Nigeria Law Today (The Complete Encyclopedia)

Nigerian law constitutes of the various types of laws of the country and the Nigerian legal system which includes its courts, offences and punishments for such offences.

The constitution of Nigeria, which was established in1999, is the supreme law of the country and houses all information regarding the Nigerian legal system and the offences and punishments for such offences.

Nigeria has four distinct legal systems namely;

  • English law which is derived from colonial Nigeria
  • Common law which was developed from its post-colonial independence
  • Customary law which is derived from traditional norms and practices indigenous to the country
  • Sharia (Islamic) law which is only significant and effected in the northern part of the country where Islam is the predominant religion


Who Makes the Laws of Nigeria?

The National Assembly is the primary lawmaking body in Nigeria. This is because Nigeria operates a bicameral legislature which means that the legislative responsibility of the country is shared between 2 separate assemblies – the House of Representatives and the Senate.

These two assemblies make up what is known as the National Assembly.

Members of the Senate and House of Representatives are elected based on the majority vote by the people they wish to represent.

The Senate is the upper house in the Nigerian legislative system and consists of 109 senators representing 36 states which are each divided to 3 senatorial districts. Each senatorial district elects one senator with the exception of the Federal Capital Territory which elects only one senator.

The President of the Senate oversees and guides the proceeding in the Senate and is regarded as the third most important person in the country and also the third in the Nigerian presidential line of succession.

The House of Representative is the lower house and consists of 360 members who are elected from the various constituencies in the 36 states of Nigeria.

Both houses work together to make laws in such a way that the Senate cannot pass a bill into law without the approval of the House of Representatives and vice versa. However, the Senate has more power due to the provisions in the constitution of Nigeria. The Senate has the ability to check and balance elements of the Federal Government of Nigeria including the appointment of government officials in the office of the President.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives members serve a term of four years until a general election. However, senators have unlimited tenure and can remain in the chamber for as long as they are re-elected.




Sources of Law in Nigeria

This refers to where Nigerian laws are gotten. As stated above, Nigeria has four distinct legal systems which are also the sources of law.

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English Law

The English law is the law of the colonial masters before independence. As of the colonial era, laws that were in operation in England were applicable in Nigeria and even after independence, the English law was still integrated into the Nigerian legal system and constitution.


Nigerian Legislation

Nigerian legislation refers to laws made by the legislative chambers. These chambers have been stated as the House of Representatives and the Senate and this remains the most important source of Nigerian law.


Customary Law

Customary law is derived from traditional norms and practices and was once a significant part of the Nigerian constitution. However, the rise of the Nigerian legislation has seen the abolishment of several customary laws that dealt with slavery, trial by ordeal, witchcraft and so on. Amendments made on the constitution by the Nigerian legislation has also modified and abolished several customary laws indirectly. This is mostly true for customary laws relating to marriage, child custody, and other related matters.


Sharia Law

Sharia law or Islamic law is the religious law derived from the religious precepts of Islam. This law is only applicable to the Northern part of Nigeria but has its place in the constitution.


Types of Law in Nigeria

There are various types/classifications of law in Nigeria according to the constitution.


Public and Private Law

Public law is the aspect of the law that governs the relationship between the state, its citizens, and other states. The state is considered as the higher party while the citizens are considered as the lower party. Under public law, you will find various laws like the constitutional law and administrative law.

On the other hand, private law deals with the relationship amongst private citizens. Laws under the private law include; the contract law, the law of trust, the law of torts and so on.


Civil Law and Criminal Law

Civil Law bothers on the relationship between citizens and has provision for the fundamental rights of the citizens of the country. You can find the fundamental rights you possess as a citizen of Nigeria under civil law. It also protects such rights against abuse and infringement. There are also several laws under civil law like family law.

Criminal law refers to the rules and regulations governing the punishment of offenders of the law in society. It defines every offence that would be possibly committed and the punishments for such offences.

This type of law is one of the important laws that every citizen and non-citizen living in Nigeria should be conversant with to ensure you do not commit a crime unknowingly as the law does not recognize ignorance as a reasonable excuse for committing crimes.

The criminal code act is an example of the criminal law and is applicable in the Southern part of Nigeria while the penal code (which is similar to the criminal code) is applicable to the Northern part of Nigeria.


Procedural Law

Procedural law deals with the process which the courts must follow to enforce a law on an offender.


