Sometime in 2018, there was a case of violence in DutsePe, a satellite town in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. A suspected cult member had just killed a resident and the palace of the community head was approached to intervene.
It was a criminal case and so, it was supposed to be settled in the court of law. But that was not the case. The Esu of DutsePe, James Shawo, got involved and the case was eventually resolved.
“Although since it involved the loss of a life, the government still had to be involved. The families involved said they were not interested in taking the case to court so it became a state case,” Mr Shawo said.
“The family of the deceased came to terms with the family of the culprit and brought the issue to my palace. So we decided to resolve the issue. Although it was taken to the police first and then taken to court, the people involved did not follow the case again.”
This is one in many cases of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) the community has handled in recent years.
Many Nigerians especially rural dwellers have not only embraced the ADR system of dispensing justice but also encouraged its practice.
With the increase in the number of lawsuits on a daily basis in state courts as well as the workload of the court system, one could understand the need for a quicker and easier means of dispute resolution – hence the adoption of ADR.
ADR, also known as out-of-court settlement, is a formal agreement to resolve dispute or a lawsuit without judicial intervention or approval.
This procedure is usually done in different forms, including mediation and arbitration. During mediation, a neutral third party is selected to help negotiate and reach a compromise on behalf of parties involved while during arbitration, a third party (or a panel) is selected to help make a decision or take a judgement on behalf of the parties involved.
In this report, PREMIUM TIMES visited some communities in Abuja to find out how ADR is practised there. From PREMIUM TIMES’ findings, some residents use either traditional or religious forms of mediation.
This is to say aggrieved residents take their cases either to a village chief or a priest in the community to have the cases settled.
ADR in Dutse
ADR holds sway in DutsePe, a satellite town in Abuja under Bwari Area Council, one of the six Area Councils of the nation’s capital.
Although it is predominantly occupied by Gbagyi and Koro indigenes, DutsePe is also home to residents from others parts of Nigeria. The community which is underdeveloped in terms of infrastructure, was quite busy as residents conducted their daily businesses.
PREMIUM TIMES found that many residents of the community have adopted the traditional means of mediation under which cases are taken to the village head.
The chief of the community, also known as the Dakaci or Esu of DutsePe, Mr Shawo, told this reporter that in his few years as the village head, he had settled many cases brought before him, including a criminal case.
Mr Shawo was named the Dakaci of DustePe in 2016 by the Esu of Bwari, Yaro Ibrahim. He succeeded his uncle.
Criminal cases are not prioritised because they are considered cases against the state or federal government, he said. And so, the palace resolves more of “petty crimes.”
“We don’t settle cases that are criminal except low-profile criminal cases like theft of yam, goat, firewood, little amounts of money. We can resolve that within the palace.
“But if it is a criminal case like armed robbery, a fight involving the use of weapons like knives, we refer such cases to the police. We only handle high profile criminal cases if the two parties agree that the case be settled in the palace instead of going to police and from police to court,” he said.
Mr Shawo has about 20 chiefs under him from different clans. The chiefs act as the first mediators and only refer the cases to him if a resolution is not reached.
The only rule or procedure involved in settling cases in the palace, he explained, is giving each party an opportunity to give their version of what transpired and when necessary, witnesses are invited.
Why witnesses won’t lie in the palace
Mr Shawo told this reporter that witnesses invited to testify on a case will know better than lie in the palace – one of the ways a judgement is guaranteed.
He added that the palace being a sacred place with ancestral powers, could inflict spiritual wrath on whoever disrespects it by lying.
“Sometimes, many people bear false witness because they want to favour their friends but traditionally, we make people to understand that this is a palace that has to do with tradition. So, if you lie, then you know the implications.
“We have a belief that we don’t lie in the palace because it has to do with ancestral powers. So, if one lies, definitely, there are traditional consequences that will follow thereafter. You may have some mysterious things happening to you,” he said.
The village head also said aggrieved parties have the option of going to court should they disagree with his judgement. He said the palace and the chiefs do not impose their judgements on residents and so far, only one of such cases has been recorded.
He also said people prefer traditional means of ADR because they believe the delivery of justice is better than that of the court of law.
“Those who understand the traditional way of settling issues believe that there is more of justice in the palace than in the court because the court depends on how well your lawyers can argue out your case. If a lawyer can argue out your case even when you are guilty, you may be declared not guilty.
“So, you may have a good case but if you don’t have a good lawyer or enough convincing evidence, you lose. But in the palace, we look at it as it is and tell you the truth. There is no technicality in the palace.”
Mr Shawo explained that the number of cases brought to him is low as “people now avoid issues.” He could settle only one case in two, three weeks or even a month. He also does not get paid for resolving issues or being a chief – hence his job as a civil servant with the National Youth Service Corps.
He said the village heads get ‘transport allowance’ from the Local Government administration monthly.
When asked if ADR should be encouraged, the chief responded in the positive. He said “not all cases are entertained in court. Sometimes, they advise the parties to go and settle some cases out of court. But the lawyers involved will continue to advise their clients against ADR with promises of winning the case even when they know they will not win – because that is their job.
