Criminal Law in Nigeria: All You Need To Know

There are certain things you need to know as a Nigerian about the criminal law in Nigeria.  It is important you are aware of these facts to enable you participate fully in the system of things in Nigeria.  You should not wait till you are compelled by situation to search for adequate knowledge on this issue. Ignorance of the law has put so many people in prison today and they are suffering wrongfully because they are not aware of what they are supposed to be aware of.

criminal law

This same ignorance would make some people plead guilty in court with the hope of the judge setting them free out of sympathy.  Things do not work this way in the Nigerian criminal law. However, the information below will help to open your eyes on the system of things regarding the criminal law so that you do not commit legal blunder when the time comes.

What you should know

There are two types of laws in Nigeria; they are:

  • The civil law
  • The criminal law

This write up is concerned more with the criminal law, but we will define the two briefly

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Civil law: It is a legal action that can never lead to imprisonment or punishment or fine.  Such legal actions include land ownership dispute, landlord/ tenant matters, termination of employment, defamation of character, breach of contract.

Criminal law: This deals with crime. The action can only be described as a crime if it is recorded as crime in the Nigerian law. If there is no law against it, then it is not a crime. Example of such actions include cultism, examination malpractices, vandalism, robbery, armed robbery, perjury, bigamy, forgery, obtaining money under false pretense (419), bribery, corruption, kidnapping, attempted suicide, manslaughter, murder, stealing, rape, attempted murder and such like.

Anyone arresting you and accusing you of a crime should also tell you the particular crime you have committed or the particular law you have broken.

Laws governing criminal law in Nigeria

Criminal law is actually governed by 2 different laws. They are:

  • The criminal codes and
  • The penal codes

The southern part of Nigeria makes use of the criminal code, while the northern part of Nigeria makes use of the penal code.

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Where are these laws derived from? Some of the sources are disused below.

In actual fact, the Nigerian law has 3 different sources; they are:

  • Religious
  • Local and
  • Foreign

The foreign law originates from the following:

  • The Nigerian legislation
  • The judicial precedent
  • The constitution
  • International treaties

The local law source has to do with the customs and native law.

The religious source refers to the Sharia Law.


Never allow the law enforcement agents to deceive you into believing in a lie so that they do not rope you into an offense you do not commit or make you go to prison for an offense that should not attract prison sentence. The police is supposed to read you your right at the point of arrest after they have told you of the offense for which you are arrested.



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