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Nigeria has a mixed legal system consisting of English Common Law, Sharia law (in the twelve northern states) and customary law. The constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary and permits the exercise of Sharia law for consenting Muslims.
Muslims comprise nearly half of Nigeria’s current population, and they are in a majority in the north. In the centuries prior to the advent of British colonial rule, northern Nigeria had been the destination of waves of Muslim migrants, and also became the home of Muslim polities such as the Sokoto caliphate. When, in 1900, the British established a protectorate over northern Nigeria, they chose to rule indirectly, thus allowing the continuation of Islamic laws and customs.
The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal, and has jurisdiction over disputes between the states, or between the federal government and any state. The Federal Court of Appeal is headed by a president and has at least 35 justices, with a minimum of three with expertise in Sharia Law, and three in customary law.
As of 2012, according to the Law Society website, there are 70,000 lawyers practicing in Nigeria. A legal practitioner is enrolled as both a Solicitor and Advocate; there is no formal distinction between the two. In Chapter 3 of the constitution of 1999, legal practitioners are referred to as ‘advocates or solicitors’.
Advocates and solicitors can practice only after satisfying the requirements of the Body of Benchers and reaching proficiency in the final bar examination of the Nigeria Law School. Upon fulfilling these two conditions, advocates and solicitors are automatically admitted to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), which is the professional association for advocates and solicitors. The NBA plays a key part in the discipline and regulation of Nigeria’s legal profession by maintaining the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, guided by the Legal Practitioners Act.
Faculties of law can be found in universities throughout the country. The oldest law faculty in Nigeria is at the University of Nigeria, a university which comprises one main campus (located in Nsukka town) and 37 satellites. Other universities with law faculties include the University of Calabar, the University of Maiduguri, Ahmadu Bello University and many others.
Unless they have also been summoned to the Nigerian Bar, foreign lawyers are not permitted to practice law under home or other title in Nigeria. Foreign qualified lawyers who desire to re-qualify in Nigeria must undertake a one year conversion course at the Nigeria Law School.
There are a number of legal societies in Nigeria. The Young Lawyers Forum (YLF) was set up by the NBA to enable young lawyers to exchange and express their views. Advocates and solicitors in their first seven years of practice are automatically members of the YLF. The Technology Law Society of Nigeria (TLSN), a not-for-profit organisation established to foster the development of Cyberlaw in Nigeria and West Africa, aims to encourage the formation of collaborations with all legal entities and to serve as a common meeting point of all electronic transaction and technology law experts and legal professionals.
The Nigerian Lawyers Association (NLA) was incorporated in 1999 as a not-for-profit association. It represents the interests of attorneys of Nigerian descent both in the USA and worldwide. It is based in New York, USA.
In 2011, the International Financial Law Review (IFLR) identified Aluko & Oyebode, G Elias & Co, and Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie as Nigeria’s best law firms in terms of banking, project finance, capital markets and mergers and acquisitions. Olaniwun Ajayi, Templars, Aelex, and Banwo & Ighodalo were also highly praised in several areas of corporate law.
Information from the World Economic Forum, The Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013
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