Home Introduction to journalism KNOWING THE COURTS IN NIGERIA


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Court reporting can be one of the most exacting fields of journalism for the reporter. It can also be one of the most rewarding. It is exacting because reporters are expected to report only factual aspects of events they witness or giving account of. It is also rewarding and fulfilling when such reports keep the reporter from the dungeons of the even state security forces or correctional closet. Thus, this unit provides you with the basic information about Nigerian courts that should make your reports more exacting and rewarding.
The daily listing of the cases for any court – from the Magistrate Court through to the High Court of Nigeria – is a smallest equaliser of journalists. It could be compared with two people sitting great
down to the same crossword puzzle. They are faced with the same facts, and only their individual levels of skill and wit make the between how accurately and quickly they can complete the difference
Court cases are the same. A junior reporter has to work with same facts, puzzle. debate and judgment as Super ‘A’ grade journalist. Once inside the court, contacts do not come into it, because you can only report what happens in the courtroom. Comment does not come into it. Do that and you may find yourself in contempt of court. Court reporting comes down to being able to apply the basics of journalism. BEING ACCURATE, BEING FAIR, BEING ON TIME, and DEMONSTRATING NEWS SENSE.

Finding the right angle on a court story could be the difference between it being buried as court filler or being national news. When you arrive at the courthouse, you are faced with the very same listings as the senior reporter. Every case is a potential story; whether it is two neighbours fighting over their fence, a back-street assault, a drink –driving arrest, or a mass murder…at the very least, there is a story to how it came to appear in court. There are always thousands of cases, which reflect our society’s need for rules to govern the conduct of everyone and for the benefit of the majority.


On successful completion of this module, you should be able to: 

  1. Describe the system of courts in Nigeria 
  2. List the types and hierarchy of courts 
  3.  Describe the types or kinds of cases handled by each of the courts 
  4.  Describe basic composition of such courts 


3.1 The Courts In Nigeria

Court in Nigeria may be divided into several forms:

  1.  Superior and inferior court. 
  2. Court of records and court other than court of record. 

For the first form of classification, superior courts are courts of unlimited jurisdiction and in the strict sense of the term “Unlimited jurisdiction”. There is no such court in Nigeria. But superior courts are
so described because the limits to their jurisdiction are minimal and they have the minimal jurisdiction limit depending on the subject matter. The high court of a state is therefore a superior court because it has unlimited jurisdiction throughout the state with respect to the value of the subject
matter. Inferior courts are courts, which has jurisdictional limit with respect to the type and value of the subject matter. The magistrate court instance is usually subject to supervisory jurisdiction of the high court.For the second type of court classification, a court of records formally a court which kept a record of items, acts and was proceedings and had the power to punish a person for contempt. Today,

judicial however, the strongest essential feature of the court of record is power to punish contempt and so that any court which has power to its punish contempt is a court of record, but any court which does not have such power is not a court of records. A court of record may be a superior or inferior court e.g. High Court and Magistrate Court respectively. The power to punish a person summarily, at common law, rest with the superior court whether or not the offence is committed before the court or out of the court but and inferior court of record has power still at common law to punish summarily only when the offence is committed in the face of the court. The punishment may be in the form of a fine or an immediate imprisonment.

3.2 Hierarchy of Court in Nigeria

3.2.1 The Supreme CourtThe Supreme Court was established in 1963 by the constitution of the Federation, which provides that the judges of the court should include: The Chief Justice of Nigeria and 6 other judges known as justice of the Supreme Court. The law also prescribed that the judges’ should not be

less than 5 in any occasion, presently how ever the number of justices of the supreme court stands at 10 (ten). The appointment of a person as the chief justice of Nigeria can only be done by the head of state. (i.e. under military regime).

The Supreme Court is the final authority for court matters in Nigeria. It is a superior court of record. It can listen to and consider both civil and criminal cases. The Supreme Court hears appeal from the Federal Court of Appeal. By the provision of section 117 subsections 2 of the constitution of Nigeria (1963) the Supreme Court has the right to try cases of appeal already decided by the federal court of appeal particularly in following cases: the

  1.  Decisions in any civil or criminal proceedings on questions concerning the interpretation of the constitution of the federal or any state law. 
  2.  Decisions on any civil or criminal proceedings on questions as to whether any of the provisions concerning the fundamental rights are contravened in relation to a person. 
  3.  Decisions in any criminal proceedings in which the federal court of appeal has affirmed a sentence of death impose by another court or tribunal. 
  4. Decisions concerning disputes between the federal and state or between states or in such cases as may be enacted by law. 

The Supreme Court of Nigeria as the highest court for Nigeria has contributed in no small measure to the development of law. Paramount among such contributions has been their role as the supreme moulder of the law, particularly, in criminal and constitutional law.

3.2.2 The Federal Court of Appeal

The Federal Court of Appeal is a superior court of record established in October 1, 1976 by the constitution of the federation. By the provisions of the constitution, the judges of the federal court consist of the president of the court and at least 21 other judges styled justices of appeal. The judges are appointed by the highest ruling body then the supreme military council after consultation of the advisory judiciary committee. The court is mainly the court of appeal and has exclusive jurisdiction to hear appeal from the state high court, the federal revenue court and such other courts or tribunals as may be specified by law.

