Printer Friendly



The major causes of conflict in African communities include kidnapping, land disputes, resource competition, theft, debt, adultery, and allegations of witchcraft. It seems that as long as community residents interact, conflicts cannot be avoided. The recipe for a peaceful community is "not the absence of conflict, but the ability to manage it." (1) The problem is not how to eliminate conflict but how best to manage it. Scholars have established a contrast between western approaches to conflict resolution, which focus on litigation, and indigenous African conflict resolution strategies, which focus on reconciliation. (2) This study investigates the perceptions of the Ogonis in Nigeria's Niger Delta about the effectiveness of each of these two strategies in their communities.


Ronald Gardner and William Barcella argue that approaches to conflict resolution are dependent on the particular contexts of a society. (3) They claim that the western system of conflict resolution is rooted in the individualistic nature of western communities and indigenous African conflict resolution strategies is rooted in the holistic nature of African communities. (4) There is some truth in such links, but they may oversimplify these conflict resolution theories. Western approaches to conflict resolution are much more complex than a reflection of individualism and embrace a wide range of practices that encompass what might be defined as good governance. Good governance defuses tensions and deals with problems as they arise. In many western states, good governance entails democratization, maintaining law and order, accountability, transparency, responsiveness on the part of government toward conflict resolution, due process, checks and balances, credible opposition, and respect for human and minority rights, all of which directly help remove conflicts.

Many western conflicts are routinely resolved through adjudication in competent courts that have jurisdiction over the matter. Adjudication in courts of law and processes of arbitration, negotiation, and mediation are central to western approaches to conflict resolution. Adjudication succeeds in the West because of strong law enforcement institutions that implement legal judgments to resolve disputes. It follows codified processes that make judgments consistent and acceptable to the conflicting parties. Arbitration allows parties to select an arbiter they prefer to settle a conflict outside of the court. The arbiter, a neutral third party, hears the evidence from both parties in a conflict and renders a decision, usually called an award, that is binding on the parties. (5) Negotiation is the process whereby the parties in a conflict seek to settle and resolve their dispute through joint decision making. (6) The goal of negotiation is to reach agreement between parties. All of these modes of western approaches to conflict resolution depend on the presence of strong institutions that participate in conflict management. The proponents of western approaches to conflict resolution in Africa argue that traditional African approaches to conflict resolution have failed to manage conflicts on the continent and that African conflict managers often abandon the lengthy traditional approach, which seeks to get to the root of a conflict, and instead engage in the speedy adoption of western approaches.

However, while this approach may result in a superficial resolution of the dispute, it does not address the underlying causes and conflicts often fester. Western approaches to conflict resolution are problematic because they concentrate on punishing the offender without concern for the potential impact of this action on the offender or his/her relationship with the community, thus ignoring the need to reintegrate these people into their communities. The western system is exclusionary and based on a winner-takes-all approach, which aggravates conflicts and disputes over the longer term. This style of conflict management runs counter to the African indigenous principles of power sharing and reconciliation and therefore cannot be a basis for conflict resolution in the African cultural context. (7) The idea of winner takes all, a zero-sum-game orientation toward conflict management, is antithetical to the win-win game that many African societies practice in conflict resolution. Moreover, because western approaches are fundamentally rooted in the principles of good governance and the rule of law, in places where government authority is unstable and the rule of law is weak, as is the case in many African and Middle East states, it does not work well. (8)

Another weakness of western approaches to conflict resolution is that it does not involve every member of the conflicting parties. This is fundamental for the resolution of conflict in Africa. As Paul E. Salem notes, "building of peace is an activity in which all affected sectors of society have a responsibility to take part." (9) Another factor makes adjudication inadequate for resolving many conflicts in Africa: most conflicts on the continent are culturally or ethnically. Thus, when a party in conflict goes to court to obtain a favorable judgment, it is difficult (if not impossible) for government and law enforcement officers to implement the judgment. Conflicts between communities in Ezza North in Ebonyi State in Nigeria and their neighbors offer good examples of how court judgments were not implemented because of cultural resistance. (10)

All these considerations lead many commentators to claim that western approaches to conflict resolution approaches "are hardly in conformity with the traditions and values of African communities." (11) Other critics assert that western approaches to conflict resolution in Africa discredit the older African paradigms and values of conflict resolution, development, and modernization that worked well for centuries to deal with the African condition. (12)


African communities are not individualistic. They are naturally communal. Thus, they maintain reconciliatory mechanisms for conflict resolution. Indigenous African conflict reconciliatory strategies seek not only to put an end to hostility and conflict but also to reestablish harmonious relationships that lead to forgiveness and the psychical healing of individuals and groups. (13) Social harmony, not litigation that identifies who is right or wrong, is the focus of indigenous African conflict resolution systems and not litigation. Indigenous African conflict resolution systems processes are deliberative attempts to ensure that communities are peaceful. (14) One of the advantages of African conflict resolution systems over western approaches is that arbitrators involved in traditional conflict resolution are mostly community elders or chiefs. These figures are familiar with their communities' languages and cultures and are able to weigh and administer justice that not only corrects and reconciles the offender with the community but also avoids inflicting further strain on community structures. In addition, individuals and communities understand these processes and are quick to accept the verdict. The flexible nature of African conflict resolution systems is also an advantage because of its "willingness to incorporate new ideas." (15) African conflict resolution systems are also affordable, they are perceived as well organized and transparent, and they ensure the timely delivery of justice. (16) Also, indigenous African methods of conflict resolution are pro-development because the process ensures that the conflicting parties forgive each other, which places them on the true path of remorse and reconciliation thereby creating healthy conditions for social peace and development. (17)

