How to legalize a document in Nigeria

How to legalize a document in Nigeria

Published on: June 16, 2023 (Updated on: April 28, 2024)

Introduction

One of the major considerations of international travels is ensuring the acceptability of documents in the foreign country where it is required. This is because certain countries only recognize legalized international certificates. It is therefore necessary to ensure that all documents meet the international requirement before embarking on the journey. Document legalization is the process that ensures that all documents to be used in a foreign country meet international requirements. The aim of this article is to explain the processes or steps involved in legalizing a document.

What is legalization of documents?

Legalization of a document involves certifying a duly authenticated public document, i.e documents issued by government agencies. It is a process proving the genuineness or validity of a duly signed document as authentic, in order for the document to be used in a foreign country where it is required. The process is usually overseen by the Embassies and Consulates of the destination country.

Types of documents that require legalization

All documents issued by the Nigerian authority that are required to be used in a foreign country may be legalized. Some of these documents include:

  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage certificates
  • Divorce certificates
  • Educational/Academic certificates
  • Police character certificate
  • Declaration of age
  • Death certificate
  • Affidavit of spinsterhood or bachelorhood
  • Certificate of incorporation
  • International passport
  • Bank statements
  • Sponsorship letters
  • Authorization letters

Steps to legalize a document issued in Nigeria

  1. Notarization of the document - The first step is for the document to be notarized by a Notary Public in Nigeria. A Notary Public is a public official, usually a lawyer who is appointed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria1 and authorized by law to perform non-contentious legal matters. Nigerian laws empower Notaries to perform similar functions as Notaries in England.2 Some of these functions include authenticating signatures on any sort of document, either commercial, transactional or private documents for use abroad, attesting or authenticating powers of attorney for use abroad.3

A document is said to be notarized when it bears the seal or stamp on the Notary Public.

  1. Authentication of the document - The next step is for the document to be authenticated in order to confirm or certify that it was duly issued by the relevant issuing authority. Authentication of documents is done at the Legal Services Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja after a prescribed fee has been paid. The particular document that will be authenticated is dependent on the specific reason for use abroad.

For example, where a birth certificate, like many other certificates or documents is required to be authenticated, it is the birth certificate issued by the National Population Commission (NPC) that will be authenticated at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Although, if it is an educational document that requires authentication, the document must first be certified by the Ministry of Education. This is because the Ministry of Education is tasked with determining the authenticity of academic results or documents. Once proven authentic, the next step is to authenticate the document at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

While authentication/legalization of document is a requirement in different countries, members of the Hague Apostille Convention of 1961 do not require legalization of foreign public documents for member states as the Convention abolished the requirement. What is used between member states is an apostille stamp. However, apostille stamp does not apply to Nigeria because Nigeria is not a member of the Hague Convention. This process of authentication in Nigeria is the replacement of an apostille.

A document issued in Nigeria is said to be duly authenticated when it is confirmed authentic, legitimate or genuine by the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

  1. Legalization of a document issued in Nigeria - The last step for the completion of the legalization process is for the duly authenticated document to be certified by a public official of the foreign embassy in Nigeria. This means that the genuineness of the signature or stamp and seal made by the officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is certified by the embassy.

While authentication of documents is a process carried out by the Nigerian authorities to confirm that the documents were duly or legitimately issued, legalization of documents is carried out by the foreign embassy of the country where the document is to be used, in order to ensure that the genuinity of the stamp/seal.

The procedures and requirements for legalizing documents issued in Nigeria differ from one embassy to another. This means that the process in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Embassy might be different from Poland Embassy or China Embassy. It is advisable for applicants to know the requirements for the particular country where the document is needed. You can do this by contacting the relevant authority in the country where the document is to be used.

Some major differences are:

  1. where the document to be legalized is in English, some embassies might require the document to be translated to the language of the destination country where it is to be used.
  2. some embassies will only legalize original documents, while some embassies can legalize photocopies or printouts.
  3. there is no universal fee to be paid by applicants across all embassies in Nigeria because each embassy sets a standard fee to be paid.
  4. the duration or number of days for the process of legalizing documents is also not universal across all embassies in Nigeria.
  5. where the document to be legalized is an academic document, some embassies may in addition require the applicant to obtain and present a letter of eligibility at the Ministry of Education.

Legalization of a document issued in Nigeria for use in Finland

While this article has focused on legalizing documents for use abroad in Nigeria, it is also possible for Nigerians who are abroad and require a document legalized for any reason to have that document legalized without having to travel back to Nigeria.

For instance, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland4, a Nigerian who wishes to legalize a document will begin the process by sending an email to the embassy to request for the document to be legalized. The email usually contains a cover letter stating the purpose for legalization as well as all scanned copies of the original documents required.

After the embassy has received the documents, it will send payment instructions to the applicant. The cost of legalization is 30 Euros per document + 10.50 Euros postage fee. After the fee is paid, the Embassy then instructs the applicant to send the original documents to VFS Global who then investigates/verifies the documents.

The applicant will be charged an additional fee at VFS Global. The VFS Global is an official partner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland in Nigeria5. It is independent and the embassy cannot interfere in the verification process of fees charged. Upon verification of the document, it will be legalized and sent to the applicant’s address in Finland.

Legalization of documents issued in Nigeria for use in Nordic Countries

Some documents issued in Nigeria may be legalized at the Nigerian embassy in Sweden. These include the following private documents among others:

  • Birth certificates,
  • Marriage certificates
  • Declaration of bachelor or spinsterhood / Affidavit of single status

Conclusion

Document legalization is a procedural aspect of law that must be adhered to by Nigerians seeking to travel abroad for one reason or the other. The entire process ensures that the documents are suitable for use in a foreign country.

The foregoing is only a general guideline for legalization of a document issued in Nigeria. The most important thing to note is that the legalization process usually varies depending on where a document issued in Nigeria will be used. This is why it is always important to first contact the authority where you want to present a document to get the exact clarification of the necessary steps.

1 Section 2 Notaries Public Act 1936

2 Ibid

3 The Notaries Society, ‘What is a Notary’ <https://www.thenotariessociety.org.uk/pages/what-a-notary-does> accessed 20 June 2023

4 Finland in Nigeria, Embassy of Finland, Abuja < https://finlandabroad.fi/web/nga/legalisation-of-documents> accessed 20 June 2023

5 VSF Global, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland <https://visa.vfsglobal.com/nga/en/fin> accessed 20 June 2023

Authors:

Michael Akerele, LLB, MICL, BL

Preye Ezonfade, LLB