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Judicial system in Nigeria and their jurisdictions

Nigeria operates nine (9) types of judicial systems which are mandated to settle disputes among individuals, governments, and the like. The courts exist in hierarchical order with the Supreme court having superior power over others.
In this article, I will take a closer look at each type of court and discuss its functions. Below are the nine types of courts in Nigeria.

Supreme Court

Supreme Court, located in Abuja is the highest juridical body in Nigeria and their jurisdiction is the final and cannot be appealed in any other court. Nigeria became a republic in 1963 and that was when Supreme Court was established. It supersedes every other court in Nigeria and is the only court that can take an appeal from the court of Appeal. Supreme Court is headed by the Chief Justice of the federation. The other 21 Justices are appointed by the president and approved by the Senate.

Functions of the Supreme Court

  • Interprets the constitution and laws of Nigeria
  • Takes the last judicial decision in Nigeria
  • Advises the Executive arm of the federation
  • Settles differences between federal and state government or between state and state.
  • Guides Nigeria’s constitution

The Court of Appeal

This is the second in the ladder of judicial hierarchy in Nigeria. There are 72 Courts of Appeal in Nigeria dispersed across six (6) different geopolitical regions in Nigeria. It is made up of the President of the Court of Appeal and other justices which must not be less than 49 in number. Three of the justices must be versatile in Islamic law and three in customary law. The Court of Appeal does not determine the dispute from the beginning, rather, it evaluates how the case has been handled by other trial courts to ensure proper procedure is followed.

Functions of the Court of Appeal

    • Determines the results of the presidential and gubernatorial elections
    • Determines the terms of the office holder
    • Listens and determines appeals from other district courts
    • Serves as the intermediate appellate judicial body

    Federal High Court

    Federal High Court is headed by Chief Judge and other judges. The other judges are determined by the national assembly. Federal High Court exists in more than 15 states in Nigeria.

    Functions of the Federal High Court

      • Handles cases like customs, taxation, banking, and copyright
      • Safety of Aircraft and Aviation
      • Ammunition, arms, and explosives
      • Murder cases
      • Bankruptcy and insolvency
      • Anything that has to do with oil and mining
      • Measures and weights

      State High Court

      State High Court is like Federal High Court but exists at the state level. It is found in each of the 36 states in Nigeria. It is headed by the Chief Judge and other judges approved by either the National Assembly or the State House of the Assembly. It handles matters of civil and criminal law more than any other judicial body.

      Functions of State High Court

        • Serves as the appellate body for all the subordinate judicial bodies
        • Authority to hear and judge criminal and civil cases
        • Listens and determines appeals from other district courts
        • Serves as the intermediate appellate judicial body

        National Industrial Court

        This court was established in 1976, majorly to handle cases between trade unions or trade unions and workers. It also hears and judges cases from industrial arbitration panels and other legal bodies that handle employment cases. The headquarters is in Abuja and branches across the states in Nigeria.

        Functions of the National Industrial Court

        National Industrial Court (NIC) handles the following cases:
          • Labor practices
          • Trade union law
          • Factory law
          • Trade dispute law
          • Workers’ compensation law

          The Sharia Court of Appeal

          This court handles disputes that revolve around Sharia law, especially in the Northern part of the country. It is headed by the Grand Kadi and other Kadis.

          Functions of the Sharia Court of Appeal

            • Handles Islamic judicial cases, more especially those that concern the poor
            • Interprets customary laws of Islams
            • Reviews cases that relate to Sharia and Islamic personal law

            Customary Court of Appeal

            The Customary Court of Appeal is headed by the President of the Customary court and the National Assembly determines how many Judges that make up the body. They litigate mainly civil cases.

            Functions of the Customary Court of Appeal

              • Handles civil cases that have to do with customary law
              • Listens to and judges cases from subordinate customary judicial bodies

              Magistrate or District Courts

              This is the only court in this list that is not in the 1999 Nigeria constitution. National Assembly was established with the sole purpose of serving as a judicial body of summary judgment. A magistrate court is the same as District Court, just that the court is referred to as Magistrate by people in the southern part of Nigeria while those in the northern part refer to it as District Court.

              Functions of the Magistrate or District Court

                • Litigates civil law
                • Determines judgment by summary

                Tribunal Court

                This is a special judicial body recognized in Nigeria. It was created to settle disputes cropping up from the specific area of the law. It is headed by the Tribunal Chairperson and his vice. Other members can be appointed by the president after being recommended by the National Judicial Council.

                Functions of Tribunal Court

                  • Authority to try those holding public offices, peradventure they breach the code of conduct.
                  • Disqualifies a member from holding any public office for more than 10 years.
                  • Seizes any property obtained through corruption.
                  • Right to vacate public officer from the office or legislative house


                  These are the nine (9) types of courts found in Nigeria with their functions, starting from the highest to the lowest order. With this article, you can quickly know where to take your case when you are confronted with any dispute.