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Informal Channels for Conflict Resolution in Ibadan, Nigeria

Isaac Olawale Albert
Tinu Awe
Georges Hérault
et al.

2. Traditional Channels of Conflict Resolution in Ibadan

Texte intégral

1. Introduction

1One of the major functions of traditional political institutions in Yorubaland is to resolve conflicts, whether at the urban, village, neighbourhood or household level. These traditional Yoruba judicial processes are more evident in the indigenous quarters of Ibadan, where people still live in family compounds and have strong networks of interaction with one another in the extended family along the lines of age, status and occupation. Each extended family (ebi), which includes all people who have blood ties, is headed by a mogaji, who is usually the oldest male member of the family. Each quarter, which may include several family compounds is headed by a baálé.

2. Dispute Resolution at Individual Family Level

  • 1 There is a difference between baálè (a chief of a ward/quarter) and a baálé, the head of a househo (...)
  • 2 N.A. Fadipe, The Sociology of the Yoruba, Ibadan University Press, 1970, p. 106.

2The smallest political unit within Yoruba towns is the idile, which roughly corresponds to the nuclear family; this is followed by the ebi, the extended family. Each idile is headed by a baálé,1 while the ebi is headed by a mogaji. In Ibadan, the mogaji is formally recognised as the head of an ebi, by the hierarchical power structure. The mogaji is usually the eldest or most influential person in the ebi. A responsible baálé in Ibadan, as in any other part of Yorubaland, is one whose opinions and decisions are respected by those within his household. As the head of his household he is also a mediator whose judgement in disputes among members of his family must be respected. He keeps peace and order in his household, and as Fadipe noted, he is the chief law-giver and magistrate of the compound.2 He also controls the relationships between members of his family and outsiders.

3Cases brought before the baálé usually include conflicts among co-wives, brothers and sisters; truancy and street fights involving his children and his foster children. Minor conflicts are usually resolved immediately by scolding the trouble-makers and appeasing whoever was offended. Where a member of another family claimed to be unjustly offended, the baálé is required by omoluabi philosophy to visit the home of the offended person to formally apologize, even after the dispute has been resolved; and to thank him for accepting a peaceful resolution to the conflict. As soon as the baálé returns from such a peace-keeping mission, he calls his people together and warns them to desist from making any more trouble.

4Serious matters considered to impinge on the proper upbringing Of children within households are usually reserved for final settlement within the home. Such matters would include truancy; sexual harassment of females in school; consistent failure in school examinations; lying, often interpreted as the first evidence that the child might later become a thief; petty theft and related delinquent acts; and the use of indecorous language against an elderly person, which is a very serious offence if that person is older than the child’s parents. Most problems which involve children can be resolved by the family head or by anyone in the neighbourhood who recognizes the child who is committing the offence. The Yoruba believe that the upbringing of children is not the responsibility of the parents alone, but of everybody in the community. A popular Yoruba adage in this regard says:

Enikan lo nbimo
Gbogbo aiye lo nwo dagba.

Although a child is born to only one person
his upbringing is the responsibility of all.

5In situations where the offence committed by the child is more serious than can be resolved without the intervention of his parents, the latter are approached.

6Having received a report of an offence committed by one of his children a baálé will immediately take the necessary steps to deal with the matter. If the case is serious, the punishment is reserved until evening after dinner, when all members of the family should be at home. The child, his mother, brothers and sisters are summoned before the baálé and briefed about the offence. The verdict is passed and the child is punished before everybody to serve as a deterrent to others.

  • 3 For more information on the area boys syndrome in Nigerian cities, see Wuyi Omitoogun, The area bo (...)

7Some children may decide to run away from the compound rather than subject themselves to punishment from the baálé and the stigma attached. Sometimes these juveniles will run away to the larger markets or taxi-parks. In Ibadan, runaways can be found at Dugbe, Bodija and Agbeni markets, or any of the taxi parks in the city. Here they will attempt to earn their living as porters, bus conductors, car washers or scavengers of scrap metal and plastic. Money made from any of these activities is often supplemented by petty theft if such opportunities exist. It is among other runaways and truants that these youths learn to smoke marijuana. This is partly how the area boys3 of Ibadan came into existence.

  • 4 Such an incorrigible person could be served eviction notice by his landlord.

8There are instances when parents/guardians fail to deal effectively with cases brought to them about the anti-social behaviour of their children. Such parents are usually considered detrimental to the maintenance of good neighbourhoods. In traditional society it is normal to seek public opinion by calling in neighbours to comment on any breach in the public peace. If such a parent is a tenant he is reported to his landlord.4 Reports can also be made to the police, the mogaji or baálè.

3. Dispute Resolution by the Mogaji and Baálè

9Cases that cannot be resolved at the inter-personal or family level are usually taken to the head of the ebi, the mogaji or to the baálè (ward chiefs). Such cases are usually given immediate attention to prevent any escalation into violence that can threaten the survival of the entire lineage or ward. Each person, starting with the plaintiff, states his/her case. Once the matter is resolved, emphasis is put on how good neighbourliness can be achieved and preserved.

  • 5 G. William, op. cit., p. 114.

10The influence of the mogaji in resolving conflicts is not as far-reaching as it was in nineteenth century Ibadan, before the British subjugated the city (1893). As rightly observed by Gavin Williams, the authority of these lineage heads has been usurped by modern courts and bureaucrats and, therefore, ‘local influence is often exercised by men of wealth rather than by men of noble lineage’.5 Today, many mogajis call upon the influential men and women in their families, both old and young, to assist in the conflict- resolution process, so that such decisions will have a meaningful impact. Where a member of the family threatens to take his case to the formal court, the mogaji carefully withdraws from such a case. The following discussion sheds more light on how particular disputes are resolved by the mogaji and the baálè.

3.1 Land dispute

  • 6 So Da Bee translates to ‘Is this fair?’ and Agborandun, Those who help others resolve their proble (...)

