The Similarities between the Customary Arbitration and the Modern-day Arbitration





I was thrilled to welcome Mr Johnson Amaechi, a practising lawyer in Nigeria and a graduate of the renowned Obafemi Awolowo University. We extensively discussed the following questions: ‘What is the concept or philosophy behind the Customary Arbitration’?

This question predicates the 5th Episode of Expert Views on ADR (EVA) where Mr IK Onuoma and I highlighted that they are two forms of Arbitration in Nigeria.  The discussion leads to the second question ‘What is the current development of Arbitration in Nigeria.’



What is the Philosophy or Concept behind the Customary Arbitration?

We pointed out that the concept behind the customary arbitration in Nigeria dates as far back as even the formal organisation and reorganisation of Nigeria space. That is before the amalgamation of the three protectorates. They had a dispute resolution mechanisms within those colonies and even after amalgamation, for instance, in the Eastern part of Nigeria where every family had the head of families oversees the activities of the entire family, and it cuts across eastern part till date. The head of the family or the traditional head of the community sits as what is now known as an arbitrator or mediator when there are disputes within those communities or villages.


What is the Current State of Customary Arbitration in Nigeria

Similarly, we revealed that they had the same situation in the western part of Nigeria (the Yoruba’s), this community were led by the traditional head known as an Oba, Olubadan or the Baale – he sits as the mediator or arbitrator to settle many disputes amongst his people. This customary or traditional system was the only means of settling disputes before the court system was introduced during the colonisation of Nigeria.

It is pertinent to point out that the palace where the Oba lives is the seat of arbitration, so this practice was re-introduced as the modern-day ADR to help settle matters due to the problems associated with the court system. However, in some communities in Nigeria to be precise Enugu State, they still have the customary courts and even have the customary courts of appeal where the appeal from the customary courts goes to, even after the institutionalisation of arbitration in Nigeria. They still practice that traditional or customary method of settling disputes, and we went on to mention that the concept of law and justice under the traditional method of settling a dispute is rooted in the spirit of oneness and in the concept of togetherness-Ubuntu which connotes “I am because you are.”



In this episode, we reaffirmed the notion that there are two forms of arbitration in Nigeria; the first is the customary arbitration; the second one is the modern-day arbitration. The earlier is determined by ‘omenala’ (the customs and tradition of the land) while the modern rules of arbitration govern the latter. We believe that the potential users that would listen to the full podcast would appreciate the attributes of the customary arbitration which overlaps or is the same with the modern-day arbitration and will not hesitate to try out arbitration or insert it in their contract agreement.

To hear the full version of this episode, click here.



Maria Federica Moscati, Michael Palmer,  Marian Roberts (eds), Comparative Dispute Resolution; Edward Elgar Publishing, 2020. p.519

Jerome, Barrett, Joseph Barrett, A History of Alternative Dispute Resolution: The Story of a Political, Cultural, and Social Movement (Published in Affiliation with the Association for Conflict Resolution 2004) p.5

Chinwe Umegbolu, Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: The Facts of Divorce as They Stand Today (Journal Resolution Institute March 2020).

Chinwe Umegbolu, Dispensation of Justice: Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse (LMDC) as a Case Study (Ongoing research at the University of  Brighton 2018-2021).

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4 thoughts on “The Similarities between the Customary Arbitration and the Modern-day Arbitration

  1. It’s quite interesting to learn about customary arbitration because I thought that arbitration was solely confined to the European model.

    • As depicted in this blog, arbitration, isn’t only confined to the European model. Thanks for reading and your comment. Much appreciated.

      • Good evening ma. I am Umeh Joshua Izuchukwu a student from the faculty of law Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University Igbariam Campus in Anambra State. I am writing my project on the Impact of Customary Arbitration on Customary Marriage Divorce Proceedings in Eastern Nigeria. Please ma I need your assistance in terms of materials especially with regards customary Arbitration in customary Divorce Proceedings. Thanks a lot ma as I anticipate your timely reply. God bless you.

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