“That’s why you see so many cases in the court. Sometimes you go to court and see cases that can be settled at home within 20 minutes – it will be a case in the court for years. ADR should be encouraged. Any case settled in the palace is the best form of settlement. If taken to court with a sincere judge, it will still be the same thing.”
Mr Shawo spoke briefly of the criminal case involving a resident and a cult member, though hoarding details of the crime.
PREMIUM TIMES visited the family of one of the parties involved in the crime, Hadiza Sabo.
Ms Sabo is a widow and mother of seven. Her first son, Dominic, had got into a fight with a resident and stabbed him to death.
Just like the chief, Ms Hadiza was reluctant in disclosing the details of the crime. She only explained that her son was arrested after the incident and was charged to court for murder. During that period, her family and that of the deceased reported the case to the chief “who helped them reach a resolution.”
The accusing party agreed to withdraw the case (after the chief intervened) “but her son was still sent to prison because the court was already involved” and according to the judgement, he was to be punished for killing a person.
Dominic was imprisoned for six months, during which his father passed away.
“He worried too much and started having high blood pressure. It became too much for him to bear and he died leaving me with all these children,” she told this reporter in Hausa.
Dominic, who was absent at the time of this visit, has since returned home and now mows lawn for a living.
Next stop was Kubwa, a densely populated suburb of the FCT – also under Bwari Area Council.
PREMIUM TIMES visited Ijayapi village in Byazhin, Kubwa. Characterised by bad roads and lacking infrastructure, the community is occupied by ethnic groups from across Nigeria, including the major ethnic groups, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba.
In Ijayapi, residents would rather take their cases to the chief or a priest for settlement, Isah Daudu told this reporter.
Mr Daudu is the Esu of Ijayapi. He succeeded his late father 15 years ago. In his many years as a leader, the Esu has helped settle over 100 disputes in the community with “very few” ending in court.
The Esu has a committee comprising five members with whom he settles these cases. He said when a case is brought before him, he advocates for peace and reconciliation first after preliminary hearing of both parties and if this method persists, he weighs the complaints as well as evidences of both parties and makes a judgement.
Although residents “always trust him to pass a wise judgement”, the chief said aggrieved parties are free to approach the court of law if unsatisfied with his judgement.
“We’ve had very few cases like that, not up to ten. And most times, when the court sends them back to us to settle. And it is the same judgement. This cuts across all ethnic groups, not Gbagyi alone,” he explained in Gbagyi.
One of such cases – which turned out to be a criminal case was a fight between two female tenants early this year which ended up with one chopping off the finger of the other.
“The case was reported to at the Police Station first and they were asked to go back home and settle after which they came to me. Upon hearing the case, which had to do with trespassing a space, the judgement was obvious.
“The woman interfering in another’s space was directed to evacuate and the other lady who bit off her opponent’s finger during the fight was asked to ensure she gets the proper medical treatment required. Both parties seemed satisfied with the judgement,” he said.
The women involved had moved out of the neighbourhood at the time of this interview.
Although the number of cases brought before the palace has dwindled in recent times as residents try to avoid trouble and live in peace, Mr Daudu explained that residents would rather have their cases out of court because “settlement in the palace is the best kind of settlement.”
He also said it is quicker and not expensive as residents are not charged or compelled to pay money after their cases have been resolved. “The only thing we accept are tokens, as gratitude but we don’t ask people to pay for their cases to be settled.”
ADR in Kubwa church
Residents also take cases to churches and parish priests to be resolved, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
Jeremiah Ilimi, the Priest at Christ the King Catholic Parish, Kubwa, confirmed this.
Biblically, the best way of conflict resolution is reconciliation among the parties involved before bringing in a third party and if it doesn’t work, take the case to the church, he explained to this reporter.
Mr Ilimi was only transferred to the parish three months ago and in his short time as the parish priest, he has handled a lot of disputes among members.
“Most of them have probably tried with other priests and it didn’t work, others who were also not satisfied with the ruling of other priests still brought it back to me – because they see me as a neutral party,” he said.
Unlike traditional leaders who have chiefs in their panel, Mr Ilimi is the sole member of his committee. He listens to the plight of the disputing parties and proffers solution to the problem.
The priest said cases brought to the church range from family issues to land disputes. He said no criminal case has been reported to him.
“The only instance of any criminal case was confession of people who have committed crimes. Cases like that are handled with discretion. As a priest, you don’t reveal it to anyone – not even the family members.”
Aggrieved parties who feel dissatisfied with the resolution by the priest are left to either go to court or seek other ways to resolve their disputes, he said.
“We only refer people to a different parish if the said case is not under our own jurisdiction. We also refer people to other priests based on their area of expertise. We are all priests but there are some priests that are civil lawyers. Some cases will be better handled by them,” he said.
“Also, when dealing with a drug addict, we refer them to priest who are clinical psychologists for better counsel.”
The priest who says ADR should be encouraged said in rural areas and among low income earners, people no longer find it comfortable going to court.
“People don’t even fight. When they fight, they settle themselves. The good number of cases we are having in court now is centered on election. Court cases take longer time and more money. I encourage it (ADR) very well. If these institutions work very well, cases will not go to court,” he said.