11Land matters rank among the most prominent of the many conflicts that occur in Ibadan, largely because of the administrative and commercial importance of the city. When Lagos was Federal capital, Ibadan was the capital of the Western Region. Ibadan is the economic nerve-centre of Yorubaland and was the home of the first Nigerian university. Many people from other parts of Nigeria have emigrated to Ibadan because of the numerous job opportunities. Landed property is a key investment in Ibadan, an asset and a status symbol, even for non indigenes, whose ‘homes’ are elsewhere. Unscrupulous landowners and speculators have capitalized on this desire for land and have exploited or duped land buyers; The magnitude of land disputes in the city can be gauged from the number of cases brought by members of the public to such informal arbitration television programmes as So Da Bee of the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS) and Agborandun of Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).6 Almost every week, people appear on these programmes to seek resolution of their land disputes.

  • 7 The Olubadan is the title of the highest traditional ruler of Ibadan.

12Land in the city is owned by families and lineages, although by the Land Use Decree of 1978, land is vested in the government. Gavin William rightly noted that Ibadan has no political tradition which confers on the Olubadan7 the authority to distribute land among the town’s lineages. The persons most knowledgeable about land issues in the city are, therefore, the mogajis as the custodians of family traditions. Conflicts related to land often result when a recalcitrant member of a family chooses to sell family land without consulting other members of the lineage. Trouble starts as soon as the news of the illegal sale becomes common knowledge. The family members or their representative will approach the illegal seller of the piece of land, asking for compensation or demanding that the ‘squatter’ (i.e., the buyer of the piece of land) should stop ‘trespassing’ on family land. Usually a signpost stating that the land belongs to a particular family is quickly erected with the warning that trespassers will be prosecuted (i.e., taken to court). Anybody who builds on such land faces a greater risk of having his building knocked down by bulldozers than of receiving any court summons. It is in fact the so-called ‘trespassers’, whose buildings have been pulled down, who seek redress in the formal court. Where land ownership is in dispute, the affected land buyers generally do not wait until their buildings are pulled down before approaching the collective owners of the land to resolve the conflict.

13To resolve such a case at ward level, some people will approach the mogaji or baálè, if they have not been partial in handling such cases in the past. It is the duty of the mogaji or baálè to summon the disputants and, if necessary, members of the appropriate lineage, with a view to resolving the matter. Each of the disputants is allowed to state his case. The matter is subsequently judged. In some cases, some of the disputants are asked to make concessions to facilitate speedy settlement. In some instances, the family members may request a share of the payment of the land from the person who sold it. On the other hand, they might accept nothing but a complete recovery of the family land from the person to whom it had been ‘illegally’ sold. When reconciliation efforts fail at this level, people either stubbornly remain on the land or go to the formal court to argue their case. If the seller of the land is adamant that he is the only person entitled to the proceeds from the land, the case may also end up in formal court. Such a case is no longer between the buyer and the seller of the land, but rather between the seller and the other members of his extended family who consider themselves entitled to some share of the proceeds. Such a case could end up in the Supreme Court, the highest court in the country, as a resuit of appeals and counter-motions filed by the parties.

  • 8 A detailed study of the contribution of these two television programmes to conflict resolution in (...)

14In some cases, properly acquired land in Ibadan is sold to more than one buyer. This can happen if a person buys land but delays its development. Those who know the identity of the original owner of the land may come and offer to buy the land. The original owner may be tempted to sell the land again. In order to prevent this, the new owner will put a signpost on the land stating that it belongs to a particular person or that it is not for sale. As evident in many past editions of So Da Bee and Agborandun,8 people sometimes sell land that does not belong to them. Dubious people who notice that a piece of land has been vacant for a number of years may take this opportunity to sell it, even when the land is not theirs. This occurs because it is extremely difficult to establish title to land in Nigeria. Such information is not often accessible to the public.

15In some cases, the multiple sale of land results from a seeming or assumed ambiguity about the real ownership of the land. A case of this nature was brought to So Da Bee on the 25th June 1995. A blind woman gave a piece of land to a man around 1975 for farming. The blind woman subsequently died and the man who was given the land also died in 1993. The son of the blind woman immediately took possession of his mother’s land and sold it, but without informing the children of the man who had farmed on it. The children of the farmer, also sold the land to a different buyer. When one of the buyers of the land tried to develop it he was confronted by the other buyer. The case had to be brought to So Da Bee, where it was established that the son of the farmer should have contacted the son of the blind woman before attempting to sell the land. He would only have been entitled to sell the land if there was proof that the land was given to his father for more than farming.

16The incidence of multiple ownership of property makes land buying in Ibadan very risky. Few people feel secure about land transactions in the city until the structures erected on it are complete. To ascertain that land does not have more than one owner, buyers usually deposit some building blocks or sand on it. Some people may proceed to erect a mock foundation on the land and then wait for some months to see whether any other owners will appear. If this happens, the case will be taken before the mogaji or baálè to ascertain the rightful owner, and if this fails, the parties may seek redress in the courts.

17In some cases land conflicts resuit from people encroaching on another person’s land. The encroachment is often deliberate; in other cases, it is accidental. A person who has completed the construction of his own building might use the neighbouring undeveloped land as a refuse dump. A man with an empty plot adjacent to his own might use the whole of his own land, and then appropriate a little from the adjoining plot to construct his sewage tank or garage. In some cases, this might lead to the removal of the authentic survey pillars or the boundary markers from one point to another. An unsuspecting landowner might not detect that his plot had been abridged. When he does, far-reaching conflicts usually occur.

18Plot owners are required by law to leave a certain amount of land free for access roads and power lines. Many people build their own houses without leaving any space for roads or utilities with the resuit that when an access road is eventually needed, the electrical poles sometimes protrude into the middle of the road, or the road is so narrow that only one car can pass. Roads in many parts of Ibadan look like enlarged footpaths, winding around the houses, especially in high density areas.

3.2 Disputes in the family

19Occasionally, conflicts may occur between co-wives within a household or the compound. The husband might favour one woman more than the other(s), causing jealousy among them. These women might abuse each other verbally. In some cases, they may physically assault one another, with the husband taking sides as he considers fit. Some women go to the extent of employing magie to resolve conflicts related to their matrimonial homes. On the seriousness attached to this, one should remember that ‘magic’ includes the pragmatic use of poisons, as well as more esoteric, spiritual forces.

