Written By; Greatness Eyonsa .E.




³Per Eko JSC; in Mumini V. FRN (2018) 3 S.C. (PT.I) 55 at 68 para.30

4Per Ogbuagu JSC; in Osakwe V. F.C.E (Technical) Asaba & 2 ors. (2010) 2-3 S.C. (Pt. III) 158 at 178-179 para. 35-15

5Per Akaahs, JSC; in Umar & 22 ors V. APC (2018) 7-10 S.C. 195 at 217 Para.30


7 Kalejiaye V. LPDC & Anor (2019) 3 S.C. (PT I) 51 at 78 para.10

8(1968) NMLR 350 at 352

9(1989) 5 S.C. 113 at 129 para. 25-35

10(2010)2-3 S.C.(PT.III) 158 at 178 para.30

¹¹(1990) 5 NWLR (PT.153) 652 P.661, 663 CA.1




The Nigerian judicial system is one that is greeted with a hierarchical structure of court systems. Like the Yoruba culture, our judicial system demands that, all lower courts must always prostrate before the decision of the higher court, no matter the blood of error soaked with the decision of the higher courts. The doctrine of stare decisis compels all lower courts to respect higher courts decisions. However, the pertinent question that seeks answer is; what is the legal effect of conflict of decisions of the Supreme Court in Nigeria? Simply put; what happens when there are two conflicting decisions of the Supreme Court in Nigeria? This paper seeks to examine the doctrine of judicial precedent in Nigeria and issues of conflict of Supreme Court decisions in Nigeria.

Keywords; (Supreme Court, Judicial precedent)


The phrase “judicial precedent” does not enjoy any particular definition. Judicial precedent has been defined as a legal case law establishing a principle or rule that a court or other judicial body may apply while deciding subsequent cases involving similar issues or facts.1It can also be seen as the process whereby judges follow previously decided cases where the facts are of sufficient similarity. 2In practice, the doctrine of judicial precedent implies that all inferior courts must at all times, be bound by the decisions of the superior courts in all cases and apply the legal principles set out in the decision of the superior court. This doctrine is aptly captured by the maxim; stare decisis et non quela movera, which means; “standing by what has been decided and not to disturb and unsettle things already established”3.

Every court judgment is usually falls into two parts which are; Ratio decidendi and Obiter dictum.

The former is the principle of law on which a decision is based. It means “the reason for the decision”. When a judge delivers judgement in a case he outlines the facts which he finds have been proved on the evidence. Then he applies the law to those facts and arrives at a decision, for which he gives the reason (ratio decidendi). The latter are those remarks or comments made by the judge in the course of delivering a judgement or speculations about what his decision would have been if the facts of the case had been different.

It is important to note that the binding part of a judicial decision is the ratio decidendi. An obiter dictum is not binding in later cases because it was not strictly relevant to the matter in issue in the original case. However, an obiter dictum may be of persuasive (as opposed to binding) authority in later cases. It follows that the lower courts is bound by the “ratio decidendi” of the higher court and not the obiter.4



The doctrine of judicial precedent is dependent on settled judicial hierarchy. This is because under the doctrine, decisions of courts higher up in hierarchy are generally binding on lower courts in the hierarchy.5

One of the merits of judicial precedent in Nigeria is that it guarantees consistency in the judgements handed down by courts.6 Also, it promotes certainty of the law. Additionally, compliance with the doctrine of stare decisis by the courts makes the task of law less burdensome and also makes adjudication more certain and readily acceptable.7



Constitutionally speaking, by Section 6(5)(a)-(i) establishes superior courts of record in Nigeria, in the order of hierarchy. The following are the systematic structure of courts in the order of hierarchy;

(a) the Supreme Court of Nigeria;  

(b) the Court of Appeal;  

(c) the Federal High Court;  

(d) the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja;  

(e) a High Court of a State 

(f) the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; 

(g) a Sharia Court of Appeal of a State;  

(h) the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja;  

(i) a Customary Court of Appeal of a State;

It is apt to avert our minds to the fact that under Section 254 of the 1999 constitution as amended, it makes provisions for the National Industrial Court which is now a superior court of record and wears the garment of jurisdiction to hear and determine matters that touches on employer and employee relationship, and so forth.

