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Nigeria is an internationally recognized sovereign nation made up of 36 states and a Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

Each of those 36 states is empowered by Nigeria’s Constitution to establish and maintain a legal system that would assure justice within the assigned territory so as to enable every citizen and other persons resident in it carry on their legitimate everyday pursuits.

Together, the Constitution, the individual legal system of Nigeria's 36 States,- coupled with laws made by the Federal Legislature for the entire nation or for the Federal Capital Territory as well as Nigeria's treaty obligations, make up the Nigerian legal complex.

As a legal complex with varying legal standards,  the Constitution provides the ultimate principles, rules and doctrines from which the legitimacy and hierarchy of all other legal norms in Nigeria are validated.


Features of the Nigerian legal complex include:

A.   Multiple Influences

Nigeria is a nation of some 150 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 had have satisfied certain standards.

The peoples that presently constitute modern Nigeria, at some point in their history, had their domain 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 in 1960 pending the promulgation of locally made replacements for them.

Indeed, one aspect of Nigeria’s sovereignty, the capacity to exercise supreme appellate judicial authority independent of the review of another Judicial authority answerable to a  different Sovereign nation, was compromised as the nation’s courts were put under the appellate authority of the British Privy Council.

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.

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 - could 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 many 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, which 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.

For instance, apart from their original jurisdictions, the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court, in that order, act as the last two appellate authorities over decisions emanating from any of the courts of the 36 States of the Nigeria/FCT as well as the Federal High Court, the National Industrial Court, the Code of Conduct Bureau, Investment and Securities Tribunal, Disciplinary Tribunals of Professional bodies and subject to some exceptions, the Election Tribunal.


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, 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;

iii.         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.

iv.     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;

v.                 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

iv.         Specialized tribunals set up by States for various purposes like rent, traffic, land disputes etc.

    3.  Election 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 level. 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.

Under the Nigerian legal complex, Superior Courts of records refer to all the courts presided over
by judges trained in law where there is duty to record and publish for public access proceedings leading down to a judicial pronouncement.

Inferior courts, on the other hand, may or may not have legal practitioners as presiding officers and are often not obliged to record all proceedings in any matter.

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 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria;
  • Federal legislations made by the National Assembly;
  • Legislations made by State Houses of Assembly and Local Government Councils;

  • Case Law and Judicial Precedent from legally recognized tribunals;

  • Subsidiary legislations made by competent authorities as legally designated;
  • Customary Law;
  • International customs, treaties, and conventions;
  • Principles of Law and Doctrines of Equity applied by the Nigerian Courts.

Chief Justice

Justice Aloma Mariam. Muktar


Goodluck Jonathan

Senate President

David Mark

Speaker, House of Representative.

Aminu Tambuwal

Attorney General

M. B. Adoke

Police IGP

Mohammed D. Abubakar

Chief of Defence Staff

Oluseyi Petinrim

Chief of Naval Staff

Ola Ibrahim       

Chief of Air Force Staff

M. D. Umar

Chief of Army Staff

O. A. Ihejirika

EFCC Chairperson

Ibrahim Lamorde


Paul B. Orhii

NDLEA Chairperson

Ahmadu Giade

ICPC Chairperson

Pius Aderemi


B.E. Judy

Compt. Gen. of Customs

Dikko Abdullahi

Compt. Gen. of Immigration

Chukwurah Udeh

Federal Capital Territory


No. of States

36               List

No. of LGA

774             List

No. of Supreme Court Justices

14               List

No. of Court Appeal Justices

66               List

No. of Federal Legislators

               List 1 List 2

No. of State Legislators


No. of Federal Ministers

   39            List

No. of Federal Agencies


No. of Universities

120             List

No. of Polytechnics & colleges

150             List

No. of Federal & State Legislative Centers

37          (Links)


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