20Cases involving co-wives should be settled by the husband or baálé of the quarrelling women. However, as husbands tend to be partial in matters affecting their wives, such cases are usually taken to the mogaji. The women in dispute and their husband will be summoned to the mogaji’s apartment, while all the elders in the household constitute the jury. The junior wife in the dispute, on her knees, is invited to state her case followed by the senior wife. The opinions of other wives in the compound are solicited to enquire about the causes of the dispute, and how it should be resolved. In most cases, the other women will be unwilling to reveal what they know but will only appeal to the mogaji and other elders to settle the dispute amicably. Men are usually more forthcoming than women in stating what they feel about a particular case and how it should be resolved. Stiff penalties can be imposed on a wife known to have been making trouble because her husband married another wife. In one case, observed by the researchers, a relative of the man stood up to tell the story of how his father married twenty wives without having any problems. He wondered why the women in dispute should be giving his brother (with only four wives) so many problems. His recommendation was that whichever of the women was not comfortable with polygamy should be encouraged (by the mediators) to seek divorce and allow new wives to be married into the family. As this kind of recommendation tends to worsen rather than resolve the dispute, the mogaji rebuked the man for holding such an uncompromising view. The following dialogue ensued between the mogaji and the ‘no nonsense’ man:

Mogaji: If this is how disputes were resolved in the past do you think your mother [name mentioned] would have remained with your father long enough to have given birth to you?

The man: No Baba, it was the troublesome disposition of these women that really made me lose my temper. If my brother is not ashamed of what is going on in his home, those of us related to him are. But if I have really misbehaved before the elders, I ask for forgiveness.

Mogaji: This firewood is not good, you throw it away. That other firewood is not good, you also throw it away. You might need to complete the cooking with your fingers. If co-wives don’t quarrel with one another how else can they show that they love the father of their children. You don’t get rid of a woman just because she is quarrelsome. Would you treat her like that if she were your mother or daughter? The truth of life is that, eventually, evil people have their own reward.

21To resolve the dispute, the mogaji, as some baálè would also have done, then asked the elders to express their opinions. After some discussion, the final verdict was given. The guilty woman and the husband were reproached, but none of the disputants was left completely without blame. The mogaji, at the end of the case, implored the disputants to co-operate since there was nothing strange about human conflict. ‘Even the tongue and the teeth despite their closeness often come into conflict’.

22In some families, supernatural means are used to resolve conflicts. Mogaji Lekan Oladeji, one of our informants, noted for example, that where two co-wives went to the extent of assaulting each other, the mogaji would give the order that the clothes worn by the women should be seized and affixed to the regalia of the family masquerades (egungun). If the women did not come from families that revered egungun, the clothes might be burnt. However, if any of the women was still stubborn in her behaviour thereafter, the mogaji could order that she should move out of the family compound until she could comport herself better.

23Issues often leading to conflict between spouses in Ibadan include lack of care for women and children by the husband; the decision of the man to take a new wife; and infidelity by the woman. As a resuit of conflicts arising from any of these factors, a woman might be beaten and choose to leave her husband’s house. Usually, Yoruba parents do not welcome home daughters who have unilaterally chosen to leave their matrimonial homes. As soon as such a woman returns to her parent’s house and narrates her story, her parents would simply send her back to her husband. This is done to make the woman appreciate the need for reconciliation. The mother of the woman or one of her female relatives might, however, go back with her to prevent the husband from retaliating by sending her out. Such conflicts usually demand immediate resolution and a day is set aside for resolving it. The settlement may involve an alarina (middleman) and the parents of both spouses.

24The woman is asked to state her case first, then the husband is permitted to state his. According to High Chief Durosaro, when the wife starts to narrate her case, the elders would warn her by means of proverbs not to wash all the dirty linen of the family in the open. In this manner, the evidence supplied by the woman would be confined to what was relevant to the case, and not irrelevant family secrets. If the husband was at fault, the wife would be appeased, but otherwise the man would be implored to forgive her. However, the parents of the woman would be asked to warn their daughter to ensure that such acts would not be repeated.

  • 9 For more on this, see Olawale Albert, Women and urban violence in Kano, Nigeria. Final Report of t (...)
  • 10 Dobash R. Emerson and Russell, Research as social action: The struggle for battered women. In: Fem (...)

25The Yoruba, like other Nigerian ethnic groups,9 approve of wife beating, which is considered an honourable way of helping a woman to keep her marriage. A man who is tired of keeping a particular woman under his roof might simply fling out her belongings and expect the woman to pick up the pieces and go. However, when the man decides to beat the woman this is just to correct her. A situation similar to the Yoruba obtains in Malaysia, where men beat their wives ‘to win arguments, to express dissatisfaction, to deter future undesirable behaviour, and to demonstrate dominance’.10 Some incidents that could lead to wife beating are late or poor preparation of meals, lack of respect for the man, a wife’s rebuke of her husband for some shorteoming. As a resuit of the widespread belief among the Yoruba that a man has the right to correct his wife by beating her, neighbours do not respond immediately a woman begins to shout for help. Some neighbours would feign ignorance of what was happening if the woman was known for always annoying the man or if the man and the wife were known to be habitually quarrelling. The husband might refuse to welcome any mediator if he was prevented by neighbours from beating the woman to his satisfaction. He might insist that the woman leave his house. Once he has beaten her to his heart’s desire, he would probably welcome anybody who offered to mediate in the conflict.

26A matrimonial conflict caused by the infidelity of the woman is almost impossible for the neighbours, the mogaji or the baálè to resolve in Ibadan. Appeals by neighbours to men whose wives are caught in extra-marital affairs usually fall on deaf ears. Most men would insist on divorcing the woman. A woman who engages in extra marital sex, according to Yoruba belief, is a threat to the life of her husband. It is widely believed that the secret lover could charm the woman so that when the husband comes in sexual contact with her, he is killed. As a resuit, the Yoruba usually do not take cases of women’s marital infidelity lightly.

3.3 Disputes over inheritance

27Another area where conflicts often occur concerns inheritance. According to Yoruba tradition, the property of a deceased person is shared among his or her heirs shortly after his or her death. Writing a will is an alien concept to the Yoruba people. In fact the legal fees are likely to deter the ordinary person from writing a will. The act of writing a will is more common among the educated and the rich.

