6 Things That Every Nigerian Must Know About The Nigerian Law, Part 2

Before you proceed to read this post I advise you first read the Part 1 of this title, 6 Things That Every Nigerian Must Know About The Nigerian Law. This is the concluding part of the earlier one.

4. Court System: in Nigeria, there is a well-established hierarchy of courts. There are 2 categories of court: i, Superior Courts and ii, Inferior Courts.

i. Superior Courts: courts in this category are the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, State High Court, Federal High Court, Sharia Court of Appeal, Customary Court of Appeal and National Industrial Court.

These Courts are also called Superior Courts of Records because the practice of judicial precedent operates in these courts. By judicial precedent is meant a practice of judging a present case in the light of a previous case. To put it in a plain layman language, judicial precedent means ‘’treating like cases alike’’.

Another important thing to note about this court system in Nigeria is the issue of jurisdiction. Unless a court is empowered to handle a matter, whatever that court does when in actual fact and law does not have jurisdiction is of no effect.

Take, for instance, where a case between one state and another is taken before a High Court. Such a case is bound to fail because in a case of this nature, the High Court does not have jurisdiction except the Supreme Court.

Another instance is to file a divorce case before a Federal High Court; this is also doomed to fail.

ii. Inferior Courts: courts regarded as inferior Courts are Magistrate Court, Customary Court and Sharia Court. These courts are called inferior courts because the practice of judicial precedent does not apply to their proceedings. Again, there are matters that these courts cannot handle. For instance, where a case of breach of contract involves some amount of money in the range of N1m., these courts cannot entertain it, only the High Court has jurisdiction. Eventhough reported cases are cited (judicial precedent) in the Magistrate Court, its own judgements are not usually reported to be used as precedent before any courts.

5. Presumption of Innocence: under the Nigerian Constitution, every person accused of a crime is presumed innocent. Even if a person is found committing a crime, the law still confers on that person the presumption of innocence.
In a plain language, presumption of innocence means that every person alleged to have committed a crime must be first tried and found guilty before he can be punished.

The only exception to this presumption of innocence is when a person pleads guilty in a court of law and in that situation; the court is allowed to impose punishment at that point. However, a court may not be able to impose any punishment outright where the crime committed is a capital one. The court must still go into full trial before any punishment can be imposed, that is, if he is found guilty.

Presumption of innocence is a delight of the suspect but a plague to the members of the public. People suspected to have committed a crime are always presumed innocent until the contrary is proved and this provides a good cover for the criminally minded . The members of the public, on the other hand, detest to hear that cliche “every person is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved.” The perception of the public is that the doctrine confers too much protection and privilege on the offender.

6. Litigation and Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanisms (simply referred to as ADRs): under the law, the traditional method of resolving disputes has always been a resort to legal actions. However, this trend is changing in recent time as more and more people especially the business people are making use of the Alternative Dispute Resolution options. The ADRs is loosely and generally regarded as AMICABLE RESOLUTION of disputes.

In Nigeria now, many states have amended their laws to accommodate ADRs. The Federal Government has equally done the same. The ADRs hastens up the process of resolving disputes and also preserves relationship, unlike litigation where people come out more embittered and worse enemies.

What Does ADRs Stand For?
ADRS (Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanisms) represents the following alternative options of resolving conflicts:
i. Arbitration
ii. Mediation
iii. Negotiation
iv. Conciliation.

Of all the 4 listed above, it is only Arbitration that is a bit close to litigation; others are far from it. In Arbitration, there must be an arbitrator (or arbitrators in some cases) but he doesn’t have to be a legally-trained person and doesn’t have to follow traditional court procedures in his proceedings. Most times, parties must have provided for the use of arbitration in their agreements before they can resort to it.

Other ADR options i.e. mediation, negotiation and conciliation are much more informal. Parties can make use of them at any time whether they have previously provided for them in their agreements or not.

Before I end this post, it must be said that the use of ADRs does not apply to conflicts that have elements of criminality. Offenders must be taken before a regular court.

The list of 6 things that every Nigerian must be aware of about the Nigerian law are my own thoughts of what I consider very important. Feel free to add to them or make your comments in the comment form below. Thanks for reading.

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