UPDATE: Guide to Nigerian Legal Information

Update by Yemisi Dina

Yemisi Dina, B.A, M.A, LL.B, MLIS, MPPAL is Chief Law Librarian at the Osgoode Hall Law Library, York University, Ontario, Canada. She was formerly Head of Public Services at the Osgoode Hall Law School, York University and worked as Law Librarian at the Adeola Odutola Law Library, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria and Principal Librarian at the Nigerian Law School, Lagos Campus, Nigeria. Her areas of research include law librarianship, legal research methods and information technology and law.

Published July/August 2020

(Previously updated by Yemisi Dina, J. Akintayo and Funke Ekundayo in September/October 2007 and in January/February 2010; by Yemisi Dina and J. Akintayo in March 2013; and by Yemisi Dina, John Akintayo and Funke Ekundayo in November/December 2015)

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1. Introduction

The Federal Republic of Nigeria is located in the Western part of Africa. It became an independent state on October 1, 1960, after about 100 years under British colonization, and attained a republican status within the British Commonwealth three years after in 1963. Since independence, Nigeria has come under both military and civil administration. The coming into force of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 on May 29, 1999, ushered in the present democratic dispensation, popularly referred to as "the Fourth Republic." On this day, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired Army General and a one-time military Head of State (February 13, 1976 to September 30, 1979), became the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria following his victory in the presidential election conducted in 1999 as the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party. President Olusegun Obasanjo's ruling party, the People's Democratic Party, also won the second term after another general election in April 2003. On April 21, 2007, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the Governor of Katsina State in Northwestern Nigeria between 1999 and 2007, and the flag bearer of the People's Democratic Party, was declared winner of the presidential election and he was subsequently sworn into office as President on May 29, 2007. Dr. Jonathan Ebele Jonathan, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s Vice President, was sworn in as President following the death of Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on May 5, 2011. He contested the presidential election in 2011 as the candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party and was sworn in as President on May 29, 2011. The current President and Head of State is Muhammadu Buhari. He was sworn on May 29, 2015 as the 15th post-Independence Head of Government. He won the presidential election held in April 2015 as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) defeating the incumbent President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party. Muhammadu Buhari is a retired general of the Nigerian Army and was Head of State from December 31, 1983 to August 27, 1985. In spite of the fact that Nigeria is experiencing its longest period of uninterrupted civilian administration (since May 29, 1999), the country may rightly be said to be in its tender years of democracy in view of the fact that 28 of Nigeria’s post-independence years were spent under the military.

The Federal Republic of Nigeria is made up of 36 states and a Federal Capital Territory (FCT) located in Abuja. The states and their capital cities are as follows:







Akwa Ibom



















Benin City


















Birnin Kebbi






















Port Harcourt










At independence, Nigeria consisted of three regions, namely, the Northern Region, the Eastern Region and the Western Region. Apart from the Mid-Western Region which was carved out of the Western Region in 1964 through the process laid down by the 1963 Republican Constitution, the other five subsequent exercises of creation of states were undertaken by the Military. Because of the multiplicity of these states, they are as a matter of convenience and political expediency grouped into the six geo-political zones of North East, North West, North Central, South East, South West and South South. This grouping has not been accorded any constitutional recognition.

There are close to 400 linguistic groups in Nigeria, but the three major languages are Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, while English is the official language.

2. Legal System

The Nigerian legal system is based on the English common law legal tradition by virtue of colonization and the attendant incidence of reception of English law through the process of legal transplant. According to Obilade (1979) English law has a tremendous influence on the Nigerian legal system, and "English law forms a substantial part of Nigerian law." The sources of Nigerian law are:

2.1. Constitution

The current constitution is the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution came into force on May 29, 1999. The 1999 Constitution has been amended three times, all in 2010. The first two amendments deal largely with political issues while the third version makes provisions for the establishment of the National Industrial Court as a superior court of record. Efforts are ongoing to further amend the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution provides the framework for the administration of both the Federal Government of Nigeria as well as the states. No state may therefore adopt its own constitution unlike what obtained until the incursion of the military in government in Nigeria in 1966. The Constitution is supreme, and its provisions have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

2.2. Legislation

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended, regulates the distribution of legislative business between the National Assembly, which has power to make laws for the Federation and the House of Assembly for each State of the Federation. The current legislation in force at the federal level is largely contained in the 16 volume Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 (LFN). The Laws of the Federation of Nigeria is printed in loose-leaf in-binder format and it is also available in CD-ROM. The Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 contains the federal laws including subsidiary legislation in force on the 31st day of December 2002. Before the law revision exercise that culminated in the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, the laws in force at the federal level were found in the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990 (LFN) and the Annual Volumes of the Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from 1990 to 2002. Federal laws enacted since January 2003 are contained in the Annual Volumes of the Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. They are also incorporated into the subsequent issues of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria published from time to time. In May 2007 the National Assembly enacted the Revised Edition (Laws of the Federation of Nigeria) Act, 2007 to give effect and approval to the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria compiled and published under the authority of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.