3.2.3 The Court of Resolution

This is a kind of court that exists in each of the ten or more Northern state in Nigeria. It has the chief judge of the state as the president. Others including the grand Khadi, a judge from the High Court nominated by the Chief Judge and another judge from the Sharia Court of Appeal nominated by the grand caddy (Khadi).

In cases where the opinion of these judges differs concerning an issue or matter brought before the court, the opinion supported by the chief judge is usually declared as the opinion of the court. The court has jurisdiction to resolve conflicts arising between the high court and the Sharia Court of appeal. In cases where there is no such conflict the court Resolution describes which of the two courts actually has jurisdiction. It of should be noted that no occasion has ever arisen for the convening of the court of Resolution in the country.

3.2.4 The Sharia Court of Appeal

The Sharia Court of Appeal also applies to the ten or more Northern State of the Federation. It is seen as the superior customary court of records, which consider cases from the upper area court. Such cases involve Muslim personal laws. By definition, Moslem personal law consists of the Muslim Law of the Maliki school governing following matters: the

  1.  Moslem laws concerning marriages constituted according to that law and including the dissolution of such marriages. It also certain family relationship, which relate to the marriage under concerns question or the guardianship of an infant equally connected to the marriages under question. 
  2.  Moslem laws regarding gifts, will or succession where the endower, donor, testator or deceased person is a Muslim. 
  3.  The court also considers matters concerning infants, prodigal or person of unsound mind who is a Moslem. It equally deals with the maintenance or the guardianship of a Muslim who is physically or mentally infirm. 
  4.  The court also entertain question where all the parties to the proceedings (whether or not they are Moslem) have by writing under their hand requested the court that hears the case in the first instance to determine the case in accordance with the Moslem law. 

The quorum for the sitting of the court is limited to two Judges and the eligibility of persons to be appointed, as a judge must include following: the

  1. Must be a Moslem. 
  2. The person must not be less than 35 years. 
  3.  Must have been in adviser on Moslem law in the service of a native authority for not less than 10 years. 
  4.  Must be a holder of certificate showing that he is knowledgeable in the study of Sharia law. 
  5. Must be a distinguished scholar in Islamic study. It should be noted here that legal practitioners are not permitted to appear for any party before the court. 

3.2.5 The Federal Revenue Court

This was established by the Federal revenue court decree of 1973 as a federal High Court of Justice. It has the president and usually four (4) other judges appointed by the head of state. Judges of the court are so appointed after consultation of the advisory judiciary committee. A single judge duly appointed can constitute the court. The court has civil and criminal jurisdiction referring to the revenue of the federal government connected with or pertaining to the taxation of companies, payment of custom, excise duties, banking, foreign exchange, currency and other fiscal measures. Such areas of jurisdiction usually recognize the operation of the company decree of 1968 as well as other enactment that relate to the copyright, patterns, designs, trade mark etc.
The three other court that come after the Federal Revenue court are:

a) State High Courts
b) Magistrate Court
c) Customary and Area courts.

3.2.6 High Courts

On creation of Lagos state in 1967 a High Court was established by the constitution of the Federation as amended by the states decree, 1967. Similarly the constitution of Northern Nigeria as amended by the 1967 Decree established a high court for Kano and another for Kwara State. As amended by that same decree the constitution of Eastern Nigeria established a High Court for Rivers State in 1976. On creation of the new states, a High court for Bendel State was established by the court, for the Mid Western Nigeria as amended by the state Decree 1976. By the constitution of Western Nigeria a high court for each of the states of Ogun, Ondo, and Oyo was established as amended by the 1976 decree.

By that same decree a high court for each state of Anambra, Cross River, Imo and Rivers were established by the constitution of Eastern Nigeria and High court for the states of Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Gongola, Kaduna, Kano, Kwara, Niger, Plateau and Sokoto was established by the constitution of Northern Nigeria as amended by that same decree. The structure, organization and jurisdiction of the state High courts are generally uniform. The High Court of each of the Northern states consists of the Chief Judge of the state and at least five other judges. The high court of each of the states of Anambra, Bendel, Cross River, Imo, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo and Rivers consists of the chief judge of the state and at least 6 other judges.

Concerning jurisdiction, the High court of each of the Northern states is not empowered to issues in relation to any proceedings in any area court or in the Sharia court of Appeal an order of “Mandamus Certiorari’ or prohibition or an injunction in lieu of ‘quo warranto’.

There is no such prohibition in any of the southern states.In all the states where customary or area courts exist, the high court has original jurisdiction to try customary law cases. Such are reserved for no the customary courts versed with the power in the applicable law. In each state, the high court in the exercise of its original jurisdiction is constituted by a single judge. In the northern states, the high sitting, as a court of appeal is constituted by 2 judges except when sited court in its notice Appellate Division such cases are constituted by 3 judges including a judge from the Sharia Court of Appeal.

In Southern states, High court constituted by a single judge in jurisdiction but in Lagos State, it may be constituted by 3 judges. High its courts generally are court of unlimited jurisdiction being unlimited with respect to the monetary value of the subject matter of the case.

