Challenges in the Judicial Administration of Muslim Estates in the Sharia Courts of Appeal in Nigeria
The Nigerian legal system is pluralistic with common law, Islamic law and customary law as the major legal traditions/cultures in the country. However, the judicial structures for administration of Islamic law and customary law are largely ad hoc and haphazard. The Sharia Courts of Appeal are pivotal in the administration of Islamic personal law which includes matters relating to inheritance (mirāth) and wills (wasiyyah). Although these courts are superior courts of record created by the Constitution, they do not have a clearly spelt-out legal framework for the administration of estates. This poses legal challenges that include unresolved questions concerning the status of the estate distribution panels constituted by the Sharia Courts of Appeal, ambivalence in the membership of the panels, and limitations of the panels in dealing with substantive legal issues. Other challenges include jurisdictional competition from the area/sharia courts and the legal implications of litigation on an estate distributed by the panel coming on appeal before the same Kadis. The paper recommends that the Grand Kadis of the Sharia Courts of Appeal invoke their statutory and constitutional powers to make the appropriate court rules for the administration of estates in their courts.