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Strengthening Traditional Judicial System

Strengthening Traditional Judicial System

THE traditional or informal justice system played a significant role in the provision of justice services to many Nigerians during pre-colonial era. In Yorubaland, the judicial systemf began with the family. The family head was expected to take charge of it. When this proved inadequate, such matters were taken to traditional heads. With the advent of colonialism, the power of traditional authority was curtailed. Crimes against the state were referred to the courts.

THIS has been the situation since post-colonial times. However, it is still recognized that the traditional judicial system is important and indispensable. And it’s due to sound reasons.  Traditional rulers enjoy respect and confidence from the public because the adjudication process is based upon local tradition, culture, history and religion. The public is able to accept traditional law better than the formal system of police and courts. It’s due to this that traditional rulers have in the recent past been trained as agents of alternative dispute resolution units.

LAST year, about 320 local chiefs and traditional record keepers were trained by the British Council’s Managing Conflict in North-East Nigeria (MCN) office in Borno State on the use of traditional justice system (TJS) in dispute resolution.

THE European Union (EU) in collaboration with the British Council (BC) and Conflict Management of Nigeria (CMN), trained 160 traditional rulers, scribes or secretaries and 40 women or wives of the traditional rulers in both Borno and Biu Emirates of Borno State.

LAST year, the Presidential Committee on North East Initiative (PCNI) organized a  Peace Building, Reconciliation Training Workshop For Judges, Imams, Traditional Rulers in Borno State. Eighty of the traditional rulers involved in the initiative were trained on alternative dispute resolution.

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OUR position therefore is that despite the conventional legal system, the traditional system of dispute resolution should continue. It reduces tension, cost of litigation and increases the disputing parties’ confidence to talk, as they find themselves in a familiar environment. Dispute resolution services are also rendered free of charge, so people spend far less than they would if they approached the conventional courts.

THE system is effective because the objective of this process is to reconcile the parties so that whatever relationships exist are preserved. It does not encourage apportioning blame or having a winner and a loser. It is based upon the idea of restorative justice.

THE traditional justice system is often criticised for lacking respect for human rights, especially women and children and that the proceedings are arbitrary. Others argue that the system  is patriarchal, with low or poor appreciation of human rights standards by the lower cadre of traditional rulers. Due to absence of record-keeping, disputes that have been resolved in the traditional judicial system are reopened, allowing litigants to go through more pain in their search for justice.

THERE are further weaknesses: Some traditions do not allow women or children to speak in the midst of men; yet there is no separate arrangement available for them where women are involved as complainants or victims.

THEN, compliance with decisions of traditional rulers depends on the integrity of the ruler in question and the traditions of the community. Since traditional rulers don’t have  coercive powers to compel compliance, many feel they are not obliged to respect their decisions as the ultimate source of dispute resolution.

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WE however believe that if the nation strengthens the capacity of stakeholders in the traditional system of justice, their increased competence will reduce arbitrary decisions, abuse of power and increase patronage. We feel that if traditional council members, chiefs, and quarter heads are well-trained, most of the weaknesses in the traditional method of dispute resolution will be drastically minimized.

WE feel the stakeholders in the sector should be given the opportunity to update skills in their areas of competence. If they undergo such periodic training, the traditional judicial system will become an even more effective alternative judicial platform for the millions of Nigerians seeking for justice.

WE believe also that the method of keeping records of traditional judicial activities should be updated and improved upon, so that people who seek justice through the system can always go back to record to press on their claims. If records are improved upon, there will be no need to reopen cases that have already be disposed off in the system.

TRADITIONAL judicial system, we believe, is still relevant in present day dispensation, but the stakeholders should undergo training to ensure greater efficiency in the sector.

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