Although the Traditional Court system and the adopted European Court style have some elements in common, especially with respect to the process, sequence and conference of witnesses and judicial observers, values, objectives and effectiveness, however, set the traditional court system above.
Even as I do not intend to demean the European Court system, my motive is to ‘show’ what values we have sacrificed at the altar of craving for profane modernity.
I’ll be as brief as possible and avoid idle rhetoric’s overcome your understanding of my presentation; as heavyweights collectively have acknowledged -the shortest punch is the deadliest!
Basically, the traditional court system puts in place significant mechanisms that ensure effective adjudication. Prior to colonial onslaught, the judicial system is basically ‘peace making’. Its essence is reflected in the outcome that contending parties are restored to their ‘friendship’ just before the dust of conflict was disturbed. Although certain weighty offences such as ‘murder’ might, understandably, attract stiffer consequences at justice such as being thrown into evil forest, banishment or even death; natural and unavoidable grouses however were peacefully arbitrated.
It’s no gainsaying that human beings cannot live without some misunderstanding or relative grief in an entire lifetime. At some hot points in the timeline of relationship, some interests, either personal or relative to public, will clash. But how the order is restored and conflict resolved without losing the relationship characterize the old traditional court system amongst the various nations (referred here as 9ra-natives) which later amalgamated as ‘Nigeria’ (referred here as the 9ra-geo). Even in the North, before it was captured by the religion of Islam which introduced Sharia, there were customs that ensured peaceful arbitration between grieving parties.
In a nutshell, the process of justice in the old Nigerian court system has a leitmotif of resolving the disturbed societal equilibrium and restoring the status quo of social order without either party feeling dissed for the other. I can relate this to ‘midwifing’; producing the baby and surviving the mother. At the end, both will say ‘thank you’. Consider being told of your guilt in a way you’ll love and appreciate that you willingly want to restitute and voluntarily pledge not to encroach anymore; that is what our traditional court system represented.
The introduction of European orthodoxy has unfortunately offset this system. Apart from the drama of legal officers knowing the truth but playing dangerous cards to pervert justice in the interest of ‘clients’ who deliberately commit wrong but relied on the ass of court for acquaintance, the outcome of the modern judicial system is fashioned to pronounce a party ‘guilty’ and the other ‘just’. With this, both parties return with renewed hostility.
Another contrast is openness of the arbitration. Presided by either the King or local Chief(s), the judicial process is as open as resolving issues under the tree at village square. Everyone who cares attends and even gives evidence. It is not ‘secret trial’. The contending parties, for example over a parcel of land, will speak with by themselves. You are not necessarily hiring an expensive barrister to marshal your case; it’s cheap, quick and effective. Fraud cases in the modern court system hardly conclude. Adjournments, vacations and bribery are largely absent. An arbitrator in the old court system would grease caution so that the gods do not strike him with epilepsy for accepting bribe and taking sides. It is in the traditional court system that laudable cases are reported where ‘Obas i.e. kings ordered that their own sons be thrown into evil forest or killed once found guilty of grievous crimes. Contrast this with the modern system, the son/daughter of an affluent person hailed if s/he farts at public.
In the old system, justice was for the just whereas in the modern court system, justice is for sale to highest bidder. Another important factor is the oath system. 9ra Natives avoided giving false testimonies or cooking lies in their own favor so as to avert the wrath of Sango or Ogun as it applies to the Yoruba tradition or Amadioha as in the Igbo system. The awareness of efficacy of fire-spurting Sango, thunder strike by Ogun or infliction of deadly plaques by Amadioha impresses caution on the mind of contending parties against perjury. However, swearing by the lenient Jesus or Mohammed that has no divine/natural punishment has only promoted criminal indulgence.
Unfortunate as it were, the importation of Christian and Islam orthodoxy only helped to promote the prevalent criminality. As culprits of crime are assured that swearing either by Jesus or by Mohammed, Bible or Quran would produce no consequence after all, they geared up their greed against the rest of public only to manipulate the ass of court, hire attorneys at prime cost to upturn justice so that a culprit is, at the end, a saint and the victim held culpable. Needless to say that this practice makes corruption go astronaut, the 9ra-geo has now become a reservoir of conundrum and anarchy.
I’ll conclude this piece by making reference to the popular oath adopted at swearing-in of public officials. Public officials profanely swear by Bible and Quran upon assumption of office because they are aware there is no consequence of doing so even if they betray public interest to serve their personal greed and those of their handlers (political god fathers). One interesting thing however is that they swore using the traditional oath system not to betray their political god-fathers and keep their allegiance because they know it’s of consequence to betray the traditional oath, but upon assumption of office, they swear by the ‘vegetable’ of orthodoxy, knowing there’s after all, no consequence. Nigeria’s Methuselah age without a corresponding growth in any sector is traceably due to the non-inclusion of its traditional factors in the equation of politics and justice system. You cannot talk peace without talking justice. Temporary or disguise-peace without justice is like a helical spring consistently pressed into a coil. Pressing it, unknowingly, is servicing its momentum. Upon release, it will propagate turbulent disturbance that its oppressor cannot stand. It’s time Nigeria returned to its core traditional value system to rejig its essence and emerge with a dynamic evolution. It is enough already, faking orthodoxy isn’t working for us; we aren’t even copying it well.