Nigeria Legal Profile

Proelium Law LLP

Nigeria Legal System Overview

Nigeria has a mixed legal system comprising of English common law, Sharia and customary law. The 1999 Constitution, is the supreme law of Nigeria, prevailing over all other sources; Laws that are inconsistent with the Constitution are void as to the extent of the inconsistency.

Legislation is widely seen as being the secondary source of Nigerian Law, primarily at the federal level through the National Assembly, but also through state legislation. Alongside English common law, judicial precedents, predominantly from the Supreme Court, also form a key part of the legal system.

Nevertheless, certain rulings and legislation are not universally and rigidly applied. Customary law is often applied for members of ethnic groups particularly concerning personal and family matters, whilst twelve northern states have introduced a Sharia legal system. The principal feature of this is the introduction of religious based criminal offences as well as punishments sanctioned by the Qur’an; the Supreme Court has yet to rule upon the constitutionality of these punishments.

The independence of the judiciary is guaranteed by Chapter 2, 17.2e of the Nigerian Constitution. The Nigerian court system consists of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Courts and Customary-Sharia courts of appeal and district courts, both state and customary.

Appointments to the highest courts must be confirmed by the National Assembly.

Nevertheless, branches of the government frequently interfere with the judiciary and the system is widely perceived to be understaffed, underfunded and inefficient.

Judges have also appeared to be highly susceptible to bribery. However, few companies see Nigerian courts as a constraint to business and Nigeria is a member of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, as well as a signatory of the 1958 New York Convention.

Nigeria’s Criminal Code criminalizes a wide range of corruption offences, but it is loosely enforced whilst the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission has been ineffective and has a severe lack of political support.

There are a number of major acts in Nigeria which relate to commercial life. Central is the Companies and Allied Matters Act 1990 which regulates the creation of companies and the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission Act 2004 which permits foreign ownership in all industries except for a few particular sectors, such as oil, gas and private security.

A number of labours laws also exist, such as the Labour Act 1990, some of which apply to both foreign and Nigerian employees, whilst the Foreign Judgements Act makes conditional-based provisions for enforcing judgements in Nigeria which were given abroad.

The Criminal Code 1990 and the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act 2000 both provide a strong legal framework against corruption, but as previously mentioned anti-corruption measures are weakly enforced.

Nigeria is a signatory of a number of international treaties. These include the Geneva Conventions, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Nigeria is also a member of a number of international organisations, including the Economic Community of West African States, African Union, World Trade Organisation, World Health Organisation and Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Nigeria’s constitution enshrines Nigeria’s ‘respect for international law and treaty obligations’, but also states that no treaty has the force of law unless enacted into domestic law.



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