Child adoption under the Nigerian law (part 1) by Evans Ufeli

Adoption is a legal process whereby a person obtains judicial or administrative authorisation to take (usually but not invariably) the child of another person as his own and parental rights and obligations are permanently transferred from the child’s natural parents to the adopter. Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, adoption is recognised as one of the forms of alternative care for children who have been temporarily or permanently deprived of their family environment and also for children who are unable to remain in their family environment.

The factors that necessitate the adoption of a child ranges from the mere fact that a person childless is of the desire to replace a dead child, to acquire a companion for an only child, to stabilise a marriage, to legitimate an illegitimate child, to sustain a particular line of descent, to rescue a child who is an irreversible situation of abandonment or to relieve parents who are unable to take care of their child. Adoption touches upon the adopted child’s status; hence it affects his legal rights, welfare and obligations.
Thus, adoption confers on the child all the rights vis-à-vis his adoptive parent(s) as if the child has been born to them in lawful wedlock as well as imposes on the adoptive parent(s) parental responsibility equivalent to that of the natural parents of the child.


The earliest statute on adoption in Nigeria was the Adoption Law of 1965 of the defunct Eastern Region of Nigeria. Up till 1965, there was no statutory basis in any part of Nigeria for the adoption of persons. However, the first attempt at providing a statute on adoption was a private members bill presented to the Eastern House of Assembly in April 1958, the Eastern region (welfare of illegitimate children) Adoption bill 1958, unfortunately, this bill was not well received in the house and had to be withdrawn. From 1958, the federal Government gave some thoughts to introducing legislation on adoption for the then federal territory of Lagos as it could not legislate for the entire country, because adoption was a regional subject. The federal government also decided to consult the regional governments on the nature of any statute on the subject so as to ensure uniformity in any statutes which might be enacted and also explore the possibility of having a single statute for the whole country. However, all efforts of the federal government failed without even producing a statute for the federal territory of Lagos as at then.

When the then Eastern Region proceeded to legislate on the subject, it consulted the Federal and Regional Governments to ensure harmony and then came the Eastern Nigeria Adoption law, 1965 (this law now applies to Anambra, Imo and Rivers States). Today Virtually all the states of the Southern part of Nigeria have adoption statutes. Subsequently, other states of the federation followed suit in enacting legislation of Adoption-Bendel State(1979), cross Rivers State( No.7 0f 1981); Ogun State 1983 no.3 of 1968, Oyo State passed it own in (1984) no.4 of 1985. The Lagos state Adoption law, 1968 came after the creation of the 12 states structure in 1967. More recently in 1988, Benue State passed a law on adoption. However, there are substantial similarities in these legislation though significant differences also exist. This is to submit that in the Nigeria of today, there is no national adoption law.

By Contrast, none of the states of the Northern part of the country (which are in the majority) has any legislation on adoption. The reason for the non-existence of adoption legislation in the Northern states is that the states predominantly inhabited and controlled by Muslims, whose religious belief do not favour adoption. Such was the state of the law on adoption in Nigeria until 2003 when the National Assembly enacted the Child’s Right Act, Part of which makes copious provisions regulating adoption in Nigeria.