Legal Pluralism in the Northern States of Nigeria; Conflict of Laws in a Multi-Ethnic Environment


Legal Pluralism in the Northern States of Nigeria; Conflict of Laws in a Multi-Ethnic Environment


Legal anthropologists have been paying limited attention to legal pluralism. In the few works where this problem is broached, however, the issues of internal conflict of laws and related socio-legal processes are usually underscored. This essay is therefore partly designed to fill this gap in anthropological literature. In the six Northern States of Nigeria, three interacting systems of law are identified: the Shari’a (applying mainly to the Moslem population), Customary law (a blanket term for the legal traditions of about 250 ethnic groups in the region), and General law (British-based and continually modified by Nigerian enactments). Ethnic heterogeneity Moslem conquest and Islamization, and British colonial rule are held to be the principal sources of the legal pluralism. Although the three different bodies of law have also been complementing one another (as in certain branches of law), their parallel existence in the region has been largely characterized by conflicts and inconsistencies. The essay is divided into seven chapters. The first spells out the problem, objectives, methodology, and theoretical formulations of the dissertation. It also reviews relevant previous works, and then discusses certain assumptions behind the research and how these assumptions guided the entire study. Chapter Two presents an overview of multi-ethnicity, along with a detailed description of the sources, structure, and application of Islamic law. Chapter Three examines substantive and procedural law of crime in three indigenous societies. In general, ethnic legal traditions seem to display a remarkable commonality in a number of fundamental respects. Chapter Four discusses the structure and historical development of General law; particular attention is given to some internal judicial reforms which have yet to eliminate entirely the inadequacies of the plural legal system. In Chapter Five, mixed-cause cases are used to illustrate the nature and direction of conflict-of-law situations. Chapter Six examines the general characteristics of mixed-cause litigations and the question of choice of law (or court). Tabulating some 450 legal actions, it is shown that the locales of mixed litigations are more urban than rural, and that choice of law is still being determined largely by ethnic (religious) considerations. Chapter Seven summarizes the thesis, and then examines the relevance of the study both to the viability of (Northern) Nigeria as a multi-ethnic unit, and to theory and method in legal anthropology. Because of the preponderance of legal inconsistencies, and because choice of law is primarily determined by ethnicity, it is argued that plural societies with persistent institutional cleavages will benefit more from judicial uniformity than diversity. It is further maintained that the eventual restatement and codification of Customary law can hardly constitute a barrier to legal development; neither is it likely to hinder the development of “national” body of law based upon consciously selected and rationally integrated elements from the different legal traditions.

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