Each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja has its own laws. These include laws on residual matters, which are within the exclusive legislative competence of states and matters on the concurrent legislative list. Some states periodically undertake law revision exercises to present their laws in a compact and comprehensive form to guarantee easy access.

Primary and subordinate legislation in force on the coming into force of the Constitution are treated by the Constitution as existing laws and deemed to have been made by the appropriate legislative body with competence to do so under the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. Legislation has been described as the most important source of Nigerian law after the Constitution. This is partly because all other sources of Nigerian law are considered as such by virtue of a piece of legislation or the other.

2.3. English Law

This consists of:

(a) The received English law comprising of:

(b) English law (statutes) made before October 1, 1960 and extending to Nigeria which are not yet repealed. Laws made by the local colonial legislature are treated as part of Nigerian legislation. The failure to review most of these laws especially in the field of criminal law has occasioned the existence of what may be described as impracticable laws or legal provisions which are honored more in breach than in observance. Despite the influence of English Law, the Nigerian legal system is very complex because of legal pluralism.

2.4. Customary Law

The traditional classification of customary law is into the following categories:

In the states in the Southern part of the country, Moslem/Islamic law, where it exists, is integrated into and has always been treated as an aspect of the customary law. Since 1956, however, Islamic law has been administered in the Northern states as a separate and distinct system. Even then, until recently, it has only been in relation to Muslim personal law. However, it is better to accord Islamic law its distinct status as a separate source of law because of its peculiarities in terms of origin, nature and territorial and personal scope of application.

2.4.1. Ethnic/Non-Moslem Law

The ethnic customary law is the indigenous law that applies to the members of the different ethnic groups. Nigeria is made up of several ethnic groups each with its own variety of customary law. Customary law is a system of law that reflects the culture, customs, values and habits of the people whose activities it regulates. It has been described as a mirror of accepted usage. Customary law is particularly dominant in the area of personal and family relations like marriage, divorce, guardianship and custody of children and succession. Naturally, differences in the customary laws of different ethnic groups do exist and this must not be taken for granted. Even within an ethnic group, instances of pockets of differences in aspects of customary law are noticeable. For example, the marriage customs and inheritance rules of the Igbos of the South Eastern Nigeria are different from those of the Yorubas of the South Western Nigeria. Beyond this, the customary values and systems of various Yoruba sub-ethnic groups are bound to be different even if they are in the same State. Unfortunately, ethnic customary law is unwritten, uncertain and difficult to ascertain. It is flexible and has the capacity to adapt to social and economic changes without losing its character. There have been instances of legislative interventions to modify and at times abrogate rules of customary law. Customary law is usually enforced in customary courts, the courts at the lowest rung of the hierarchy of courts, which in most cases are presided over by non-legally trained personnel, though higher courts are equally permitted to observe and to enforce the observance of rules of customary law by their enabling laws. It is to be noted the bulk of causes on the Cause List of customary courts, especially in South Western Nigeria, are matters relating to the dissolution of traditional marriages.

2.4.2. Islamic Law/Sharia/Moslem Law

Islamic law, unlike ethnic customary law, is written. Its principles are clearly defined and articulated. This system of law has worked with detailed thoroughness and incisive precision. It is based on the Islamic religion and was introduced into Nigeria by its practitioners as a consequence of a successful process of Islamization. This system of law is based on the Holy Koran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. In some areas, Islamic law after its introduction completely supplanted the pre-existing system of customary laws whereas in other areas, it became incorporated with customary law and the two systems have become fused and are jointly administered. Islamic law is being enforced in some states of Nigeria especially in the Northern part where populations are predominantly Moslem. The scope of operation of Islamic law has broadened since the introduction of the Sharia legal system in the present democratic dispensation in a number of Northern states such as Zamfara, Kano, Kaduna, and Sokoto among others. The principal feature of this new development is the introduction of religious based criminal offences, especially on matters of morality and the introduction of punishments sanctioned by the Koran. The apex court, the Supreme Court of Nigeria, has not had the opportunity to pronounce on the constitutionality of punishments like amputation and stoning of a person to death, which the Sharia prescribes for certain offences.

