South-West Obas: Set to mediate with modern dispute resolution techniques

As the judiciary spreads the gospel of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and mediators reiterate that the increasing conflicts within communities need traditional methods of resolution, traditional rulers in the South-West have been selected to become recognized mediators and  ensure the enforcement of settlements resulting from dispute resolutions based on their antecedents as natural peace keepers . YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE, who was at a conflict management and ADR training for the Obas writes on the willingness of traditional rulers to rival any court of law in arbitration.


Conflict is a part of human life. And the ability to resolve disputes within a community has been said to be a determinant of how successful such a society will be as well as the level of development that will be experienced in such a community.

Being an enlightened society, the Yoruba community since time immemorial had a solid structure on the management of its community which served them well and ensured that every aspect of human endeavor operated smoothly.

The South-West part of Nigeria which was a huge chunk of the old Western Region in years past was known to have a large number of traditional rulers that are saddled with the responsibility of community relations, maintaining peace and security as well as a sound community justice system. Today, the region still enjoys this structure of traditional administration.

From left, Onpetu of Ijeruland, Oba Sunday Oladapo Oyediran; Eleruwa of Eruwa, Oba Samuel Adebayo Adegbola; Onjo of Okeho, Oba Rafiu Osuolale Mustapha; Alagoare of Ago Are, Oba Olagoke Jubril and the Akibio of Ilora, Oba Stephen Olufemi Oyeniyi, at a workshop, in Ibadan, last week.
From left, Onpetu of Ijeruland, Oba Sunday Oladapo Oyediran; Eleruwa of Eruwa, Oba Samuel Adebayo Adegbola; Onjo of Okeho, Oba Rafiu Osuolale Mustapha; Alagoare of Ago Are, Oba Olagoke Jubril and the Akibio of Ilora, Oba Stephen Olufemi Oyeniyi, at a workshop, in Ibadan, last week. INSET ABOVE: A cross section of the Obas at the workshop.

These traditional rulers were held in awe and respect and because they understand their community and its nuances, they enjoyed success in their efforts at conflict resolution and peace keeping while their words were law.

In the past, issues of security, inter personal, group or community levels conflict were all reported at the palace and were resolved without anyone feeling cheated. Thus, conflict resolution, enforcement of laws, provision of security and peace building formed part of the oversight functions of traditional rulers even before independence.

As custodians of culture and tradition, Yoruba traditional rulers have a structured work schedule based on specific roles; provision of safety and security to the community, conflict management and resolution of disputes in land, marriage religious or boundary issues that they carried out effectively.

They also have a judicial system that gives room for checks and balances through hierarchy. In fact, the Yoruba traditional institution has a structure that makes it easy to mediate in cases the way a court would and also gives room for appeal. Cases in a traditional Yoruba setting are first reported to the Baale, the head of a compound, who tries to put out any raging fire but when his efforts fail or a party is displeased with the way such a matter is handled moves to the Baale, the head of a settlement before it goes to the Oba, who serves as the Supreme Court with his High Chiefs as the council.

This system ensured that there were laid down principles to settle issues and even when the colonial masters came with their structures, they still worked hand in hand with traditional rulers that were on ground to run the communities.

Consequently, the subjects had a strong belief in their rulers and the institution of traditional leadership developed and flourished.

But the story changed. Though, traditional rulers still mediate in matters, many people especially the educated and the enlightened including youths have over time been found to have lost respect for traditional institutions and few see them as a viable option in the resolution of conflict.

Rather, many visit the courts to mediate in conflicts; even in disputes that could be resolved amicably within the confines of their homes or immediate environment. Though many attribute this to civilization, another school of thought believes it is because government supervision and approval has eroded the powers of the traditional rulers while others think it is due to the involvement of the rulers in politics.

Others put the blame on policy failure, arguing that the 1999 constitution does not define the role of traditional rulers and this undermine their powers, calling for an amendment to the constitution in a way that will grant adequate powers to traditional rulers to put authority behind their actions and further empower them to carry out their functions.

Speaking on why traditional rulers seem to have lost their position as community mediators, Mr.  Emmanuel Mamman, Deputy Director, Research, Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR), stated that one of the things that made people to lose respect for traditional institutions unlike in times past is involvement in politics.

According to him, “when traditional rulers are involved in partisan politics, then the different degrees of interest in politicians and their ambition especially that of those who want to take advantage of people to achieve their selfish ends, other people in the community that sees that the traditional ruler has been partisan will gradually lose respect for such leaders and would not trust their judgment. So traditional rulers should avoid partisan politics and be father to all so that their subjects will find them credible and respect them,” he said.

However, the recent advocacy in the judiciary both in Nigeria and other developed climes on the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), as the best conflict resolution procedure that leaves no victor or vanquished and the understanding that since time immemorial, traditional rulers in the South West had been resolving conflicts using ADR techniques to create a win-win situation, has shifted the focus from judiciary officers to people that have naturally been saddled with dispute  resolution responsibilities, the Obas.