Finally, this approach is holistic because when chiefs, elders, and other peace ambassadors who are responsible for conflict resolution are unable to resolve any conflict, they refer to spirits. The role of spirits in traditional African conflict resolution is often seen to involve the imposition of sanctions that are beyond the manipulation of humans, such as death or sickness. The possibility of such sanctions tends to orient the behavior of indigenous people toward peace as they live their day-to-day lives. Ritual oaths are widely used to identify disruptive parties in a conflict. Such oaths are administered in the holy altar (shrine) of many African spirits, which pass speedy sentence on an offending party who promotes conflict. The Kamba administer the Kithitu and Ndudu oaths; the Yoruba consult Ogun, god of iron; and the Igbo consult the Ibini Ukpabi (Long Juju of Arochukwu). (18)

Ancestors and their spirits are regarded as regulators of conflicts. They are powerful forces for stakeholders to reckon with in the drama of conflict resolution in African societies. This is because ancestors and their spirits, who see all human behavior, clearly identify the actions of people who fuel conflicts. (19) A study of the Sisala of Ghana reports that because the ancestors know the true path (wenbiing titi) to happiness because of their wisdom, they are in a position to enforce conformity to this lifestyle: they have the power of affliction and periodically use it to maintain social order. (20) This spirit element is a unique strength of indigenous African conflict resolution systems. (21)

The use of spirits and spirituality in conflict mediation is gradually gaining the interest of academic scholars. In a study entitled "The Role of Spirituality in the Mediation Process," Debra Jones reported on the experience of mediators who integrate spirituality in the mediation process using Asian American, African American, and Caucasian mediators who were educated to masters' degree and doctoral levels. She explained the new skills these mediators acquired: "As parties experience a validation of their needs, they experience a shift in perspective, helping them begin to develop greater sensitivity to others and explore a new way of communicating [peace]. The creation of an opening for the possibility of resolution was considered by these mediators as a spiritual act." (22) In Nigeria, members of the Umuada (daughters of the land) in Ahiazu Mbaise consult the spirit of late ancestors and lay curses (ikiofo or isuofo) on individuals or groups who might think of disrupting the peace-making processes of women in the community. (23) Accordingly, many members of society have deep convictions about the efficacy of spirits in conflict resolution, including both passive Christians and those who still hold tenaciously to African traditional religious beliefs. However, a minority group of "born-again," or practicing, Christians and foreign-educated scholars believe that the spirits cannot be effective in conflict resolution. (24)

There is much evidence of the success of indigenous African conflict resolution systems. Documentary analysis of the conflict resolution strategy of the Barolong indigenous people of the North West province of South Africa demonstrates its effectiveness. Even though the Barolong people are an association of immigrants (i.e., a mixed people from different places with a variety of cultures), they are able to achieve and maintain peace both within and between communities by using community-based reconcilers such as community chiefs (kgosi), uncles (malome), and aunts (rakgadi) to operate indigenous African conflict resolution systems. (25) In Ghana and Botswana, people at the grassroots level depend on a local community-based conflict resolution system that their community chiefs and elders control, as Kaderi Bukari notes: "Traditional/spiritual healers may use herbs, animal sacrifices and water to perform rituals aimed at resolving a conflict between the living, and between the living and their ancestral spirits." (26) Likewise, in East Africa, Anyuaa people have specialized indigenous African conflict resolution structures. (27) For example, the nobleship is managed by nyieyanyieya, the headship is overseen by kwaaro, and spiritual institutions are managed by the nyibur. All of these leaders are wise and resourceful because they have accumulated knowledge from past generations and apply it to resolving current conflicts. Joel Dada and Kelechi Ani also claim that indigenous African conflict resolution systems are effective among community groups in Nigeria. (28)

Because of the evident benefits of African conflict resolution systems, especially compared with the failures of the western system of conflict resolution, several scholars are advocating the revival and extended use of indigenous systems. (29) It is against this background of the contrast between western approaches to conflict resolution and indigenous African conflict resolution systems that this study investigates the perceptions of the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta about the respective effectiveness of their western approaches to conflict resolution and indigenous African systems methods of conflict resolution.


Ogoniland is located in Rivers State of Nigeria's Niger Delta. It is very well known for the Shell Petroleum Development Company's high level of devastation of its land. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that since the 1950s "Ogoniland has [had] a tragic history of pollution from oil spills and oil well fires." (30) The 2006 national census reported that about 832,000 Ogonis live in an oil-contaminated environment. Critics allege that this is because Shell and the Nigerian government are preoccupied with profit maximization, use substandard methods to drill for oil, and do not clean up polluted sites adequately. As a result, Ogonis are exposed to health hazards following the discharge of chemical waste on their lands and into water bodies. The contamination of their environment has also affected their cultural lives: the Ogonis have lost natural rivers and lands that lend deep spiritual significance to their existence. (31)

Moreover, oil pollution is the major cause of unemployment, hunger and poverty among the Ogonis and the people of the Niger Delta in general. (32) For example, the notorious 2008 Bodo oil spills took away jobs and the means of livelihood of about 15,600 farmers. (33) Before oil exploitation, Ogonis relied heavily on natural resources (water bodies and land) for their livelihoods. They are fishermen and farmers and their farming and fishing prowess stemmed from the fertile alluvial soils, rivers, and creeks that earned the area the title of a regional food basket. (34) However, according to a United Nations Development Programme report, in 2013 about 54 percent of Ogonis lived on less than one dollar per day. (35) Ogoniland is the worst-performing area in Nigeria in terms of social indicators such as health, education, and quality of the environment.