2.5. Judicial Precedents

The Supreme Court is the highest court of the land. It replaced the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in 1963 as the final court of appeal. The Court of Appeal (originally known as the Federal Court of Appeal) was established in 1976 as a national penultimate court to entertain appeals from the High Courts, which are the trial courts of general jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal sits in Judicial Divisions in locations throughout the country; but it is still a single court and is ordinarily bound by its own decisions. The Court of Appeal and all lower courts are bound by the decisions of this Supreme Court. The High Courts and other courts of coordinate and subordinate jurisdiction are equally bound by the decisions of the Court of Appeal. The doctrine of judicial precedents does not apply rigidly to certain courts like the customary/area courts and the Sharia courts in Nigeria.

Figure 1: Judicial System (depicting an illustration of the Nigerian Judicial System)

illustration of the Nigerian Judicial System

In states with Customary Courts of Appeal, appeals generally go to Customary Courts of Appeal on questions of customary law and to the High Court in other cases, whereas in some states, appeals go to the Magistrates Court from the Customary Court. Often these states do not have the Customary Court of Appeal. However, it is through the process of application for judicial review (certiorari) that the judgments of Customary Courts are questioned before High Courts in states without a Customary Court of Appeal.

Appeals from Area Courts may go either to the High Courts or the Sharia Court of Appeal depending on the way the courts are organized. In states with or without Sharia Court of Appeal, appeals lie from Area Courts to Customary Court of Appeal on matters of customary law if there is a Customary Court of Appeal in the state.

Notwithstanding the federal status of Nigeria, the federal and the state court systems are not in two parallel lines. It is only to a limited extent that it may be asserted that each state has its own legal system, as it will be shown below.

3. Government Bodies

The system of government in the Federal Republic of Nigeria is modeled after the American presidential system with the following arms of government:

3.1. Legislature

The Federal Legislature, referred to as the National Assembly, is responsible for law making and it follows law making procedures as specified in Sections 58 and 59 of the 1999 Constitution. The legislature is bicameral and made up of the Senate and House of Representatives.

The Senate consists of 109 elected members while the House of Representatives has 360 members. The membership of the Senate is based on equality of states with each state having three Senators. The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is represented by one senator. The number of Representatives elected by each State is determined based on population.

Each state also has its own law-making organ known as the House of Assembly. The members elected into the Houses of Assembly represent the various state constituencies usually delineated based on population. All legislators are elected for a 4-year term, though the electorates reserve the power to recall any legislator.

3.2. Executive

The executive power of the Federation is vested in the President by virtue of Section 5(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution. Such powers can be exercised directly or through the Vice-President or Ministers or officers of the Government. Similarly, in the states, the executive power of a state is vested in the Governor and may be exercised directly by the Governor or through the Deputy Governor, Commissioners or other public officers. See the Nigerian constitution for the functions of the Executive.

3.3. Judiciary

By virtue of Section 6 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution 1999, as amended, the following courts are established in the Federal Republic of Nigeria:

The Supreme Court is the highest court and all decisions from the court are binding on all other courts. In Nigeria, the state court structure dovetails into the federal court structure at the level of the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal entertains appeals from the decisions of the High Courts, the Sharia Courts of Appeal and the Customary Courts of Appeal. Appeals from the decisions of the Court of Appeal go to the Supreme Court. In effect the Supreme Court is not only a Supreme Court on federal matters, it is also the final court in respect of state laws.

However, in terms of administrative responsibility, State High Courts are the most important courts in each state. This assertion is strengthened because whereas the Constitution has established a High Court for each State directly, each state has an option to establish a Sharia Court of Appeal or a Customary Court of Appeal or both. The inferior courts, which are established by legislation made pursuant to the powers conferred by constitutional provisions, pursuant to constitutional provisions, include Magistrate Courts, District Courts, Area/Sharia Courts, and Customary Courts. By and large, these courts are established by State Laws, except for the Federal Capital Territory and the judicial hierarchy and the nomenclatures of inferior courts are dissimilar. The High Courts and other specialized courts exercise supervisory and appellate jurisdiction over the inferior courts.

4. Primary & Secondary Sources of Information

Like all jurisdictions of the world, legal literature of the Nigeria is made up of primary and secondary sources. The list of these materials is non-exhaustive. A number of them are available at the Library of Congress, the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, London, leading academic and research libraries all over the world.

4.1. Primary Sources

Many law reports have been published over the years in Nigeria. However, there is no government organ solely responsible for law reporting. There are many commercial law reports even though their life span is rather epileptic because of the prohibitive costs of production.

