Since May 1999, the Nigerian judiciary has increasingly been called upon to play a more critical role in interpreting the constitution, ensuring the enforcement of the rule of law and the protection of civil liberties. During this period, Nigerian society has also been confronting serious problems concerning ethnic tensions, endemic corruption, and a weak and oil-dependent economy. The judiciary itself has had to contend with serious problems of its own, including corruption amongst some of its judges. This chapter examines how the judiciary, even while dealing with serious challenges of its own, has been able to play an important role in resolving the disputes within Nigeria’s unfolding democratic experience.
Analyzed in the context of the protracted sharia crisis that dominated Nigeria’s fourth attempt at civil democratic government (the Fourth Republic), this chapter provides historical, political, and constitutional context for the challenges posed by expanded sharia to modern governance in Nigeria. Drawing on a distinctive interdisciplinary perspective that engages entrenched traditional structures in Muslim Northern Nigeria, the chapter underscores the challenges of modern governance in this critical region of the country. Specifically, the chapter discusses how the expanded sharia policies of twelve northern Nigerian Muslim states are not only embedded in Islamic structures, practices, doctrines, and discourse in the region, but also reflect fierce contestations for state power among Nigeria’s ethno-regional political classes. Finally, the chapter analyzes the implications of expanded sharia for Nigeria’s modern constitutional development that seek to advance liberal traditions such as civil rights, state rights, freedom of religion, and secularism.