28Ibadan indigenes, like other Yoruba people, have an established cultural process by which properties are inherited. The most dominant principles followed in sharing the property of a dead person are oriojori and idi-igi. The oriojori principle requires the person sharing the property to give some part of the inheritable property to every child of the deceased, irrespective of age or sex. The idi-igi principle on the other hand makes it mandatory for the property to be shared according to the number of wives the deceased had, irrespective of the number of children each woman delivered. Deciding which principle should be used can lead to conflict. A woman with many children will favour the oriojori principle which enables each of her children to have his or her own inheritance. On the other hand. A woman with few children will favour the idi-igi system which will enable her to have enough for her children, and by implication enough for herself. It is the responsibility of the elders or mogaji in the family to convince all the wives of the deceased to adopt the most appropriate system for sharing the property.

29Occasionally, disputes arise on how particular assets of the deceased, such as land and houses are to be shared. This kind of dispute is often found in polygamous homes; for example, where the man had ‘secret’ wives unknown to his ‘legitimate’ wives before his demise. Some of the secret wives will make trouble over how the property is shared, not because what is to be shared is of any importance, but to reinforce their claim to the paternity of their children after the man’s death. When any major conflict is about to occur among the women, the mogaji will summon eminent adult members of the paternal and maternal families of the deceased person resident in Ibadan and its villages to a meeting. Elders in the compound are also invited. Attempts will be made to establish the authenticity of any women who claim to have delivered children for the dead man. Usually, some people in the family will know about secret love affairs the deceased may have had. Once the claims of the women are established as genuine they have the right to share in some part of the man’s property for their children. The buildings left behind by the deceased are shared among the children. If the man had only one building, the rooms are shared out according to the number of children.

30If the inheritance includes farmland, the family team will go to the site of the land to demarcate the boundary of each person’s inheritance. Natural symbols such as streams, rocks, trees etc. are often used to demarcate the boundaries. Women in Yorubaland are shared out as part of the property of the dead man, particularly younger women who do not have adult children to take over their inheritance for themselves. If the controversy is about who should inherit the woman or women, the mogaji will pass a simple verdict. If another person contests the judgement by claiming that he was to inherit the woman, the woman will be allowed to choose the claimant she wants. In the families of Elegun (masqueraders) the conflict is finally referred to the Egungun cult and whatever is decided at this level is final, since no one is expected to reject the decree of the ancestors, or even accept it grudgingly.

4. Conflict resolution by the Olubadan-in-Council

  • 11 See Bolanle Awe, The rise of Ibadan as a Yoruba power, D. Phil. thesis, Oxford, 1964; Toyin Falola (...)
  • 12 Toyin Falola, The political system of Ibadan in the 19th century. In: Evolution of Political Cultu (...)

31The traditional ruler of Ibadanland is officially known as the Olubadan. In its formative years as a leading Yoruba settlement, Ibadan was ruled by military leaders, as the city developed in the early nineteenth century as a war camp for soldiers and refugees.11 The first military ruler of the city around the 1820s, was Oluyedun, who was known as Are-Ona-Kakanfo (commander-in- chief of the armed forces). His deputy was Lakanle who took the title of Otun Kakanfo (the right-hand man of the Kakanfo). Oluyedun was succeeded by Oluyole in the 1830s. Oluyole, unlike Oluyedun, took the title of Basorun while the next person to him was entitled Balogun (war commander)12. Between 1830 and 1850, the Ibadan forged themselves into a military republic, having rejected the pre-1800 monarchical system of government which was common in Yorubaland. People became chiefs in Ibadan not by inheritance, as in other parts of Yorubaland, but by dint of their military and social achievements. Around 1851, political offices in Ibadan were divided into two major categories, military and civil. From these two categories, four lines of chiefs were created; the Olubadan line, the Balogun line, the Seriki line and the Iyalode line. The Balogun and Seriki titles are military. Of the two, the Balogun line ranks higher. The Olubadan line is civil, though it was largely filled in the past by retired warlords. The Iyalode chieftaincy line is for women.

32In Ibadan, those who may aspire to the office of the Olubadan have to come from within the Olubadan or Balogun lines. Power alternates between the two lines. The present Olubadan, Oba Adeyemo, belongs to the Olubadan line. His predecessor Oba Oloyede Asanike belonged to the Balogun line. His successor has to be the present Balogun. There is no controversy at all about this. To become an Olubadan, one has to climb a political ladder, which starts by taking the Jagun title, either in the Olubadan or Balogun line. The office of Jagun is competed for by the many mogaji (lineage heads) in Ibadan. Having acquired the office of Jagun, the person then rises through the ranks as vacancies become available until he gets to the top. This enables the average Olubadan to have garnered considerable administrative and judicial experience before his tenure.

33The Olubadan-in-Council (Igbimo ilu) is the highest traditional institution for conflict resolution in Ibadan. In the pre-colonial period, the council had the power to pass a death sentence on any offender brought before it. Nowadays, it handles minor civil cases especially those pertaining to land, chieftaincy, and inheritance.

34The Olubadan-in-Council consists of the Olubadan and all his high chiefs drawn from the Balogun and Olubadan lines. Therefore, a typical council meeting for resolving disputes and state matters is chaired by the Olubadan himself. The other members in attendance are the Iyalode, who represents women’s interests; from the Balogun (military) line come the Balogun, Otun Balogun, Osi Balogun, Asipa Balogun, Ekerin Balogun, Ekarun Balogun; and from the Olubadan line come the Otun Olubadan, Osi Olubadan, Asipa Olubadan, Ekerin Olubadan, Ekarun Olubadan. The secretary of the council is officially known as Gbonka Olubadan.

35Cases brought before the council usually pertain to land ownership and the appointment of family mogajis. Other matters, such as the settlement of political rifts, which the local government councils and the state government find very difficult to handle, are usually referred to the Olubadan, who has more direct contact with and commands greater respect from the common people than the transitory political leaders.

36On a typical day when the Olubadan-in-Council is to sit to consider any dispute, the disputants are expected to come very early and sit in front of the palace. When the Olubadan and his chiefs are seated, one of the chiefs is asked to say the opening prayer, either Christian or Muslim, depending on the religion of the chief. As the prayers are said the whole house choruses "Amin". The content of the prayer largely has to do with the advancement of peace and concord in Ibadan; also that God should give wisdom to the chiefs to be able to dispense justice according to the will of God. Then the disputants are invited into the palace by the court messengers or the police orderly attached to the Olubadan by the government.

