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Understanding the Doctrine of Domicile in Private International Law

In the realm of Private International Law, often referred to as Conflict of Laws, the Doctrine of Domicile plays a central role.

It aids in addressing legal disputes involving cross-border elements, determining aspects like personal status and jurisdiction, and guiding matters related to marriage, divorce, and inheritance.

The Doctrine of Domicile plays a significant role in determining the jurisdiction and applicable law for a given person, specifically in matters of private international law. Understanding this doctrine is paramount for those involved in private international law in Africa and particularly in Nigeria, as it can significantly impact legal rights and obligations.

Defining the Doctrine of Domicile

The doctrine of domicile, in the context of private international law, is used to determine the legal jurisdiction applicable to an individual. It helps establish the law to be applied when dealing with issues involving more than one jurisdiction, such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and taxation (Oppong, R.F., 2009).

There are typically three types of domicile: domicile of origin (assigned at birth), domicile of choice (chosen by an individual), and domicile of dependence (for those legally unable to change their domicile, such as minors or those who lack legal capacity).

The Doctrine of Domicile in Nigeria

In Nigerian law, the concept of domicile was traditionally based on English law due to Nigeria's colonial history (Eso, K., 1986).

However, the Nigerian legal system has since evolved and introduced elements of local legal traditions and cultures.

Domicile in Nigeria is primarily determined by where an individual has a fixed and permanent home and to where, whenever absent, they have the intention of returning.

The relevance of the Doctrine of Domicile in Nigerian law is highlighted in matters like marriage and divorce, where the court has to decide the applicable law based on the domicile of the parties involved. For instance, in the case of “Egbuna v Egbuna" ([1984] 1 SCNLR 372), the Supreme Court applied the domicile rule in resolving issues concerning the jurisdiction and applicable law for matrimonial proceedings.

African Perspective on the Doctrine of Domicile

In a broader African context, many jurisdictions also reflect the influence of their colonial past. For instance, in francophone African countries that were French colonies, the concept of "habitual residence" is used instead of "domicile." This is because French private international law applies the principle of nationality or habitual residence rather than domicile (Borras, A. & Hacon, R., 2012).

However, the continued reliance on colonial legal structures in African countries, including Nigeria, has been questioned. Critics argue that these laws often conflict with local cultural, social, and economic conditions. As such, there's a growing trend of "Africanization" of laws, which entails modifying or replacing colonial laws to better suit local contexts (Osinbajo, Y., 2013). This trend is reflected in the adaptations of the doctrine of domicile to account for local realities, like recognizing the concept of “ancestral home” in Nigeria.

The doctrine of domicile remains a key principle in private international law and helps resolve issues that cross borders. It plays a significant role in the African context, particularly in countries like Nigeria, where it is utilized to determine jurisdiction and applicable law. However, there is an ongoing trend of adapting these laws to local cultural and societal realities to ensure they serve the interest of justice.


- Oppong, R.F., (2009). Private international law in Africa: The past, present and future. South African Law Journal, 126(3), 648-676.

- Eso, K., (1986). The Mystery Gunman: Principles of Nigerian Law of Evidence. Malthouse Press.

- Egbuna v Egbuna ([1984] 1 SCNLR 372).

- Borras, A. & Hacon, R. (2012). Private International Law in Mainland China, Taiwan and Europe. Springer.

- Osinbajo, Y., (2013). The Future of Law and Development: Essays in honour of Professor David Ijalaye. Snaap Press Ltd.


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