The Jurisprudence of International law in Nigeria’s Legal System. By Augustine Eneji Ushie

International law regulates the public and private affairs, relations and diplomacy of States. This article explains Nigeria’s approach to international law, taking into consideration the dualist and monist theory. 


Nigeria’s disposition towards international law is concisely contained within the sovereign purview of its constitution. Prior to the 1960 Independence Constitution of Nigeria, the foreign policy and foreign affairs of the country were designed and conducted by Great Britain. However, the enactment of the 1960 constitution made provisions for certain State policies on matters of international law, such as; treaty-making processes, alien participation in State affairs, etc. 

Progressively, subsequent constitutional development strengthened the influence of international law in Nigeria. Besides, the impact of international relations and other external affairs, further characterized Nigeria as a member of the international community, and therefore, a subject of international law. 


The “Dualist” and “Monist” theories play a crucial role in the relationship between international law and Nigeria’s municipal law. Distinctively, the dualist theory concerns itself with the fundamental differences between international law and municipal law based on their respective functions. Thus, dualists believe that international law may be applied by domestic courts only if it has been incorporated into local law by legislation.
On the other hand, Monists assert that international law is supreme and should preside over municipal law, even within municipal courts, respectively. 

The position of Nigerian scholars on the above theories differes. While some are of the view that Nigeria should endorse the doctrine of incorporation and discard the perspective of a nation subjecting its internal laws to an international legal system, others assert that the interconnectedness and interdependence of States calls for a unified international regime above and beyond State lines. Irrespective of the varied opinions, Christian N. Okeke(a Nigerian scholar), posited that Nigeria has been classified as a country of “mitigated dualism”. Evidence abound in the fact that the Nigerian constitution contains references regarding adherence of Nigeria to international law, likewise, the country’s position as signatory in several international treaties confirms this. 

Furthermore, It is a known fact that Nigeria has effectively operated on what is called “borrowed knowledge ” in furthering and fustering its legal, political and economic activities. Nigerian Justice system and legal officers have had to depend on Western textbooks and reference works for their daily practice of legal business, whether in the Courts, the advising of Ministerial departments, or the legal education of the young lawyers. Hence, the efficacy of borrowed knowledge in the administration of the Country confirms the inevitable essence and presence of international law in Nigeria’s legal system. 

In regards to Nigerias treaty-making practice, Sections 12(1) – (3) of the Nigerian Constitution of 1979, codefies the law. Succinctly, it provides that for a treaty validly concluded between Nigeria and any other country to have the force of law in Nigeria, it must be enacted into law by the National Assembly.  An enabling act of the country’s legislative body is required for the validity of a treaty. Likewise, the interpretation of treaties in Nigeria follows the same pattern as interpretation of statutes in municipal law. Also, as reflected by her treaty-making practice, Nigeria endorses acts of incorporation whereby international law is granted full legal effect by her municipal law. Accordingly, international law is not part of Nigerian law in strict sensu. This supports the dualist doctrine.


International law remains imperative in addressing national affairs in Nigeria, and must be tailored for the benefit of the country and the international communities.

Augustine Eneji Ushie is a final year law student in the University of Calabar, Nigeria. He is a young, space law enthusiast and an International law columnist who’s works have been published on “The Economic Misfit” and Louis de Gouyon Matignon’s blog- “Space Legal Issues”, amongst others. Ushie can be reached via [email protected]

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