Statutes Of General Application in Nigeria: What you might be missing.


My first experience with that legal jargon was in my first year in the faculty of law. That term can be a little difficult by the time you start worrying your pretty head as to what exactly is SOGA and how do you recognise that it is SOGA. The thought of all these is exhausting. So I have decided to put this up for you on SOGA.

With regards to Nigeria, SOGA refers to Statutes of General Application in force in England as at 1st January 1900. It is good to know that SOGA is one of the components of Received English Law. While we are still at the introductory part, let me make it clear that this date refers only to SOGA excluding Common Law and Equity. Though there has been lots of argument on this issue, that is not a discussion for today. Just understand that for academic purpose that the date only refers to SOGA.

Statutes of General Application in force in England on 1st January, 1900.
√This only refers to statutes which were in force in England on 1st January, 1900 not after that date. Which means that any statute made after that date is not a statute of general application as far as Nigeria is concerned.
√They are only applicable in Nigeria, if and only if our local legislatures have not enacted any law in that area. This means that even if there is a statute of general application on a particular field and the National Assembly or State House of Assembly goes ahead to enact a law in that same field, then the Act of the National Assembly or Law of the State House of Assembly will prevail.
Justice Niki Tobi has said this clearly:
“Where a local statute is available and applies to
a particular local situation, courts of law have
no jurisdiction to go all the way lo England to
search for an English statute. This is because by
the local statute, the law makers intend it to
apply in the locality and not any English statute
which is foreign and inapplicable.”
√Where such statute of general application has been repealed in England, it is still enforceable as long as no local legislation has been made on that field in Nigeria.

I know the most pushing question in your mind is how to identify a statute of general application.
I will like to start by giving you another of Niki Tobi’s opinion on this:
” Section 45 of the Interpretation Act, Cap.89, law
of the Federation and Lagos, I 950 provided that
the statutes of general application that were in
force in England on the 1 st day of January, 1900
shall be in force in the Federation. By this
nebulous provision, a number of English
statutes were held lo be applicable in Nigeria as
statutes of general application by the courts.
From the state of the case law, the approach of
the courts has not been consistent. The courts
have not found it quite easy to determine what
is a statute of general application and what is
not. And so, what amounts to a statute of
general application is still a vexed juridical
problem in our jurisprudence, as the courts do
not successfully apply a single criterion or sets
of criteria across the board. The issue is
therefore, largely taken on the particular merits
of the case before the court.”
From Niki Tobi’s statements above it is clear that identifying SOGA applicable in Nigeria continues to remain difficult even for courts, so as a law student it is not entirely your fault that your pretty head aches at the thought of what a statute of general application is. The main problem is the ‘ statute general application’ part. Assuming it is just statutes in force in England in 1/1/1900, then it would so easy but with the general application part, the court is left to determine what statutes fall under this category.
Osborne CJ, in Attorney General v John Holt gave a rough but not faultless test as to identify a statute of general application.
~Such statute must have applied to all classes of people in England.
~Such statute must have applied to all courts in England.
I am pleased to tell you that as simple as these tests appear, they are not without their own difficulty, infact the two has never been used in any case including the very case it was developed in. There are times where statutes that applied to only some courts in England were still regarded to be Statutes of General Application.
Furthermore, some statutes that apply to only members of a particular class have been declared to be SOGA. A good example is the Infant Relief Act 1874, this statute applied only to infants yet it is a statute of general application in Nigeria. So it can be added that, a statute that applies all members of a class could also be a statute of general application (JO Asein), and that is why Infants Relief Act 1874 is referred to as SOGA.
Truthfully, it is left to the court to determine what a Statute of General Application is. In the words of Niki Tobi in a decided case:
” From the trend of the case
law, it cannot be said that any English statute
which was enacted before 1 st .January 1900 is
automatically applicable in Nigeria. No Nigerian
legislation is a potent and formidable source of
Nigerian law. It forms the most substantial and
definite part of the corpus juris of Nigeria and
the Judges are involved daily in the
interpretation of (he statutes. As the statutes
are the most precise and exact source of Nigeria
law, the courts are bound to apply them in the
cases that come before them. They will have
nothing to do with English statute. unless it is
applicable in the circumstance as a statute of
general application.”
This was Niki Tobi’s view in a recently decided case. Nze Bernard Chigbu v Tonimas Nig. Ltd(2006). The bone of contention was if the Limitation Act of 1623 of England was to be enforced or if it was the Limitation Edict 1991 of Imo state that the court should enforce. By now you should know which the court eventually relied on. Yes, you are right…the court relied on the Limitation Edict 1991 of Imo state. If you don’t why the court did this, then you didn’t read this write-up well.
That case is a very interesting one on SOGA. Try reading it up, just type it into your search engine and you will see everything about the case. Thanks for reading this far, I love you!!! You should drop your comments, questions and corrections. I will reply asap, as long as I am not babysitting (*smiles*). Ciao!!!

