The incorporation of domestic legal pluralism in the ICC
: the case of Shari'a law in Nigeria

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis studies the possible incorporation of domestic legal pluralism within the International Criminal Court (‘ICC’). It explores how the hybridised iteration of Islamic Shari’a law in Nigeria may potentially satisfy the ICC’s complementarity standards in adjudicating the alleged crimes of Boko Haram. Drawing on a detailed historical examination of the legal interactions between the common law and the Shari’a, this thesis identifies deeply embedded dynamics of common law subjugation and Shari’a resistance to understand how the pluralist legal orders have shaped the legislative history of Nigeria. Following the 1999 democratic transition, 12 northern states introduced “wholesale” Shari’a law, including Shari’a criminal law. An analysis of the legislation and case law suggests that this juncture precipitated a change in the pluralist dynamics from subjugation and resistance to one of mutual accommodation, where the common law refrained from subjugation, and the Shari’a demonstrated self-restraint and conformity. This has been most noticeable in the voluntary hybridisation of Shari’a criminal law; Shari’a offences and punishments are legislatively preserved in trial proceedings, yet Shari’a courts are procedurally unable to pass the harsh controversial sentences following conviction. This thesis then explores the historical links between Shari’a resistance in the law and sectarian violence. It argues that the dynamics of subjugation and resistance seen in the legal interactions map onto some of the drivers underlying the violence perpetuated by Boko Haram. Yet the domestic legal response to this violence by the Jonathan Administration focused exclusively on common law approaches. In doing so, these domestic legal responses ignore the central relevance of the Shari’a to the conflict, and revives the damaging dynamics of legal subjugation. Studying the ICC’s current engagements in Nigeria in light of this detailed pluralist account uncovers a risk of the Court inadvertently contributing to the same drivers that have supported the violence it seeks to adjudicate. The thesis explores how Shari’a criminal courts in the north could adjudicate the Shari’a-inspired violence, and whether such proceedings could satisfy the current understanding of complementarity under the ICC. In doing so, it shows that encouraging Shari’a prosecutions of Boko Haram will not only augment the current understanding of international criminal law and improve state cooperation, it may also illuminate new ways of engaging Islamic extremism.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorNicola Palmer (Supervisor) & Peer Zumbansen (Supervisor)

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