(2008) JLP 58: 69-92
Abdulmumuni A. Oba
The Area Courts are the most heavily criticised of courts in Nigeria. They are frequently accused of incompetence, corruption, and arbitrariness. Another basic problem with the area courts is that of a crisis of identity. Law in Nigeria is a plural complex with English-style laws, Islamic law and customary laws operating to various extents. The Area Courts, although historically and basically Islamic law courts, partake of the other two laws. This paper assesses the extent to which the criticisms levelled against Area Courts hold true regarding those in the Ilorin Emirate in northern Nigeria.
The colonial system of indirect rule resulted in the preservation of the pre-existing Islamic Alkali courts, but a gradual assumption of control by the government. They were renamed Native Courts, and required to apply common law and customary laws as well as Islamic law. After Independence the courts were renamed Area Courts, but the system was continued.
Today Area Court judges are generally trained legal practitioners, and the courts are under the administrative control of the Chief Judge, also a trained legal practitioner. Legal practitioners represent litigants, and have brought the technicalities, delays and high costs of the common law into the system. Nevertheless, Area Court judges administering Islamic law generally think of themselves as Qadis and their courts as religious courts, and this is how the populace generally perceive them. Some results of this crisis of identity have been highhandedness, arbitrariness and corruption.
The paper concludes with suggestions of ways to improve the administration of justice in the Area Courts in Ilorin and in Northern Nigeria in general