By Funmilayo Olagunju
Ordeal simply means a severe or trying experience. Trial by ordeal describes a severe, dangerous and unconventional means of enquiring and establishing the innocence or guilt of a suspected person.
The history of trial by ordeal is traced back to earlier centuries of human existence. The ordeal of Water and Fire was a notorious example. A suspect is made to pass through fire or water and it’s believed that if the fellow is innocent, the force of innocence would protect him/her from destruction.
Human civilization and structured legal system prohibits trial by ordeal. Unfortunately, the use of poisonous substance and severe procedure often associated with metaphysical powers is still obtainable in this age.
Section 207 (1) of the Criminal Code Act in Nigeria prohibits trial by ordeal. The relevant section states thus:
(1) The trial by the ordeal of sasswood, esere‐bean, or the poison, boiling oil, fire, immersion in water or exposure to the attacks of crocodiles or other wild animals, or by any ordeal which is likely to result in the death of or bodily injury to any party to the proceeding, is unlawful.
In the case of AHURUONYE & ANOR v. IKONNE & ORS (2015) LPELR-25609(CA), the Court held that those who claim to be witches/wizard ought to be reported to the Police in and not subjected to trial by ordeal. Such report is not alien to our law and it is in consonance with
Sections 35(1)(b)(c) and (4) and (5), 38(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and Section 210 of the Criminal Code which prohibits unlawful secret societies, Witchcraft and criminal juju.
The habit of taking children, person with unsound mind or person accused of being possessed with unclean spirit to a spiritual center where they’re detained and tortured is also a form of trial by ordeal. The torture and severity has forced many people to own up to a crime they didn’t commit or concede to being possessed with evil spirit.
There is nothing divine about trial by ordeal. It is a punishable crime which must be shunned by all and sundry. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse.
“For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil”