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Informal Channels for Conflict Resolution in Ibadan, Nigeria

Isaac Olawale Albert
Tinu Awe
Georges Hérault
et al.

6. Conclusion and Suggestions

Full text

1. Conclusion

1The informal judicial channels , in a modem city like Ibadan fill some major gaps in the formal judicial systems which as a whole are less protective of the interests of the poor. In the absence of an efficient, corruption free and inexpensive formal judicial setting the only means of regulating conflict, inevitable in human interaction, is the informal channel. These channels are informal in the sense that they operate outside the recognized judicial system and the legislation of each state. Without these channels, however, the poor would be as crushed morally as they already are materially. They survive the disputes and conflicts by relying on this informal network of kinfolk and other associations, as the formal channels are elitist and often inaccessible.

2In operation, the informal judicial systems in Ibadan, as in the other parts of Yorubaland, have been guided by the omoluabi philosophy. Although the Yoruba see conflict as an inevitable life experience, they do not regard it as entirely bad. They control conflict by exhibiting omoluabi behaviour in their interactions with one another. If a conflict occurs, the Yoruba believe that it has to be resolved immediately so that it does not unduly damage good neighbourliness and in the process threaten public peace.

3These traditional channels for resolving conflict are common among Africans. First an attempt is made to resolve the conflict by the disputants themselves without external intervention; should this fail, senior kinsmen are requested to intervene. If this also falls, the headman of the neighbourhood is then called to intervene. If the conflict is still not resolved at this stage it is referred to the local chief. Most poor people depend on these traditional modes to settle conflicts.

4Within the past fifteen years, the electronic media in Ibadan have also succeeded in using a modern technology in administering a traditional mode of justice to resolve many complex cases. Indeed, using the television media as a forum for traditional conflict resolution has proved so popular that people are willing take their cases to the media for settlement.

5The heterogeneity of the population in Ibadan has also made it possible for migrant organizations, professional, religious and neighbourhood associations to develop their own independent mechanisms for resolving various kinds of conflict as they arise. Most of these informal channels of conflict resolution still exist in Ibadan largely because the people who use them are poor and culturally disinclined to seek justice in the formal courts.

6The people in the poor neighbourhoods in Ibadan make more use of the informal channels of conflict resolution than their rich counterparts who can afford to take their cases to the formal courts. This does not mean that the rich too do not use these informal channels. Respect for tradition and customs often makes some rich people take their disputes to neighbourhood elders and chiefs. It was also found that indigenous Ibadan people settled in the core areas of the city use the traditional mechanisms of conflict resolution more than their counterparts in the areas described as ‘new poor neighbourhoods’. The reasons for this are that the people in the old neighbourhoods of Ibadan are organized as extended families under the mogaji lineage system. These lineages jointly own family land and houses. On the other hand, most of those settled in the new poor neighbourhood are strangers in Ibadan and do not have strong family ties. Therefore they would tend to resort to other informal channels of conflict resolution. People in the new poor sections of Ibadan are more likely to have landlord-tenant or tenanttenant conflicts. As we noted in chapter three, the landlords deal with these conflicts by using whatever kind of judicial channel they please. In most cases, they use jungle justice in which tenants are often forcefully evicted from their houses.

7What we find is that the informal channels of justice do not promise justice as a principle per se but a peaceful resolution of conflicts. The traditional judicial systems of the baálé, baálè, mogaji, sarkin Hausawa, leaders of Igbo town unions, religious and professional associations, panelists of Agborandun and So Da Bee reflect that a lot of concessions are made by the complainant. Conflicts are settled at all these levels based on the principle of ‘give-and-take’. More often than not, though people get their cases resolved under these systems, they are not compensated adequately for their losses. However, they still feel happy since the informal judicial systems under which their conflicts were resolved are well known to them and respected by them. Whatever is said of this means of seeking justice, the fact remains that it is democratic and productive for the sustainable maintenance of urban peace. The informal channels of resolving conflict also help to reduce the number of cases sent to the formal courts.

8Important as these channels are, some aspects still pose problems for the peace of the society. The activities of the vigilante groups deserve serious attention. While it is true that they serve as a deterrent for petty crimes, it is also on record that innocent people have lost their lives through the instan justice meted out to suspected criminals. Their activities require proper monitoring to avoid such occurrences in future.

9In a similar vein, the activities of the landlords’ and residents’ associations should be commended particularly for their efforts to bring modern facilities to their neighbourhoods. However, the activities of the landlords are still rather high-handed, particularly in the way they deal with their tenants. There is need to curtail the power of eviction which they often exercise. Even though landlords are not allowed to evict defaulting tenants without obtaining legal authority, they do evict tenants with the tacit support of their associations and the help of the local police. The tenant, on his part usually does not have the means to challenge the landlord’s eviction. The authorities should focus attention on this area to protect the rights of the poor.

10The religious institutions have been performing creditably in regulating conflicts that could have led to civic disorder. Their intervention in family disputes has saved many homes from disintegrating. These institutions need to be further encouraged. Professional associations and town unions also exercise considerable influence on their members, hence their ability to regulate conflict within their scope of operations.

11In sum, the various channels for the informal conflict resolution outlined above deserve further recognition in view of the critical roles they play in the lives of the poor in Ibadan.

