Advertise with us
HomeLaw ReviewsA Short Note on the Evolution of Law Reports in Nigeria

A Short Note on the Evolution of Law Reports in Nigeria

- Advertisement -
Advertise with us

Law reports are basically periodical publications of decided cases or issues. There are weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly law reports. They are a major source of law.

In the pre-colonial era,[3] law reports in the Nigerian traditional society existed largely in oral traditions.[4]There were several legal systems within the complex legal system of Nigeria.[5]Each ethnic group had its procedure and precedents.[6] As noted by Adewoye, the judicial opinion of the mufti in the Northern part of Nigeria was ‘invariably based on actual cases and precedents’.[7]As observed by Obilade, ‘the idea of treating previous decisions with respect and referring to them in deciding a dispute is not unknown to customary law’.[8]Precedent then was part of the historical events which guided decisions in cases in hand. This is largely connected to the belief in the powers and wisdom of the ancestors who were taken to continue to be part of the society in spirit.[9] Examples abound in incantations, adages, proverbs and maxims.

Each ethnic group was a mini republic with its polity which exercised legislative, executive and judicial powers in different forms, either fused or separated. It had systems of civil and penal laws including death sentence.[10] In some cases criminals were sentenced to penal servitude or sent into exile in a penal colony.[11] In most cases the Head of State or the king or his equivalent was the Chief Justice who, with the assistance of his council, exercised both original and appellate jurisdictions depending on the nature of the case.

As noted by Tobi ‘although the (adjudication) system was not as sophisticated as the British system, it was designed essentially and basically to ensure the stability of the society and the maintenance of the social equilibrium’.[12]  That point was appreciated by the British colonial government which had no better option than to incorporate the traditional system into its imperialism under a system known as Indirect Rule.[13]

Generally all over the colony native law and custom applied only to the extent that it was neither ‘repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience nor incompatible with any colonial legislation’.[14] Unfortunately, those traditions comprising judicial decisions seem to have been confined to folklore and history with little or no practical use in today’s court, except in royal palaces and traditional courtyards of kings, chiefs and other community leaders where they originally flourished.[15]It has been submitted that ‘the argument against the existence of a rule of precedent under customary law is strengthened by the fact that there is no organised system of law reporting covering decisions of such courts.[16] Certainly, they did not and do not exist in the same form of law report as we know it today.

Print law reporting was inherited by Nigeria as part of the common law or the received English legal system in the late nineteenth century. The oldest English reports are in Legal Latin. Until the nineteenth century, the quality of law reports depended on the reputations of both the judge and the reporter. As noted by W. T. S. Daniel ‘such reports are now largely of academic interest, having been overtaken by statutes and later developments, but binding precedents can still be found’ in them.[17]

Publication of Nigerian cases predates the country’s independence in 1960. As early as 1915, Nigerian cases decided by the Privy Council[18] and West African Court of Appeal were reported in English law reports and Selected Judgments of West African Court of Appeal respectively. Examples of Nigerian cases decided by the Privy Council[19] and reported in English law reports are Att.-Gen. (Southern Nigeria) v Holt (John) & Co (Liverpool);[20]Tijani (Amodu) v Secretary Southern Provinces;[21]Sunmonu v Raphael;[22]Eleko v Nigeria Govt.;[23]Ajakaiye v Lieut-Governor Southern Provinces;[24]Eleko v Officer Administering the Govt of Nigeria;[25]Oshodi (Sakariyawo) v BrimahBalogun;[26]Laoye v Oyetunde;[27]AkisatanApena of Ipord v Akinwadide Thomas;[28]Abinabina (Stool off) v Chief Kojoenyimadu Stool of Nkasawara;[29]Agbeyegbe v Ikomi;[30] Adebayo v Official Receiver of Nigeria;[31]Bamgbose v Daniel;[32]Afonja v R;[33]AdeyinkaOyekan v MusendikuAdele[34] sub nom. Oyekan v Adele;[35]Savage v Uwaechia;[36]Adegbenro v Akintola;[37]Ajayi v Briscoe (R.T.);[38]Akingbeyin v Akingbeyin;[39]Aderawos Timber Co. v Bale Adedire.[40]

Probably the first print law report of Nigerian cases was the Nigeria Law Reports (NLR) published in 1915.[41] However, the All Nigeria Law Reports published annually from 1961 was the ‘first indigenously produced law reports in Nigeria’.[42] Its publication was regular till 1970. But from 1976 to 1985 it went out of circulation till it was resuscitated in 1986.[43]

The Supreme Court Judgments (SC) used to be the official reporter[44] for decisions of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Though an official reporter it did not report cases rendered before its birth. Its publication stopped for a while till late 1980s when a private company obtained permission of the Supreme Court to revive it. Its style of report has changed over the years and old editions have been reprinted by its new publisher.[45]

The most intriguing of all is the emergence of electronic law reports. Examples are Legalpedia Electronic Law Report (LER), LawPavilion Electronic Law Report (LPELR),LawCompanion,Toma Micro PublishersandNigeria Internet Law Report (NILR). They are cheaper, easier to carry, and prompt. While print law reports delay in publication of cases, electronic law reports are published without delay—at least synopses of cases are made available almost immediately the cases are decided. Though relatively new, electronic law reports are gaining grounds fast and the courts now cite them.[46]



[1] Culled from an article by this author originally published under the title A Critical Appraisal of Law Reporting In Nigeria.

[2]B.Sc (Econ) Ed, LLB, B.L, ACIArb, a magistrate and coroner in the Lagos State Judiciary <>.Many thanks to the staff of Lagos State Judiciary library and AyindeSanni& Co for permission to use their libraries.

[3] Nigeria’s colonial era was 1861 to 1960.

[4] The principal law in the Northern part of Nigeria was the Islamic law of the Maliki School of jurisprudence the main sources of which were in writing: A.A.Fyzee. 1964. Outlines of Muhammedan Law. Third edition; Obilade, A.O. 1979.Nigerian Legal System.Spectrum Law Publishing Nigeria. Page 17

[5]Obilade, A.O. 1979. Nigerian Legal System.Spectrum Law Publishing Nigeria.Page 5.

[6] It is said that there are estimated 300 ethnic groups in Nigeria: AfeBabalola, OFR,SAN. Election Law and Practice. Intec Printers Limited (2003) page 1.

[7]Adewoye, O. The Legal Profession in Nigeria (1865-1962). Page 2. 1977. Longman. It has been observed that in most part of Northern Nigeria Alkali courts flourished: Keay, E.A. and Richardson, S.S. The Native and Customary Court of Nigeria. 1966. Islamic Law in Africa. Sweet and Maxwell. Anderson.

[8]Obilade, A.O. 1979. Nigerian Legal System.Spectrum Law Publishing Nigeria.Page 115.

[9] It has been posited that in the pre-Islamic North ‘judges were tribal leaders or soothsayers or deities as they were believed to be capable of communicating with the spirits’. Mahmud, A.B. Supremacy of Islamic Law. Hadahuda publishing company.Page 116.

[10]Ogundere, J.D. The Nigerian Judge and His Court. University Press Plc, Ibadan. 1994. Page 1. Punishment for murder may be hanging: Tobi,Niki. The Nigerian Judge.A & T Professional Publishers. 1992. Pages 6-7.

[11] Penal colony is called ‘eyinodi’ in Yoruba customary law of criminal procedure.

[12] Tobi, Niki. The Nigerian Judge.A & T Professional Publishers. 1992. Page 1. See also Awala, Alfred. The Nigerian Magistrate In Action. 2005. Page 1. Amfitop Books. Lagos, Nigeria.

[13] It is a system by which natives were ruled through the existing traditional institutions: Elias, T.O. The Nigerian Legal System; Elias, T.O. Law In A Developing Society. Application of native law was given judicial recognition by the privy council in Laoye v Oyetunde (1944) AC 170 PC in the following pronouncement, ’The policy of the British…is to use for purposes of administration of the country the native laws and customs in so far as possible and in so far as they have not been varied or suspended by statutes or ordinances affecting Nigeria’.