3.2.7 The Magistrate Court

It is constituted by a single Magistrate. Every state in Nigeria has Magistrate court. Magistrates are divided into any of these classes, in a each state i.e. the basis of defining the jurisdiction and powers of each magistrate. In some states some persons are designated Magistrates of classes, which classes are not provided for under the law. Appointments specified to grades of Magistrate that are legally non-existent are irregular and do not confer any jurisdiction on appointee.

In each state, a person is appointed Magistrate, other than magistrate Grade III by the interim judicial Committee established for the state and the power to appoint a person magistrate Grade III is vested in the chief Judge of the state.

Under the law in force in some states, a person is not appointment as a magistrate unless he is qualified to practice eligible for barrister and solicitor in a court of unlimited jurisdiction in civil and as a criminal matters, and he has attained a specified minimum of qualification experience expressed in terms of years. post- Civil Jurisdiction of Magistrate (in Southern States) is generally uniform

but as a governing rule, a Magistrate has no original jurisdiction in any civil case, which raises any issue as to the title to land or to any device, request or limitation under any will of settlement. Civil Jurisdiction in every other state varies from state. Magistrate Courts have jurisdiction to deal with criminal cases summarily. There is no provision for authorizing any magistrate to impose punishment greater than the maximum prescribed in relation of his grade. However adequate punishment provisions cover only cases punishable with fine or imprisonment or both, with or without whipping or less penalty. They do not cover capital offences and so Magistrates have not jurisdiction for the summary of trial of capital offences.

3.2.8 District Courts (Northern States)

A District Court is a court of civil jurisdiction; it is an equivalent of a Magistrate Court in any of the Southern States. Its jurisdiction is similar to the civil jurisdiction of a magistrate court in any of the Southern States. As modified by the states decree of 1967 each of the then 6 Northern states, on creation of the states in 1967 had district courts established by the District Court Law. By virtue of the states Decree 1976, similarly each of the present 10 Northern states have district courts established by the district court law.  A district court is constituted by a single judge. The district court judges are divided in 4 classes namely Senior District Judge, District Judge Grade I, District Judge grade II, and District Judge Grade II. District Court judges other than district judges grade III are appointed by the interim judicial committee established for the state and district judges II are appointed by the chief Judge of the state.

The district court has jurisdiction subject to prescribed monetary value limits where the subject matter is money or is capable of estimation in terms of money.

3.2.9 Customary

These are courts established essentially for the administration of customary law. In the then 19 states this court was established in 17 states but exceptions were in the then Bendel and Imo state. In Lagos state, the customary court is governed by the customary courts law. Under the law Attorney General for the state is empowered to establish by warrant customary courts of a single grade outside the city

of Lagos.There is no provision for the establishment of customary court in the city of Lagos. Section 2 of the law provides that a customary court shall consist of a president and at least two or four members as the case may be (The president and 3 other members to telling (4).

For the purpose of hearing any case in a customary court 2 members shall form a quorum where the court consist of 3 or 5 members or 3 respectively i.e. either the president and 2 other members or president and 4 others members. the Customary Court members including the president, are appointed by the interim customary courts judicial service committee for the state. Qualification for membership include:

a) He is a literate in English language.
b) He possesses at least primary and standard IV certificate or its equivalent and suitable experience.
c) He is a native of the area of jurisdiction of the customary court. 

3.2.10 Area Court

Area Court exists in most Northern States of the Federation. They are established by warrant of the state chief judge, they have civil and criminal jurisdiction as dictated by the edict establishing them. They particularly have unlimited jurisdiction in Matrimonial cases between persons married under customary laws as well as issues concerning guardianship. 

3.2.11 Juvenile Court

These are courts established for the trial of young offenders as well as for their relatives. These courts exist in the southern part of the country, they do not exist in Northern state, what exist in the northern states is normally treated under the children or young person’s law, it has as it substance the protection of the young person.

A child by this law is one who attends the age of 14 (fourteen years) young persons are those who have attended the age of 14 but attended the age of 17 or 18.not The juvenile court is constituted by the Magistrate sitting with other members appointed by other appropriate authorities.
a) Juvenile Courts are not expected to be tried in public. Those that are permitted to be there should have the permission, for example, the journalist. This is done because the children are
not supposed to mix up with the adult to avoid further corruption.
b) No publication is expected to be made, but if it must be, the authority responsible do this should avoid exposing the identity of those involved (the children). c) All alternative punishment should be sort for to deal with such cases.
d) No death sentence is permitted. e) It is not practicable in Nigeria.

Self Assessment Exercise 3.1

Present in a tabular format, the types, composition, jurisdiction of the courts operating in Nigeria.


The study of the different Courts in Nigeria by the reporter is both an academic and professional exercise as it helps to make his exacting and rewarding. reports


In this unit, you have learnt about the (1) the kinds of courts operating in Nigeria (2) the composition of the courts, (3) the kinds of cases that are presented within such courts (4) the limitations of the courts in scope of cases handled by then. It is hoped that this exposure would the help the journalist approach his/her assignments responsibly.


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