Furthermore, the National Assembly under Section 6(5) (j) of the constitution is constitutionally anointed to establish other courts which constitutes as inferior courts and they include; Magistrate/District courts, Juvinile courts, Family courts, Coroner courts, amongst others.

The practical implication of stating out these courts in order of hierarchy is to the extent that it reveals the system of stare decisis under our judicial system. For instance, it shows that the Supreme Court is the apex court and can hear all appeals from all courts below it in terms of hierarchy. It also follows that the court of Appeal is the next court on the judicial ladder after the Supreme Court and can hear appeals from all courts below it. Same thing applies to other courts in the hierarchy.

The other courts such as the Magistrate Courts and other courts solely established by the National Assembly or State House of Assembly are under a legal and constitutional spell to always be bound by the decision of the superior courts established by the constitution even though these decision was arrived in grave error. This was the decision of the court in BOARD OF CUSTOMS & EXCISE V. BOLARINWA8 where the court held that “the magistrate court must always be bound by the decision of the High Court even though the decision was arrived in error”.

Given that the constitution and the doctrine of judicial precedent mandates all courts of law in Nigeria to follow the decision of the Supreme Court, the nagging question that seeks for answer is; what happens when two decisions of the Supreme Court are in conflict with each other on a particular issue, which decision will the lower courts follow under such circumstance? This question shall be addressed below;



The supreme court of Nigeria is the apex court of the land. Its decisions are final and cannot be appealed against. The jurisdictional powers of the Supreme Court as well as its composition and qualification of its justices are succinctly defined in Section 230-236 of the constitution. In exercising its original jurisdiction, the Supreme Court have the original jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court of law in Nigeria to hear matters between States and between the Federation and the state. Owing to the fact that the Supreme Court is the final court of the land, its decisions is seen as one that has satisfied the ingredients of legal perfection. Most legal scholars have arrived at the conclusion that the decision of the Supreme Court are devoid of error. However, in the celebrated case of ADEGOKE MOTORS LTD. V. ADESANYA9, Oputa JSC (of blessed memory) had this to say;

“we are final not because we are infallible, rather we are infallible because we are final. Justices of this court are human beings capable of erring. It will certainly be shortsighted arrogance not to accept this obvious truth. It is also true that this court can do inestimable good through its wise decisions. Similarly, the court can do incalculable harm through its mistakes. When therefore it appears to learned counsel that any decision of this court has been given per incuriam, such counsel should have the boldness and courage to ask that such decision be overruled. This court has the power to overrule itself (and has done so in the past) for it gladly accepts that it is far better to admit an error than to persevere in error.”

The above dictum suffices to say that the Supreme Court is not devoid of error and can overrule itself whenever it sees that its decision has been reached in grave error. However, what is legally obtainable where there are two conflicting decisions of the Supreme Court?

In the case of OSAKWE V. F.C.E (TECHNICAL) ASABA & 20RS.10 it was held that; “it is now settled that where there are two conflicting judgements of this court, the lower court or courts, is or are bound by the latter decision and must follow and apply it”.- Per Ogbuagu JSC. See also the case of CHIEF OKPOZO V. BENDEL NEWSIER CORPORATION & ANOR .11

It is the law that when two judgments of the Supreme Court conflict each other, the latter should be followed. This is to guide lower courts to avoid getting into the realms of confusion when it is confronted with two conflicting decisions of the Supreme Court.



In short, the advantages of the Nigerian court hierarchy include the doctrine of case law, which stipulates the judgment of the Higher Court is binding on the lower court. Therefore, if there is no hierarchy of courts, this cannot be achieved.

Furthermore, considering the number of courts in Nigeria, it is worthy of note to state that there are competent judicial officers that are strategically positioned to handle and resolve disputes seamlessly in Nigeria.

The major disadvantage of the Nigerian court system is that there are inadequate judges in each court system, and the judges are thereby overwhelmed with a plethora of cases which causes protracted delays in resolving simple disputes through a court process by the litigants.12


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