Oyekan Oluwaseun O

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25 comments on “Statutes Of General Application in Nigeria: What you might be missing.

  1. Critically discus “the word statutes of general applications are slovenly used by the legislature to save itself of the trouble of exclusively declaring what the actual law of the colony shall be” w.c Daniel

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    • It is no gainsaying that the constitutional role of legislatures is to make laws for the good governance of their state. Using the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as a case study, Section 4 of the constitution provides for the roles of legislatures.
      The truth however , is that not all our laws are made originally by the legislatures themselves, most of these laws were borrowed from other countries and legislatures re-enact them to make them applicable in their country. One of such laws are called Statutes of General Application. Statutes of General Application are English laws used mostly by legislatures to fill in gaps in laws. This has however raised lots of questions.
      One of such questions is, why do legislatures need to depend on SOGA when their actual role is to make laws to suit their locality? This question is a very relevant one because courts mostly have difficult times in determining for sure what SOGA really are. In a country like Nigeria, the search for the true meaning has been so difficult and the courts are yet to reach an agreement to determining what SOGA are. The problem is more complicated because these so called SOGA are originally of English Origin, and must have been made bearing in mind and putting into consideration the English circumstances, as a result of these most of the so called SOGA don’t fit into the circumstances of the countries relying on them.
      From the ongoing, many legal minds and scholars have questioned the reason behind why legislatures rely on SOGA to fill in the gaps. The legislatures ought to be able to make laws that will not cause more uncertainty in the courtrooms. Many have seen it as laziness on the part of the legislatures, for the legislatures, it is much more easier to just make laws to cover all these areas and make the laws applicable certain. Legislatures have however carelessly classify it all under the umbrella of SOGA.
      We need to bear it in mind that where there is already a local legislation on an issue, then such local legislation will take precedence over SOGA. If the legislatures can’t do away with SOGA, then they should say for certain what SOGA are and the list of the applicable statutes in their country, preferably a document containing these statutes, thereby making it easier especially for the court and giving the court direction to go.

      Personally, I see it as carelessness and inefficiency on the part of legislatures as law students, law teachers, lawyers and the Court are endlessly trying to determine what Statutes Of General Applications really are.

      Elle, I hope this helps but it would have done me a lot of good if you had told me the country you are from. So that I would have narrowed it down to your country and use cases you are familiar with. If there are more gray areas, I will be glad to help. Thanks for the question. Ciao!!!

      Liked by 1 person

    • You can consider the case of John Holt V AG where the conditions for determining SOGA was laid down by the court. It should be noted that the test is not an infallible one, the court didn’t even follow the conditions in this case. It is just like a rough guide, so not totally reliable. The case of Nze Bernard Chigbu V Tonimas Nigeria Limited &
      Chief Anthony Enukeme, is one very important case in this area. The court has said almost all that needed to be said on SOGA including the problems facing the court in determining SOGA. If you can Google this case up, you will several other cases that will suit your purpose. Thanks:-)

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  2. Please I have a question on statutes of general application. The question is: ‘There is no consensus on what is a statute of general application. The point has been made that it is a slovenly expression used by the legislature to save itself the problem of ascertaining the law in force in Nigeria’