Municipal/Domestic and International Law

Domestic law refers to laws that are only effective in a specific state or country. Nigerian constitution is an example as it applies in Nigeria only.

International law, on the other hand, is the law between countries. It regulates the relationship between different independent countries. An example of international is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the laws governing the United Nations and its members.


Written and Unwritten Law

Written law is the type that has been validly enacted by the legislature of a country while unwritten law is the one that has not been enacted by the legislature of a country. Unwritten law mostly relates to customary law, which originated from traditional practices and customs of the people.




Types of Court in Nigeria

There are various courts in Nigeria and they have different authority and functions. Below is the outline of the types and information on their hierarchy.


Supreme Court of Nigeria

The Supreme Court of Nigeria is the highest court and the final appeal court in the country. It was established in 1963 when Nigeria became a republic and Nnamdi Azikiwe became its first president.

The Supreme Court is based in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, and has the highest and most important jurisdiction in the country. Its jurisdictions are between State vs. Federal Government and State vs. State cases. The decision on the Supreme Court on cases it handles is binding and final without any form of a retrial.

It is made up of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and not more than 21 justices appointed by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC). However, the decision of the president is subject to confirmation by the Senate.

Justices are required to have been qualified to practice law in Nigeria for a period not less than fifteen years before being considered for the position. They also have a mandatory retirement age of 70 years.


The Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal is the next highest court in Nigeria and it is also located in Abuja with several divisions (about sixteen divisions) in various parts of the country. It is made up of the President of the Appeal Court and the several justices.

The Court of Appeal has original appellate jurisdiction but it also has jurisdiction for presidential and vice-presidential election petitions. Judgments from the Court of Appeal are not final and can be retried in the Supreme Court.


The Federal High Court

The Federal High Court has several divisions in each of the 36 states of the country and is presided over by a Chief Judge who is assisted by other judges.


The State High Court

The High Court of a state is quite similar to the Federal High Court in the level of jurisdiction and due to this, there is usually some confusion as to the difference between both courts and their respective functions. It is, however, the highest English law court in a state or the FCT.


Customary Court of Appeal

This is the highest customary law court in a state or the FCT. It is presided over by the President of the Customary Court of Appeal who is assisted by other judges.


Sharia Court of Appeal

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


Magistrate Court

Magistrate Courts are state courts and hold the lowest level of power among courts in the country.

The Federal High Court, State High Court, Customary Court of Appeal, and Sharia Court of Appeal are all tier 3 courts and judgments from such courts can be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal (tier 2 court).

The Magistrate Courts, on the other hand, are tier 4 courts and judgments from such courts can be appealed to their respective tier 3 courts.

Presently, the highest court in Nigeria is the Supreme Court of Nigeria while the lowest court in Nigeria is the Magistrate Court.




Fundamental Rights As a Citizen of Nigeria

Every Nigerian citizen has several fundamental human rights which cannot be revoked and are considered inalienable. These rights are also recognized internationally through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Act of 1948.

According to the Nigerian Constitution, the fundamental human rights of every citizen and human being in Nigeria are as follows;

  • Right to life
  • Right to the dignity of the human person
  • Right to personal liberty
  • Right to a fair hearing
  • Right to private and family life
  • Right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion
  • Right to freedom of expression and the press
  • Right to peaceful assembly and association
  • Right to freedom of movement
  • Right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, ethnic group, circumstances of birth, religion, gender or political opinion
  • Right to compensation for property compulsorily acquired


There are several human rights organizations in Nigeria that protect the fundamental human rights of Nigerians. Such organizations include;

  • Human Rights Monitor
  • Human Rights Law Services (HURILAWS)
  • Constitutional Rights Project
  • Nigerian Center for Human Rights and Development


Final Words

In the area of the protection of human rights, Nigeria has made remarkable improvements through the amendment of its constitution. However, the country still has more work to do to ensure that the fundamental human rights of its citizens are protected.

Over the years, there have been calls for the amendment of the Nigerian Constitution as the present constitution is referred to as outdated.

However, there have been several bills passed into law in recent years and they still tally with the present constitution. It seems that the constitution is not going to be given a complete amendment anytime soon so you can go ahead to familiarize yourself with the laws of the Federation.

It is imperative you know the laws governing your country and also your fundamental human rights to ensure they are not infringed upon.


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