The Nigerian legal system is based on a combination of English Common Law, Customary Law and Islamic Law (Sharia). The judicial system is structured to ensure an independent judiciary, which is crucial for upholding the rule of law, protecting human rights, and ensuring justice for its citizens. The different law systems are being used in different settings to resolve distinct legal issues, while the Supreme Court serves as the highest legal institution in the country.
The Judicial Process
The Nigerian judicial process follows an adversarial system, where opposing parties present their cases before a judge, who serves as an impartial referee. The process typically includes the following stages:
- Filing of a case: A party initiates legal proceedings by filing a case with the appropriate court, depending on the nature of the dispute and jurisdiction.
- Pleadings: The parties exchange pleadings, which outline their respective claims, defences, and evidence.
- Pre-trial conference: In some cases, the court may hold a pre-trial conference to clarify issues, streamline the proceedings, and explore the possibility of a settlement.
- Trial: During the trial, both parties present their arguments, evidence, and witnesses before the judge, who determines the facts and applies the relevant law.
- Judgment: The judge delivers a judgment, outlining the decision and the reasons for it. The judgment may include remedies, such as damages or injunctions.
- Appeals: A dissatisfied party may appeal the judgment to a higher court, which
Hierarchy of Courts
The Nigerian judicial system comprises federal and state courts, which have distinct jurisdictions and functions. The hierarchy of courts in Nigeria is as follows:
- Supreme Court: The Supreme Court is the highest court in Nigeria, with appellate jurisdiction over both federal and state courts. It is the final arbiter on all matters, including constitutional, civil, and criminal cases. The Chief Justice of Nigeria heads the Supreme Court, and it consists of other Justices appointed by the President, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
- Court of Appeal: The Court of Appeal is the second-highest court in the country, with appellate jurisdiction over the Federal High Court, state High Courts, and other specialized courts. It hears appeals from lower courts and has divisions across Nigeria’s geopolitical zones.
- Federal High Court: The Federal High Court has jurisdiction over matters concerning federal laws and issues of national interest, such as revenue generation, maritime disputes, and intellectual property rights. It also hears cases involving federal agencies, such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
- State High Court: The State High Court is the highest court at the state level, with jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters within its territorial boundaries. It hears appeals from lower state courts and has original jurisdiction over matters not exclusively reserved for the federal courts.
- Sharia Court of Appeal: The Sharia Court of Appeal has appellate jurisdiction over Islamic law cases decided by the Sharia Courts in states that have adopted Sharia law. It is responsible for interpreting Islamic law in matters relating to personal status, family disputes, and inheritance.
- Customary Court of Appeal: The Customary Court of Appeal has appellate jurisdiction over customary law cases decided by the Customary Courts. It is responsible for interpreting and applying customary law in matters relating to land disputes, marriage, and other traditional issues.
- Magistrates’ Courts and District Courts: These are lower courts at the state and federal levels, respectively. They handle minor civil and criminal cases and have limited jurisdiction based on the value of claims and the severity of offenses.
- Sharia Courts and Customary Courts: These courts operate at the state and local levels, applying Islamic law and customary law, respectively. They have jurisdiction over personal law matters, such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and land disputes.
The National Judicial Council (NJC)
In order to insulate the Judiciary from the whims and caprices of the Executive; hence guarantee the independence of this Arm of Government, which is a sine qua non for any democratic Government, the National Judicial Council was created and vested with enormous powers and functions of the erstwhile Advisory Judicial Committee (AJC) which it replaced.
The National Judicial Council (NJC) is one of the Federal Executive Bodies created by virtue of Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and it is the Apex body for the Judiciary. The National Judicial Council was created and vested with enormous powers and functions which the erstwhile Advisory Judicial Committee (AJC) it replaced, did not have.