In the face of these problems, Ogoni community chiefs and elders, who also double as the managers of their community resolution systems, have carved out strategies for their own survival at the expense of their followers. (36) For example, traditional Ogoni community leaders sometimes divert funds Shell send for development into their own pockets. (37) This results in a loss of integrity of the traditional community leaders during conflict resolution. (38) As a result, conflicts between youths and community leaders soared. (39) Contestation between youths and community leaders has led to the rise of cult activities in Ogoniland. Ogoni youths have joined cult groups in order to fight and dethrone their leaders. (40) This has deepened the dynamics of tensions across Ogoni communities. (41) In addition, traditional chiefs and politicians who seek to advance their careers take advantage of the vulnerable and poor condition of young cultists by hiring cult groups to fight their enemies. Paradoxically, therefore, cultists find themselves fighting on behalf of the very people they originally despised.

Some authors report that the conflict between youths and community leaders is not the only type of conflict Ogonis experience. (42) Intergroup conflict happens mostly over farmland disputes between neighboring communities and intragroup conflict occurs mostly among members of community-based organizations. There are also bitter disputes among traditional local elites. For example, educated chiefs may not respect their uneducated colleagues.


This study uses both quantitative and qualitative data collected through survey questionnaires, semi-structured face-to-face interviews, and focus group discussions carried out in two Ogoni communities (K-Dere and Kanni-Babbe) from October to December 2016. The K-Dere and Kanni-Babbe communities were selected because both experience severe conflict. One is rich in oil (K-Dere) while the other is oil poor (Kanni-Babbe). In the quantitative phase, we administered 100 survey questionnaires in each community. We recruited participants based on their experience with any conflict resolution procedure and their willingness to participate in the research. In all, 178 questionnaires (ninety-one from Kanni-Babbe and eighty-seven from K-Dere) were returned. We entered data from these survey questionnaires into Excel tables and calculated the frequencies of themes from these data. In the qualitative phase, we collected data through face-to-face interviews with key informants and focus group discussions. During this phase, we conducted thirty-one key informant interviews and four focus group discussions (two in each community). Participants were recruited through snowball sampling based on their experience of both western and indigenous African approaches to conflict resolution systems. In all, we interviewed seventeen key informants from K-Dere and fourteen from Kanni-Babbe. We transcribed recordings of key informant interviews and focus group discussions and analyzed them using thematic content analysis. As with the survey questionnaires, we identified the frequencies of themes from key informant interviews and focus group discussions.


All thirty-one key informant interviews, 70 percent of those from K-Dere who filled out a survey questionnaire, and 80 percent of those from Kanni-Babbe who took the survey mentioned that they had seen both western and indigenous African conflict resolution systems used in their communities use. While 30 percent of key informants in K-Dere and about 20 percent of key informants in Kanni-Babbe have used western approaches to conflict resolution, over 90 percent of key informants and participants in focus group discussions in both K-Dere and Kanni-Babbe have at some point used indigenous African conflict resolution systems. Similarly, while 30 percent of those who completed survey questionnaires from K-Dere community have used western approaches to conflict resolution, over 90 percent have used indigenous African conflict resolution systems. In Kanni-Babbe, 20 percent of those who took the survey have used western approaches to conflict resolution while 100 percent have used indigenous African conflict resolution systems (see table 1). Most (65 percent) key informants indicated that while indigenous African conflict resolution systems are mainly rural means of conflict resolution, western approaches to conflict resolution are more urban. For example, Key Informant 1 said, "We do not have original courts here [in our villages].... Our elders settle our [disputes]. The nearest courts [magistrate, high courts, customary] are in Bori, Taabaa, and Babbe."

Respondents' Perceptions of Western Approaches to Conflict Resolution

According to 40 percent of key informants and participants in two focus group discussions, western approaches to conflict resolution are used mainly for conflicts involving aggression. Key Informant 17, who works with a court, said western approaches to conflict resolution are needed for complex cases: "Very complex cases need to be handled by the court. It [the court] is more standardized." Key Informant 4 also thought that very complex cases are better handled in court. A minority (20 percent) of both key informants and survey takers said that the Ogoni tradition of consulting their gods is more reliable if complex cases are to be resolved without bias. In contrast, Key Informant 16 argued that most Ogonis have now abandoned idol worship for Christianity: "God forbid that I swear to Amonikpo [a cult].... I will swear with my Bible." For 30 percent of key informants and 20 percent of survey takers, a western approach to conflict resolution is a last resort when an indigenous African conflict resolution system fails: "When the family and our chief cannot settle the problem, we may then decide to use the court or police" (Key Informant 6). However, Key Informant 16 said that "because we respect our culture, we obey the decision of our elders" and Key Informant 33 noted that "only disrespectful people that will not obey tradition take their cases to the court and police in my community." For Key Informant 13, the western approach to conflict resolution is a fairer process than indigenous African methods of conflict resolution: "Sometimes these elders and chiefs can be biased.... I mean, like every human being, they can judge to favor the guilty person. That is why I like western approaches to conflict resolution sometimes." A participant in Focus Discussion Group 2 noted that most intercommunal disputes are settled through indigenous African conflict resolution systems and only occasionally by using western approaches.

