chief Judge who is assisted by other Judges.

The High Court of a state/FCT is the highest English law court in a state or the FCT. The High Court of a state/FCT and the Federal High Court have the similar powers. The only difference being that the High Court of a state/FCT has an appellate jurisdiction that the Federal High Court does not. Due to the fact that there is a division of the Federal High Court in each state and that each state has its own High Court, there is usually some confusion as to which court is which. For example, in Lagos state, there is a Federal High Court, Lagos and a High Court of Lagos State (sometimes referred to as The Lagos State High Court). It is presided over by a Chief Judge who is assisted by other Judges.

The Customary Court of Appeal of a state/FCT is the highest Customary law court in a state/FCT. It is presided over by a Judge who has the title: President of the Customary Court of Appeal of the state/FCT and is assisted by other Judges.

The Sharia Court of Appeal of a state/FCT is the highest Sharia law court in a state/FCT. It is presided over by a Grand Khadi who is assisted by other Khadis.

Judgements from the tier 3 courts can be appealed to the tier 2 court (Federal Court of Appeal).

Tier 4 Courts[edit]

The lowest courts in the country are all state courts (there is no federal court in this group). They include (i) the Magistrate Courts that handle English law cases (ii) the Customary Courts that handle Customary law cases and (iii) the Sharia Courts that handle Sharia law cases.

Judgements from the tier 4 courts can be appealed only to their respective higher tier 3 courts (e.g. judgements from the English law Magistrates Court can only be appealed to the tier 3 English law court (the High Court of a state/FCT).

Miscellaneous Courts[edit]

Election Tribunals: There are two types of election tribunals viz.: (1) National Assembly Election Tribunals that deal with petitions from the Senate and House of Representatives elections and (2) Governorship and Legislative Election Tribunals that deal with petitions from the Gubernatorial and State House of Assembly elections. Election tribunals are set up by the President of the Federal Court of Appeal in consultation with the Chief Judges of the High Courts of the states, Presidents of the Customary Courts of Appeal of the states and/or Grand Khadis of the Sharia Courts of Appeal of the states.

List of legislation[edit]

Acts of the National Assembly[edit]

  • The Acts Authentication Act [1] (1962)
  • The Anatomy Act [2] (1933)
  • The Arbitration and Conciliation Act [3] (1998)
  • The Bankruptcy Act [4] (1979)
  • The Bills of Exchange Act [5] (1917)
  • The Criminal Code Act [6]
  • The Penal Code
  • The Child Right act 2003
  • The 1999 Constitution

Decrees of the Federal Military Government[edit]

  • The Administration of Justice Commission Decree 1991 (No 55) [7]
  • The Admiralty Jurisdiction Decree 1991 (No 59) [8]
  • The Banks and Other Financial Institutions Decree 1991 [9]
  • The Central Bank of Nigeria Decree 1991 [10] (No 24)

Legal training[edit]

See Nigerian Law School.

Offences[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Nmehielle, Vincent Obisienunwo Orlu (August 2004). "Sharia Law in the Northern States of Nigeria: To Implement or Not to Implement, the Constitutionality is the Question" (PDF). Human Rights Quarterly (The Johns Hopkins University Press) 26 (3): pp. 730–759. doi:10.1353/hrq.2004.0039. ISSN 0275-0392. Retrieved 2011-05-27. 
  2. ^ "Africa :: Nigeria". The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency (United States). 

External links[edit]