Nigeria is a creation of the
Constitution. Nigeria grew into an internationally
recognised independent nation, in 1960, after a period
of colonialism under the British government which
spanned about a century beginning with the formal
annexation of Lagos in 1861. Nigeria’s constitutional
development history can be divided into two epochs or
generations: the colonial or pre-independence epoch
–which covers 6 constitutional instruments (1914, 1922,
1946, 1951, 1954 and 1960) and the post-independence
constitutional epochs (encompassing 3 instruments -
1963, 1979 and 1999). While each successive
pre-independence constitutional instrument was enacted
through an order-in-council of the British monarch,
their post-independence counterparts were enacted in two
ways: an Act of parliament (1963 Constitution) and
military decree (1979 and 1999).
A. Multiple Influences
Nigeria is a nation of some 162 million peoples most of whom draw their ancestry from about 250 indigenous ethnic groups.
Each of these ethnic group have cultural norms that have evolved or inured and presently constitute the corpus of customary norms in Nigeria provided they satisfy certain standards often known as the repugnancy test.
The peoples that presently constitute modern Nigeria, at some point in their history, had their territory collectively declared a colony by the government of Britain: a state of affairs that ended in 1960 with the emergence of the sovereign State of Nigeria.
The interaction with Britain led to the initial adoption of several of the Laws of the British government for the emergent nation - which gained political independence and became a state-member of the United Nations in 1960 - pending the promulgation of locally made replacements for them.
Indeed, one aspect of Nigeria’s sovereignty, the capacity to exercise supreme and final appellate judicial authority over any matter which comes before the nation's courts was not even fully liberated with independence in 1960 as the nation’s courts were put under the final appellate authority of the British Monarch through the Privy Council. Equally, the internationally recognised Head of the Nigerian government remained the British monarch even though the executive powers through an indigenous Governor-General appointed by her.
However, in 1963, Nigeria’s legal order became fully independent and anchored within the Nigerian sovereignty. The framework for the exercise of its executive powers changed from the British Parliamentary model to a Presidential model, similar in several respects to the American system.
Under the new system, the powers of the Nigerian State were spread within the interstices of a central government and 3 regional governments. The framework for the exercise of its legislative powers was also shared among the federal legislature and regional legislative centers while the supremacy of its judicial powers was fully assumed and vested in a Supreme Court established for the nation. A President whose emergence was a wholly Nigerian affair replaced the Governor-General.
Since then, the Nigeria legal order has evolved as to incorporate a bouquet of normative statements made by various military and civilian regimes that have led the country. From its commercial laws to its criminal codes, influences spanning the customs of its indigenous peoples, legal practices of other nations - ranging from the British, United States, European countries including the Scandinavian bloc, Asia, Oceania and even other African countries - can be discerned.
For instance, the Criminal Code and the Matrimonial Causes Act are modeled after those of Queensland, Australia while the Penal Code (applicable in the North) is fashioned after the Sudanese Penal Code. Many of its statutes for the regulation of its banking and financial sector draw heavily from rules distilled from far flung places like the United States, Canada, South Africa, etc.
Thus, it is difficult to ascertain the degree to which any of these foreign and indigenous influences, including the British common law system, may have exclusively impacted on the legal order of Nigeria, today. The picture that emerges is that of a truly distinctive Nigeria legal complex different, in many material respects, from that of any other country. Its more obvious features include:
(1) The existence of Constitutional norms and standards most of which were enacted through supreme decrees of past Military governments with the tacit support of the majority of Nigerians desirous of a return to democratic regime. Specifically, the prevailing constitutional document enacted in 1999 establishes a federal government with three major levels—the federal, state and local governments. It also establishes a framework at the three levels that accommodates the spread of the powers of government among three arms: the Executive, Legislative, Judicial. Certain critical bodies that are deemed as independent - since they are not answerable, exclusively to any one of the executive, judicial or legislative arms of government - also exist;
(2) Thirty six (36) separate, independent, interacting and geographically bound legal systems co-existing within a constitutional framework that also accommodates a set of federal laws applicable to all the States across board;
(3) Treaty obligations of Nigeria at the regional and global level as well as international customs or obligation erga omnes which apply mandatorily on Nigeria as a every member of the comity of nations;
B. Order of Judicial Hierarchy
The supreme judicial powers of Nigeria are vested in Nigeria’s judicature comprising of tribunals established under the nation’s Constitution and other laws made pursuant to the Constitution.
At the top of the hierarchy of Nigeria’s judicature is the Supreme Court. Second to it is the Appeal Court. Their original jurisdictions are provided for in the 1999 Constitution. Except where otherwise clearly provided, any appeal originating from any Court or tribunal in Nigeria flows through the Court of Appeal, and from there, it may move to the Supreme Court, whose decision is final.
