Law enforcement in Nigeria's plural, hierarchical justice systems (Okereafoezeke, 2000) may be divided into unofficial and official categories. Unofficial and official agencies and groups play vital roles in law enforcement. Unofficial and official laws are enforced. The crucial role of unofficial justice agencies in Nigeria's Igbo is well established (Oli, 1994; Uwazie, 1994; Okereafoezeke, 1996; 2000). The advantage of the present study is that it identifies and examines unofficial, traditional Igbo post-trial law enforcement techniques used in contemporary Nigeria, and how some of the techniques may be borrowed by the official law enforcement agencies or coordinated with the official processes to improve social control in the country.
The lowest social, structural level of control in Ajalli is the ezi na uno or ngwuru. This may be the nuclear family made up of the husband, wife (or wives), and their children, or a number of nuclear families sharing a common residential compound. Two or more siblings living in the same compound with their respective spouses and children is an example of ezi na uno. The ezi na uno is a social entity. It may also be sued to advance the group's religious, economic, and political actions.
Immediately above the ezi na uno is the umunna. The umunna is a group of related ezi na uno's or nuclear families. The members of each umunna have a common ancestor from whom they descended. However, an umunna may permit an individual or ezi na uno to join the umunna even though their ancestor is different from that of the umunna they seek to join. The umunna could be a social, political, religious, as well as an economic group. Each umunna has a head that may or may not be the eldest male member of the group. Where the leader is not the eldest male member, he is an elected male member of the group. Election to the headship of an umunna could take place as often as once a year.
Higher on the hierarchy than the umunna is the onuma (village). Each onuma contains a number of umunna's. Four onuma's make up Ajalli town: Amagu, Obinikpa, Umuabiama, and Umueve. Unlike the umunna, the onuma does not have a standing leadership. Individuals and groups are appointed to lead the villagers on an ad hoc basis. However, each village has some persons who are highly regarded by other villagers. The high regard enjoyed by such persons places them in unique positions to play important roles in the management of the village affairs. Social control, particularly enforcement of judicial decisions, is an important aspect of village affairs in Igbo.
A male member, Eze (literally, "King") of the Ajalli community leads the town. The Eze is the "Chief" or "Traditional Ruler" of the town. The position of Eze Ajalli generally belongs to the di di okpala (first surviving son) of an Eze who passes on. Even so, a successor to the position now has to have the consensus of other community leaders. A reigning Eze generally holds office for the rest of his life. However, an Eze could be forced from office if he loses his support among the key members of the community. An Eze will lose the support base if, for instance, the Eze is regarded as corrupt.
The leader of Ajalli, like the leader of any Igbo community before the advent of colonial rule, was an important political figure. However, since the creation of superior political entities in Nigeria (Local Government Authority, State Government, and the Federal Government of Nigeria), the political clout of Eze Ajalli has been substantially diminished. The Eze nevertheless continues to wield some influence on religious and economic issues. He remains particularly influential on social and cultural issues, as well as social control and order maintenance (Okereafoezeke, 2000).
In this paper, "native court judgment" refers limitedly to judgments given by unofficial, non- governmental traditional courts, tribunals, organizations, and groups. Thus, the Customary Court in Nigeria (an official, governmental court) is not included in this discussion.
The data shows that Igbo communities rarely take overt steps to enforce judicial decisions in civil cases at the Ezi na uno (Family), the Umunna (Extended Family), the Onuma (Village), or the Obodo (Town) Level. Judgments in civil cases are left to the parties to enforce between themselves. They would do so if they accept the judgment. However, the justice representatives at these levels encourage the disputants to abide by a decision in their case. In Case Number 19 (1993) (a land case heard and adjudicated by the Ajalli community's Eze-in-Council), the Council advises the disputants to cooperate with each other to find a peaceful resolution to the dispute. A disputant may, however, ignore the judgment, although a party that ignores such judgment risks being viewed as standing against the system and being ostracized by the community.
