Understanding NALT guidelines in legal research


NALT guidelines in legal research are just like a manual to any gadget. NALT stands for Nigerian Association of Law Teachers. In the field of legal research or legal academic writing, a writer is mandated as a practice or regulation to make the evidence or source of the claims made in the research or writing available. In order to provide such evidence or source, a writer is to cite their sources in a manner and form that enables a third party to identify the sources of the information cited and follow same up to when and where need be.

In legal research and legal academic writing, one cannot assert certainly that there is a particular method or style of citation which is universally accepted. It follows that different jurisdictions have their own style and method of citation in legal research and legal academic writings. While Canada applies the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation, 2014; in the UK, the OSCOLA referencing style is commonly used, while Chicago referencing style is common in the USA.

Nigeria has also joined the list of countries with its own specific referencing style and methods of citation specifically made for legal research and other forms of legal writings. However, the most common practice or observation in all the various referencing styles and methods of citations as practised in different jurisdictions is the use of footnotes instead of endnotes or in-text citations.

Some have argued that the Nigerian method of citation is curated or adopted from the Oxford Standard Citation of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA). The referencing style and method of citation for legal research and legal academic writings in Nigeria are referred to as the Nigerian Association of Law Teachers (NALT), Citation Guidelines and Legal Research, 2016.

Basic Information about NALT Citation Guidelines

NALT guidelines categorized sources of information or data into two which are:

  1. Primary sources: This covers sources such as statutes or legislation and judicial precedents or cases and
  2. Secondary sources: This covers sources such as books, journal articles, newspaper articles, websites and policy statements.

NALT guidelines apply the use of footnote and not the use of in-text citation or endnote. Digressing a little, an in-text citation may come in form of ‘author, year, style’ or ‘author, year, page’ or any similar pattern and may be found under the popular Harvard referencing style, APA or MLA.

By applying the NALT guideline, a writer wishing to cite any source in form of a direct quotation or paraphrase or merely referring to an idea or information from another source other than his personal direct findings should cite such sources in a footnote format.

In the application of a footnote format, each citation made is first presented or indicated in form of an Arabic numeral or figures at the end or bottom of the particular contents being referenced and such number will reflect at the foot of the page where the information concerning the reference indicated as a number is wholly provided.

Generally, for every source provided in the footnote, such must be ended with a full stop and in the case that more than one citation is contained in a particular footnote at a time, each of the citations must be separated from the other with the use of semi-colons. Also, the number indicating a reference in the footnote commonly known as footnote marker should necessarily appear after and not before the relevant punctuation in a text cited (if any), and as a norm, it should come at the end of a sentence.

As an exception, there are cases where one needs not put the footnote marker at the end of a sentence, perhaps when and where there is a need to input clarity and coherency in the writing; and at such footnote may be placed immediately following the particular word or phrase where it relates accordingly.

Specifics of the NALT Guidelines

Under the provisions of the NALT guidelines and legal research, there are specifics that will help one to comprehend or understand the entirety of the guidelines. These specifics include but are not limited to citing primary sources such as statutes and cases and citing secondary sources such as books, articles, reports, and newspapers. The specifics are discussed below with succinct and comprehensive examples:

Primary Sources:

The general rule under primary sources is that the use of punctuation is minimized with the aim of averting technicalities that may be found in other referencing styles. Take for instance, in abbreviating terms like Nigerian Weekly Law Reports, Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a writer must abbreviate such as NWLR and CFRN respectively as against N.W.L.R and C.F.R.N. This implies that full stops are not used for the purpose of abbreviations. For legislations, the abbreviations or short forms of the short title can be used for subsequent citations and the short form is to be indicated in a bracket following immediately after the full citation.

