New Study Examines the History, Opportunities, and Challenges for Mediation in Nigerian Land Disputes

Summary of:

Uwaezuoke, I.N., & Owolabi, M.K. (2019). Challenges and Opportunities of Resolving Land Use Conflicts Through Mediation in Nigeria. The Proceedings of International Conference of Environmental Sciences, 264-271.

Background & Theory:

In Nigeria, what on the surface look like cultural disputes are often land disputes between villages, neighborhoods, or households. With land becoming an increasing source of conflict in Nigeria, the role of alternative dispute resolution in the Nigerian western legal system has been questioned. The history behind mediation in Nigerian cultures and the use of mediation in different ethnic groups can help identify the challenges and opportunities facing the mediation process today.

Question(s):

A 2019 study conducted by Ifeanyi Ngozi Uwaezuoke and Michael Kayode Owolabi of Kwara State Polytechnic’s Department of Estate Management was published for the 2019 Unilorn Environmental Sciences Conference in ResearchGate to answer the following questions:

1. What are the impacts of land use conflicts in Nigeria?
2. What opportunities and challenges confront the process of mediation for Nigerian land use conflicts?

Methods:

This study primarily consisted of a compilation of books and studies done on Nigerian cultures in relation to mediation. Dissertations, theses, case studies, and academic journals about specific Nigerian ethnic groups, pre and post-colonial history, and legal systems were combined to analyze challenges and opportunities related to the process of mediation for Nigerian land disputes.

Results:

Land disputes, if not resolved, can have an enormous economic and relational impact on Nigerian families and ethnic groups. Land that is disputed over is often not safe to build or live on for fear of attack from opposing groups. This can lead to consequences as severe as depopulation and famine over a particular area.

Prior to colonization, the traditional system of dispute resolution in Nigeria was more akin to mediation than the current western judicial system. Conflict resolvers were primarily the headmen of the family lineage who would sit down with the disputants to settle conflict through seeking truth, attributing justice to perpetrators, and promoting the restoration of social harmony.

Although the establishment of western justice systems influenced and limited mediation processes, lower level disputes including land disputes were and often still are handled via mediation. This focus on mediation is demonstrated in the Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa cultures where elders or elected leaders often perform mediations within families, households, or villages. With historical and cultural roots, mediation has the opportunity to benefit parties in land disputes by creating a conducive atmosphere that prevents destruction of property and allows for economic progress.

The challenges facing mediation in Nigerian land disputes include the affliction of poverty, which allows for elders to be bribed to favor certain parties, as well as the perception of mediation being inferior to the western justice system, primarily due to the lack of enforcement of mediation decisions.

In Summary:

• The prospect of mediation in Nigeria can be viewed as extremely valuable due to the physical and economic danger unresolved land disputes can potentially lead to. Additionally, mediation can hold a lot of influence due to its cultural backing.
• The intersection of poverty and cultural hierarchy presents challenges for mediation in Nigeria. Elders, who, prior to colonization, would have likely been wealthy and held status, often now don’t carry the same status because younger generations currently earn more money. This has led to the corruption of mediation because Elders can be bribed to favor one party over another, which does not help resolve the conflict.

Final Takeaways:

For Consultants: Engaging in mediation requires the mediator to understand the cultural background of the disputants. Failure to do so can lead to ineffective and/or biased outcomes. Additionally, having an effective mediation system requires mediators to act as a neutral third party to the disputants. Lack of neutrality can lead to biased decisions and an ineffective conflict resolution process.

For Everyone: Mediating disputes in everyday life can bring about great benefits when culture is recognized and can lead to unintended consequences if cultural norms are not recognized.

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