Understanding Legal Guardianship -By Success Oghosa Osaretin

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Success Oghosa Osaretin


The law seeks at all times to ensure the best interest of a child but certain rights are sometimes violated not because the parents are not willing to ensure the wellbeing of a child, but because of poverty. Some children are drop outs without formal or informal education, without parental care and guidance, without shelter (some live under bridges and abandoned houses) because they are being neglected. The question is, should the rights of children as rightly enshrined, guaranteed under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC) 1989, the Child’s Right Act 2003(CRA), The Constitution be violated on the basis of poverty or ignorance?




Guardianship is a way to ensure a child is adequately taken care of where there are no biological parents. The court may order make an order as it deems fit or in any other circumstances. Adoption has been discussed lucidly in my previous article.


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The Black’s Law Dictionary defines a Guardian as one who has legal authority and duty of care for another person especially because of the other’s infancy, incapacity or disability. An individual who, by written or court appointment or by the effect of a statute, is given custody of both or either of the property or the person of one unable to manage their own affairs such as a child (Duhaime’s Law Dictionary). Worthy of note is that the biological parents of a child are the default guardians but an unrelated party may apply for the guardianship of such child and be vested with parental responsibilities over such child.

However, there is a due process to be followed before guardianship order is granted by the court. This order can as well be revoked by the court if circumstances warrant so.
APPOINTMENT OF A GUARDIAN. S 84 Child’s Rights Act (2003)

  1. The court may grant an order to an applicant if
    The child has no parent with parental responsibility
    b. A residence order has been made in respect of a child in favour of a parent or guardian who has died while the residence order was in force.
  2. Where there is no application from any applicant, the Court may grant an order notwithstanding no application was made.
  3. A guardian by Deed may appoint another to be the guardian of his child at death
  4. An appointment by a Will not signed by the Testator shall have effect only if it is signed at the direction of the testator.

NOTE: a court can grant the custody of a child to a guardian even when parents are alive but are deemed unfit to take care of the child. S 83(2) CRA; OKWUEZE V OKWUEZE (1989)3NWLR PT 109 PG 321 per Uwais JSC
“The court may refuse to grant custody to either parent, if the court is convinced that none of them is capable of giving the best care. In such case, the Court may decide to grant custody to a guardian”.

OKOBI OKOBI (2020)1NWLR (PT 1705) P301, the paramount consideration is the best interest of the child. Similarly, sanctions may be made where a parent fails to carry out parental responsibilities. S 300-302 Criminal Code:

It is the duty of every person having charge of another who is unable by reason of age, sickness, unsoundness of mind, detention or any other cause to withdraw himself from such charge and who is unable to provide himself with the necessaries of life, whether the charge is undertaken under a contract or is imposed by law or arises by reason of any act whether lawful or unlawful of the person who has such charge to provide for that other person the necessaries of life; and he is liable to have caused any consequences which result to the life or health of the other person by reason of any omission to perform that duty”.
s. 301 states that every head of family should provide necessaries for every child under their care and any consequences which results from such failure, he shall be held liable

The consent of such person appointed as guardian is a sine qua non. This implies that it is necessary for the consent of the guardian appointed by court to sought and gotten S. 85 CRA


  1. Most times guardianship could be by close relatives who desire to cater for the material need of a child and ensure the child is not denied necessities thereby violating the rights of a child
  2. Guardianship may be necessary where a parent(s) maltreats or abuses a child.
  3. It may be needed in a situation where a child’s parent is dead. (note that a single parent can appoint a guardian.S.83(4)
  4. The court can appoint Guardian ad litem to protect the welfare and interest of a child.

Appointment of guardianship may be revoked by the court under the following:
a. An application by a parent or any person having parental responsibilities
b. Application by the child with leave of court
c. In any family proceedings, if the court considers it fit without an application.
d. Application of an appropriate authority.


  1. An application through originating motion is filed at the court.
  2. The originating motion must be accompanied:
    Means of identification
    b. Birth certificate of applicant
    c. Birth certificate of child
    d. Marriage certificate (where applicable)
    e. Death certificate of parents (where applicable)
    f. Applicant consent evidence of medical certificate of fitness
    g. Photograph of applicant’s home
    h. Any other document in support of the case
    The court then makes appointment to the applicant who is considered fit and suitable for the child.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. It is therefore advisable that professional advice be sought when taking any step.


Success Oghosa Osaretin is a Lawyer, Writer and Professional Volunteer.
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