Enforcing Judgments in Criminal Cases
The methods and procedures followed to enforce a judgment on a crime depend on whether the crime is "against public security" or "against public morality". Crimes against public security are the acts and omissions that breach the freedom, property, security, and peaceful co-existence of community members without threatening the moral basis of the community. Crimes against public morality are those that additionally threaten the moral basis of the community. The exact procedure to be followed in enforcing each judgment is determined by the community leaders on a case-by-case basis, but there are common trends in enforcing all judgments in each crime category.
Enforcing Judgments on Crimes Against Public Security
Examples of crimes against public security are stealing, assault, battery, public nuisance, disobedience of some of the iwu mmanwu (rules and regulations governing masquerade displays), street fighting, contempt of a community institution, such as the Eze-in- Council, and destruction of property. Each Igbo community takes overt steps to enforce traditional judicial decisions in cases dealing with any of the issues. In Ajalli town, the two main ways of enforcing such decisions are oriri iwu (retrieving a fine) (Record of Proceedings, vol. 2, p. 1), and igba ekpe (public shaming by humiliating display of convict) (Case Number 12, Record of Proceedings, vol. 2, p. 4, at p. 6).
Oriri iwu is a common method of enforcing judgments of fines. The oriri iwu procedure is as follows. A group of community members is sent to the offender's home. When the group arrives at the home, they give the offender the last opportunity to comply with the terms of the judgment. If the offender fails to do so, the group seizes and removes as much property as they believe would cover the amount of the fine. The particular items of property removed from the offender's home need not belong to the offender personally. The judgment enforcers may legitimately seize and remove any property found in the household where the offender lives, whether or not the property belongs to the offender personally. In the event that the seized property belongs to someone else, the offender must sort it out later with the owner. The offender is given some time (usually, a few days) to come to the community leader's home with the fine and recover the seized property. If he or she does not pay the fine, the seized property is sold, and the money realized is used to replace the fine the offender should have paid.
In particular, where an offense violates the iwu mmanwu, the judgment is enforced through masquerades. The masquerades, rather than humans, seize the property (Case Number 4, Record of Proceedings, vol. 1, p. 60). The property seized by the masquerades is almost always goats. A person found guilty of violating an iwu mmanwu certainly pays with at least 1 goat. Depending on the seriousness of the crime, he or she may be fined up to 7 goats (Case Number 4) or more. If masquerades attempt to enforce a judgment but cannot find goats at the offender's home, they may seize goats from the offender's neighbors. The offender must repay the neighbors for the goats. The goats seized by the masquerades are not returnable. They are killed and shared among the various groups and units in the community. Only men may eat the meat (Case Number 4, at p. 61).
Enforcing Judgments on Crimes Against Public Morality
The following are examples of crimes against public morality: incest, ochu (homicide), and defilement of important community institutions, such as a shrine. These are more serious than other crimes. Thus, they are known as crimes that pollute the land. They are aru, alu, nso (taboo, abomination). The community coerces a person convicted of a crime against public morality to expiate his or her evil conduct by offering sacrifices to the land and begging to be forgiven. After the offerings, the offender is expected to leave the community for an extended period of time, probably years. In Case Number 24 (1994), the criminal offender has an incestuous relation with his daughter aged about 14 years. He is tried and convicted by the community. In addition to being made to offer specific sacrifices to cleanse the community and ana or ala (the land), he is forced to leave the town for about 7 years.
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1. The research synopsized in this paper led to a forthcoming book titled Law and Justice in
Post-British Nigeria: Conflicts and Interactions Between Native and Foreign Systems of Social
Control in Igbo, ISBN: 0-313-31308-3. Author: Nonso Okereafoezeke. Publisher: Greenwood Press, November 2001.
http://www.greenwood.com/books/BookDetail.asp?dept_id=1&sku=GM1308 for Greenwood's
promotion of the book on the Internet.
First Online Edition: 8 November 2001
Last Revised: 8 November 2001