The Relevance of Law and Morality in Contemporary Nigeria

After being willed into existence from Lord Lugard and Miss Shaw’s colonial laboratory of artificial insemination, Nigeria has had to deal with issues of morality and its objectives. Following the different transitions in the political and social structure of the Nigerian state – precolonial, colonial and post-colonial, these moralities have proved their dynamic structures and qualities, one that shows it as crucial in the Nigerian society. In this article, the radical objectives of morality in the Nigerian society shall be discussed, alongside its relevance and effects thus far in contemporary Nigeria.

Let’s meet Morality

Morality means a set of principles concerning right and wrong, good and bad as binding on the individual’s conscience. It is usually innate but could be on the other hand, passed from age to age by reason of the society, parental oratory and advice. Morality is a branch of philosophy known as “ethics”. Ethics simply means norms and is derived from the Greek equivalent, “ethos”. It is clear that morality involves norms because it is a conventional set of principles that regulates human mutual co-existence from age to age. Morality tends to emphasize duty on the part of the individual involved by its normative bonds. Duty is seen in the responsibility to uphold thee moral principles just as Kant states that morality regulates the inner mind of man and guides his motivations.

Law on the other hand is a concept that requires great understanding and should be examined with such. Into the bargain, it should be noted that:

Nobody including the lawyer has offered, nobody including the lawyer is offering, nobody including the lawyer will ever be able to offer a definition of law to end all definitions

Much as this is known, it is defied to get a base for showing morality and law in relation to contemporary Nigeria. So we would deduce after observing various theories of law that

Law is in its own sense, an agent of social control, a formal mechanism for the ultimate aim of causing societal harmony and tranquility.

Read: Arbitration as an Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism


In Knuller v. DPP, the judge, Lord Reid posed Viscound Simond’s judgment in Shaw v. DPP as wrong, following judicial precedents over a case involving the release of homosexual instincts through an advertisement. The defendant argued that the advert was meant for adult men who consented to having counterparts in the act to arrange meetings to practice such and not to corrupt public morals via the contra bonos mores- Magazine advertisement or to conspire to outrage public decency - (Section 1(1), Sexual Offences Aft 1967) Reg v. Bhagwan and Section 1, Theatres Act 1968 (Reg v. Calder & Boyars Ltd (1969) 1 Q.B. 151)

On November 10, 1970, at the central Criminal Court, (Judge Sutcliffe) the appellants were convicted of conspiracy tp corrupt public morals firstly snd secondly, conspiracy to outrage public decency (Reg v. Anderson 1972 1 Q.B. 304, Obscene Publications Act 1959). Knuller (Publishing, Printing and Promotions) Ltd was ordered to pay a fine of 1000 on first count and 500 on the second count and thereafter, 500 on costs of prosecution.

Much as the decision of Viscound Simond is widely appreciated in Shaw v. DPP, it was not used in Knuller v. DPP because another person’s moral must not be the basis for judging the others. The question is:

  1. If morality is the basis for criminalizing people, whose morality shall we use? The liberal moralist thinks he is best and the religious moralist thinks so too. The paternalist and legal moralists are not left out. The Holy book aptly says in Matthew 5:48 KJV - “Be ye perfect even as your father which is in heaven is perfect”. It comes to conclusion that no man has moral standards so high that it be used as a measure for others. This is because infallibility is a feature of all, and in that is the morality for every society.
  2. Should morality be legislated in the first place?




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