The Nigerian court system is a complex and hierarchical structure, with courts at different levels having different jurisdictions and powers. The hierarchy of courts in Nigeria is important because it ensures that there is a clear system for resolving disputes and that all parties to a dispute have the opportunity to have their case heard by a court of competent jurisdiction.
The Nigerian court hierarchy can be divided into two main categories: federal courts and state courts. Federal courts have jurisdiction over matters that fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government, such as constitutional matters, criminal law, and admiralty law. State courts have jurisdiction over all other matters that are not within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government, such as civil law and family law.
At the top of the Nigerian court hierarchy is the Supreme Court of Nigeria. The Supreme Court is the highest court in Nigeria and has final appellate jurisdiction over all other courts. The Supreme Court also has original jurisdiction in a limited number of cases, such as disputes between states and between the federal government and states.
Below the Supreme Court are the Court of Appeal and the Federal High Court. The Court of Appeal is an intermediate appellate court that has jurisdiction to hear appeals from federal and state high courts. The Federal High Court is a court of first instance for federal matters and has exclusive jurisdiction over certain types of cases, such as admiralty cases and cases involving the federal government.
The lowest level of the Nigerian federal court system is the National Industrial Court. The National Industrial Court is a court of first instance for industrial disputes and has exclusive jurisdiction over certain types of cases, such as cases involving trade unions and employers’ associations.
The state court hierarchy is similar to the federal court hierarchy, with a high court at the top and magistrate courts at the bottom. The state high court is the highest court in a state and has original jurisdiction over all matters not falling within the exclusive jurisdiction of federal courts. The state high court also has appellate jurisdiction over lower state courts.
THE HIERARCHY OF COURTS IN NIGERIA
The Nigerian judicial system comprises different types of courts that exist in layers of superiority, each with its specific functions. These courts form the judicial arm of government, and the hierarchy of these courts is dully explained in this write-up. The executive and legislative arms do not interfere in the activities of the Judiciary, ensuring a clear separation of powers as entrenched in the Nigerian constitution.
The eight hierarchy of courts in Nigeria are explained with their various jurisdictions and functions below.
THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA
The Supreme Court of Nigeria is the highest court in the country, with the most important and final jurisdiction. It was established in 1963 and has the power to hear appeals from the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court is located in Abuja and consists of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and 21 judges at all times. The Justices of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President upon the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and approval by the Senate. Every Justice of the Supreme Court is mandated to resign at the age of 70.
The Supreme Court of Nigeria has several functions. Some of the roles of the Supreme Court are:
- Final court of appeal: The Supreme Court serves as the final court of appeal or court of last resort for all civil and criminal cases in Nigeria. Its rulings and decisions are final and binding.
- Settles disputes: The Supreme Court settles disputes between state versus state, state versus federal government.
- Appellate court: The Supreme Court functions primarily as an appellate court.
- Interpreter of the law and constitution: The Supreme Court serves as an interpreter of the law and constitution.
- Advisory role: The Supreme Court also has an advisory role to the executive.
- Guardian of the constitution: The Supreme Court is the guardian of the constitution of the land.
THE COURT OF APPEAL
The Court of Appeal is the intermediate appellate court of the Nigerian federal court system. It has the original jurisdiction to determine and hear any question as to whether any person has been validly voted into the office of the President, Vice President, Governor, or Deputy Governor. Unlike the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal is located in different states of the country, and there are 72 appeal courts in Nigeria.
The roles of the Court of Appeal include:
- Serving as the intermediate appellate court of the Nigerian federal court system.
- Deciding the appeals from district courts entrenched within the federal judicial system.
- Having the power to establish whether the correct results of governorship or presidential elections and their tenure in office.
Although the Court of Appeal doesn’t try issues, its jurisdiction isn’t limited to election matters alone. It also appeals all other courts below it and any other tribunal. The Court of Appeal is led by the President of the Court of Appeal and comprises of 66 judges at all times as approved by the Senate.
THE FEDERAL HIGH COURT
The Federal High Court is the third in rank according to the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria. It is headed by the Chief Judge and contains the number of Judges allowed may be preassigned by an Act of the National Assembly. Its jurisdiction is mostly limited to civil cases such as matters on taxation, banking, custom and excise duties, citizenship, copyright, etc.
The Federal High Court has original jurisdiction in civil cases, and matters as set out under Section 251 (1) of the 1999 Constitution. It can be properly constituted if it contains at least one Judge of the Court.
Below are the roles of the Federal High Court:
- Hears and determines mostly civil cases, including matters on taxation, banking, custom and excise duties, citizenship, copyright, etc.
- Court of first instance for federal matters
- Has exclusive jurisdiction over certain types of cases, such as admiralty cases and cases involving the federal government
The Federal High Court can be found in more than 15 states in the country.
THE STATE HIGH COURT
The State High Court is provided for under Section 255 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). It is headed by a Chief Judge, and the number of judges is determined by the State House of Assembly and the National Assembly in the case of the High Court of the FCT. The State High Court has the largest jurisdiction under the 1999 Constitution in civil and criminal cases and has the appellant jurisdiction over decisions of Customary Courts, Area Courts, Magistrate Courts, etc.
The State High Court has the authority to hear matters on both criminal and civil cases in the state as entrenched under the 1999 Constitution. They can also hear appeals from customary courts and magistrate courts.
THE NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT
The National Industrial Court (NIC) is presided over by the President of the National Industrial Court and is divided into various judicial separations for administrative convenience. Established in 1976, it has all the powers of the High Court of a state and the appellate jurisdiction.