However, many respondents expressed criticism of western approaches to conflict resolution. For example, Key Informant 20 said that a western approach to conflict resolution is for the learned and the rich: "Court is for big people.... I did not finish elementary six." Half of the survey participants from both K-Dere and Kanni-Babbe said the western approach to conflict resolution is very demanding in terms of education and wealth. Key Informant 2 said that he is not qualified to use the police and court system: "I do not know where the court is in this area. I will not go there because they will give me forms to complete.... I did not finish elementary school." Key Informant 15 rhetorically asked, "Where will I get the money to pay the court man [lawyer]?... Here [in my community] we are looking for money to buy food." Several respondents said that they would prefer to use a western approach to conflict resolution but felt discouraged because of their low financial and educational status. A participant in Focus Discussion Group 2 said that when Shell and the Nigerian government took over their lands, widows and especially the very poor and uneducated accepted minimal payments from the government as compensation, while the learned like himself took their cases to court. Some participants complained that while judgments are dispensed speedily through indigenous African structures, western approaches to conflict resolution were slower. Key Informant 13 said, "My case in Bori court is taking too long." Key Informant 19 said that a western approach is inappropriate for resolving conflict between family members: "In our community it is a taboo to call the police for your brother or neighbor. You cannot take your brother to court."

Respondents' Perceptions of Indigenous African Conflict Resolution Systems

According to over 55 percent of key informants and participants in three focus group discussions, there are three categories of indigenous African conflict resolution systems. The first is conflict resolution within the family, managed by family heads. Unresolved disputes from the first category are moved to the second category, community-based organizations that are managed by youths, men, or women. Disputes that cannot be resolved in the second category are moved to the third category, which is managed by community chiefs and elders. However, conflict resolution processes do not always follow this clear-cut sequence and residents may start and end at any level. A member of Focus Discussion Group 3 said that "sometimes the problem that the community chief cannot solve... will be returned to the family unit and there will be a solution." Many respondents praised the efficacy of indigenous African conflict resolution systems. Study participants who were leaders in one of the three categories (family heads, leaders of community-based organizations, and community chiefs) and 20 percent of key informants felt that indigenous African conflict resolution systems are reliable because they are made up of familiar individuals, not strangers. This was also the consensus of one of the four focus groups. Those who had benefited from indigenous African conflict resolution (30 percent of key informants and 40 percent of survey takers) also rated such systems very highly because they are able to resolve any kind of dispute. Key Informant 23 said, "Honestly, I always respect our tradition. It is good.... Last year when my elder sisters husband injured her, it was our chief that settled that matter. They [indigenous African conflict resolution systems] can settle any case, they are people of wisdom." Key Informant 9 asserted that "our Amonikpo settle any problems here.... They consult the gods. They are very powerful." Finally, 60 percent of key informants, two focus discussion groups, and 60 percent of survey takers thought that indigenous African conflict resolution systems are inexpensive. As Key Informant 5 noted, "Sometimes our people just want to give their money to government lawyers. Our chiefs and elders do not demand for any penny.... [Their services are] free of charge."

However, several study participants criticized indigenous African conflict resolution systems. For example, Key Informant 24 noted that they can sometimes be misogynistic: "My late husband's brother sent his wife and children to farm on my husband's land Our chief and elders support my brother-in-law. [The chief] said I am a bad woman that wants to divide my husband's family. [The chief] did not consider how I manage to get food to feed my seven children." Another criticism is that indigenous African conflict resolution systems are not always reconciliatory in their approach. Key Informant 19 narrated her experience in these words:
You know sometimes teenagers will try to do things they copy from the
television or hear from the radio. My son tried to act like someone who
belongs to a cult.... On that day he followed some boys to the bush to
swear an oath, like the people they watch on TV. That night some youths
[vigilantes] that guard our village caught them [and] tied them to a
tree. They untied them the next morning and released them to our chief
who ordered that these boys [my son and his friends] should be punished
very well by our community youths. They beat these children until their
bodies were covered with blood. They call them bad names like witches
and cultists up till today.

Key Informant 3 thought that indigenous African conflict resolution systems sometimes administered "jungle justice": "Is beating young children and sometimes chasing them away from their birth communities not jungle justice? You must weigh any punishment... but our people will not." Some key informants (10 percent) and survey takers (5 percent) hold that indigenous African conflict resolution systems are sometimes bad and sometimes good. Key Informant 33 said, "Yes, it can be judged both ways. If the elders and chiefs are good then it will be good, if the leaders are bad then it will be bad." Forty-five percent of survey takers from K-Dere do not trust their indigenous African conflict resolution system (see table 1). Indeed, some respondents claimed that African conflict resolution systems have become a source of conflict rather than a means of resolving conflict. For example, a participant in Focus Discussion Group 1 said that in his community there are numerous examples of the three categories of indigenous African conflict resolution systems contributing to the escalation of conflict instead of resolving it. Key Informant 25 claimed that "it has become the number one source of conflict... even in other neighboring communities." Like Key Informant 25, scholars continue to trace the development and escalation of conflicts in Ogoniland to indigenous African conflict resolution systems. (43)

Despite the deficiencies of indigenous African conflict resolution systems, they continue to be widely used in both K-Dere and Kanni-Babbe (see table 1). But participants in Focus Discussion Group 1 and Focus Discussion Group 3 say this continued high usage should not be attributed to the merits of indigenous African conflict resolution because "it is our tradition to settle our palaver [problems] from inside" (member of Focus Discussion Group 1).


