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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

The 1979 Nigeria constitution was suspended after 1983, the May 3, 1989 constitution was never implemented, and the 1999 constitution (based largely on the 1979 constitution) was promulgated by decree on May 5, 1999; it took effect on May 29, 1999, when an elected civilian government took office following 15 years of military rule.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

The Nigerian legal system is based on English common law modified by Nigerian rulings, the Constitution, and legislative enactments.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Legal Profession

Legal Education in Nigeria


The origin of the legal profession in Nigeria dates back to about 1862, when the British colonial administration first introduced a system of courts patterned after the British system. This brought about the need for an organized legal profession able to apply English laws and procedures.

In 1876, the Supreme Court Ordinance was enacted to regulate the legal profession and to define those who could engage in the practice of law in the colony. The Ordinance provided that those who had already been admitted as barristers or advocates in Great Britain or Ireland, or as solicitors or writers to the signet, in any of the courts at London, Dublin, or Edinburgh were to be allowed by the Chief Justice to practice as barristers and solicitors in the colony.

Similarly, those who, by close contact with legal practitioners, were deemed sufficiently knowledgeable in the law could also be admitted to practice as attorneys. In view of the acute shortage of qualified persons, the colonies could not afford the luxury of separating barristers (those who appear in court) from solicitors (those who are confined to office work), as was the case in England. That marked the beginning of a fused legal profession in Nigeria.

In 1945, the Supreme Court (Civil Procedure) Rules ended the era of "self taught attorneys" who, although not professionally qualified, were allowed to function as barristers and solicitors. Henceforth, only a person who is entitled to practice as a barrister in England or Ireland or as an advocate in Scotland could be admitted to practice in Nigeria. (Order 16, Rule 1 of the Supreme Court Ordinance No. 43 of 1943).

This arrangement proved to be inadequate because the foreign-trained lawyers were not well grounded in the local laws and customs. And having only qualified either as barristers or solicitors in England or other places with no fused legal profession, these foreign-trained lawyers upon arrival in the colony did not find it easy combining both aspects of the profession. Consequently, many of them abandoned the profession and went into politics, business or other vocations.

It was against this background that the government began to consider the need for an autochthonous system of legal education capable of responding to the peculiar needs of Nigeria痴 indigenous community. It became clear that barristers who were trained in the ancient Inns of Court in England and solicitors who had emerged from foreign law firms were of an orientation differing from that required in an African setting. Thus in 1960, the British Government appointed a committee on Legal Education for African Students. Headed by Lord Denning, the committee was asked to review the suitability of the legal training offered in the Inns of Court vis--vis the needs of African Commonwealth countries. After acknowledging the inadequacies of the existing training programmes, the Committee recommended expanding the course contents in order to accommodate the peculiar needs of African countries. Particularly noteworthy is the recommendation of the Committee to introduce a substantial period of practical training for African students.

Earlier in 1959, the colonial Government in Nigeria had appointed its own Committee on the Future of the Nigerian Legal Profession, which was under the chairmanship of E.I.G. Unsworth, Q.C., then Attorney General of Nigeria. The recommendations of both this Committee and the Denning Committee later formed the bulk of the provisions that were enacted by the Nigerian parliament as the Legal Education Act of 1962 and the Legal Practitioners Act, 1962. The former provides the guidelines for the training of persons desiring to become legal practitioners in Nigeria while the latter regulates the practice of the profession in the country. The Legal Education Act of 1962 has now been repealed and replaced with the Legal Education (Consolidation, etc.) Act, 1976 while the Legal Practitioners Act of 1975 has replaced the one enacted in 1962. These two enactments currently regulate the training of lawyers and the practice of their profession in Nigeria.

Council of Legal Education

First established in 1962, this Council holds primary responsibility for the education of persons desirous of entering the legal profession in Nigeria. It consists of the following members:
(a) A Chairman appointed by the National Council of Ministers on the recommendation of the Attorney General of the Federation.
(b) Attorneys-General of the States or where there are none, the Solicitors-General.
(c) A representative of the Federal Ministry of Justice appointed by the Federal Attorney-General.
(d) The heads of the Faculties of Law of all recognized universities in Nigeria whose course of legal studies is approved by the Council as sufficient qualification for admission to the Nigerian Law school.
(e) The President of the Nigerian Bar Association.
(f) 15 persons entitled to practice as legal practitioners in Nigeria for no less than 10 years' standing and selected or elected by the Nigerian Bar Association.
(g) The Director (now Director-General) of the Nigerian Law School.
(h) 2 persons who must be authors of published learned works in the field of law, appointed by the Attorney-General of the Federation.

The Council is charged with the primary responsibility for training prospective members of the legal profession. In April 1963, the Council established a school known as the Nigerian Law School for the purpose of providing "practical training in the work of a barrister and of a solicitor". Only those who have successfully completed the one-year of practical training offered by the school are issued a qualifying certificate and admitted to the Nigerian legal profession by the Council.