The NIC has the following duties:
- Settling disputes as regards to trade and labour.
- Hearing appeals from the Industrial Arbitration Panel and all other employment matters in the country between employer and employee.
- Court of first instance for industrial disputes.
- Has exclusive jurisdiction over certain types of cases, such as cases involving trade unions and employers’ associations.
The NIC has the power to adjudicate trade disputes, labour practices, matters related to the Factories Act, Trade Disputes Act, Trade Unions Act, and Workers’ Compensation Law. Its jurisdiction covers disputes arising from the employment relationship between employers and employees, including wrongful dismissal, redundancy, and discrimination. The NIC is located at 11, New Bussa Close, Area 3, Garki, Abuja, and is characterized by excellence that strives to attain a fair and responsive system of justice while protecting the rights and liberties of all parties involved.
THE SHARIA COURT OF APPEAL
The Sharia Court of Appeal is a type of court in Nigeria that is prevalent in states where Sharia law is practiced. It has appellate jurisdiction in civil cases involving issues of Islamic personal law. The court is headed by a Grand Kadi and contains a number of Kadis. One such court is located in Abuja, and they can also be found in Northern states in Nigeria that claim them.
The functions of the Sharia Court of Appeal include:
- Reviewing cases relating to Sharia and Islamic law.
- Interpreting the customary laws of other regions of Nigeria as bound by the constitution.
- Handling litigation cases, particularly for the poor.
Overall, the Sharia Court of Appeal plays a crucial role in interpreting and upholding Islamic personal law in Nigeria. SEE THE FULL LIST OF STATES PRACTICING SHARIA IN NIGERIA.
THE CUSTOMARY COURT OF APPEAL
The Customary Court of Appeal is headed by the President of the Customary Court of Appeal and contains Judges. It exercises supervisory and appellate jurisdiction in civil cases involving issues of customary law. These courts exist in the FCT and in states that claim them.
The functions of the Customary court of appeal include:
- Intermediate appellate court for customary law cases
- Has jurisdiction to hear appeals from customary courts
THE MAGISTRATE COURTS AND DISTRICT COURTS
Magistrate courts are established by the law of the House of Assembly of a State and are known as District Courts in the Northern part of Nigeria and Magistrate Courts in the Southern part. These courts function primarily as a judicial body of summary judgment, which means that all decisions in this particular judicial body are summarily determined without briefs or pleadings filed by the parties.
DIAGRAM OF THE HIERARCHY OF COURTS IN NIGERIA
The diagram below shows the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria. It illustrates the different levels of courts in the country, from the lower courts such as the Magistrate and District Courts to the higher courts such as the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
|Higher Courts||Lower Courts|
|Supreme Court of Nigeria||Magistrate Court|
|Court of Appeal||District Court|
|Federal High Court||Customary Court|
|High Court of the FCT||Sharia Court|
The Magistrate and District Courts are the lowest courts in the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria. They are responsible for handling cases at the grassroots level and serve as the initial entry point for most legal matters in Nigeria.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF COURTS IN NIGERIA AND THEIR FUNCTIONS?
Nigeria’s judicial system consists of federal and state courts. The federal courts are further divided into superior courts of record and inferior courts. The superior courts of record include the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court, and the National Industrial Court. The inferior courts comprise the Magistrate Courts, the Customary Courts, and the Area Courts. The functions of these courts vary depending on their jurisdiction, but they all play a crucial role in the administration of justice in Nigeria.
WHAT IS THE HIERARCHY OF SUPERIOR COURTS OF RECORD IN NIGERIA?
The hierarchy of superior courts of record in Nigeria starts with the Supreme Court, which is the highest court in the land. Below the Supreme Court is the Court of Appeal, which is the second-highest court in Nigeria. The Federal High Court and National Industrial Court are also superior courts of record, but they have limited jurisdiction compared to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.
WHAT IS THE JURISDICTION OF THE FEDERAL HIGH COURT IN NIGERIA?
The Federal High Court has jurisdiction over matters that are of federal nature, such as cases involving the interpretation and application of the Nigerian Constitution, admiralty law, banking and currency, and taxation. The Federal High Court also has jurisdiction over cases relating to intellectual property, immigration, and revenue collection.
WHAT ARE THE CASES THAT CAN BE HEARD BY THE COURT OF APPEAL IN NIGERIA?
The Court of Appeal has jurisdiction to hear appeals from the decisions of lower courts, including the High Courts, Sharia Courts of Appeal, Customary Courts of Appeal, and the National Industrial Court. The Court of Appeal also has the power to review decisions of administrative bodies and tribunals.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE MAGISTRATE COURT AND THE HIGH COURT IN NIGERIA?
The Magistrate Court is an inferior court that has limited jurisdiction over criminal and civil matters. The Magistrate Court can hear cases involving minor offences and civil disputes with a monetary value of up to N5 million. On the other hand, the High Court is a superior court of record that has unlimited jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases. The High Court can hear cases involving serious offences and civil disputes with a monetary value of over N5 million.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE SUPREME COURT IN NIGERIA’S JUDICIAL SYSTEM?
The Supreme Court is the highest court in Nigeria and has the final say on all legal matters. The Supreme Court has the power to interpret the Nigerian Constitution and make decisions on matters of national importance. The Supreme Court also has the power to review decisions of lower courts and tribunals. The decisions of the Supreme Court are binding on all courts in Nigeria.