Set Goals of the National Judicial Council
The Set Goals of the National Judicial Council include:
- An entrenched and preserved independent Judiciary
- A judiciary that is committed to the rule of law
- A financially autonomous Judiciary
- A pro-active and vibrant Judiciary that has Judicial Officers and staff with proven integrity and impeccable character
- A dynamic Judiciary manned by officers with various background, discipline, experience and competence
- A judiciary that is information technology driven and equipped with the latest stenographic recording machines
Composition of the National Judicial Council
By the provision of Paragraph 20 of Part One of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, The National Judicial Council shall comprise the following Members:
- The Chief Justice of Nigeria, who shall be the chairman;
- The next most senior Justice of the Supreme Court who shall be the Deputy Chairman
- The President of the Court of Appeal;
- Five retired Justices selected by the Chief Justice of Nigeria from the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal;
- The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court;
- The President, National Industrial Court;
- Five Chief Judges of State to be appointed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria from among the Chief Judges of the States and of the High Court of the Federal Territory, Abuja in rotation to serve for two years;
- One Grand Kadi to be appointed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria from among Grand Kadis of the Sharia Courts of Appeal to serve in rotation for two years;
- One President of the Customary Court of Appeal to be appointed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria from among the Presidents of the Customary Courts of Appeal to serve in rotation for two years;
- Five members of the Nigerian Bar Association who have been qualified to practice for a period of not less than fifteen years, at least one of whom shall be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, appointed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria on the recommendation of the National Executive Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association to serve for two years and subject to re-appointment: Provided that the five members shall sit in the Council only for the purposes of considering the names of persons for appointment to the superior courts of record; and
- Two person not being Legal Practitioners, who in the opinion of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, are of unquestionable integrity.
The Supreme Court of Nigeria
The Supreme Court of Nigeria, the Apex Court located in Abuja, was established on the 1st of October 1960 under the 1960 Act.
Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court
According to Section 232(1) of the 1999 Constitution, the Supreme Court shall, to the exclusion of any other court, have original jurisdiction in any dispute between the Federation and States if and in so far as that dispute involves any question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends. In Section 232(2), In addition to (1) above, the Supreme Court shall have such original jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by any Act of the National Assembly: provided that no original jurisdiction shall be conferred upon the Supreme Court with respect to any criminal matter. By the provision of Section 233(1 of the 1999 Constitution, the Supreme Court shall have jurisdiction, to the exclusion of any other court of law in Nigeria, to hear and determine appeals from the Court of Appeal.
Composition of the Supreme Court
Section 230 provides that the Supreme Court of Nigeria shall consist of (a) the Chief Justice of Nigeria (b) such number of Justices of the Supreme Court, not exceeding twenty-one as may be prescribed by Act of the National Assembly.
The administrative setup of the Court is headed by the Chief Registrar who of course is the Chief Administrative/Accounting Officer. He is answerable to the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria; he is being assisted by three Deputy Chief Registrars, Heads of Departments, Registrars and other supporting staff.
Days of Sitting
|– Civil Appeals
– Civil Motions
|– Civil Appeals
– Civil Motions
|– Chambers Motions (Civil and Criminal)
|– Criminal Appeals
– Criminal Motions
|– Judgment Delivery
Court of Appeal
Under the Constitution of Nigeria, the Court of Appeal is established as a Court for the entire Federation. It is also an intermediate or appellate tribunal between the Supreme Court of Nigeria and other tribunals. The Court of Appeal is given both original and appellate jurisdictions under the Constitution. It has the original jurisdiction, to the exclusion of any other Court in Nigeria, to hear and determine any question, as to whether
- Any person has been validly elected to the office of President or Vice-President under this Constitution, or;
- The term of office of the President or Vice President has ceased; or
- The office of President or Vice-President has become vacant;
- The Court also acts as the clearing house for judicial appeals coming from the:
- Courts of the 36 States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (High Courts, Customary Courts of Appeal, Sharia Courts of Appeal);
- Courts for the Federation (Federal High Court, National Industrial Court, Code of Conduct Tribunal, Election Tribunals, Investment and Security Tribunals and Disciplinary Tribunals of Regulatory Bodies for various professionals).
- An appeal arising from a decision of the Court of Appeal may go on to the final destination of all appeals: the Supreme Court. However, the Court of Appeal has the final appellate jurisdiction, to the exclusion of even the Supreme Court, over appeals arising from election petitions with regard to:
- Whether any person has been validly elected as a member of the National Assembly of a State under this Constitution; or
- Any person has been validly elected to the office of Governor or Deputy Governor.
- The head of the Court is called the President, a position statutorily designated as equal to the position of a Justice of the Supreme Court.