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    • This is a similar question to Elle’s earlier question. The answer is the sameIt is no gainsaying that the constitutional role of legislatures is to make laws for the good governance of their state. Using the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as a case study, Section 4 of the constitution provides for the roles of legislatures.
      The truth however , is that not all our laws are made originally by the legislatures themselves, most of these laws were borrowed from other countries and legislatures re-enact them to make them applicable in their country. One of such laws are called Statutes of General Application. Statutes of General Application are English laws used mostly by legislatures to fill in gaps in laws. This has however raised lots of questions.
      One of such questions is, why do legislatures need to depend on SOGA when their actual role is to make laws to suit their locality? This question is a very relevant one because courts mostly have difficult times in determining for sure what SOGA really are. In a country like Nigeria, the search for the true meaning has been so difficult and the courts are yet to reach an agreement to determining what SOGA are. The problem is more complicated because these so called SOGA are originally of English Origin, and must have been made bearing in mind and putting into consideration the English circumstances, as a result of these most of the so called SOGA don’t fit into the circumstances of the countries relying on them.
      From the ongoing, many legal minds and scholars have questioned the reason behind why legislatures rely on SOGA to fill in the gaps. The legislatures ought to be able to make laws that will not cause more uncertainty in the courtrooms. Many have seen it as laziness on the part of the legislatures, for the legislatures, it is much more easier to just make laws to cover all these areas and make the laws applicable certain. Legislatures have however carelessly classify it all under the umbrella of SOGA.
      We need to bear it in mind that where there is already a local legislation on an issue, then such local legislation will take precedence over SOGA. If the legislatures can’t do away with SOGA, then they should say for certain what SOGA are and the list of the applicable statutes in their country, preferably a document containing these statutes, thereby making it easier especially for the court and giving the court direction to go.

      Personally, I see it as carelessness and inefficiency on the part of legislatures as law students, law teachers, lawyers and the Court are endlessly trying to determine what Statutes Of General Applications really are.
      In addition you can consider the cases I gave earlier in reply to Solomon’s question.

      Elizabeth, I hope this helps.If there are more gray areas, I will be glad to help. Thanks for the question. Ciao!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Trace the development of common law and equity and its introduction into Nigeria Law. Discuss with decided cases and relevant authorities.

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    • Hello,
      Sorry I am replying a bit late, I hope you will still find this useful.
      Common law and equity developed from England. There is no way we will discuss Nigerian law without making reference to English law.
      Initially, the English people had no unified law prior to the Norman conquest of 1066. Itinerant justices went to each community administering justice in the name of the Crown based on the customs and practices of each community. This implies that the way disputes are settled differs from one community to another. The judges then convey at the Westminster and they review the cases each handled in the community he visited.
      They soon discard some practices of some communities and introduced the practices of some communities in other communities, before long; there was a uniformity and same laws were applied everywhere. Hence, common law developed from the customs and traditions of the English people. The common law courts include: Court of Exchequer, Court of Common Pleas and King’s or Queen’s Bench.

      The rigidity and the harshness of the common law courts led to the development of Court of Chancery- home of Equity. Those who were aggrieved by the common law courts writes petition to the King. This petition is handled by the King’s Chancellor. Most times the Chancellor is usually a clergy. When the petitions comes before him, he handles them with fairness, by not following the law rigidly. People soon stopped directing their petitions to the king, it was made directly to the Chancellor. Different rules were formulated by each Chancellor just to arrive at fairness and justice, these rules formed what we now have as Equity.

      There were lots of anger by the common law judges, who didn’t appreciate the way the Chancellor interferes. The rift was finally solved in the case of Earl of Oxford. The king rules that whenever there was conflict between common law rules and rules of equity, the rules of equity must prevail. The Court of Chancery was abolished by the Judicature Act of 1873 and both common law and equity have since been administered in the same court but where there is conflict, equity prevails.

      The British who were our colonial masters found our legal system incapable of dealing with so many things. They were unwritten, uncertain and they vary from one tribe to another. Hence, for effective administration, the introduced the common law, equity and statutes of general application which were in force in England as at 1/1/1900 into the country; these are known as RECEIVED ENGLISH LAWS. Note that, the date only applies to SOGA. The first reception clause was Ordinance No. 3 of 1863, received into the Lagos colony. These ordinance was the beginning of other numerous Ordinances. The limitation to the application of common law rules and doctrines of equity are contained in Section 32 of the Interpretation Act.

      Hope it helps. Thanks for dropping a question. 🙂

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  4. Elizabeth, sorry I replied you late. I am having internet connection issues with my service provider and I am preparing for exams. Thanks 🙂

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    • I get that feeling. Statutes of General Application can be very difficult. I am happy you found it useful. Thanks for dropping your comment.

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    • Lol. Thanks Lord Mke. I found SOGA annoying too, it took me more than semester to understand it. So, I promised myself to make sure nobody goes through the same stress. Thanks for dropping a comment.

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  5. I don’t think it is an offence asking men/women of high intellect of what u know little or nothing about… even Dr.Fayokun understand say na research I dey do ooooooooooooo….*chuckle * @lord mke…once again thankz Miss/Mrs oyebimpe

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