37If the issues in dispute have been documented in the form of a petition, the Gbonka Olubadan has to read the petition to the gathering. But if the evidence has to be given verbally the complainant is asked to state his case. If it is a woman, she is traditionally expected to be on her knees and to offer the traditional greeting, unless the Olubadan grants her permission to stand up. Even when permission is given for her to stand up, some women insist on remaining on their knees to show that they recognise their traditional obligations to the chiefs. A man has to start by prostrating, offering the traditional greeting: ‘Kabiyesi’ (meaning no one dare question his judgement) three times. Though it is a general practice in all parts of Yorubaland that the king must be addressed as Kabiyesi, the word uttered at the Olubadan-in- Council meeting gives it a symbolic meaning. The person that chooses to say it before giving his evidence is indirectly saying that he recognises the authority of the Olubadan and that whatever judgement he gives will be accepted.

38After the complainant has given his evidence, the defendant(s), who is/are expected to have listened carefully to what has been said, is/are invited to respond to the charges. While either the defendant or plaintiff is giving evidence, he/she has the floor; and cannot to be interrupted except by the chiefs, who are permitted to ask questions to clarify issues. The person giving the evidence is not expected to misuse his freedom by using offensive language against the other disputant. As a mark of respect to the elders that constitute the jury, each of the disputants has to say According to the words of the elders... whenever he uses proverbs to support his case, because proverbs in Yorubaland are expected to be the preserve of the elders. When any young person uses proverbs before elders, the authority of the elders must be acknowledged. Those who fail to make such an acknowledgement are considered insolent.

39After all the evidence has been given, the Olubadan and his chiefs will cross-examine the disputants. Since they have a good knowledge of all parts of the city, the local traditions of Ibadan people and most of the leading personalities in the different wards, it is not difficult for them to bring out the truth from the disputants. A person who tries to quote a false tradition to support his case is quickly challenged. This helps to narrow down areas of disagreement between the disputants so that when the dispute is to be finally resolved, the truth is upheld.

  • 13 Solomon Olugbenga Ayoade, The methods of dispute settlement among the Yoruba: The Ibadan customary (...)

40The most common dispute brought to the Olubadan for settlement involves the appointment of the family’s mogaji. There is often more than one person interested in the office because it is the first step to the title of Olubadan in the city’s traditional political system. This kind of dispute can destabilise the affected families and therefore is quickly resolved by the Olubadan. Such a dispute is usually resolved by ensuring that the would-be mogaji is a legitimate member of the family and that he has the support of the majority of the people in all the segments constituting the family.13

  • 14 Interview with Chief Yinka Ogunsola.

41There are, however, situations where the Olubadan himself has to make some concessions to enable difficult disputes to be resolved amicably. He might use his personal money to compensate the losses of those before him. In some cases, political concessions are made; usually so that the peace and security of the city is not unduly endangered. A dispute of this nature as to who should be the family mogaji occurred in 1982 in the Sodun family between the Ogunsola and Bakare households in Ibadan. All efforts made to resolve the matter internally failed, and the matter had to be taken to the Olubadan-in-Council. Each of the contenders to the office was asked by Olubadan Oloyede Asanike to come to the palace with his followers. When the dispute proved too difficult for the Olubadan and his advisory council to resolve, two mogaji posts had to be instituted in the Sodun family so that each of the disputants became a mogaji.14

42When a case is settled by the mogaji, baálè, chiefs or the Olubadan, no formal fees are charged. The disputants, however, know that good manners and respect for tradition require them to offer something to the mediators, directly or indirectly, as a way of thanking them. At the end of the case, both the plaintiff and defendant give the elders a gift. Whatever is given is never rejected; for example, sometimes an arbiter who does not drink might be offered bottles of wine. He is obliged to thank whoever offers the gift and then take it home. Such gifts can be given away later to those who need them.

43In the traditional judicial systems in Yorubaland, fines or damages are not usually awarded by the mediators in civil cases. The utmost aim is to restore peace by settling disputes amicably. In other words, restoration of harmony is what is paramount in the traditional judicial system. Sometimes, however, mediators award simple fines as a deterrent to the re-occurrence of particular anti-social behaviour. This may be demanded in the form of kolanuts or local gin (ogogoro) both of which have ritual significance. Some of the kolanuts are broken and passed round for everyone to eat as an indirect way of celebrating the resolution of the conflict. The drink is also passed round for all to taste. If no gin or palmwine is avallable, ordinary drinking water can be used. In some traditional settings, the palmwine or gin is used to pour libations to the gods and ancestors of the people involved in the dispute. These actions help to reinforce the ternis of the reconciliation.

5. The Judicial Systems of Hausa and Igbo Migrants

44As said before, Ibadan was established by migrants from different parts of Yorubaland and as a resuit the city has maintained an open-door policy to strangers. Since the colonial period, the city has been an important administrative and economic centre, which has attracted migrants from other parts of Nigeria. Most of these migrant groups came to Ibadan with their own ideas of justice and how it is to be dispensed. Three broad groups can be discerned: other Yoruba sub-groups, the Hausa-Fulani of northern Nigeria and the eastern Nigerians, mainly Igbo. The informal judicial systems of other Yoruba groups in Ibadan are similar to those of the Ibadan people. Unlike the Yoruba sub-groups, the Hausa and Igbo have different methods for resolving their conflicts, largely because they have different traditions.

5.1 The Hausa

  • 15 For more details on the Hausa immigrants in Ibadan see I.O. Albert, Urban migrant settlements in N (...)
  • 16 See I.O. Albert, Hausa political system in the diaspora: The sarkin Hausawa institution in Ibadan, (...)

45Wherever the Hausa15 migrate, they always appoint from among themselves a leader called the sarkin Hausawa, (ruler of the Hausa people) who normally functions as the official intermediary between the Hausa migrants and their host community. The sarki also settles disputes among the immigrants. The first sarkin Hausawa formally recognised by the Ibadan authority was Mallam Mai-Kanderi who was appointed around 1914.16 The present holder of the office is Alhaji Ahmadu Zungeru. The Hausa community at Shasha, a small village about 3 kilometres north of Ibadan, which is a major wholesale market for pepper, tomatoes and onions from the north, is headed by Alhaji Haruna Mai Yasin Katsina.

  • 17 Sabon gari in Hausa literally means ‘new town’, but functions as the strangers’, quarter/ward in a (...)