Nigerian Courts could generally be classified as:
1. Tribunals for the Federation: These include all Courts which original or appellate jurisdictions extend to persons or matters throughout the entire federation.
Some federation courts are not chiefly concerned with appeals. Rather, they are given, within their establishment statutes, original and review jurisdiction over matters vested in the Federal Government. These include:
i. The Federal High Court, which except where stated otherwise through a federal legislation, is usually the court of first instance for all objects vested in the Federal Government and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja under the Constitution;
ii. National Industrial Courts: Under the Third Amendment to the 1999 Constitution, the National Industrial Court is designated a specialized court of record with powers and jurisdiction encompassing full civil and criminal jurisdiction over labour, employment and industrial disputes in Nigeria. Apart from the traditional jurisdiction over trade disputes and trade union disputes. The Court also has jurisdiction to hear and determine cases of child abuse, child labour and human trafficking. Equally, cases relating to payment or non-payment of entitlements of judicial officers and political office holders in Nigeria can only be commenced at the National Industrial Court.
iii. Investment and Securities Tribunal, (IST): was established under Section 224 of the Investments and Securities Act (ISA), 1999 and inaugurated on the 19th of December 2002 as a dedicated, specialized and fast-track civil court for the resolution of disputes arising from investments and securities transactions in an accessible, flexible, transparent, efficient and cost-effective manner. Additionally, Section 93 of Pensions Reform Act, 2004, empowers the IST to adjudicate on pensions disputes in Nigeria. It is a major component of the reform of the Legal framework for the capital market and pensions administration in Nigeria;
iv. Legally recognized Disciplinary Tribunals for various leading professions which jurisdiction are not restricted to any State but to members of the given profession throughout the Federation.
2. State Tribunals: These are Courts established by each State for the adjudication of matters constitutionally within the powers of every State government. State Courts include:
i. State High Courts;
ii. Magistrate Courts;
iii. Customary/Area/Native/Sharia Courts;
iv. Customary/Sharia Court of Appeal; and
iv. Specialized tribunals set up by States for various purposes like rent, traffic, land disputes etc.
Petitions Tribunals: are specialized tribunals set up to
adjudicate over disputes arising from elections into
political offices in the executive and legislative arms
of government at the Federal, State and Local Government
levels. Usually, these courts are generally ad-hoc in
nature as they are established to adjudicate over
disputes arising from any election in the country to
fill elective positions into the executive and
legislative arms of government at the Federal, State and
Local government levels. Members are usually serving
judges pooled from various levels of the Judiciary,
except the Supreme Court, depending on the level of the
election being adjudicated over.
Superior Courts of records include the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court, State High Courts, National Industrial Court, Customary Courts of Appeal and Sharia Courts of Appeal. Inferior courts, tribunals and special courts include Magistrates’ and District Courts, Juvenile Courts, Customary and Area Courts, Courts Martial and Public Complaints Commission.
C. Fusion of the Legal Profession
Legal practitioners in Nigeria are trained as barristers and solicitors within a unified training scheme at the university level and thereafter at the Nigerian Law School. They are then admitted to the Nigerian bar as solicitors and advocates of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, thereby combining the duties of both callings and making the legal profession in Nigeria to be under the overall control of the Bar Council.
D. The Practice of the Accusatorial System
The Nigerian legal process, especially at the level of recognized courts of records, is accusatorial in nature. It is a feature that diminishes as one goes towards the more informal tribunals, especially customary courts. However, in recent years, the practice of a multi-door system that allows for the formal integration of alternative dispute resolution processes and litigious ones is fast gaining acceptability.
E. Military Influence
The impact of the incessant interventions of the military in Nigeria’s political development is not without its peculiar marks on the country’s legal complex.
One of those areas has been the developmental history of constitutionalism in Nigeria where military regimes not only enact Constitutions through their military fiat but also try to influence how constitutional standards are interpreted by the courts. The struggle emanates from the fact that Military governments strive for legitimacy by assuming the full compendium of the executive and legislative powers of State—but very limited judicial powers and functions.
The result is that Nigeria’s constitutional history is replete with instances of so-called ‘suspensions’, or ‘modification’ of constitutional statements through Military Decrees. The corollary is that Nigeria’s legal jurisprudence is stained with contradictory statements from the Supreme Court regarding the supremacy of the nation’s Constitution vis a vis a military Decree, at various points. Currently, the Supremacy of the Constitution has been re-established since the return to democratic government in Nigeria.
 The name Nigeria was coined by
Lady Shaw Lugard, a journalist who later became the wife
of amalgamated Nigeria’s 1st Governor-General, Frederick
Lugard. She also wrote Nigeria’s 1st National Anthem.
 Member of the Constituent Assembly
 The elected majorities in each Regional House were as follows: North – elected 90, non elected – 14; West – elected 80, non-elected – 7; East – elected 80, non-elected 8.
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