APPRAISAL OF CUSTOMARY LAW ARBITRATION IN NIGERIA

APPRAISAL OF CUSTOMARY LAW ARBITRATION IN NIGERIA

ABSTRACT

The geographical entity now known as and called Nigeria was formally occupied by about 250 independent nations before the advent of the Europeans into the West Coast of Africa.  These nations had their distinct customs and laws, which they brought on board Nigeria.   These customs and laws differ from place to place.  Customary law arbitration was and still remains a widely accepted option for settling disputes, particularly amongst people occupying the former Eastern Nigeria, now popularly referred to as South East Geo-political Zone of Nigeria.  This method of adjudication is governed by the Nigerian customary law. It is endorsed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, Cap. C23 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 (as amended), and recognized by the courts.  Thus, it is neither regulated by common law principles on arbitration that are applicable to Nigeria nor by the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, Cap. A18 LFN 2004, which is, the basic legal framework regulating written agreements to arbitrate in Nigeria.  The unique characteristics of customary law arbitration in Nigeria are that agreements to arbitrate are usually oral in nature, and customary law arbitral proceedings and awards are not normally recorded in writing.  The communities that recognize and use customary law arbitration for settling disputes resort to it because it is inexpensive, expeditious, culturally acceptable to them, relevant and suitable for their situations in lives.  Also, it helps to reduce pressure on the court system of adjudication. This invaluable method of adjudication is, however, facing serious threats to its development and sustainability.  Bearing in mind that indigenous customary law, which is the bedrock of customary law arbitration in Nigeria as opposed to Islamic law, is lex non scripta in nature, imprecise, and differs from place to place, this is not surprising.  Regrettably, adequate attention has not been devoted to the study and development of customary law arbitration and its importance in dispute resolution by previous researchers and government, and this has continued to create lacuna in the study and development of the law and practice of arbitration as an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism in Nigeria. This study, therefore, sets out to fill this knowledge gap.  The main objective for this study is to examine the law and practice of customary law arbitration in Nigeria with a view to determining its adequacy or otherwise as an ADR mechanism.  Correspondingly, the specific objectives for the study are: (i) To ascertain the issues that militate against the development of customary law arbitration in Nigeria, and (ii) To consider whether education can be used to adequately address the issues. Historical, analytical and comparative research approaches will be adapted in this study and relevant data for the study will come from primary and secondary sources.  The former came from case law, statutes, as well as unstructured interviews based on proportionate stratified random sampling targeted at traditional rulers, elders of various communities and natives who are knowledgeable in the area of indigenous customary law and practices while historical records, anthropological reports, scholarly articles, text books, and useful resources from the Internet will constitute the latter source.