46The sarki has ward heads named the mai ungwa (owner of the ward). The latter resolve conflicts at ward level within sabon gari17 where the immigrants settle. Conflicts, that cannot be resolved at the ward level, are referred to the sarkin Hausawa’s court. When resolving such a conflict, the sarkin usually summons his chiefs and a committee of elders called uban gari. The disputants sit on a mat in front of the sarki and the elders. The case is carefully listened to and resolved as dictated by Islamic law. The judgement of the sarki is highly respected by the Hausa immigrants, no matter how harsh it may be. His subjects do not only see him as a political leader but also as a religious leader whose decisions are divine. Most of the immigrants are not sufficiently educated to understand how formal courts operate. Cases brought to the sarki within the sabon gari include physical assault, petty thefts, divorce and sharing the property of the deceased. Most of the disputes brought to the sarki from outside sabon gari concern the kolanut and livestock trade. This is not surprising since the Hausa/Fulani immigrants come to Ibadan mainly to engage in these two economic activities. The sarki therefore has political representatives in the Ibadan kolanut and livestock markets. The sarki also has his appointed leaders among the Hausa beggars in the city. The blind are headed by sarkin makafi; the crippled by sarkin gurugu, etc. These leaders resolve conflicts at the minor level and refer complex cases to the palace of the sarkin Hausawa.

5.2 The Igbo

  • 18 C.K. Gluckman, Law and Authority in a Nigerian Tribe. Oxford University Press, London, 1937; T.O. (...)

47The Igbo, probably more than any other Nigerian group, have vibrant traditional judicial processes to which much respect and awe are attached. This means that the Igbo people have less reason for taking their cases to the formal courts. Much has been written on this by Gluckman, Elias and Nzimiro.18 Judicial powers in Igboland are hierarchical; the Obi, Eze and other traditional rulers have the sole right to decide cases. Disputes are also resolved at lineage, age-grade, women’s group, cult and association levels. As noted by Gluckman, reconciliation is the hallmark of the traditional judicial system of the Igbo. Kinsmen in dispute are usually helped by mediators to resume and maintain kinship solidarity. In some cases, judges make the disputants take oaths promising the resumption of cordial relationships.

  • 19 J. Nzimiro, A study of mobility among the Ibo of southern Nigeria. In: Kinship and Geographical Mo (...)
  • 20 For example see Isaac Olawale Albert, Inter-Ethnic Relations in a Nigerian City: A historical pers (...)

48The Igbo19 can be found in virtually all parts of Nigeria practising diverse trades. Wherever they go they carry their cultural practices, which they maintain in their host environment; this sometimes brings them into conflict with the host population.20 Wherever they go, the Igbo carry their judicial system; which is largely exercised through ethnic and professional associations; domestic conflicts, most especially between spouses, are resolved according to traditional Igbo customs.

49In Ibadan, judicial authority among Igbo migrants is exercised by elders and officials of the many village and town unions from Anambra, Imo, Enugu and Abia states. There are several hundreds of such town unions in Ibadan. Village-level unions are affiliated to some central unions. A look at the internal dynamics of one of these unions in Ibadan helps in understanding their judicial effectiveness.

5.2.1 Okuku Development Association

50The Okuku Development Association (ODA) is an umbrella union for people from Okuku, a village in Owerri Local Government Area of Imo State. Every settler in Ibadan from this village is expected to be a member of the association. The association encourages co-operation among members with a view to making their stay in Ibadan peaceful. It resolves internal conflicts among members and discourages conflicts with the indigenous Yoruba population.

51The nature of co-operation among members of the union includes getting jobs for the unemployed or new migrants from Igboland; giving financial assistance to needy members in the form of loans; helping to bail members detained by the police; visiting and financially assisting hospitalised members; and arranging for dead members to be taken back to Okuku for burial.

52According to the union’s president, Mr. Charles Atesie, there are two broad categories of conflicts which the association is often asked to resolve. The first is inter-personal conflict between members while the second is group conflict involving blocks of interests within the association.

53The inter-personal conflict could take the form of complaints about gossip or the circulating of unhealthy rumours about a member. As a resuit of some slight disagreement, a member could insult another by calling him a thief. A member could be accused of having caused another member to be sacked from his place of work. A man who lost his shop to another person could blame this on another member. A member could accuse another member of having cheated him in a business transaction. Arguments between two members could escalate into physical combat. All such issues have to be resolved. Just as the nature of these conflicts differ so do the approaches to resolving them. In the case of inter-personal conflict, one of the disputants is constitutionally expected to bring the matter before a meeting of members. A committee is then set up to look into the matter and report back to the meeting. The report is openly considered at the meeting and the person considered guilty is immediately fined. If he is unable to pay the fine, his friends could assist him. An habitual trouble-maker is allowed to settle the fine himself so that in future he will not get into the same kind of conflict. A person judged guilty, who is not satisfied with the verdict can still appeal to the meeting to reconsider his case. In most cases, the previous verdict is upheld.

54Group conflicts often resuit from factional tendencies within the association. This might be as a resuit of how the business of the association is conducted. Some members might not be happy with how officers of the association conduct themselves. Group conflicts are usually handled by the central unions. If, for example, there is a conflict within the ODA that cannot be internally resolved, it is referred to the Owerri Central Union to which the former is affiliated. The latter will then set up a committee to examine the issues involved and communicate its decisions to the Okuku meeting. If one of the factions in the conflict is not satisfied with the verdict, the Owerri Central Union will suspend all the members of the Okuku Development Association. The matter is then referred to the headquarters in Igboland, which has to send a delegate to Ibadan to resolve the conflict. The decision of the delegate, who must have the support or input of the traditional ruler of the people (i.e, the Eze) is final. In some cases, inter-personal conflicts may become so serious that delegates from Igboland have to come to Ibadan to resolve them.

55In most cases, domestic conflicts, especially those involving husbands and wives are not taken to the village or town unions. This is largely because domestic conflicts occur more regularly than village meetings are held. Town meetings are usually held once or twice a month, whereas a man might choose to fight with his wife twice a day. Domestic conflicts are quickly resolved to maintain the unity of the family.

  • 21 Contribution of Chief Festus Atuokwu (a.k.a. WeeWee), Mokola, Ibadan to the Workshop on Indigenous (...)
  • 22 ibid.