2. Suggestions

12We believe very strongly that the informal judicial channels in Ibadan can be duplicated in other African societies. Within this context the following suggestions are made.

  1. The traditional judicial systems presented in this study are similar to what obtains in other African societies; though not in a similar degree. Every society has some sort of traditional institution that uses local concepts, sanctions and philosophies to resolve conflicts and in the process ensure the maintenance of peace. As a way of providing alternative access to justice for the poor, the use of these traditional judicial systems should be encouraged through the increased involvement of natural rulers in the management of urban areas. As currently practised by the UNCHS (Habitat) supported Sustainable Ibadan Project (SIP) in Ibadan, there is the need for regular consultation between city planners and the traditional authorities of the urban communities. This kind of consultation will clearly establish what informal roles these traditional leaders, who are very close to the people at the grassroots, can play in facilitating sustainable urban peace and security. Regular consultation could be in the areas of managing neighbourhood conflicts, solid waste disposal, tax administration, financing of urban projects, political elections and representation, etc. The poor have a stake in all these.
  2. It is suggested that the wards within the local governments in Ibadan should be strengthened in order to make an impact on the lives of the common people at times other than election time. One way of doing this is by establishing boxes of justice within each ward. A box of justice, in simple terms, is an office where local people can go to settle disputes, to obtain information or advice on action to be taken on any particular matter, or for counselling. It is suggested that the staff for boxes of justice be selected from different categories of the local people. The elderly members of the locality could undertake conflict resolution activities, give advice and counselling; while the younger and middle-aged should be in charge of giving out information. We are of the opinion that it would not be very expensive to put up these boxes of justice. The television and radio programmes are able to attract a number of respectable senior citizens to resolve conflicts, it is likely that each ward in Ibadan has people who would be prepared to do the same at the local community level. The people chosen to serve must be people who have a knowledge of local activities since the matters brought for resolution would be mainly local matters. These boxes of justice would, of course, not solve the problems between people from different wards but it would solve the problems which immediately face the poor such as those arising from their quarrels with cotenants for space, family disputes, public nuisances and the like.
    Pilot justice boxes could be established in the inner core areas of where the indigenous people live. These would supplement the already existing informal channels for the resolution of conflicts. It is important that these boxes are set up using private initiative. It is apparent that a lot of people are ignorant in dealing with matters which adversely affect them. They, therefore, suffer in silence or just accept the situation in which they find themselves. For example, very few people are aware of the existence of the Legal Aid Council or the Public Complaints Commission. These bodies have no funds with which to publicize their services and usually have to rely on the publicity they get when media houses interview their top officials.
  3. Since a major problem of the urban poor in Ibadan is lack of access to established social facilities, efforts should be made to utilize the potential of professional associations as possible agents for disseminating information relating to how existing structures could be made use of. Furthermore the considerable influence the associations have on their members could be exploited for pertinent enlightenment programmes on health, education, environmental problems, sex, etc.
  4. It is suggested that efforts be made by the television and radio stations to take into account the presence of other ethnic groups in Ibadan. During the course of our field work, we observed that during the programme So Da Bee, only one non Yoruba person brought a complaint before the panel. We did not observe any non Yoruba people participating in Agborandun although in both stations we were informed that non Yoruba complainants do come. We observed that not every complainant understood Yoruba. Since the stations are directly or indirectly funded by taxpayers money, there is a need to cater more directly for the other ethnic groups in Ibadan.
  5. The print media should be encouraged to become actively involved in conflict resolution just as the electronic media are doing. There are quite a number of agony aunt pages in many of our newspapers and magazines which deal basically with male and female relationships and the problems associated therewith. We could have pages which give advice about problems with neighbours, with workmen and their fees and spousal violence. This would greatly alleviate the problems of the illiterate poor.
  6. Religious leaders should be further encouraged in their task of settling disputes by appointing carefully selected ones among them as justices of the peace. Other members of the public being appointed justices of the peace should also be properly screened to avoid appointing fraudsters as JPs.
  7. The capacity of the vigilante groups should be strengthened to enhance their performance as the grassroots arm of the security agencies. They have performed creditably well so far but still require proper monitoring by the supervisory agencies to avoid the occasional mistakes that often have tragic results
  8. Community development associations should be encouraged to move towards self-sustenance rather than to rely on government. Auto-centred development is advocated because of its capacity for stability and continuity in an era of unstable political structure.
  9. The wards, as the lowest units of administration, should be made functional for development purposes as opposed to the present practice of using them only for election exercises. A functional ward will start the process of re-orientating the system towards a more grassroots participatory development strategy, while ensuring the enhancement of the wards as the first basic unit in the hierarchy of structures for a credible democratic system. This can only be done by consciously encouraging associations and developments to evolve from the ward level.
  10. To protect the interest of tenants who constitute the bulk of the poor, Community Development Inspectors of Local Government Councils should encourage tenants to organize community development associations where their problems can be tabled, discussed and resolved.
  11. There is the need for exchange of information, ideas and experiences among African cities on the issue of conflict resolution with a view to formulating policies aimed at solving the problems of the poor in accessing justice.

© IFRA-Nigeria, 1995

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