Sources of Nigerian Law
Custom as Source of Nigeria Law
The Federal Republic of Nigeria as a country in West Africa continent is addressed as the 'giant of Africa'. This is a country with a population of about 140 million according to the 2006 national census by National Population Commission (NPC) but has increased in recent time. This is a body that is in charge of census taking in the country. Nigeria as a popular country has sources of her Law. The question is: what are the sources of Nigeria Law?
What are the sources of Nigerian Law? The fundamental sources of Nigeria Law: received English Law, status and legislature, custom, and equity. The Law of the country also has features. The main source of the Nigeria Law is that of received English. The reason is because this country was colonized by the English and they handed their Laws down to Nigeria. That is why Nigerian Law is at times addressed as the American Law.
Received Law as a source of Nigeria Law
This Law was first implemented in the city of Badagry (in the Lagos state of Nigeria), in the year 1884. The law consists of the ancient customs and usages of England. In the other words, the law is derived from England. That is to say that some parts of the Law of the country were borrowed from the Western world. It is the law received from the colonial masters who ruled the country before it gained its independence in the year 1960. The received English Law is also called Common Law and it is found in Colonial Ordinances, Edicts, and Bills. Common Law is called judge made Law because it was developed from the decisions of the common courts which are Kings Bench, Common Plea, and Exchequer, and followed in subsequent cases with similar facts. Hence, judicial precedent is one of the major features of the common Law system. Plaintiffs have to obtain an original writ before any proceeding begins in a common Law court. The two fundamental purposes served by the writ are: outlining the cause of action and ordering the sheriff to ensure the attendance at the trial of the defendant. Common Law is full of technicalities, rigidity, and harshness, because of its inability to offer any redress to a litigant in certain cases.
Custom: A source of Nigeria Law
Nigeria is made up of many groups of persons who are called the ethnic groups. The customs of these ethnic groups are among the sources of the country's Law. Custom is known as evidence of general practice accepted as Law. Custom is an indigenous way of various ethnic groups in Nigeria. Custom includes Law of inheritance, succession, marriage, crime and civil matters. Any custom that is to be taken as a Law must pass through certain tests. These tests are compatibility, repugnancy test and must be acceptable to the society.
An example of the custom taken as law in a tribe in Nigeria called Igbo is the inheritance of the property of a man by the brother(s) who dies without given birth to any child. The brother takes over the man's lands as he is no more. Even the wife to the dead man has no right to sell the land owned by the late husband as it is prohibited for her to do so.
Compatibility: The compatibility in this piece of write-up means that any custom that is to be taken as Law should be compatible with the constitutional Law. Any custom that is in loggerhead with the Constitutional Law is to be jettisoned and void. This is because Constitution is the first Law to be considered before any other local Laws.
Repugnancy test: Any custom that is repugnant cannot be taken as Law. Repugnant in this heading means conflict. In other words, any custom that causes conflict is not to be taken as the source of Law in any way. Some acts or customs that are repugnant are rituals, sacrifices, blood oath, caste system and killing of twins. A custom should not be repugnant to the principle of natural justice. These principles include equality of all before the Law, freedom of all from discrimination on account of gender, sect or statutes.
Acceptable to the Society: Any custom that will not cause social disorder is taken as accepted custom. Some of the acceptable customs in Nigeria are the traditional inheritance, traditional marriage, and chieftaincy titles. These examples are included because all societies or ethnic groups accept them.
Status and Legislature: A source of Nigeria Law
These are created by the Law making body of the state or country. In Nigeria, the National Assembly consisting of the members of House of Representative and the Senates make the Law that governs the whole nation. Members of the state House of Assembly create the Law that governs the states. These Laws are passed as acts and are commonly referred to as statutes. Statutes are those English enactments which were subsequently made applicable in Nigeria. The three types of statutes that were received into Nigeria are statutes of General Application in force in England as at the 1st day of January 1900; statutes and subsidiary legislation on specific matters, an example is probate proceedings; and English Legislative enactments made before Independence Act, 1960.
Equity: One of the Sources of Nigeria Law
This simply mean fairness in a layman’s language. The expression means what is right in fairness, moral or natural justice as distinct from that which is right according to strict Law. The main function of equity is to provide the solution to grievances which the common Law could not do. It is also a received English Law. The common Law is the basic Law of the land in England, where it is said to be complete, but equity is a residual Law operative within the facts of common Law. Equity is a system of Law that is mitigated, the complexity or rigidity of Law. It is a source of Law developed as a result of the persistent and crying need to remedy the defects which were apparent with the common Law. This source of Nigerian Law provides the remedies of specific performance or injunction which are not obtainable in the Common Law Courts. Another function of equity is that it gave relief where contracts were entered into by mistake or induced fraud.
Conclusion on the topic
There is no country whose Law has no source. Even if the source is not from international countries, it can be within the locality. The source can be from the individual units that make up the country or from the top leaders that have ruled the country before. There must be the source of any country’s Law irrespective of the population or the categories of the leaders that govern the country.
This write-up has seriously dealt with the sources of Nigerian Law. This country, Federal Republic of Nigeria, was ruled by the colonial masters for so many years who were from Britain. This is why the ‘received English Law’ is part of the sources of the Law of the Federation. The federal Republic of Nigeria, which is the most populated country in Africa, has the sources of Her Law as received English Law, equity, custom and finally, status and legislature.
General Principles of Law in Nigeria by Nick A. Obobo Eso.