From the results section, it is clear that key informants, participants in focus group discussions, and those who filled out survey questionnaires from both K-Dere and Kanni-Babbe perceive that both western approaches to conflict resolution and indigenous African conflict resolution systems have good and bad qualities. Three issues arise from these results. First, there does not appear to be any significant difference between the reactions of residents of oil-rich and oil-poor communities to the two methods of conflict resolution. Second, in both communities, there seems to be almost as much criticism of indigenous African systems as of western approaches for their respective performances in resolving conflicts. Why were respondents so critical of western approaches to conflict resolution? One explanation, according to respondents, is that western approaches are foreign and do not consider their particular circumstances and conditions of living. Key Informant 23 notes that western approaches to conflict resolution are "only making lawyers rich.... Our big men and people that have university certificates are the people that go to court in my community. Court and police is business.... It is market, you must have money to buy their help." Key Informant 9 narrated her unhappy experience with the police:
In 2014, when they shot my last son and the hospital confirmed that he
is dead, my first son went to the police and in that condition, [the
police] brought plenty papers for him to complete. Because my son did
not finish school, he started looking for someone who will write for
him. They asked for money, I do not know whether the money was a
compulsory fee or bribe. My son's blood is still crying for justice.

Why were respondents so critical of indigenous African conflict resolution systems? One explanation is that their communities were far from the idylls of harmony that they are often characterized as. Critics argue that the most common mistake many scholars of African communities make is that they assume they are naturally harmonious. (44) The belief that African communities are communal, not individualistic, and hence support indigenous African conflict resolution systems that are naturally reconciliatory is "an appendage merely to the grand communitarian project." (45) In reality, Ogoni communities, like most African rural communities, are deeply heterogeneous. Residents belong to different factions based on choice and economic, social, or religious status. (46) These differences impact community conflict resolution systems; "deep-rooted hostility and distrust prevent a genuine peaceful community... from being established." (47) According to one key informant, indigenous African conflict resolution systems sometimes fail to resolve conflicts even in the smallest (family) category because "we live in a community where greed, hatred, and distrust prevail."
My blood brother... got a scholarship from Shell. He has completed his
course from London. Since he returned home, our father treats me like a
fool. He supports my younger brother. Because I am still struggling, he
[my father] gave my brother a large portion of our family land to build
his house. As the first son, I do not have any land in my name. My
father's elder brother has refused to settle this problem.... He
collects money from my brother. (Key Informant 1)

Another explanation for respondents' criticism of indigenous African conflict resolution systems is that younger members of the community increasingly see the undemocratic basis of the power of leaders such as traditional chiefs as anachronistic. In addition, these traditional leaders are tainted by their complicity with the Nigerian government and oil capitalism. Okeke-Ogbuafor, Gray, and Stead report that Ogoni elders and traditional chiefs sometimes work with external agents to sow seeds of discord rather than peace in their communities. (48) For example, according to Pyagbara, leaders of Ogoni indigenous conflict resolution systems collude with Shell officials not to resolve the differences between the oil company and their community but to marginalize some residents, which aggravates the conflict:
With the arrival of the oil companies, a new level of relationship is
created between the oil companies and the elders led by the traditional
rulers who most times now see their community people as subjects and
them as big men because of the largesse and special treatment that are
given to them (individuals rather than the communities) by the oil
companies, thus alienating them from the people. (49)

Mohammed gives an example of the corrupt actions of community leaders who use funds an oil company supplied to their communities:
One oil company paid some amount of money to a community, and part of
the money was meant for scholarships to some youths in the community.
But the community leaders decided to pay only half of the money to the
youths, while they paid in full to their own children.... Not only
that, the leaders of the community inserted fake names in the list of
the scholarship beneficiaries in order to get more money from the oil
companies. (50)

How can such criticism of both western and traditional African approaches be met? A possible solution would be to amalgamate the western and indigenous conflict resolution methods in a way that combines the best features of the two and discards their respective weaknesses. However, it would be difficult to find ways of amalgamating two such different approaches. How could litigation be amalgamated with reconciliation? A more practicable proposal is to introduce into Ogoniland the system of a public defender in order to protect disadvantaged members of the community from being unjustly treated. The public defender system includes "better protection... of the rights of defendants in criminal cases[,]... treatment of rich and poor on an equal basis[,]... [and] quicker disposition of criminal cases.... Public defenders therefore provide a means whereby a defendants rights may be protected in reality and not just in theory." (51) The public defender system could make up for the inequality of wealth in western approaches to conflict resolution and offer members of the community a practicable alternative to undemocratic indigenous African conflict resolution systems. It is designed to meet the needs of residents who do not perceive that they benefit from either western or indigenous African approaches to conflict resolution as presently constituted. (52)