Where a writer wishes to cite cases, lower case ‘v’ is used in lieu of ‘versus’ or ‘against’ in the designation of the parties to a litigation. Importantly, no dot or full stop should be used immediately after the ‘v’ and the name of the parties must be italicized. Also, ‘others’ can be abbreviated as ‘Ors.’, ‘another’ as ‘Anor.’ and ‘part’ as ‘Pt.’ Here one can see that the abbreviations have a dot or full stop at their ends. In citing cases only, the year is to be put in a square bracket immediately after the names of the parties.

The format of citation may depend on the writer’s structure, discretion or flow of ideas and information; however, there is a common practice whereby the name of the parties may be found in the body while the citation is found at the footnote, but in some circumstances, both the nomenclatures of the parties and the citations are placed at the footnote but it is not the practice to place both in the body of the texts.

For statutes, the particular ‘section’ may be in the body of the text while the short title of the legislation is placed at the footnote. Also, the short title may be in the body while the particular section may be placed in the footnote. However, both the section and short title of the legislation may be placed in the footnote but not appropriate in the body of the text.

At this point, it is necessary to show forth the practical aspects of the foregoing discourse using the examples below:

  1. Dangana & Anor. v Usman & 4 Ors. [2012] 2 SC (Pt. III) 103.

Assuming the case is to recited in the proceeding footnote following the footnote 1 immediately, it will be as below:

  1. ibid, 130 (Adekeye, JSC)

Assuming the same case is to be cited in footnote 6 after different other authorities have been cited in footnotes 3, 4, 5, the footnote will be as below:

6. Dangana (n 1) 133.

For legislations:

7. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) Cap. C23 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 (CFRN) 1999 s. 4.

8. ibid. s.33

9. Interpretation Act Cap. I23 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004 (Interpretation Act) s. 34.

10. ibid. s. 2

11. CFRN, s. 41.

12. Interpretation Act, s. 6.

Secondary sources

Under the secondary sources, there are books, articles and reports. The basic rule is that in the footnote, the first names of the authors come first while the last names come last but in the bibliography, it comes the other way round. The title of the books are written in italics while the place of publication, publishers and the year of publication are all contained in a bracket accordingly followed by the page. Note that initials can be used in the place of the first name and not for the last name. In writing the title of the books, articles, papers, etc., each word must be started in uppercase except for prepositions. For example in Books:

J. Collis, and R. Hussey, Business research. 4th ed. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). 234-246

Ben Nwabueze, Constitutional Democracy in Africa Vol. 1: Structures, Powers and Organising Principles of Government, 1st edn, (Ibadan: Spectrum Books, 2003), at 50.

Edited Books

For edited books, the difference is that the title of the particular topic inside the book is written in inverted comma after the name of the authors and before the names of the editors which must be followed with ‘(ed.)’ signifying that the name mentioned is that of an editor. Examples:

Donald Kommers, ‘Germany: Balancing Rights and Duties’ in Jeffrey Goldsworthy, (ed), Interpreting Constitutions: A Comparative Study (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) p. 163.

M. Loughlin, ‘Reflections on the Idea of Public Law’ in E. Christodoulidis and S. Tierney (eds), Public Law and Politics: The Scope and Limits of Constitutionalism (Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2008) 35.

Journal Articles

For Journal articles, the names are written in the same format of first name, first and last name, last for the footnote and vice versa in the bibliography. The title are written in inverted commas followed immediately by the year of publication in bracket, the volume if any and the issue only in another bracket and finally the name of the Journal is specified fully and lastly the page numbers cited. Examples:

Nsongurua Udombana, ‘Life, Dignity and the Pursuit of Happiness: Human Rights and Living Standards in Africa’ (2008) 28(1) The University of Tasmania Law Review 47, 48-9.

Ekokoi Solomon, ‘Sustainable Management of Nigeria’s Oil Wealth: Legal Challenges and Future Directions’ (2016) 7(2) Journal of Sustainable Development Law and Policy 135, 140.

Command Papers

In most cases, command papers are publications or report from agencies or institutions and they are usually accessed from the internet. The name of the agency or organization comes first followed by the title of the paper written in inverted comma and full date (day, month and year) in bracket followed by the website where it is gotten from and the date it was accessed in the following format:

The World Bank, ‘Nigeria: Overview’ (30 September 2015), available at <www.worldbank.org/en/country/nigeria/overview> accessed 21 September 2021.