4.1.1. Law Reports

The following is a list of law reports:

4.1.2. Online Services

The following organizations make available legislation and cases or both on their websites:

4.1.3. Newspapers

Some Nigerian daily newspapers have a comprehensive section for law reporting and other legal matters (especially unreported judgments) as listed below:

4.2. Secondary Sources

Members of Nigerian academia, the bench, and the bar have written a lot of legal textbooks. This list is not exhaustive, but we will attempt to mention a few of them.

Administrative Law

Arbitration Law

Civil Procedure

Commercial Law

Conflict of Laws

Constitutional Law

Contract Law

Corporate Law

Criminal Law

Criminal Procedure

Cultural Heritage Law

Customary Law

Law of Equity

Election Law

Environmental Law

Evidence Law

Family Law

Gender Law

Human Rights

Intellectual Property & Copyright Law

International Law

Islamic Law


Labour & Employment Law

Legal Profession

Legal System

Media Law

Medical Law

Oil & Gas Law

Property Law

Succession, Trusts, Wills & Estate Law

Taxation Law

Tort Law

4.2.1. Journals

4.2.2. Legal Publishers

The following are prominent legal publishers in Nigeria:

4.3. Government Publications

There is the Federal Government Press Department, which is responsible for the publication and sale of Gazettes and other government notices. The Federal Government Press is located in Lagos and Abuja. Each state has a government press, which is also responsible for state government publications.

4.4. International Law

Nigeria has ratified many international instruments and treaties. Nigeria is a member of the United Nations, The Commonwealth, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) among others. It is also important to note that several Nigerian judges have served and are still serving on several international tribunals and courts.

5. Legal Education

The Council of Legal Education is the supervisory body responsible for the accreditation, control and management of legal education in Nigeria. The Council established under the Legal Education (Consolidation) Act, Cap L10 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 is in charge of the Nigerian Law School, a vocational institution responsible for the education and training of prospective legal practitioners in Nigeria. The Nigerian Law School's headquarters is located in Abuja and there are other 5 campuses of the Nigerian Law School in Enugu, Kano, Lagos, Yenagoa and Yola. Persons wishing to study law in Nigeria must first undergo undergraduate training in Nigerian universities for the award of an LL.B degree after which they proceed to the Nigerian Law School for practical training in any of its campuses. Successful candidates in the Bar Final examinations are called to the Nigerian Bar if they satisfy the Benchers that they are of good character. The Council of Legal Education also recognizes some foreign degree holders from accredited overseas institutions for purposes of admission. In order to qualify to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria, a person called to the Nigerian Bar must enroll as a Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

6. Legal Profession

It is by virtue of enrolment at the Supreme Court that an individual can become a legal practitioner and a member of the legal profession in Nigeria. A legal practitioner is enrolled in Nigeria both as a Solicitor and Advocate (Barrister) because, unlike in England, the legal profession is fused. The activities and conduct of members of the legal profession are regulated by statutory bodies like the General Council of the Bar and the Body of Benchers. The bodies are established by the Legal Practitioners Act, Cap. L 11, LFN 2004.

The Nigerian Bar Association: (N.B.A) is the foremost professional association in the legal profession. Though the N.B.A. is not a statutory body, it is recognized by statutes and it appoints members to supervisory bodies in the legal profession. In fact, the representatives of the N.B.A. participate in the deliberation of constitutional organs like the National Judicial Council and the Federal Judicial Service Commission for the purpose of considering the names of persons for appointment to the superior courts of record. The N.B.A., which had been organized at national level before independence, now has 100 recognized branches organized along judicial divisions of State High Courts, with at least one Branch in each of the 36 states. It has recently approved establishment of sections along the lines of the International Bar Association. Membership of the Association is open to all legal practitioners. The Association is funded in part through the annual practicing fees payable by legal practitioners to secure right of audience in court. The N.B.A., through its Disciplinary Committee, conducts preliminary investigation into cases of professional misconduct brought against legal practitioners. Cases of persons found to be prima facie guilty are then forwarded to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee of the Body of Benchers for consideration and determination. A person aggrieved by the decision of the Disciplinary Committee has a right of appeal to the Supreme Court of Nigeria, whose decision is final. In addition, the Supreme Court may exercise original disciplinary jurisdiction over a legal practitioner who appears to the Court to have been guilty of infamous conduct in any professional respect regarding any matter of which a court of record in Nigeria is seized. The N.B.A nominates members into regulatory bodies established by statutes for the legal profession like the Body of Benchers, the General Council of the Bar, and the Council of Legal Education.

7. Federal Government Agencies & Other Useful Websites

8. References