The idea of a public defender originated in western Europe many centuries ago and found its way to the United States in the early 1900s. It is now established in some form across the entire country. It is also a familiar part of the conflict resolution apparatus in some developing countries, including Nigeria and Brazil. An office of public defender was set up in Lagos in 2000 as a "government initiative to provide access to justice for the indigent and the disadvantaged residents of Lagos State." During the first ten years, it dealt with 15,000 petitions. (53) The governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, notes that the public defender officers in Lagos represent impoverished citizens who are facing civil or criminal charges and help poor clients obtain redress for wrongs suffered at the hands of government, business, landlords, or other organizations:
Its aim was to provide free legal advice and representation to indigent
and otherwise defenseless members of our society, even where the
remedies they sought were against government and government
agencies.... It is gratifying to note that 12 years after its
establishment, the office of public defender has been able to
consistently offer assistance to over 34,100 of the most vulnerable
citizens, families and communities in our society, completely free of
charge, and in that way has helped to promote social justice and
order. (54)

The Nigerian Constitution provides a right to legal representation for indigent citizens who are accused of crimes or have had their fundamental rights violated. For such equal access to justice, the Nigerian federal government would need to provide public defenders in all thirty-six Nigerian states by recruiting law school graduates from the National Youth Service Corps. These young attorneys would serve their twelve-month postgraduate internship under the supervision of senior lawyers in offices of public defenders. This arrangement is already in place in South Africa. This could result in public defenders handling 108,000 cases per year in Nigeria. (55) Such a proposal would go some way toward meeting the criticism that although the staff of offices of public defenders were as qualified as their counterparts in western justice systems, they were overburdened because of underfunding. Because of this, the quality of their service was often poor. By recruiting members of National Youth Service Corps, Ogoni public defender offices could avoid the shortcomings of western public defender offices. The Nigerian government could recruit these young attorneys to establish offices of public defenders in poor, rural communities like Ogoni, ensuring a steady supply of quality lawyers and legal aid. (56)


Despite the deficiencies of both western and indigenous African approaches to conflict resolution, this study does not endorse the recommendation that 30 percent of key informants suggested: to replace the two types currently at work in Ogoniland. As table 1 shows, they serve the interests of some groups in the community quite well. But because of the controversies that surround their use, as study participants reported, there is a need for an additional string to the bow of conflict resolution in Ogoniland. The office of public defender is an ideal candidate for this supplementary role because it creates opportunities for vulnerable Ogonis who do not trust their indigenous African system of conflict resolution yet feel unqualified to use western approaches to conflict resolution and/or cannot afford to do so. However, for the office of public defender to deliver a quality service for conflict resolution to Ogonis it must be properly funded and staffed. There is also a need for periodic assessment of its performance.


(1.) Bernard Omisore and Rashidat Abiodun, "Organizational Conflicts: Causes, Effects and Remedies," International Journal of Academic Research in Economics and Management Sciences 3, no. 5 (2014): 118-136.

(2.) Adeyinka Ajayi, and Lateef Oluwafemi Buhari, "Methods of Conflict Resolution in African Traditional Society," African Research Review 8, no. 2 (2014): 138-157.

(3.) Ronald Gardner and William Barcella, "Challenging Cross-Cultural Notions of Perceptions of Interstate Conflict Resolution between Arab/Muslims and Westerners," Journal of Global Peace and Conflict 3, no. 1 (2015): 1-21.

(4.) Morgan Brigg, "Mediation, Power, and Cultural Difference," Conflict Resolution Quarterly 20, no. 3 (2003): 287-306.

(5.) Shedrack Gaya Best, Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies in West Africa: A Reader (Ibadan, Oyo: Spectrum Books, 2006), 61-78.

(6.) M. Rambotham and T. Woodhouse, Contemporary Conflict Resolution: The Prevention, Management and Transformation of Deadly Conflicts (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2016), 72-150; Ho-Won Jeong, Peace & Conflict Studies: An Introduction (New York: Routledge 2017), 167-190.

(7.) Francis Deng, "Anatomy of Conflict in Africa," in Government and Politics in Africa--A Reader, edited by Okwudiba Nnoli (Lagos, Nigeria: APPS Books, 2000), 219-236.

(8.) Akeem Ayofe Akinwale, "Integrating the Traditional and the Modern Conflict Management Strategies in Nigeria," Accord: African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, December 16, 2010, accessed August 1, 2017,

(9.) Quoted in Maria Nzomo, " Gender, Governance and Conflicts in Africa," 2002, accessed January 21, 2019,

(10.) Kelechi Ani, "Sustainable Peacebuilding Strategies for the Management of Ezza Conflicts in Nigeria and the Barolong Land Disputes in South Africa" (PhD diss., North West University South Africa, 2017), 35-67.

(11.) Omah Emmanuel, "Rethinking African Traditional Methods of Conflict Resolution," in Peace, Security and Development in Nigeria, edited by Isaac Olawale, Willie Aziegbe, and Nathaniel Danjibo (Abuja: Society for Peace and Practice, 2012), 161-184.

(12.) Mazrui Ali, "Conflict as a Retreat from Modernity. A Comparative Overview," in Conflict in Africa, edited by Oliver Furley (London: Oxford University Press, 2002).

(13.) Jannie Malan, Conflict Resolution Wisdom from Africa (South Africa: Accord, 1997), 1-90.

