Law and Justice in Post-British Nigeria: Conflicts and Interactions between Native and Foreign Systems of Social Control in Igbo

By Onwudiwe, Ihekwoaba D. | African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS, November 2006 | Go to article overview

Law and Justice in Post-British Nigeria: Conflicts and Interactions between Native and Foreign Systems of Social Control in Igbo


Onwudiwe, Ihekwoaba D., African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS


Law and Justice in Post-British Nigeria: Conflicts and Interactions Between Native and Foreign Systems of Social Control in Igbo. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, Hard Copy, 2002, 236 pages. By Nonso Okereafoezeke

Undeniably, African criminologists are redirecting much needed research toward the production of quality scholarship that addresses the missing link in the development of African criminology and criminal justice. The latest such cogent work is manifest in Law and Justice in Post-British Nigeria, written by Professor Nonso Okereafoezeke of Norfolk State University in Virginia. Noting that Nigeria is a complex society with its multifaceted ethnic dimensions rooted in Eurocentric and egocentric scrambling of wealth and power, Okerafoezeke investigates the confusion, prior to colonial dominion, that was engendered by the introduction of alien laws on an already existing native jurisprudence in divergent regions of Nigeria. He also employs Igbo legal traditions to illuminate the incongruities of the manifold legal systems that operate in Nigeria. Further, Okereafoezeke offers a lucid framework for the development of a justice system in Nigeria that is reasonable, equitable, and satisfactory to all its citizens.

Excluding the introductory and concluding chapters, the book is divided, essentially, into three parts, each of which is comprised of three chapters. Part I explores native and colonial justice systems in Nigeria, as well as the application of formal and informal legal rules. The acceptance and elevation, by Nigerians, of the British legal systems over the universal acknowledgement and respect for the native legal systems is questioned. Naturally, the author resolutely asserts that the imposition of English law on Nigerians cemented the confusion that has led to inept case management in the country. (It should be emphasized at this juncture that, prior to receiving his doctorate in criminology, professor Okereafoezeke was a practicing attorney in Nigeria, which confirms that his apt analyses of Nigerian jurisprudence are not solely informed by critical scholarship, but also by his personal participation as a bona fide Nigerian jurist.)

Using the reach criminological literature on formal and informal social control mechanisms and a survey of many actual Igbo cases, Okereafoezeke explains the principles for measuring formal and informal judicial proceedings. He accomplishes this by drawing on data showing, in the Nigerian context, that judicial matters are neither utterly official nor unofficial. Okereafoezeke contends that, against the bedrock of the Nigerian indigenous legal establishment, the imposition of alien laws on the natives produces cultural and legal anomie.

In Part II, the author examines selected aspects of justice in "contemporary traditional" Igbo land. He explores law-making techniques and the growth of Nigeria's native justice systems, principles of Igbo traditions, customs and laws, and the enforcement of Igbo judicial decisions. Okereafoezeke advocates that traditional Igbo was characterized by "customary laws," which were generally unwritten laws. However, like any other society, as the Igbo and Nigerians move away from mechanical to organic communities, contemporary laws are written down in order to minimize exceptional vagueness and uncertainties in the application of the law. While traditional customary laws were rooted in truthfulness, respect, and universal conduct norms, Okereafoezeke contends that "a written law should be preferred to an unwritten law" (see page 115).

Chapter 5 specifically addresses the methods and procedures used in the study. Employing the research techniques of content analysis, the author examines archival records and government and unofficial data, conducts interviews, and participates in field observations. In order to establish the dissimilarities between the Igbo traditional laws prior to colonial command and after the yoke of foreign law, actual cases and issues are addressed based on the research questions posed by the author. …

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