56If a woman is aggrieved or beaten by her husband, the woman, according to Chief Festus Atuokwu, an Igbo community leader in Ibadan, might choose to run to her parents’ house, if they are in Ibadan. If the parents are not resident in Ibadan, the woman will go to her nearest kinsmen. In some extreme cases, the woman might go back to her home town to meet her parents. If the man still wants his wife back, he has to go and find her, generally accompanied by his friends who will assist him in appealing to her to return. A man who falls to do this is believed to be tired of the woman and prepared to divorce her. After the woman has been visited in her parents’ house, she is encouraged by all to return to her husband’s house. A day is fixed for the final resolution of the dispute when the relatives of both the man and the woman are brought together in a forum at which the elders are constituted into a judicial panel. The case has to be judged in the husband’s house as a mark of respect to him since he has paid the bride price on the woman. At the end of the adjudication, fines, often in the form of material objects, are levied on whoever is considered to have acted wrongly.21 When there is peace in the home (especially between spouses) there is peace in the nation. Among the Igbo, domestic conflict is seen as an evil that is better prevented than resolved. To this end, there are social control mechanisms that allow an aggrieved man to be reconciled to his wife before the conflict between the two of them becomes to difficult for them resolve. A man that feels that his wife has behaved badly will not eat the food prepared by her to show his displeasure. Normally the woman will employ all the means at her disposal to appease him. If the man boycotts the food for two days, then by the third day the woman has to buy a chicken with her money and cook it for the man and sit down beside him as he alone eats the meat. Most women will not allow a conflict to escalate to this level before resolving it. A woman who regularly cooks this kind of chicken for her man is considered a stubborn woman who allows her problems to get out of control before seeking a remedy.22


Customary Arbitration

  • 23 [1993] 3 Nigerian Weekly Law Reports Prt. 180 p. 385 at p. 407.

57Justice A.G. Karibi-Whyte of The Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of Agu v Ikewibe23 made the following statement;

58I venture to regard customary law arbitration as an arbitration in dispute founded on the voluntary submission of the parties to the decision of the arbitrators who are either CHIEFS or ELDERS of their community, and the agreement to be bound by such decision or freedom to resile where unfavorable.

  • 24 (a) Awosile v Sotunbo [1992] 5 Nig. Weekly Law Reports Prt. 243 p. 514.
    (b) Ohiaeri v Akabeze[1992] (...)

59There is a long line of cases24 decided by courts in Nigeria predating independence in 1960, in which the courts have recognized and given effect to customary arbitration employed to resolve disputes by bodies vested with traditional judicial functions. The relevant point about this is that it shows that there has been a form of recognition of the informal system of conflict resolution by the formal system. A discussion of some of these cases would enable us to see the attitude adopted by the courts.

Agu v Ikewibe

60The plaintiff in this case brought an action for the declaration to title to a piece of land and for damages for trespassing against the defendant. In his statement of claim, the plaintiff averred that this matter had been settled between himself and the defendant previously when he had reported the matter to the chief and elders of their town who had given judgment in his favour.

61The Supreme Court held that the arbitration by the elders was binding on both parties as a valid customary arbitration and that both parties were estopped from denying the validity of the arbitral decision.

62The court held that if the following conditions were satisfied then the courts would recognize a customary arbitration as valid and binding on the parties.

  1. If parties voluntarily submit their disputes to a non-judicial body, to wit, their elders or chiefs as the case may be, for determination; and
  2. The indication of the willingness of the parties to be bound by the decision of the non-judicial body or freedom to reject the decision where not satisfied.
  3. That neither of the parties has resiled from the decisions so pronounced.

63It is important to note that in this case, the conflict had been resolved by elders and chiefs of the community. These are people, who, by traditional African mode of dispute resolution, are invested with judicial functions in the community.

64The court per Justice Karibi-Whyte was of the opinion that customary arbitration was not an exercise of judicial powers, as such there was no conflict with the judicial powers exercised by the courts. The judicial power of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria contained in section 6(1) was vested in the courts by virtue of section 6(5) but customary arbitration is not an exercise of judicial power because it is not a function undertaken by the courts.

65Also the court opined that by virtue of section 274(3) and 4(b) of the said constitution, customary law is an "existing law" being a body of rules of law in force immediately before the coming into force of the 1979 Constitution. Thus customary law, which includes customary arbitration, was saved by section 274(3) and 4(b) of the constitution.

66The court stated that the reason why a court would not interfere with a valid customary arbitration has its origin in the legal principle of res judicata. This principle applies so that where a final judicial decision has been pronounced by a judicial tribunal having competent jurisdiction over the case or matter in litigation, and over the parties thereto, disposes once and for all of all the matters decided they cannot afterwards be raised for re-litigation between the same parties or privies.

  • 25 2nd ed. pp. 21-22

67According to Spencer-Bommer and Turner in Estoppel,25 the judicial tribunal may be one which exercises functions by statute, common law, custom, etc. Thus, estoppel per rem judicatam will operate in the case of a customary arbitration as defined above and it did operate in this case.

Okere v Nwoke26

  • 26 (1991) 8 Nig. Weekly Law Reports Prt. 209 p. 317.

68This was another case involving a dispute over title to a piece of land. One interesting point to note is that the matter was initially reported to the police before being transferred to an arbitral body, the Amala Parents Teachers Association (PTA), for settlement. One party claimed that the police referred the matter to the PTA while the other party claimed that the PTA intervened and caused the police to withdraw from the matter. Regardless of which of the parties’ claims are true, the point remains that there was some interplay between the informal and formal sectors in this case.

69The court held that the matter had been settled by the PTA according to native law and custom (i.e., oath taking over the local juju); as such the decision would constitute estoppel and was binding on the parties.

  • 27 Sarbah’s Fanti Law Reports 38.

70The judgement in this case seems to have laid more emphasis on the fact that customary law was applied, than on the nature of the body which applied the customary law. The PTA is not, in our view, a body invested traditionally with judicial power. However, the learned justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ogundare, who delivered this judgement quoted excerpts from the 1884 decision of Ekua Ayafie v Kwamina Bayey27 where it was held that:

71Where matters in difference between two parties are investigated at a meeting in accordance with CUSTOMARY LAW and GENERAL USAGE a decision is given, it is binding on the parties, and the Supreme Court will enforce such a decision.

72It is thus arguable that if an arbitral body employs customary law in its deliberations, the arbitral decision will be binding once the conditions precedent as laid down in Agu v Ikewibe are present, even though the arbitral body is not a body traditionally vested with judicial powers.

