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Traditional institution and the management of communal conflict in owerri west of imo state


This research analyses the contributions of traditional institution in conflict management: A case of Owerri West L.G.A., Imo state, Nigeria. Traditional conflict resolution structures are closely bound with socio- political and economic realities of the lifestyles of the Owerri West communities. These conflict resolution structures are rooted in the culture and history of African people, and are in one way or another unique to each community. The overriding legitimacy of indigenous conflict resolution structures amongst these communities is striking.


The study focused on understanding; the activities of traditional institution in conflict management, establish the different methods of traditional institution in conflict management, determine the relevance of traditional institution in modern society and identify the challenges in applying traditional institution in conflict management. Furthermore, scarce and unequal access to justice, power, ethnic mistrust (ethnocentrism), inadequate state structures, border tensions and proliferation of illicit arms into the hands of tribal chiefs, warlords and fellow tribesmen as some of the causes of inter-ethnic conflicts in Owerri West L.G.A., Nigeria.


The study proposes that there should be increased collaboration and networking between the government and customary institutions of governance. In particular, the government should recognize and aid customary courts enforce their rulings. The elders should be trained on modern methods of arbitration and at minimum, traditional mechanisms of conflict management should be more sensitive to the universally accepted principles of human rights.




1.1 Background of Study

The concept of ―traditional institution‖ has been the major phenomena in the recent years and most especially after United Nations General Assembly adapted resolution A/RES/61/295 on Thursday, 13th September 2007 in New York (http://www.un.org). Much as the resolution is not legally binding as an instrument of International Law. It has been incorporated by many communities, organizations and countries in conflict resolution. The resolution scored 144 votes in favor, 4 against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and United States) and 11 abstentions of which Nigeria is inclusive. However, since its adoption, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States have all reversed their positions and now endorse the Declaration with Colombia and Samoa also reversed their positions and indicated their support for the Declaration.


For purposes of this research, the following was adopted as a working definition of Traditional Institution (TI). Traditional Institutions refer to all those people-based and local approaches that communities innovate and utilize in resolving localized disputes, to attain safety and access to justice by all or a situation where traditional, local actors and procedures are applied in bringing fairness, justice in the society or resolving disagreements between two people, groups and communities.


Broadly, Conflict is a straining of the relationships between two or more parties with divergent beliefs and roles, which can be over ideology, politics, religion that can lead to a struggle, resistance, opposition, antagonism, discourse, clash set up by clash between opposing and contradicting impulses in an individual which leads to decline in morals. Among the strategies aimed at preventing, managing, and settling internal conflicts in divided societies, traditional approaches have usually been associated in particular with self-determination conflicts, or more precisely with conflicts in which territorially concentrated identity groups (whose identity is, in part, derived from association with this territory, or homeland, in which they reside) demand to exercise their right to self-determination (Fisher, 2003). This chapter presents the background to the study, problem statement, objectives, conceptual framework; the scope of the study and significance of the study.


It is widely acknowledged that traditional institution plays a significant role in the maintenance of order and resolution of disputes including, in particular, in many post-colonial countries such Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. This is also the case in the socially diverse societies of sub-Saharan Africa. For example; In Malawi between 80 and 90% of all disputes are processed through traditional justice forums (Scharf, 2003), In Bangladesh an estimated 60-70% of all disputes are processed through customary Salish (UNDP, 2005), In Sierra Leone approximately 85% of the population falls under the jurisdiction of customary law, defined under the Constitution as the rules of law, which, by custom, are applicable to particular communities in Sierra Leone (Woolcock, 2005).


This reflects the high level of pluralism in countries with a variety of different legal cultures.

traditional institution play a major role in the everyday resolution of disputes and maintenance of order in communities throughout the Africa. Legal scholars use the term legal pluralism ‘to describe a situation where multiple forms of law co-exist within a single environment or setting. In many post-colonial countries, including each of those discussed in this paper, state laws and institutions (such as courts, lawyers, justice ministries, police and prisons) operate alongside customary ‘or traditional institution mechanisms that have been integral parts of indigenous social orders since long before the arrival of the modern state. These older traditional ‘approaches have not disappeared under the cumulative weight of modernity, statehood and globalisation. On the contrary, they have proven to be remarkably resilient and have continued to adapt to the local and external dynamics of social change. In this respect, the term ‘traditional ‘is positively misleading insofar as it implies that traditional institution is a fixed and certain phenomenon that has remained unchanged since time immemorial. The reality is that traditional institution is fluid and dynamic, and constantly adapting to change. As this paper will discuss, such systems offer opportunities for (and at times, barriers against) children, youth and women who wish to seek justice.


There is no single, uniform or universal type of traditional institution to be found in all countries where legal pluralism prevails. Indeed, there appears to be no limit to the types and permutations in traditional institution across time and space. In the countries that we are concerned with, traditional institution actors would include community leaders, religious leaders and organisations, government officials, NGOs and a range of community-based organisations. The sheer range of actors and practices that feature under the auspices of traditional institution makes generalisations extremely difficult. This diversity also highlights the highly localised and context-specific character of traditional institution. While formal state institutions share features that are instantly recognisable to the professional lawyer and educated layperson alike, it is much harder to discern the essential characteristics of traditional institution. At face value, there appears to be little in common between the workings of, for example, tribal Jirga‘s in rural Afghanistan, adat justice in central Maluku (Indonesia), or the role of village unimane in the outer islands of Kiribati. Diversity is evident not only in the forms of traditional institution between different countries but also in the forms evident within the same country, particularly in places like Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Indonesia with intense levels of internal diversity.