(14.) Olajide Olagunju, "Traditional African Dispute Resolution (TADR) Mechanism," accessed February 6, 2017,

(15.) Alfonso Castro and Kreg Ettenger, "Indigenous Knowledge and Conflict Management: Exploring Local Perspectives and Mechanism for dealing with Community Forestry Disputes," accessed February 22, 2017,

(16.) Paul Sturges, "The Role of Spirit Messages in African Conflicts; The Case of Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda," The Open Information Science Journal 3(2011): 76-79.

(17.) Nwanaju Isidore and Kelechi Ani, "Post-Conflict Inter-Group Forgiveness: Tool for Sustainable National Peace and Development in Nigeria," International Journal of Social Science 3, no. 2(2011): 145-151.

(18.) Francis Kariuki, "Conflict Resolution by Elders in Africa: Successes, Challenges and Opportunities," Alternative Dispute Resolution 3, no. 2 (2015): 30-53. The Kithitu and Ndudu oaths are popular and common ways of resolving disputes among the Kamba people through consulting the gods of the land. People are brought to take oaths, which are administered to them. Those found guilty are often cursed by the god of the land, leading to their death. See Katherine Luongo, Witchcraft and Colonial Rule in Kenya, 1900-1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

(19.) Olaoba Olufemi, "Ancestral Focus and the Process of Conflict Resolution in Traditional African Societies," in Perspective on Peace and Conflict in Africa: Essays in Honour of General (Dr) Abdulsalami A. Abubakar, edited by Albert Olawale (Ibadan, Oyo: Institute of African Studies, 2005), 140-151.

(20.) Eugene Mendonsa, "Elders, Office-Holders and Ancestors among the Sisala of Northern Ghana," Africa 46, no. 1 (1976): 57-63.

(21.) Kelechi Ani and Chukwuma Ugo, "Christianity and the Inculturation of Traditional Peace Building Strategies in Igboland," in Church and Igbo Society: Proceedings of the International Symposium Organized by Whelan Research Academy, edited by Thomas Okere (Owerri, Imo: Assumpta Press, 2013), 212-227.

(22.) Debra Jones, "The Role of Spirituality in the Mediation Process," Conflict Resolution Quarterly 27, no. 2 (2009): 145-165.

(23.) Kelechi Ani, and Adaugo Opara, "Conflict Resolution in Africa: A Focus on Umuada (Daughters) in Ahiazu-Mbaise Nigeria," Journal of Gender, Information and Development in Africa 6, no. 2 (2017): 27-43.

(24.) Passive Christians believe in God but they do not keep the commandments of the Christian faith.

(25.) Malose Ramoroka, "The History of the Barolong in the District of Mafiekeng: A Study of the Intra-Batswana Ethnicity and Political Culture from 1825-1950" (PhD diss., University of Zululand, 2009), 67-169.

(26.) Kaderi Bukari, "Exploring Indigenous Approaches to Conflict Resolution: The Case of the Bawku Conflict in Ghana," Journal of Sociological Research 4, no. 2 (2013): 86-104.

(27.) Tasew Tafese, "Conflict Management through African Indigenous Institutions: A Study of the Anyuaa Community," World Journal of Social Science 3, no. 1 (2016): 22-31.

(28.) Joel Dada and Kelechi Ani, "Inter-Communal Peace Building in the Ojiegbe and Mgbalukwu-Obeagu Conflict: The Role of Traditional Media," Maiduguri Journal of Peace, Diplomatic and Development Studies 2, no. 1 (2009): 101-112.

(29.) Joel Dada and Kelechi Ani, "Traditional Recreation and Entertainment as Tools for Peace Building in Post Conflict Nigerian Communities," Maiduguri Journal of Peace, Diplomatic and Development Studies 2, no. 2 (2009): 99-111.

(30.) UNEP, Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland (Nairobi: United Nations Environment Programme, 2011),

(31.) Alicia Fentiman and Nenibarini Zabbey, "Environmental Degradation and Cultural Erosion in Ogoniland: A Case Study of the Oil Spills in Bodo," Extractive Industries and Society 2, no. 4 (2015): 615-624; Legborsi Pyagbara, "The Adverse Impacts of Oil Pollution on the Environment and Wellbeing of a Local Indigenous Community: The Experience of the Ogoni People of Nigeria," accessed January 2, 2014,

(32.) Kelechi Ani and Ohagwu, Ijeoma, "Niger-Delta People: Origins, Environmental Crisis and Peace Building Strategies," in New Perspectives on West African History: Festchrifi in Honour of Prof. Sam C. Ukpabi, edited by Omeje Paul and Okonkwo Uwaezuoke (Enugu: Madonna University Press, 2013), 149-172.

(33.) John Vidal, "Shell Announces [pounds sterling]55m Payout for Nigeria Oil Spills," The Guardian, January 6, 2015, accessed August 1, 2015,

(34.) Desmond Nbete, "Ogoni as an Internal Colony: A Critique of Imperialism," International Journal of Humanities and Social Science 2, no. 10 (2012): 51-61.

(35.) Paschal Iniaghe, Godswill Tesi, and Patrick Iniaghe, "Environmental Degradation and Sustainable Development in Nigeria's Niger Delta Region," Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa 15, no. 3 (2013): 61-78.

(36.) Nwamaka Okeke-Ogbuafor, Tim Gray, and Selina Stead, "Indigenous Governance with Contemporary Approaches to Decision Making in Ogoni Communities in Rivers State, Nigeria," Journal of Sustainable Development 9, no. 1 (2016): 55-62.

