The Judicial System and Hierarchy of Courts in Nigeria

The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria and indeed, the previous constitutions since Nigerian Independence in 1960, are based on the federal system of government. 

For that matter, the federal system was initiated in 1946 under the constitution put forward by Governor Arthur Richards. 

However, the legal system practiced in Nigeria, is anything but federal. Nigeria has been running a unitary, vertically linear judiciary.

The 1999 Constitution provides for Federal courts as well as for state courts, but the state courts are tied to the superiority of the federal superior courts (The Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court).

Creation of Courts in Nigeria
The Constitutions of Nigeria since Independence have always provided that apart from the courts which it has provided for in s.6, no other superior court (i.e. courts of the rank of High Court and above) can be created in Nigeria. If any other superior court is established besides the ones stated therein, that court is a nullity.  However, the State Governments and the Federal Government can establish any number of inferior courts (below the status of a high court) as the situation demands.

The courts that are provided for in the Constitution (specifically S.6 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria) are:

The Supreme Court (Federal)
The Court of Appeal (Federal)
Federal High Court (Federal)
High Court of Federal Capital Territory (Federal)
Customary Court of Appeal of FCT (Federal) 
Sharia Court of Appeal of FCT (Federal)
High Court of States
Customary Court of Appeal (for States that desire it)
     Sharia Court of Appeal (for States that desire it).

The States are at liberty to create other inferior courts. Such inferior courts that can be created by the States within their respective competence include the following: 
(a) Magistrates’ Courts of various grades (Chief, Senior, Grades 1 – 3).
(b) Area Courts (Upper, Grades 1 – 3)
(c) Customary Courts of various grades (Chief, Senior, Grades 1 – 3).
(d) Sanitation Courts
(e) Rent Tribunals
(f) Traffic Courts
(g) Mobile Courts.

Business Law

When a case is decided and a party is not satisfied, he can appeal against such a judgment to a higher court in the hierarchy. The higher court can then decide whether (a) the case should be sent back to the lower court for re-trial, (b) the decision of the lower court should be reversed, or (c) the decision of the lower court should be upheld.  The following is the route which appeals must follow.

(1) Appeals from Customary courts (CC) go to Customary Courts of Appeal (SCCA) if the issue is the determination of points of customary law.

(2) Appeals from Customary courts (CC) go to High Courts of the States (SHC) if the issue is the determination of points of procedural law.

(3) Appeals from Area courts (AC) go to Sharia Courts of Appeal (SSCA) if the issue is the determination of points of customary or Islamic law.

(4) Appeals from Area Courts (AC) go to High Courts of the States (SHC) if the issue is the determination of points of procedural law.

(5) Appeals from High Courts (HC) go to the Court of Appeal (CA).  

However, the Court of Appeal has original jurisdiction to determine whether the president or his vice, are properly elected or whether their offices have become vacant.

(6) Appeals from Court of Appeal (CA) go to the Supreme Court (SC).  

However, the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over disputes between States inter se, or between States and the Federal Government, as well as issues of constitutional interpretation.
(7) National Industrial Court (NIC) has appellate jurisdiction over industrial matters referred to it from Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP).

(8) Investments and Securities Tribunal (IST), and Federal High Court (FHC) have only original jurisdictions in their specialized areas, which are stock and securities, and revenue and human rights, respectively. 

A person accused of having committed an offence and who has been taken to court is to be remanded in prison while the trial goes on.  In cases where accused persons are kept in remand awaiting trial, they are technically not prisoners. 

Most people in prisons in Nigeria are technically not prisoners but are kept awaiting the end of their trials.  In many cases, the trial has not even begun after many years due incomplete investigation or simply because the law enforcement agents have forgotten that they are still there. 

It is possible to keep people there like that because the Police Act allows a policeman to arrest a person on suspicion that that person must have committed a crime although evidence has not yet been obtained.

Bail means allowing the accused person to go to his house and be attending court to take his trial. For an accused person to be admitted to bail, the offence must be a bailable offence.  Most offences are bailable, but serious offences such as murder, sedition, robbery and treason are not. 

Because of delays in trial and possibly long adjournments, it will be unfair to keep all accused persons in prison. After all, under our adversarial system of justice, accused persons are presumed to be innocent until the prosecutor is able to prove their guilt. This is irrespective of how “glaring” their guilt may seem. The point is that the onus is on the prosecutor to prove that the accused person is guilty, and not on the accused person to prove that he is innocent.  

The accused person is therefore, ordinarily entitled to bail during the pendency of trial, on another person’s surety.  This means that that other person promises that the accused person will be present in court any time his case comes up and if he fails to go to court, the surety will be arrested and may be required to pay to court, the amount specified in the bail bond.  

There are two types of bail: Police bail and court bail. 

A Police bail is given by the Police Officer in charge of the Police office in charge of investigation. A Police bail can be revoked by the Police if the behavior of the accused person is unsatisfactory or if the investigation discloses serious offence warranting fear that the suspect may escape. 

A court bail is the bail to which an accused person is admitted to in court. If an accused person is admitted to court bail, the police have no powers to arrest him or keep him in police cell on the same offence. The court can revoke a person’s bail if:
(a) there is no surety to take a bond for him/her, 
(b) he/she fails to appear in court when his/her case comes up for trial, 
(c) any bail condition is breached, and 
(d) he/she behaves irresponsibly in or out of court. 

However, where the prosecutor can convince the court that the accused person should not be admitted to bail, the court will keep the accused person in prison during the trial.  Reasons for refusal of bail by the court in R. v. Coker, are usually three as follows:

(a) Possibility of the accused person tampering with evidence or interfering with investigation of the offence.

(b) Possibility of the accused person jumping bail, i.e. disappearing.

(c) Possibility of the accused person committing another offence.

Bail is Free
The granting of bail is free, whether it is at the police station or in the court.  Most citizens pay officials to secure bail.  This is wrong.  If an official asks to be paid before granting bail, he should be reported to higher authority.  For example, a police officer who asks for money for bail can be reported to his superior officer or a judge of a high court.  Same for an inferior court judge who asks for money. The officials can also be reported to the Code of Conduct Bureau.

5. Trusts and Wills
TRUST LAW.  In common law legal systems, a trust is a relationship whereby property (including real, tangible and intangible) is managed by one person (or persons, or organizations) for the benefit of another or others. A trust is created by a settlor (also known as grantor, or archaically Feoffor to Uses), who entrusts some or all of his/her property to people of his/her choice (called the trustees), for the benefit of other people (usually children or a charitable organization). The settlor who is donating the property, does not want to give the property directly to the beneficiary. The trust may be held on certain conditions, such as paying school fees from the yield of the property .

The waqf is an equivalent institution in Islamic law. It is trust governed by the principles of Islamic Law.

Trusts can be used to avoid taxes.  Generally, a public trust does not attract taxes, but a private trust may be subject to tax, depending on certain circumstances of the trust subject itself. If the trust allows for trading, income from the trading activities is subject to tax.