[14]Supreme Court Ordinance No. 4 of 1876. This is also known as the validity or repugnancy test. It has been noted that ‘in any district where a statutory native court had been established (by the colonial administration) no indigenous court had any jurisdiction (thus)…the traditional authority of the indigenous court which authority was in accordance with the customs of the local community was to disappear.’:Obilade, A.O. 1979. Nigerian Legal System.Spectrum Law Publishing Nigeria.Page 23.CfElias, T.O. The Nigerian Legal System.Routledge and Regan Paul. 1963.

[15]Even today’s Native or Customary Courts are merely modern courts with less formal procedure. CfOgundere, J.O. op cit. It has been observed that ‘the adjudicating process in traditional society was however not conducted in courts in the British context of the word with all the paraphernalia of a formally designed building punctuated with an aura of legalism and juristic style’: Tobi, Niki, op cit page 4. On the Chief’s Court see Elias, T.O. The Nigerian Legal System.Routledge and Regan Paul. 1963. Page 42.

[16]Obilade, A.O. 1979. Nigerian Legal System.Spectrum Law Publishing Nigeria.Page 115.

[17]History of the Origin of the Law Reports (London, 1884)

[18] Privy Council was the highest Court of Aappeal for British colonies. It ceased to exercise that jurisdiction over Nigeria in 1963 when Nigeria became a republic and the Supreme Court of Nigeria was established to be the final Court of Appeal in and for Nigeria under part 1 of Chapter VIII of the Constitution of the Federation (1963): Kiren v Piscal (1978) 11 NSCC 558 @ 562.

[19]OlisaChukura in his compilation entitled Privy Council Judgments: Opinions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Appeals from West Africa 1841 to 1973 (published in 1981) reported 95 Nigerian cases decided by the Privy Council.

[20](1915) AC 599

[21](1921) AC 399

[22](1927) AC 881

[23](1928) A.C. 459

[24](1929) AC 679

[25](1931) AC 662

[26](1936) 2 All E.R. 1632

[27] (1944) AC 170

[28](1950) AC 227 PC

[29](1953) AC 207; (1953) 2 WLR 261; 97 S.J. 79 PC

[30](1953) 1 WLR 263 PC

[31](1954) 2 All ER 197; (1954) 1 WLR 681 PC

[32](1954) 3 All E.R. 263 PC

[33](1955) Crim. L.R. 783 PC

[34](1957) 1 WLR 876 PC

[35](1957) 2 All ER 785 PC

[36](1961) 1 All E.R. 830 PC

[37](1963) AC 614; (1963) 2 WLR 63; (1963) 3 All E.R. 544 PC

[38](1964) 1 WLR 1326; (1964) 3 All E.R. 556 PC

[39](1964) 108 S.J. 520 CA

[40](1965) 109 S.J. 73 PC

[41] It contained a selection of cases decided between 1881 and 1911 in the full courts of the Gold Coast Colony, of the Colony of Lagos, and of the Colony of Southern Nigeria.

[42]Bola Ajibola, S.A.N., K.B.E., Attorney-General of the Federation, in the Preface to All Nigeria Law Report (reprint).

[43] ibid.

[44] The term official reporter does not exclude others. It is used here in the sense that SC is published on the authority of the Supreme Court. In Nigeria no one has exclusive mandate to publish decisions. And there is no specific law regulating law reporting.

[45]Lawbreed Limited

[46] See, for example, Ola v Unilorin (2014) 15 NWLR (pt.1431) 453@ 472 where the Court of Appeal cited Citizens International Bank Ltd v SCOA NigeriaLtd (2006) LPELR – 5509 (CA). See also Abdullahi v Gov. Kano State (2014) 16 NWLR (pt. 1433) 213 @ 249, 255 CA; Ekweozor v Re.Trustees of S.A.C.N. (2014) 16 NWLR (pt. 1434) 433 @ 463, 465 CA and Citec International Estate Ltd v. Francis (2014) 8 NWLR (Pt.1408) 139 @ 167 SC; (2014) LPELR-22314(SC) per Kekere-Ekun, JSC.

Advertise with us
Lawyer, Bibliophile, Polyglot, Traveller
Advertise with us
Must Read
Advertise with us
Related News
Advertise with us


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.