(37.) Oluwaseun Bamidele, "Resurgence of Militancy in Ogoniland: Socio-Economic Perspective," Brazilian Journal of Strategy & International Relations 5, no. 9 (2016): 165-188.

(38.) Kenneth Nweke, "The Role of Traditional Institutions of Governance in Managing Social Conflicts in Nigeria's Oil-Rich Niger Delta Communities: Imperatives of Peace-Building Process in the Post-Amnesty Era," British Journal of Arts and Social Sciences 5, no. 2 (2012): 202-216.

(39.) Arisukwu Ogadimma and Nnaoma Kenedy, "Shell Petroleum Development Corporation Oil Exploration and Socio-Economic Life in Ogoni, Nigeria," Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa 14, no. 8 (2012): 132-138.

(40.) Judith Asuni, "Understanding the Armed Groups of the Niger Delta," Council on Foreign Relations working paper, September 2009, accessed February 10, 2014,

(41.) Kialee Nyiayaana, "From University Campuses to Villages: A study of Grassroots Based Cult Violence in Ogoniland," Eras 12, no. 2 (2011): 1-35.

(42.) Johnson Osagie, Akinpelu Fumilayo, Adegoke Fred, and Ezeani Samuel, "Causes of Conflicts in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria as Expressed by the Youth in Delta State," Procedia--Social and Behavioral Science 5 (2010): 82-89.

(43.) Chukuwma Okeke, Christopher N. Ibenwa, and Gloria Tochukwu, "Conflicts between African Traditional Religion and Christianity in Eastern Nigeria: The Igbo Example," SAGE Open (2017): 1-10.

(44.) Daniel Chigudu, "Assessing Policy Initiatives on Traditional Leadership to Promote Electoral Democracy in Southern Africa," Mediterranean Journal of Social Science 6, no. 1 (2015): 121-124.

(45.) Oritsegbubemi Oyowe, "This Thing Called Communitarianism: A Critical Review of Matolino's Personhood in African Philosophy," South Africa Journal of Philosophy 34, no. 4 (2015): 504-515.

(46.) Nwamaka Okeke-Ogbuafor, Tim Gray, and Selina Stead, "Two Concepts of Community in the Niger Delta: Social Sense of Communality, and a Geographical Sense of Place: Are They Compatible?" Journal of Place Management and Development 10, no. 3 (2017): 254-269.

(47.) Jean-Philippe Platteau and Anita Abraham, "Participatory Development in the Presence of Endogenous Community Imperfections," Journal of Development Studies 39, no. 2 (2002): 104-136.

(48.) Okeke-Ogbuafor, Gray, and Stead, "Indigenous Governance."

(49.) Legborsi Pyagbara, "The Adverse Impacts of Oil Pollution on the Environment and Wellbeing of a Local Indigenous Community: The Experience of the Ogoni People of Nigeria," 11, paper presented at the International Expert Group Meeting on Indigenous People and Protection of the Environment, Khabarovsk, Russia, 2007. In authors possession.

(50.) S. Mohammed, "The Multiple Jeopardy of Oil Producing Communities and the Incessant Militancy in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria," Journal of Social Sciences 37, no. 3 (2013): 237-248, 241.

(51.) David Mars, "Public Defenders," Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 46, no. 2 (1955): 199-210.

(52.) Anthony Bradley, "Indigent Defense: How Government Fails the Poor," Acton Institute, June 6, 2016, accessed May 12, 2018,

(53.) Omotola Rotimi, "Office of the Public Defender," Security Alert with Jide, January 10, 2011, accessed May 2, 2018,

(54.) Babatunde Fashola, "Commissioning of the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) Corporate Headquarters," Office of the Governor, Lagos State, February 28, 2012, accessed May 4, 2018,

(55.) David McQuoid-Mason, "Legal Aid in Nigeria: Using National Youth Service Corps Public Defenders to Expand the Services of the Legal Aid Council," Journal of African Law 47, no. 1 (2003): 107-116.

(56.) Morris Hoffman, Paul Rubin, and Shepherd Joanna, "An Empirical Study of Public Defender Effectiveness: Self-Selection by the Marginally Indigent," Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law 3, no. 223 (2005): 223-255.

NWAMAKA OKEKE-OGBUAFOR is a researcher at Newcastle University, United Kingdom. She can be contacted at and

KELECHI ANI is a lecturer in the Department of History and Strategic Studies, Federal University Ndufu-Alike, Nigeria. His email is

TIM GRAY is emeritus professor of political thought at Newcastle University. He can be contacted at
Table 1 Past and present participation in and trust in western and
indigenous systems of conflict resolution among residents of K-Dere and
Kanni-Babbe, Ogoniland, Nigeria

                                     N    %    N    %

Has participated in indigenous       83   95   91   100
African conflict
resolution in the past
Has participated in western          30   35   18    20
conflict resolution
in the past
Is currently participating           52   60   62    68
in indigenous African
conflict resolution
Is currently participating in        38   44   23    25
western conflict resolution
Trusts indigenous African            39   45   41    45
conflict resolution
Trusts western conflict resolution    5    5   44    48
COPYRIGHT 2019 University Press of Florida
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2019 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Okeke-Ogbuafor, Nwamaka; Ani, Kelechi; Gray, Tim
Publication:Journal of Global South Studies
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:6NIGR
Date:Mar 22, 2019

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters