Roles of judiciary in Nigeria 1999 till date

The time frame of this work will cover 1999-till date. Within this period democracy was stored in the country after a long period of military dictatorship. The place of the judiciary in the scheme of thing in a democratic Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. The judiciary can be defined as an institution saddled with the roles of interpretation of the laws made by the legislative arm of government. It can also be defined as this branch of government saddled with the dispensation and administration of justice.

A brief history of Nigerian Judiciary

During the colonial administration, a legal system that was operative in Britain was foisted on Nigeria with effect from 4th March 1863 with the first Supreme Court. A court of record was established for the Lagos colony and vested with constituent powers as in High Court of Justices of England. The Northern Nigerian Order –in-Council 1899 established the Northern protectorate with a Supreme Court having civil and criminal jurisdictions. As at the point of amalgamation in 1914, three different courts were in place viz Supreme Court, Provincial Courts and the Native Courts. All appeal ended with the Judiciary Committee of the Privy Council and this was the situation until Nigeria attained independence on 1st October 1960. By independence, appeals to the West African Court of Appeal were terminated and at the attainment of a republican status in 1963, appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council also ended.

The hierarchy of Courts in Nigeria today has made the Supreme Court the Court of last resort. It is regarded as the ultimate Court in Nigeria like Similar Courts in other Jurisdictions. In fact, this court has been epitomizing the dynamism in law creation. The Supreme Court is closely followed by the Court of Appeal which has original and appellate jurisdictions to hear cases. The court gives final decisions in elections of governors, state and National Assemblies. The Federal High Courts, high Courts of states, Sharia Court of Appeals and Customary Court of Appeals etc.

Nigeria has had an interrupted and unstable experience with the ballot box. For a country that, one way or another began having encounters with elections since 1922, it’s is somewhat ironic or paradoxical that we should still be agonizing over democratic praxis, especially on modalities of selecting our public office holders. Accordingly, we should not stop at trying to reform or improve on the way and manner the electoral process operates even if we seem to have demonstrated a rather steep learning curve because  Rome was not built in a day and there is not even one universally applicable democratic model.

With the long incursion by the military into the political landscape of Nigeria, a near-indelible imprint on the National consciousness has been made, so much so that like paviobal dogs, the citizens seems to have developed reflexes symptomatic of a high tolerance level for arbitrates and misuse of power by those in control of the state apparatus.

In 1999, Nigeria began another democratic journey that led to the judiciary playing some definite roles in the sustenance of democracy viz the 2003 governorship election in Anambra state, the subsequent legal battles that followed which culminated in the restoration of the tenure of Mr. Peter Obi (CHRIS NGIGE V PETER OBI) as the governor of Anambra State, the registration of political parties, Election Petition Tribunals and their judgments, the on Shore and off Shore Dichotomy, upturning of impeachments by the judiciary, press freedom, enforcement of Fundamental Human Right, and answering the question on who actually wins an election, the party or the candidate in the case of Chibuike Amaechi, the governor of River State (Amaechi v. I.N.E.C) etc.

 The Roles of the judiciary in all these is what this work has set out to elucidate.

Nigerian’s fourth republic began in 1999 after the 1st republic 1960-second republic 1979, and third republics 1983 was interrupted by military incursions into the governance of the country. There is no doubt that there is a crisis of democracy in Nigeria. More than 27 years out of the countries 54 years have been spent under military rule. The country has witnessed seven military coups and several aborted coup attempts. This is no doubt as a result of instability inherent in our system of democracy.

Under a series of military-dominated government that controlled Nigeria through most of the 1990s particularly the General Sani Abacha regime, Nigeria has a poor history of supporting international protocol on human rights and democratization. In 1999 under the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo Nigeria took the lead in the strengthening and the promotion of democracy in West Africa. Since Nigeria’s transition to democracy in 1999, it has established a fair record of promoting democracy abroad.


The judiciary is the bedrock of every democratic governance. It is the pillars upon which democracy stands. In a situation where the judicial arm of government is not up and doing in its statutory constitutional functions, then democracy will lose its savour and taste. This work is to ex-ray the performance of the judiciary in the performance of its statutory functions in the fourth Republic between1999-2018.

A lot has been written about the democratic experience in Nigeria but none has ready looked into the roles of the judiciary in Nigerian democratic experience in the fourth Republic between1999-2018. Even though most of the judgments from the judiciary arm of governments from the judiciary arm of government have helped in no small measure in sustaining and deepening of Nigerian democracy, one wondered to what extent, this is the question this research work seeks to answers.

In recent times, it is a matter of common knowledge that there has been a fair amount of loss of faith in the judiciary process and adjudication in solving conflicts and members of the public in certain instances preferred self-help, to the use of the judicial process. The processes have been characterized with serious allegations of corruptions, abuse of office, and claim of ethnic lopsidedness in the appointment of judicial officers and so on. This research work seeks to examine how an independent judiciary can be the viable and permanent solution to the stability of democracy in Nigeria.

Since the judiciary is the pillar upon which democratic governance stood, this will help in no small measure in the sustenance and deepen of democracy in Nigeria.


The Judiciary is one, out of the three arms of government known. It is seen as the third organ of government. It has been vested with the responsibility of interpreting and applying the laws to all cases, as well as, settling disputes in the court of law. In the judiciary, the law can only be law when the judges decide it so, while in the course of giving their judgements during various court cases.

To a common man point of view, the Judiciary is considered the most vital organ of government. The reason is obvious. The judiciary acts as the peoples’ protector against all form of possible excesses of the legislative arm of government and that of the executive organs.

The fact that, Judiciary protects the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as well as, the fundamental rights of the Nigerian citizenry, is what makes judiciary to be a more respectable arm of government than other two organs, the Executive and the judiciary…

Functions of the Nigerian Judiciary according to section 5 of the 1999 CFRN as amended 2011.

The judiciary organ of government plays important role in serving as the last hope of a common man in the society. In this article, I am going to explain as many of its functions that I could.

  1. Judiciary Gives Justice to the People

Among the functions of the judiciary is to give Justice to the people, once the people seek its intervention. Most importantly, the judiciary will always award punishment to those who rightly deserve after they might have tried and found guilty to have violated the laws of the state or infringed on the rights of the members of the public. As a last resort to a common man, members of the public who are aggrieved can always go to the courts and seek redress and possibly compensation.

This happens however when there is fear of someone trying to harm them or infringe on their rights or in the other situation when they have considered themselves of suffering any loss caused by someone or an institution. Judiciary functions in giving justice to the members of the public who deserve it, it goes as long as awarding punishment with respect to the type of crime committed. Judiciary determined the quantity and quality of punishment for those who violate the law, as well as decides cases that have to do with the granting of compensations to the members of the public.

  1. Judiciary Interprets and Applies Laws

Other functions of the judiciary are the interpretation and the application of laws to all cases. We are in the know that, judiciary disputes and as well, decide on cases brought before it. In the course of doing this, the judges can be said to have interpreted and apply laws.

The major function of the judiciary is to interpret the law, therefore, all laws at its disposal deserve to be properly interpreted and as well, applied accordingly to all cases. This aspect of judiciary function is done by the judges, and what the Judges called law or what Judges interpreted is what that stands as law.

  1. Judiciary Makes Law

The judiciary also plays a part in the making of law or law-making. This happens, as a result, the decisions given by the court of law. Decisions taken by the court to some extent do influence the meaning or determine the scope and the nature of laws the Legislature passed. The act of interpreting laws by the judiciary is what really account to what I mean by law-making by the judiciary because it is its interpretations that eventually define what laws are.

Moreover, why do I say that the judiciary makes laws? The reason is obvious. When the higher court, which is also known and called the court of record, when it delivers judgements, its judgements are binding upon the lower courts. The lower court can decide the cases brought to it based on those decisions already made by the higher courts. That is why it is the judicial decisions that really constitute a source of law made by the legislature.

  1. The Role of Equity Legislation

Sometimes, the law does seem to be inconsistent with some of the laws. In other words, laws could be ambitious, that is to say, that the laws are silent, and in such cases, it is incumbent on the Judge to bring in his wisdom.

This is where the Judge’s sense of honesty, fairness, justice and impartially is necessary to decide on the case. Sometimes, in the cause of deciding on such cases, the Judge will indirectly involve himself in the process of lawmaking. That is why it is called equity legislation.

  1. Judiciary Protects People’s Rights

The judiciary is vested with the power of safeguarding the rights of the Nigerian citizenry. That is its supreme responsibility as the third organ of government. In the case, where the citizen’s rights are threatened, or maybe, violated by whoever, the individual has the constitution right as a Nigerian citizen to seek his protection from the Nigerian judiciary, because one major function of the judiciary is the protection of the rights of the Nigerian citizens, even foreigners, since it has to do with human rights.

  1. Judiciary Is the Guardian of the Constitution

We are told that the judiciary’s responsibility is to interpret laws. Since it interprets laws, it is also incumbent on the judiciary to protect the laws it interprets hence, the judiciary, being an arm of government, has a responsibility of guarding the Nigerian constitution. It acts as a guardian to these laws.

That is why it is also incumbent on the judiciary to embark on judicial review over some of the Nigerian laws with a view to ascertain whether or not such laws are in accordance with the spirit of the Nigerian constitution. Having reviewed such laws and found out that they are unconstitutional, the judiciary can reject these laws and the laws will remain invalid, even in the future. This is one of the power vested in the judiciary, and the court referred to this power as the ‘power of judicial review’.

  1. Judiciary Get Its Decisions And Judgements Enforced

Apart from interpreting laws, disputes cases and deliver judgements, the judiciary is empowered to ensure that its decisions and judgements are enforced. It has the constitutional rights to ask the Executive arm of government to respect its decisions and as well, direct it to carry out same.

Besides before the judiciary delivers judgements, it has the rights to summon whoever, should it needs to know the truth from whoever concerned.

Be that as it may, in any case where an individual is guilty as a result of not following the decision laid down by the court, or taking actions considered to be against the direction given by the court, or attempting to mislead the court, or discarding the court summons by refusing to appear before the court as the case may be, the court, with its power can punish the fellow for what the court described as the ‘contempt of court’.

  1. Judiciary Special Role in a Federation

The judiciary has a more vital role to play, where a federal system of government in practice, such as the Nigerian situation. This role includes, guarding the constitution and as well as orbiting disputes involving say, the federal and the state governments.

As an organ of government, the judiciary, in this case, is considered as an umpire, where it acts impartially and independently between the federal government and the state governments as the case may be. Every dispute involving the federal government and the state government is settled by the judiciary arm of government.

  1. Judiciary Runs the Judicial Administration

The judiciary is known as the third arm of government hence, is not a government’s department. It is separated from the other two organs of government, the Executive arm and the Legislature thus, it is independent of its actions, organization and officials.

Judiciary is vested with the power to frame its rules and to enforce same, as well as decide on the nature of judicial organization within the states of the federation.

The judiciary is in charge of its recruitment and this involves every person working in the court, including the magistrates, even as it formulates its rules, enforces them in order to ensure effective, efficient and orderly administration in the judiciary.

  1. Advisory Functions of the Judiciary

In most cases, the court is authorized to make an opinion or give advisory views to leaders, be it a President of the country, a Governor of a state, even some politicians that are bothering on legal matters. The court is vested with this responsibility particularly when it is of public importance.

  1. Judiciary Conducts Judicial Inquiries

More often, issues of state important do come up that normally begs for inquiries. In such a situation, court Judges are normally called upon to serve such purposes. Once Enquiry Commissions are constituted, Judges are always the people to head such commissions.

Some of the issues that warrant such inquiries could be those issues that have to do with alleged errors or sometimes, omissions on the part of the government, sometimes too, on the part of some public servants. The role of Judges who head such Commissions of enquiry is to investigate some important and complicated incidents and other problems.

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