Elusive Justice? An Assessment of Child Justice in the Tripartite Court System in Nigeria

AuthorIyabode Ogunniran
PositionSenior Lecturer, Department of Public Law, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Nigeria
Elusive Justice? An Assessment of Child
Justice in the Tripartite Court System in
Abstract: Objectives: There are three courts with d ifferent theoretical un derpinning administering
child justice in Nigeria. The Juvenile Court is premised on the rehabilitative ideal but researches have
shown that the apparatus to fulfill this ideal is non -existent. The Sharia Court composition is radically
different and the procedure used in such courts follow strict Islamic legal precepts. Invariably, child
offenders are not given adequate protection guaranteeing justice. Prior Work: This article assesses
child justice in these courts to determine the extent of protection of child offenders. They are young,
immature and very vulnerable. Over the years, various studies have demonstrated the need for change
in the above courts. Value: Based on law, the article examines the provisions creating the new Family
Courts. These provisions accord with international juvenile justice standards established to grant
justice to such offenders. The Family Court, just as it is being used for several purposes in other
jurisdictions, is a recent development in Nigeria. Implications: This article assesses the structure and
procedure of this new court and proposes it as being best suited for child offenders.
Keywords: Juvenile court; family court; sharia court; justice; protection
1. Introduction
Nigeria is one of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa comprising 36 states and the
Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. There are Southern and Northern Nigeria with a
population of about 174 million and over 250 ethnic groups.
The country was
colonized by Britain and it introduced the Juvenile Courts in 1943.
The court was
Senior Lecturer, Department of Public Law, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Nigeria.
Corresponding author: iyogunniran@yahoo.com.
Info please http://infoplease.com/country/nigeria.htm?pageno=2 (last visited 17 June 2014).
The Children and You ng Person Ordinance was promulgated in 1943 for the welfare and the
treatment of young offenders. It was an adaptation of the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act in
Britain. In 1945, there were three Regions, whilst Juvenile Courts were established in the Western and
Eastern Regions, ten states in the North ern Region were not using the courts. The states were Bauchi,
Benue, Borno, Gongola, Kaduna, Kano, Kwara, Niger, Plateau and Sokoto (Obilade, 2005, p. 217).
These States later voluntarily created Juvenile Courts, for instance, Kano state created Juvenile Courts
with the enactment of Kano State Juvenile Courts Edict 1987.
AUDJ, vol. 10, no. 3/2014, pp. 51-70
premised on the rehabilitative ideal. Due to the immaturity of the child, the court
should focus on helping the child to live a productive life; the state should act as
parens patriae and to create a special forum where the child could be understood
so as to develop the ability to take responsibility for his or her action (Mcnamme,
1999ab, pp. 8-9, 18-19; Behrman et al., 1996, p. 6). The courts were designed more
like social welfare agency and proceedings were to be confidential to avoid
stigmatizing the child (Clarke, 2005, p. 667). Conversely, in Nigeria, both the
structure and procedure contradict this original ideal (Solebo, 2004, p. 36). In
addition, the courts preferred sending such offenders to custodial institutions for
rehabilitation (Nwanna & Akpan, 2003, pp. 91-93). Extensive researches carried
out across the country showed that these institutions have not been able to provide
the infrastructure and environment that would help such offenders lead productive
lives (Okagbue, 1996, p. 269; Alemika & Chukwuma, 2001, pp. 70-76; Nwanna &
Akpan, 2003, pp. 113-115).
Based on therapeutic jurisprudence, Family Courts were created in 2003.The role is
to heal and preserve the family by addressing legal as well as underlying personal
and social problems (Reuters, 2003, p.2101). It has exclusive and unlimited
jurisdiction in all matters relating to children, with a well delineated jurisdiction
and a structure that enhances professionalism. The courts are infused with a
catalogue of international justice standards such as legal rights for the children,
discretion and non-custodial disposition methods. In respect of the latter, two novel
provisions are to be explored, counseling and community service. The courts are to
be guided by principle of reconciliation of the parties and amicable settlement of
the disputes.
Hence, the courts are grounded in international child-oriented justice,
focusing on early reintegration of child offenders into the society to assume
For the 1996 Study, Nigeria was divided into six zones: these are South West (Oyo and Edo); North
Central (Benue, Kogi and Plateau); South East (Anambra, Akwa Ibom and Rivers); North West
(Sokoto and Niger); North East (Kano and Borno) and Cosmopolitan zone (Lagos, Port Harcourt and
Kaduna). In the 2011 Stud y, the states covered were Abia; Adamawa; Bauchi; Benue; Delta; Ebonyi;
Edo; Enugu; Imo; Kaduna; Kano; Lagos; Ogun; Plateau and Rivers. For the 2003 Study, the country
was divided into six zones. These are: North West zone (Kaduna and Kano); North East Zone (Borno
and Adamawa); North Central Zone (Plateau and Federal Capital Territory); South West (Lagos and
Oyo); South East (Imo and Enugu) and South -South Zone (Cross River and Rivers).
Nigeria signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Children”s Convention) in
January 1990 and April 1991 respectively. In order to fulfill its international obligation, the country
enacted the Children”s Convention as the Child Rights Act in 2003. Presently, twenty six states have
adopted the Act as their Ch ild Rights Laws. Report from Sharon Oladiji, Project officer, Child
Protection and participation Section UNICEF, U.N. House Central District, Abuja, Nigeria.

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