Working Papers

L.N. Chete et al, ‘Industrial Development and Growth in Nigeria: Lessons and Challenges’ (2016) Learning to Compete, Working Paper No. 8, Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER), Ibadan, 1, available at <www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/L2C_WP8_Chete-et-al-1-pdf> accessed 21 September 2021.

Newspaper Articles

T. Odiadi, ‘The Constitution and Sovereign Wealth Fund: Matters Arising’ The Guardian (Lagos, 7 August 2012) p. 33.

Unpublished Dissertations/Theses

K. Ekwere, Sustainable Development of Oil and Gas in the Niger Delta: Legal and Political Issues’ (Ph. D dissertation, Law of the Sea and Maritime Law Institute, University of Hamburg 2009) p. 66.

Internet Resources

BBC News, ‘Nigerians Living in Poverty rise to 61 %’ (13 February 2012), available at <www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-17015873> accessed 24 March 2014


Irrespective of how important and necessary quotations may be in writing legal research, they are not meant to be used overtly. Where a writer wishes to quote directly from a primary and secondary source without paraphrasing, the writer must be quote the exact texts as originally used in the source being quoted and if any change is made therein, the writer must indicate that with the use of a square bracket. For example: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold” will read as “Things fall apart, [nothing strategic is happening] the centre cannot hold.”

Where the numbers of words are below 40 words or three lines whichever applies, a writer is meant to indicate quotation with the use of quotation mark as shown above. But where the numbers of words are over 40 words or more than three lines, the writer must move the quoted words in an indented paragraph and italicize the same. An example can be found below:

Foreign words and phrases used in the text which are not commonly used or which have not become part of the English lexicon should be italicised. Words such as ultra vires, stare decisis, obiter dicta, ratio decidendi, a priori, and a fortiori, that are in common usage in legal English should not be italicized. The writer should provide a translation of any foreign word and phrases immediately afterwards in brackets. If common abbreviations such as ‘i.e’ and ‘e.g’ (which mean ‘that is’ and ‘for example’) are used, their meaning should also be provided immediately afterwards.

Use of ‘ibid’ in NALT and Cross References

Note that references such as follows: ‘see above’, ‘supra’, ‘infra’, ‘ante’, ‘id’, op cit’, ‘loc cit’, and ‘contra’. are deemed as archaic words and not widely understood and therefore should not be used. However, ‘ibid.’ and (n) may be used as explained below.

‘ibid.’ is only meant to be used and should be used for the immediate preceding footnote. For instance if in footnote 4, one wishes to make reference to an authority or source already cited in footnote 3, it is permissible and mandated that one should use ‘ibid.’; but one cannot make use of ‘ibid.’ to refer to footnote 5 in footnote 7 where the immediate preceding footnote 6 has different authority or source from footnote 5. Note that there are ways to make such other references.

Furthermore, one needs to be informed about the use of ibid in chain. There is nothing wrong with using ibid. in chains, for instance, where footnotes 6, 7, 8, 9 or more without any break are making all making reference to footnote 5, a student, the researcher may continue to use ibid. until one has reached a footnote with a different source or authority. Where such a different source or authority has been cited before the ibid chain began, one must use ‘n (and the number of the particular footnote having the source or reference)’.

Take, for instance, footnotes 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 are all ibid chain making reference to footnote 9 while the ibid chain breaks in footnote 16 which makes reference to footnote 6 using “n6”; peradventure one wishes to reference same footnote 9 that has the ibid chain initially in footnote 17, one is not expected to use ibid. but to use “n9” and where the footnote 18 or footnotes 18 and 19 are also making reference to same footnote 9 already recited in footnote 17 as “n9”, one is meant to use ibid for the footnote 18 or footnotes 18 and 19 respectively.

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