At the same time, education can help communities to see that some practices may be harmful to children. Education in relation to controversial issues such as physical punishment may be more effective than prohibition. While education may need to challenge deeply held beliefs about what is good for children, it should do so in a way that is culturally appropriate and respectful of custom. Chiefs and other custom leaders can be important sources of guidance for families, and if they gain a greater understanding of children‘s rights, they can play a significant role in helping to change attitudes and behaviour. It may also help to make clear that, within the human rights framework; children have responsibilities as well as rights, just as they do in custom. Looking for such areas of common ground between custom and human rights, even when advocating for particular aspects of custom to change, will assist with protecting the best interests of children and of their communities.

1.2  Statement of the problem

Indeed, conflicts are inevitable and part and partial of human nature. The long standing conflicts in Africa have been solved using the formal institutions that have not resulted in sustainable resolution of conflict and peace. Furthermore, the formal institution is far away from the people, very time consuming, costly and highly formalistic, with confusing procedures and unpredictable outcomes, focused on individual capability and on the punishment of the individual. Many people have little faith in the fairness and the efficiency of the formal institution. This research therefore sought to determine how indigenous institutions can be used/ applied to supplement modern institutions in conflict resolution among the Igbo people of Owerri West L.G.A., Imo state, Nigeria.


1.3  Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to establish the contribution of the Traditional Institution in conflict management among the Igbo people of Owerri West L.G.A., Imo state, Nigeria.


1.4  Objectives of the Study

The study objectives have been subdivided into major and specific as discussed below:


Major objective

The major objective of the research was to study the contribution of traditional institutions in conflict resolution, a case of Owerri West L.G.A., Imo state, Nigeria


Specific objectives

  1. To assess the activities of traditional institution in conflict management.
  2. To establish the different methods of traditional institution in conflict management.
  3. To determine the relevance of traditional institution in modern society.
  4. To identify the challenges in applying traditional institution in conflict management.


1.5  Research Questions

Below are questions that guided the researcher to evaluate conflict resolution and the contribution of traditional institution.

  1. What are the activities of traditional institution?
  2. What are the different methods of traditional institution in conflict management?
  3. Is traditional institution relevant in conflict resolution in the modern world?
  4. What are the challenges in applying traditional institution in conflict management?


1.6  Significance of the study

This study was justified by the need for Nigeria to make changes or reforms in her justice or legal system to allow greater flexibility in conflict resolution arena by encouraging alternative conflict resolution methods to reduce/ mitigate conflicts and removing barriers to justice to all and increase peaceful co-existence.


It is hoped that findings of this study may help conflict resolution system e.g. courts to evaluate inclusion of traditional institutions in conflict resolutions. This therefore may form a basis for the modification and harmonization of the present modern court system and traditional institution in conflict management.


The findings may also be helpful to the ministry of justice, National cohesion and constitutional affairs to establish traditional and justice L.G.A. in the use of traditional institutions and methods in determining and dispensing justice.

To help the court system to have training manuals for in-service courses for special magistrates, judges and traditional experts on the Activities, methods, relevance and the challenges towards the contribution of the traditional institution in conflict management in modern Nigeria.


1.7  Scope of the Study

The scope of the study was subdivided into three categories namely; geographical, content and time scope respectively.


Geographical scope

This study was conducted in Owerri West L.G.A. to represent Nigeria. Owerri West L.G.A. is a local government area in Imo state, in the South Eastern region in Nigeria. It borders Abia state, Rivers state and Anambra state.


Content scope

The study was limited to cover specifically traditional institutions involved in conflict mitigation as seen in other cultures, tribes and nations throughout Nigeria and the East African region. These external examples was used to guide the study in providing information on the formation of traditional elders/ experts councils, Types of cases handled, examples of traditional norms, Strategies of handling conflicts to enhance peaceful Co-existence in Owerri West.

Time scope

The study focused on the time base from 2007-2011. The time base of 2007 to 2011 is assumed to be appropriate for the study because it provided an adequate time to analyze the study in a comprehensive mode.


1.7 Limitations of the Study

The study had no control of other variables that may also have effect on conflict management like environment and social economic activities.

Also the researcher was short on time as he was engaged in other academic works in school.

Finances too was a great challenge in carrying out this work, mainly on transportation to the selected schools.


1.8 Definition of terms

Conflict: A situation in which people, groups or countries are involved in a serious disagreement or argument.

Conflict Resolution: Refers to a way of solving any disagreement between people, organization and community for the exitent of peace to reign.


traditional institutions: Refer to all those people-based and local approaches that communities innovate and utilize in resolving localized disputes, to attain safety and access to justice by all


communal conflict: A conflict between non-state groups that are organized along a shared communal identity



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