Brief History Of Nigerian Legal System

Nigerian legal system is a relic of the century-old British imperialism that brought about the imposition of alien English legal system on our traditional legal structures and institutions. Our organic norms and values were thus largely displaced. Lagos was created a British colony in 1862. In that same year, a court was established there, and five statutes (called “Ordinances”) were applicable to the colony. The ordinances were:

(1) Customs Duties Ordinance No. 1 of 1862;

(2) Harbour Regulations Ordinance No. 2 of 1862;

(3) Harbour Sanitary Regulations Ordinance No. 3 of 1862;

(4) Currency Ordinance No. 4 of 1862; and

(5) Use of Official Seal Ordinance No. 5 of 1862.

True to their mission, the first five laws enacted for the governance of the Colony of Lagos were solely for economic exploitation of a virgin community. And until today, nearly 140 years afterwards, British colonial legacies are self-evident in Nigeria. In 1863, one year later, English law was established in the Colony of Lagos with 25 Ordinances, chief among which were:

(1) Applying Laws of England to the Settlement Ordinance No. 3 of 1863;

(2) Supreme Court Ordinance No. 11 of 1863;

(3) Petty Debt Court Ordinance No. 12A of 1863; and

(4) Supreme Court Ordinance No. 13 of 1863.

Between 1864 – 1865, the following Ordinances, which related to the legal profession and administration of justice, were made for the Settlement of Lagos:

(1) Supreme Court Ordinance No. 1 of 1864;

(2) Supreme Court Ordinance No. 9 of 1864;

(3) Slave Commission Court Ordinance No. 13 of 1864; and

(4) Supreme Court Ordinance No. 5 of 1865.

Today, that colonial history still wields an abiding, nay, compelling influence on every aspect of our legal system. The independence Nigeria got on 1 October 1960 is yet to be perfected in the legal domain.

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