Have you ever wondered how sanity was upheld and justice served in the pre-colonial era without having to go through the hard struggle of hiring a good lawyer to defend you in a boring and unending court proceedings? Well, you are about to get your answers.
Pre-colonial era in Nigeria (1500-1800) was a period that saw a lot of indigenous practices and socio-cultural belief peculiar to people of different regions and parts of the country. One of such practices is the ingenious method of dispute resolution that is different from the fancy judiciary system we have today.
Now let’s take a look at some of these methods of dispute resolution in the pre-colonial Nigeria before the judiciary system was introduced.
1. Head of the Family
known as ‘Olori ebi’ among the Yoruba people. This was the person who had the final say in family disputes. If there was a disagreement within the family, the head of the family would sit everyone down and give them a stern talking-to. Because, you know, family ties automatically make you a fair and impartial judge. But of course, nothing screams impartiality like giving one person all the power to settle disputes.
2. Council of Elders
Another method of settling dispute in the pre-colonial period was to gather the council of elders. When two parties had a dispute, they would present their case to a council of respected elders in the community. The elders would then deliberate and come to a decision. Because, you know, old age automatically equates to wisdom and fairness. However, if your case happened to be heard after a long day of yam-eating, or after one too many swigs of palm wine, you might not get the fairest outcome.
The art of fortune telling. This was a popular method for resolving disputes related to marriage, property, and other issues. Basically, a diviner or Dibia would consult with the spirits or the ancestors to determine the best course of action. This could involve things like throwing bones, kolanuts, or palm reading. Who needs evidence or logical reasoning when you have a seer who can predict the future by throwing some bones or interpreting some signs?
4. Oath Taking
This was a classic technique used to settle disputes, particularly those related to theft and fraud. Essentially, the accused would swear an oath on a sacred object or beings like the god of iron and god of thunder or even a snake or a cockerel. If they were lying, the gods would smite them down with lightning or some other equally terrifying punishment diarrhea.
5. Trial by Ordeal
The granddaddy of them all! This was the ultimate method of dispute resolution, reserved for the most serious of cases. It was not for the faint of heart. If you were accused of a crime, you might be subjected to a grueling test to determine your guilt or innocence. This could involve walking on hot coals, carrying a red-hot iron, or even jumping into a river full of crocodiles. If you survived, you were innocent! If you died…well, guess that settled things too.
Even though these methods sound barbaric and cruel, they did help in maintaining peace and order among people in the pre-colonial period. Not only that, there’s also something kind of charming about the simplicity of the methods, there was no need for the bougie lawyers or unending paperwork we have in the contemporary judiciary system, just some good old-fashioned system.