THE system of Provincial Courts, which had previously existed in the Northern Provinces, was extended in 1914 to Southern Nigeria. A Provincial Court had an equivalent jurisdiction to that of the Supreme Court in all matters, save that no sentence of death, deportation, imprisonment exceeding six months, fine over £50, or corporal punishment exceeding 12 strokes, could be carried out until it was confirmed by the Governor or his delegate. The full powers of the Court were vested, ex officio, in the Resident of a Province as well as in any District Officer who had proper qualifications. All Administrative Officers were ex officio Commissioners of the Court, and exercised such powers as might be conferred on them.
There were four grades of Native Courts, namely: Grades A, B, C, and D. Grade A had full judicial power in civil actions and criminal cases; but no sentence of death could be carried out until it was confirmed by the Governor. Grades D, C, and B had jurisdictions in civil actions where the debt demand or damages ranged between £1 and £100, and in criminal cases where the offences were punishable by imprisonment for periods of between three months and one year, or fines ranging from £5 to £50.
At all material times since 1900, the Judges of Native Courts in Northern Nigeria were composed of Paramount Chiefs and Alkalis.
Before 1914, the Native Courts in the South were presided over by the District Officers assisted by Traditional Chiefs who sat as Assessors. From 1914, however, the District Officers were withdrawn, and the Courts in the South were presided over by Head Chiefs or Warrant Chiefs and/or their subordinate chiefs.
Appeals from Native Courts lay to the ‘District Officers, the Residents, and the Lieutenant-Governors. At the same time, all the judgments of a Native Court were subject to review by an Administrative Officer, whatever his rank.
Barristers and solicitors could appear in the Supreme. Court, but were barred from appearing in Provincial and Native Courts.
The total exclusion of barristers and solicitors from Native Courts was understandable, but such exclusion from Provincial Courts was severely criticised by Nigerian nationalists. In defence of himself, Lugard justified his policy on the grounds: (I) that by and large, the Judges of the Courts had no legal training and: (2) that it was necessary to protect ignorant Nigerian litigants against ‘the fomenting of litigation by lawyers’ agents, especially in land cases’.
The Provincial Court system was abolished in 1934. In its place was instituted a High Court of the Protectorate of Nigeria, presided over by legally qualified Judges before whom lawyers were allowed to appear. In 1943, after nine years of existence, the High Court was abolished, and the territorial jurisdiction of the Supreme Court was extended to cover the whole country.
In 1933, the Full Court was abolished and was replaced by the West African Court of Appeal, which had territorial jurisdiction over the four British Colonies of Nigeria, Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, and the Gambia. The members of the Court were drawn from among the Judges of the four territories.
Further changes in the system of judicature were made in 1954 when the country adopted a federal constitution. A Federal Supreme Court, with a Federal Chief Justice and Federal Judges, was established for the whole country. It had appellate jurisdiction in all matters, and original jurisdiction in matters involving the interpretation of the Constitution and the determination of issues between two regional governments, or between the Federal Government and a Regional Government. A High Court with a Chief Justice and Judges was established for each of the regions and for the territory of Lagos.
Appeals from the Full Court, the West African Court of Appeal, and the Federal Supreme Court (up to lOctober 1963), lay to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.
Under Lugard, and indeed, up to 1931 when Sir (then Mr.) Olumuyiwa Jibowu was appointed Police Magistrate, all the Judges, Magistrates, and Legal Officers were British nationals, with a slight admixture of light-skinned West Indians. All the top posts in the public service, as well as in the army, navy, police force and the prisons, were also held by Britons. Because of this exclusiveness, these posts were popularly and vulgarly known as ‘European Posts’.
It was in the late thirties, and as a result of persistent and prolonged agitation, that Nigerians were admitted into the lower rungs of the so-called European Posts.