73It must be noted however that the court referred to the PTA as a body of elders and that Justice Ogundare quoted copiously from the judgement of Justice Karibi-Whyte in Agu v Ikewibe.

74From this, it is obvious that according to the law in Nigeria, a body such as the Olubadan-in-Council (see chapter 2), is a panel whose decisions would be respected by a court of law, provided certain conditions are met. Care must be taken by anybody seeking to rely on the decisions of such a customary arbitral body to make sure that these conditions are present. The case of Awosile v Sotunbo (see footnote 2) is an example of one, where in the opinion of the court, the conditions were not satisfied and the decision of a high traditional ruler, the Akarigbo of Ijebu-Remo-in-Council was ignored.

75This is a very important form of recognition for the informal channels which adjudicate by employing customary tenets. It is not easy nor advisable to give any unequivocal comment on the binding effect of customary arbitration in a sense wider than that done by traditional rulers as the courts still have a cautious attitude (see the judgements of Justice Nnaemeka-Agu in Agu v Ikewibe and Awosile v Sotunbo as well as Justice Akpata in Ohiaeri v Akabeze, both of the Supreme Court). It might be necessary to await more litigation in this area before the effect of the deliberations of bodies such as those discussed in chapters 3 and 4 of this work can be known.


1 There is a difference between baálè (a chief of a ward/quarter) and a baálé, the head of a household, which includes the man’s immediate family, i.e., his wives and children.

2 N.A. Fadipe, The Sociology of the Yoruba, Ibadan University Press, 1970, p. 106.

3 For more information on the area boys syndrome in Nigerian cities, see Wuyi Omitoogun, The area boys of Lagos: A study of organised street violence. In: I.O. Albert, J. Adisa, T. Agbola and G. Hérault, eds., Urban Management and Urban Violence in Africa, Volume 2, IFRA, Ibadan, 1994.

4 Such an incorrigible person could be served eviction notice by his landlord.

5 G. William, op. cit., p. 114.

6 So Da Bee translates to ‘Is this fair?’ and Agborandun, Those who help others resolve their problems.

7 The Olubadan is the title of the highest traditional ruler of Ibadan.

8 A detailed study of the contribution of these two television programmes to conflict resolution in Ibadan is presented in chapter four.

9 For more on this, see Olawale Albert, Women and urban violence in Kano, Nigeria. Final Report of the project on Women and Urban Violence in Africa sponsored by the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), Nairobi, September 1995.

10 Dobash R. Emerson and Russell, Research as social action: The struggle for battered women. In: Feminist Perspectives on Wife Abuse, Kertsi Yllo and Michele Bograd, eds., Sage Publications, 1988, p. 57; quoted In: Shathi Dairiam and Elizabeth Devaraj, Malaysia: Success and setbacks. In: Calling for Change: International strategies to end violence against women, Joanna Kerr, ed., p. 23.

11 See Bolanle Awe, The rise of Ibadan as a Yoruba power, D. Phil. thesis, Oxford, 1964; Toyin Falola, The Political Economy of a Pre-colonial African State: Ibadan, 1830-1900, University of Ife Press, Ile-Ife, 1984.

12 Toyin Falola, The political system of Ibadan in the 19th century. In: Evolution of Political Culture in Nigeria. J.F. Ade Ajayi and Bashir Ikara, eds., University Press Limited, Ibadan and Kaduna State Council for Arts and Culture, 1985, p. 107.

13 Solomon Olugbenga Ayoade, The methods of dispute settlement among the Yoruba: The Ibadan customary court as case study, B.A. Anthropology dissertation, University of Ibadan, December, 1989, chap. 2.

14 Interview with Chief Yinka Ogunsola.

15 For more details on the Hausa immigrants in Ibadan see I.O. Albert, Urban migrant settlements in Nigeria: A historical comparison of the Sabon garis in Kano and Ibadan, 1893-1991. Ph.D. thesis, University of Ibadan, 1994.

16 See I.O. Albert, Hausa political system in the diaspora: The sarkin Hausawa institution in Ibadan, 1914-1993, Unpublished manuscript.

17 Sabon gari in Hausa literally means ‘new town’, but functions as the strangers’, quarter/ward in a town. The settlement was established for Hausa settlers in Ibadan around 1914 with a view to reducing cultural shock between them and their Yoruba host population. There are also sabon gari settlements for Yoruba and Igbo settlers in northern Nigerian cities.

18 C.K. Gluckman, Law and Authority in a Nigerian Tribe. Oxford University Press, London, 1937; T.O. Elias, Nigerian Law and Custom. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1951; Ikenna Nzimiro, Studies in Ibo Political Systems: Chieftaincy and politics in four Nigerian states. Frank Cass, London, 1972.

19 J. Nzimiro, A study of mobility among the Ibo of southern Nigeria. In: Kinship and Geographical Mobility, R. Paddington, ed., Leiden, 1965; C. Okonjo, The western Ibo. In: The City of Ibadan, P.C. Lloyd, A.L Mabogunje and B. Awe, eds. Cambridge University Press, 1967.

20 For example see Isaac Olawale Albert, Inter-Ethnic Relations in a Nigerian City: A historical perspective of the Hausa-Igbo conflict in Kano, 1953-1991, IFRA, Ibadan, 1993.

21 Contribution of Chief Festus Atuokwu (a.k.a. WeeWee), Mokola, Ibadan to the Workshop on Indigenous Knowledge and Conflict Resolution held at NISER, July 11 and 12, 1995.

22 ibid.

23 [1993] 3 Nigerian Weekly Law Reports Prt. 180 p. 385 at p. 407.

24 (a) Awosile v Sotunbo [1992] 5 Nig. Weekly Law Reports Prt. 243 p. 514.
(b) Ohiaeri v Akabeze[1992] 2 Nig. Weekly Law Reports Prt. 221 p. 1.
(c) Inyang v Essien [1957] Supreme Court of Nig. Law Reports p. 112.
(d) Njoku v Ekeocha [1972] 2 East Central State Law Reports p. 199.

25 2nd ed. pp. 21-22

26 (1991) 8 Nig. Weekly Law Reports Prt. 209 p. 317.

27 Sarbah’s Fanti Law Reports 38.

© IFRA-Nigeria, 1995

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