Federal High Court of Nigeria
The Federal Revenue Court (as Federal High Court was then called) was established by the Federal Revenue Act 1973 (1973 No.13). The Court was renamed the “Federal High Court” by Section 228 (1) and 230 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1979. Although the need was noted during the constitutional Conference leading to Independence, to establish a High Court for the determination of causes and matters within the Exclusive Legislative list, as is customary in countries with the Federal System of Government, no step was however taken in that regard until the promulgation of the Federal Revenue Court Decree in 1973.
The Court as the Federal Revenue Court (began with a President as the head of the court was then called) and four judges. From its inception, controversies over its jurisdiction dogged every step of the Court. However, such controversies were finally settled with the enactment of Section 230(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979. Section 231 of the 1979 Constitution was replicated in the Federal High Court decree (Amendment) 1991(60) which amended Section 7 of the Federal High Court Act (1973); and conferred exclusive jurisdiction on the court in relation to the subject matters covered by section 7 of that Act, as amended.
Section 7 of the Federal High Court (Amendment) 1991 has now been re-enacted Civil Causes and Matters as section 251(1) (a) to (s) and of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended. Its jurisdiction in criminal matters are as provided in Section 251 (2) and (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended and in such criminal matters as the National Assembly may by Act, confers jurisdiction on it. The Federal High Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the High Court of the FCT and State High Court in respect of fundamental Rights matters by virtue of Section 46(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
To facilitate the expeditious determination of Civil Causes and Matters before the Court, the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2000 was enacted by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court pursuant to Section 254 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended. The new Rules have several innovative provisions which cover all aspects of practice and procedure before the Court and have a (Fundamental objective) for a (just and expeditious disposition of cases) in view. In 2011, new Admiralty Procedure Rules were made by the Chief Judge in order to aid a more expeditious hearing of maritime claims in which the Federal High Court has exclusive jurisdiction and which claims with intellectual property rights, trademarks, patents and designs sometimes have an international dimension which may involve foreign companies and interests.
The Federal High Court as a premier Court of first instance has recorded impressive growth since its inception in 1973 and has become, unarguably an important pillar amongst the Courts in the Federal Judiciary of Nigeria. From the pioneering Five Judges, the Court now has Eighty-Two (82) Judges.
The Court has also grown structurally in terms of opening new Divisions in almost all the States of the Federation with Lagos state with two divisions having regard to the volume of cases filed there as the (Commercial Capital) of Nigeria. The Court established Three Judicial Divisions within Two Years of its creation. Now, the Court has thirty-eight Judicial Divisions, spread across in thirty-six States of the country. The Court has put up its own building in the following twenty-four Divisions and in 2009, moved to its headquarters in Abuja.
National Industrial Court of Nigeria
Attempts by the Nigerian government to provide an efficient legal framework for the settlement of trade disputes date back to 1941 with the promulgation of the Trade Disputes (Arbitration and Inquiry) (Lagos) Ordinance of 1941. Under this ordinance, only ad hoc bodies in the form of arbitration tribunals could be set up to handle trade disputes and it left the role of government to be merely discretionary at the instance or invitation of the parties. This ordinance was only applicable to Lagos until when the Trade Disputes (Arbitration and Inquiry) (Federal Application) Ordinance of 1957 was passed.
Jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria
The court has exclusive jurisdiction in civil cases and matters relating to or connected with any labour, employment, trade unions, industrial relations and matters arising from the workplace, the conditions of service, including health, safety, the welfare of labour, employee, worker and matter incidental thereto or connected therewith. The court also has exclusive jurisdiction in civil matters relating to, connected with or arising from the Factories Act, Trade Disputes Act, Trade Unions Act, Workmen’s Compensations Act or any other Act or Law relating to labour, employment, industrial relations, workplace or any other enactment replacing the Acts or Laws.
Appeals also lie from the Court to the Court of Appeal as contained in Chapter IV of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. The National Industrial Court consists of the President of the Court and not less than twelve Judges. Presently the National Industrial Court is manned by the President and nine other Judges.
FCT and State Courts
In the FCT and states, there is established a High Court and Sharia Court of Appeal and Customary Court of Appeal in many states.