Learn about the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria and their respective jurisdictions.
As you already know: Nigeria operates on three (3) arms of Government—
the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary.
The Executive oversees the entire affairs of the nation including the welfare of citizens, the nation’s economy, healthcare, education and so on. It comprises the President and the rest of the cabinet.
The Legislature is responsible for law making. They make the laws by passing bills and, to a very large extent, are at the center of decision making. Nigeria operates a bicameral legislature, namely; the Upper Chamber (The Senate) and Lower Chamber (the House of Representatives).
The Judiciary is the third arm, and going by the trend of law-making and execution, the judicial arm of the government is responsible for the interpretation of laws. It is vested with the responsibility of settling disputes between conflicting parties and establishing justice.
As the power of the legislature lie in the chambers (the National Assembly), the power of the judiciary is in the courts and it is in this court that a citizen can fight the government. For organization and coordination, powers are delegated to courts and each of these courts have their jurisdiction and it is on that premise I’ll be discussing the hierarchy of Courts in Nigeria and their jurisdiction.
Meaning of Jurisdiction
Jurisdiction means power or right of a legal or political agency to exercise its authority over a person, subject matter, or territory. Jurisdiction over a person relates to the authority to try him or her as a defendant. The Jurisdiction over a subject matter relates to authority derived from the country’s constitution or laws to consider a particular case. Jurisdiction over a territory relates to the geographic area over which a court has the authority to decide cases.
Hierarchy of Courts in Nigeria and Their Jurisdiction
Here we go:
THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA
The Supreme Court of Nigeria is at the highest level as far as judiciary is concerned in Nigeria. It is the apex court in Nigeria and any judgment passed here is final; that is, it cannot be contested or appealed by any other court again. It can only be nullified by the legislature or the Supreme Court itself. Reprieve may also be granted to convicted persons by a Governor or the President.
In the provision of Section 230 of the 1999 Constitution, it shall consist of The Chief Justice of Nigeria and Twenty-one (21) judges at all times. The Supreme Court is located only in Abuja.
Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court — the Supreme Court of Nigeria sees to cases between the Federation and a state or between two states. As of appellate jurisdiction, it has the jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in Nigeria but the Court of Appeal. That is, it attends only to cases from the Appeal Court.
The Court of Appeal is the next in rank in Nigeria after the Supreme Court.
According to Section 237 of the 1999 Constitution, the Court of Appeal shall consist of President of the Court of Appeal and consists of not less than forty-nine (49) Justices at all times.
Jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal — the Appeal Court sees to the controversy in gubernatorial and presidential elections, that is, it sees to whether a person is validly elected to the office of the Governor or the President. The Court of Appeal appeals from the Federal High Court, the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, the High Court of a State, Sharia Court of Appeal of a State, Customary Court of Appeal of a State and from decisions of a court martial or other tribunals as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.
The headquarter of the Appeal Court is in Abuja with divisions in Lagos, Kaduna, Ibadan, Enugu, Benin, Jos, Port Harcourt, Abuja, Calabar, Ilorin, Owerri, Sokoto, Yola, Ekiti, Akure and Makurdi.
In the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria, the hierarchy of the Federal High Court follows the Court of Appeal and is provided for in Section 251 of the 1999 Constitution.
Jurisdiction of the Federal High Court — The Federal High Court exercises jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in civil causes and matters relating to the revenue of the Government of the Federation. Matters pertaining to the taxation of companies and other bodies doing business in Nigeria and all other persons subject to Federal taxation, matters connected with or pertaining to customs and excise duties and export duties, including any claim by or against the Nigeria Customs Service or any member or officer thereof, arising from the performance of any duty imposed under any regulation relating to customs and excise duties and export duties.
The Federal High Court also sees to matters pertaining to banks, including any action between one bank and another, any action by or against the Central Bank of Nigeria arising from banking, foreign exchange, legal tender, bills of exchange, letters of credit, promissory notes and other fiscal measures.
It is headed by a Chief Judge (whom alone is enough) and consists of such number of judges as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.
THE STATE HIGH COURTS/HIGH COURT OF THE FEDERAL CAPITAL TERRITORY, ABUJA
The establishment of the High Court of a State and the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abujat are provided for in Sections 270 and Section 255 of the 1999 Constitution. They shall consist of at least one judge and headed by a Chief Judge.
Jurisdiction of the State High Courts and FCT — the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and the High Court of a State have jurisdiction to hear and determine any civil proceedings in which the existence or extent of a legal right, power, duty, liability, privilege, interest, obligation or claim is in issue or to hear and determine any criminal proceedings involving or relating to any penalty, forfeiture, punishment or other liability in respect of an offence committed by any person as well as those jurisdiction of the Federal High Court.
These state high courts have the widest jurisdiction in the law.
The National Industrial Court is established in accordance with the 1999 Constitution (Third Alteration) Act, 2011 as a superior court of record specifically and expressly under the Constitution. The National Industrial Court is duly constituted if it consists of a single judge or not more than three judges as the president of the National Industrial Court may direct.
Jurisdiction of National Industrial Court — the NIC has and exercises exclusive jurisdiction in civil causes and matters relating to labour, employment, trade unions, industrial relations, and matters arising from workplace, the conditions of service, including health, safety welfare of labour employee, worker and matters incidental thereto and connected therewith.
The Sharia Courts of Appeal are established in the states of the Federation. The 1999 Constitution provided for their establishment in Section 260, for FCT and Section 275, for other states. The Courts are headed by a Grand Kadi and consist of other judges as prescribed by the House of Assembly of the state.
Jurisdiction of the Sharia Court — the Sharia Court exercise such appellate and supervisory jurisdiction in civil proceedings involving questions of Islamic personal law.
CUSTOMARY COURT OF APPEAL
The Customary Court of Appeal exists in states of the Federation as well as the Federal Capital Territory in accordance with Section 265 for the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and Section 280 for any state of the Federation that requires its establishment. It consists of a President of the Customary Court of Appeal, appointed by the Governor of the State on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, subject to confirmation by the House of Assembly of the State. The number of Judges is as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly or the House of Assembly of the state that establishes it.
Jurisdiction of the Customary Court — the Customary Court exercises appellate and supervisory jurisdiction in civil proceedings involving questions of customary law.
THE MAGISTRATE COURTS
These Courts are not provided for in the 1999 Constitution, but are established by the laws of the House of Assembly of the state that establishes them.
They are referred to as Magistrate Courts in the Southern parts of the Federation while they’re referred to as District Courts in the North.
Jurisdiction of the Magistrate Courts — their respective jurisdictions are as provided by the states establishing them.