This article will tell us about the legal system of Nigeria before and after colonialism.

8/3/20222 min read


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The history of the legal profession in Nigeria. This article will tell us about the legal system of Nigeria before and after colonialism.

It is truism that the legal profession actually started in Greek and Roman city states. However, what we had at that time were not lawyers. They only rendered probono services to people. Later on, the roman priests started to interpret laws for the people. They were known as the Roman juris or orators. For example, Paul in Caesarea in the bible was an orator. Conversely, the kings and nobles became attracted to the legal profession. For instance, King Hamurabi of Babylon is known for codifying the Hammurabi code. Also, King Napeleon codified the French laws into civil codes. Apparently, these laws were to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the society.

Before the coming of the colonial masters, communities in Nigeria had different ways through which law and order was maintained. For instance, the southerners had a collective legal system. Justice was not an abstract impart, nor was law an impersonal agency in the search for peace and communal solidarity. The system was geared towards ensuring the maintenance of peace and social equilibrium. The obligation of fostering justice in the south was placed on the ruler and his council of advisers. They were said to be very important persons because they play integral role in resolving disputes and ensuring that there is peace in the community. It is important to note that the precolonial legal system of the southerners in Nigeria was not based on any written law but was based ultimately on the laws and customs of the people.

That Yorubas used both reparatory justice and peacemaking justice system. While reparatory justice system was used basically to give an injured party compensation from the other party (default party). The peacemaking justice system was used in situations where there was a quarrel or misunderstanding among members of the communities. Where there is a doubt in the facts of a criminal case brought to the rulers, ordeals were used to find out the truth. For instance, accused persons could be asked to swim pass a creek full of crocodiles to prove that his account of the facts of the case is authentic.

The Igbo judicial system was not absolutely different from that of Yoruba. In the Igbo system, an accused was presumed guilty until he is proven innocent. In proving his innocent an accused must survive an ordeal. Apparently, ordeals were used to replace investigation at that time. Accordingly, when there was a dispute among members of the communities or where a person is accused of any crime, the parties/accused is brought before the council of elders. The council of elders was responsible for deciding whether or not a person is guilty of a crime in the Igbo pre-colonial justice system.

Conversely, it is right to say that the pre-colonial justice system in Nigeria was inquisitorial in nature and was characterized by the use of ordeals. However, it should be noted that the use of ordeal has now been prohibited by the Criminal code (section 207 of the criminal code).

NB: This article is not a legal advice, and under no circumstance should you take it as such. All information provided are for general purpose only. For information, please contact chamanlawfirm@gmail.com


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