This article is about a system of rules referred to as law and the types of law in Nigeria with their purposes.

Simply put law is a system of rules that are created and enforced by man through environmental or social governmental institutions to regulate the behavior of individuals in the society.  Laws are made by persons who are given the authority to do so either directly or indirectly by society. It is a system that regulates and ensures members of a whole community abide by the law of the state. We have different types of law in Nigeria

State-enforced laws can be made by a single legislator or by a collective legislature, which results in initiating an act or bill, especially by the executive through decrees and regulations, or the law is established by judges through precedent, normally in common law jurisdictions.  Contracts that bind legally, which includes arbitration agreements that may elect to accept alternative arbitration to the normal court process can be created by Private individuals. The creation of laws themselves may be influenced by a constitution, written or tacit, and the rights encoded therein. The law regulates and guides the history, economics, and politics of the society in various ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people.


Below are the various types/classification of laws in Nigeria.

  1. Public and Private Law
  2. Civil Law and Criminal Law
  3. Substantive and Procedural Law
  4. Municipal and International Law
  5. Written and Unwritten Law
  6. Common-Law and Equity



Public law can be defined as that aspect of Law that deals with the relationship between the state, its citizens, and other states. It is one that governs the relationship between a higher party — the state — and a lower one, the citizens. Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, Criminal Law, International Law are some examples of public law.

Private law, on the other hand, is that category of the law that concerns itself with the relationship amongst private citizens i.e. the Law of Torts, the Law of Contract, the Law of Trust, and so on.


Civil law refers to the relationship between citizens and provides means for a solution if the right of a citizen is breached or abused. Examples of civil law include the Law of Contract, the Law of Torts, Family Law, etc.

While Criminal Law is referred to as the branch of Law that regulates crime in society. The is used to punish actions considered harmful to society at large. The Criminal Code Act which is applicable in the Southern part of Nigeria is an example of criminal law.

The standard of proof to be used is proof beyond reasonable doubt When dealing with a criminal case; as provided in S.135 Evidence Act 2011. Also, the burden of proof does not shift from the prosecution. This implies that before a conviction can be gotten or a conclusion arrived at, the state has to prove the commission of the crime to be beyond a reasonable doubt.

While in civil cases, the standard of proof is on the balance of probabilities; as provided in S.134 Evidence Act 2011. Also, unlike the criminal law the burden of proof shifts between both parties when they need to establish their case. Judgment is made in favor of the particular party that has been able to prove its case more successfully (better put was able to convince the court).

Types Of Law In Nigeria And Their Purpose


Substantive Law referred to the main body of the law dealing with a particular area of law i.e. the substantive law relating to Criminal Law includes the Criminal Code Act and the Penal Code Act.

While Procedural law is the law that deals with the process that the courts must follow so as to enforce the substantive law. For example, the Procedural law includes the rules of the various courts and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, which is the procedural law in relation to the Criminal Code Act and the Penal Code Act.


The municipal/Domestic law refers to the branch of law which evolves from and has an effect on members of a specific state.  The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) is an example of municipal Nigerian law and it applies in Nigeria only.

Nigeria is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, African Union, etc., and as such is bound by international law. International law refers to the law between countries. International law regulates the relationship existing between different independent countries and is usually in the form of international customs, treaties, etc. Examples of International law include the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is important to note that according to S.12 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), although Nigeria is a signatory to various international treaties, it cannot be enforced as a law in Nigeria except they are enacted by the Nigerian National Assembly.


A law is not regarded as a written law just because it is written down in a document. Rather Written laws refer to those laws that have been validly enacted by the legislature of a country.

On the other hand, unlike Written laws, Unwritten laws are those laws that are not enacted by the legislature. This law includes both customary and case law. Customary Law as part of its basic characteristic generally is unwritten. This originated from the tradition, practices, and lifestyle of the people. The following categories are the traditional classification of customary law is into the:

Ethnic/ Non – Muslim: This is the indigenous law enacted and that applies to the members of the different ethnic groups. There are various ethnic groups each with its own variety and specific customary law in the country. The ethnic Customary law is uncertain, unwritten, and difficult to ascertain. The ethnic Customary law is implemented in customary courts. These courts are at the lowest level of the hierarchy of courts and in several cases, non-legally trained personnel preside over the court.

Muslim Law / Sharia: Since 1959, Islamic law has been in use in the Northern part of Nigeria. Islamic/Sharia/Muslim Law is a clearly written, defined, and articulated principle. It is written based on the Islamic religion and was introduced in Nigeria as a consequence of a successful process of Islamization. It is based on the Holy Koran and the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad. The origin of the Sharia which is the Muslim laws can be traced in the Holy Koran and the Hadith (teachings of the Prophet Mohammad).

Case law, on the other hand, though written down in a documentary format is regarded as unwritten law because it is not enacted by the legislature.


In the legal term, common law means the law created by the old common law courts of the King’s Bench, the Courts of Common Pleas, and the Courts of Exchequer.

An example of such a law is English common law because it is a law common to all parts of England. The customs, practices, and way of life of the people cause the law to grow over time and it is largely unwritten. The King was the first judge of the common law. The King settle people who had disputes usually brought to him.

However, the king didn’t have time to settle all cases due to matters of state. As a result of the state matter, the king appointed members of his court to settle disputes in his stead.


The Federal Republic of Nigeria is the Constitutional Republic. At independence, Nigeria has three regions, which are, the Northern Region, the Eastern Region, and the Western Region. Nigeria comprises of 36 states and Abuja is the federal capital territory. These states are grouped into 6 geopolitical zones which are North East, North West, North Central, South East, South West, and South-South. This grouping, however, has no constitutional recognition. Nigeria has close to 400 linguistic groups, but the 3 major languages are Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa, while the official language is English.

The Nigerian Legal System is based on the English Common Law and legal tradition because of colonization and the attendant incidence of reception of English law through the process of legal transplant. English law plays an important role in the Nigerian legal system, and it forms a formidable part of Nigerian law. The English Common Law is provided for in Section 45 (1) of the Interpretation Act that, the common law of England and the doctrines of equity and the statutes applied generally which were in force in England on 1st January 1900 are applicable in Nigeria, only in so far as local jurisdiction and circumstances shall permit.



There you have it. The types of law in Nigeria and their functions. It’s key to note and know all these laws so as to wipe clean ignorance of the law. The several types of laws have different functions and for different purposes.

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