(2004) JLP 49: 113-161




Abdulmumini A. Oba




In the pre-colonial era Islamic law existed in northern Nigeria as a fully-fledged, independent legal system with its own supporting educational system. When the colonial authorities took over this judicial system, they gradually modified and directed it to accord with their own notions of justice. The colonial authorities also introduced their own common law into the country. Yet Islamic law and common law are two radically different legal systems. The colonial imposition of common law and its personnel over Islamic law and its administration generated serious legal, political and religious tensions which have persisted even in the post-colonial era, because independent Nigeria inherited the colonial judicial structure.


The post-colonial era generated its own tensions and conflicts also. Legal education was patterned exclusively along lines obtaining in England. Thus, Islamic law and the existing traditional Islamic educational system had no place. It was only in the mid-1970s that combined law degree programmes in common law and Islamic law were introduced in some universities in Northern Nigeria. In 1985 lawyers gained the right of audience (which they had lacked throughout the colonial era) in Area Courts and the Sharia Courts of Appeal, which are courts of Islamic law jurisdiction. Lawyers who have no training in Islamic law are now actively involved in the administration of Islamic law as counsel and judges. This paper argues for a separation of the administration of Islamic law from common law in terms of courts and personnel, and demonstrates the imperative for the professionalisation of the practice of Islamic law.