The Nigerian Law School

The school admits only persons holding a law degree from an approved university or persons who passed the Solicitors final examination of Great Britain and Ireland. Candidates seeking admission must also be of good character. Students who are admitted into the school with degrees obtained outside Nigeria are required to take and pass the following subjects in the Bar Part 1 examination:

(a) Nigerian Legal system;
(b) Nigerian Land Law;
(c) Nigerian Criminal Law; and
(d) Nigerian Constitutional Law.

The Bar Part 1 course is designed to introduce foreign-trained students to the general principles of Nigerian Law. Holders of law degrees from Nigerian universities are exempt from the Bar Part 1 course. Also exempt from the Bar Part 1 are graduates from other common law jurisdictions who have taught law for a minimum of five years in a Nigerian Faculty of Law, and graduates from non-common law countries that have so taught for not less than 10 years. Any candidate seeking admission into the school must show evidence of having passed the following core subjects:

(a) The Law of Contract;
(b) Constitutional Law;
(c) Commercial Law;
(d) Criminal Law;
(e) Equity and Trust;
(f) Evidence;
(g) Land Law; and
(h) Law of Torts.

The theoretical aspects of the above courses are not taught in the school, which focuses on the practical aspects of the professional work of a lawyer. The offered subjects in which students are examined in the Bar Part 2 examination are:

(a) Civil Procedure;
(b) Criminal Procedure;
(c) Legal Drafting and Conveyancing;
(d) Commercial Law;
(e) Law and Practice of Evidence;
(f) General Paper, comprising Legal Practitioners' Accounts, Income Tax Law, Office Management and Professional Ethics.

The foregoing notwithstanding, the Council of Legal education may consider for enrollment a person who has lost the opportunity of attending the Law School but who possesses qualifications considered acceptable by the Council. An applicant in this category may be exempted from attending the Law School if he is a citizen of Nigeria, has passed all the core courses mentioned above and has acquired a minimum five years relevant experience. Further, an applicant must demonstrate that it would be unreasonable, under the totality of the circumstances, to require him to complete law school when he lost the opportunity to attend law school due to reasons beyond his control. Persons who have completed the professional training offered by the Nigerian law school are entitled by Section 4 of the Legal Practitioners Act to be formally called to the Nigerian bar and are issued a certificate authorizing them to practice law in the country.

Nigerian Faculties of Law

There are presently over thirty Law Faculties contained within various Nigerian Universities to prepare students for the Nigerian Law School. These include the Faculties of Law of the following Universities:

  • Abia State University
    P.M.B. 2000
    Abia State.

  • Ahmadu Bello University,
    Kaduna State.

  • Bayero University,
    P.M.B. 3011,
    Kano State.

  • Benue State University,
    Benue State

  • Delta State University,
    P.M.B. 1,
    Delta State.

  • Edo State University,
    P.M.B. 14,
    Edo State.

  • Enugu State University of Science and Technology,
    P.M.B. 1660,
    Enugu State.

  • Imo State University,
    P.M.B. 2000,
    Imo State.

  • Lagos State University,
    P.M.B. 1087,
    Lagos State.

  • Nnamdi Azikiwe University,
    P.M.B. 5025,
    Anambra State.

  • Obafemi Awolowo University,
    Osun State.

  • Ogun State University,
    P.M.B. 2002,
    Ogun State.

  • Ondo State University,
    P.M.B. 5362,
    Ondo State.

  • Rivers State University of Science and Technology,
    P.M.B. 5080,
    Port Harcourt,
    Rivers State.

  • University of Abuja
    P.M.B. 117,

  • University of Benin,
    P.M.B. 1154,
    Benin City,
    Edo State.

  • University of Calabar,
    P.M.B. 1115,
    Cross Rivers State.

  • University of Ibadan,
    Oyo State.

  • University of Ilorin,
    P.M.B. 1515,
    Kwara State.

  • University of Jos,
    P.M.B. 2084,
    Plateau State.

  • University of Lagos,
    Lagos State.

  • University of Maiduguri,
    P.M.B. 1069,
    Borno State.

  • University of Nigeria,
    Enugu State.

  • University of Uyo,
    Akwa-Ibom State.

  • Usumanu Danfodiyo University,
    P.M.B. 2346,
    Sokoto State.

These universities produce law graduates who then proceed to the Nigerian Law School for a minimum of one year of professional training. The requirement for admission into any Nigerian university is a minimum of five credits passes at the Ordinary Level General Certificate of Education. Most of those who are admitted into law degree programs usually possess qualifications higher than the minimum. Many already possess first degrees in other disciplines before applying for the first degree in law. The details of the admission requirements of each Faculty as well as the available courses are contained in a brochure published annually by the federally controlled Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB).

Correspondents' Reports

JURIST's Nigeria Correspondent is Yemi Akinseye-George, Acting Head and Senior Lecturer, Department of Public and International Law, University of Ibadan.

Yemi Akinseye-George
Acting Head and Senior Lecturer,
Department of Public and International Law, University of Ibadan