And to make them more efficient in their efforts to achieve amicable resolution of conflict in their communities, a workshop was put in place to further enhance the knowledge of the Obas.

Traditional rulers in the South-West were gathered together for three days intensive training on conflict prevention, peaceful coexistence and Alternative Dispute Resolution at the Kakanfo Inn, Ibadan by the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to intimate them of new trends in ADR and also share from their practical experience and knowledge.

In his speech at the training which was read by Emmanuel Mamman, the Director General of IPCR, Professor Oshita Oshita, stated that the workshop will enhance the capacity of traditional institutions to effectively and efficiently carry out their age-long pivotal role in conflict resolution and peace building in their communities.

“As the custodians of culture and tradition, there are specific roles and functions traditional rulers play in the provision of safety and security to communities. The role traditional rulers’ play in the resolution of disputes over land, boundary, religion, marriages, etc is enormous and therefore needs to be encouraged,” he said.

According to him, violent conflicts have become a common feature in Nigeria on interpersonal, group and community levels and these conflicts need traditional methods of resolution, adding that as a result, there is the need for requisite knowledge and skills by the traditional rulers to adequately respond and prevent conflicts from becoming violent and build social cohesion, unity and peace in their communities.

He stated that the inability of communities to manage disputes contributes to under development and poverty as there can be no development without peace, adding that premium must be placed on having an effective conflict resolution and peace building mechanism in every community to have meaningful peace, progress and development.

Prof. Oshita described South-West traditional rulers as enlightened people that have what it takes to take on the responsibility they have been saddled with. “I am happy that majority of you, members of our traditional institutions represented here are well educated and experienced in administration. Many of you attained high positions in government and the private sector before you took on these roles,” he stated.

Speaking on the expected outcome of the training, Emmanuel Mamman, stated that traditional rulers are expected to be more sensitive to conflict. “We expect that each traditional ruler will go back to his domain and be conflict sensitive, there are a lot of things involved in this; whatever the traditional ruler does should revolve around issues that will secure overall peace of the community, they should resolve issues the way they should be resolved, govern the community the way the community should be governed, people should be respected with their rights and not oppressed as we see happen in some communities and when certain issues are reported in the community, we expect that with the age-long skills that they have and what they learn here, they should be able to bring that to bear and allow peace in the community.

The traditional rulers apart from sharing practical experiences on dispute resolution in their community were taught rudiments and new trends in alternative dispute resolution; they were taught the importance of having a case intake process and how to develop a checklist that will ensure there are laid down processes that will determine which cases to take and how do identify a frivolous matter, procedures of vetting to determine whether parties have confidence in the process and if they will abide by the outcome.

Also factors of referral and monitoring were discussed and traditional rulers were taught how to identify and explore resources around them for mediation, how to identify institutions that can take some cases and monitoring such bodies to ensure the cases are not swept under the carpet.

The challenge of enforcing settlement was also treated and traditional rulers were taught procedures of ensuring that proscribed dispute settlement is enforced within the community and methods of punishing troublesome subjects within the kingdoms were highlighted.

Other things taught include effective communication, approaches to dispute resolution, modes of interviewing parties to get basic facts and the importance of documenting procedures and ensuring parties sign agreements after dispute resolution so that enforcement will be easy even if the case finally goes to court.

At the end of the workshop, there was a consensus that the Yoruba community has a laid down traditional structure that can resolve conflicts and ensure many people do not take their cases to court again. And the traditional rulers all expressed the readiness to ensure that they put in their best to restore the confidence of people in traditional institutions and their abilities to resolve issues without fear or favour.

With the Obas geared to set the pace as seasoned mediators with the prerequisite modern skills and rival the courts of law, the South West is about to make history again as a structured community that has what it takes to stand tall among its peers.


oba-adegbolaWe are now better equipped  —Oba Samuel Adebayo Adegbola

The workshop on peace and conflict resolution which we just concluded will definitely enhance our knowledge, not that we have not been acting in this capacity before but because we are able to understand the peculiarity of other areas in the South Western states and be familiar with the peculiar conflicts they experience in such areas that is different from our own situation, we are learning so that tomorrow, if such cases come before us in our community, we can apply tested techniques that had been used elsewhere to settle such situations

Apart from learning new trends, we share ideas and we now know modern methods of settling conflicts and we are now better equipped to function better in our various kingdoms

The moment Obas are more equipped to do their jobs, they will definitely checkmate the influx of minor conflicts that become court cases and troublesome approach to issues. It is the duty of traditional rulers to engage the youth, let them know that violence is not the way and the moment they are getting fair justice, they wouldn’t want to go and spend their money engaging lawyers and going the extra mile delaying justice.

His Royal Majesty, Oba Samuel Adebayo Adegbola,  Eleruwa of Eruwa and the Vice Chairman of the Oyo state Council of Obas and traditional rulers.


oba-kutiWe are more equipped to mediate using modern trend —Oba Shakirudeen Adesina Kuti

It is a very good programme that will make the job of traditional rulers easier. This training is very good, we have been mediating in issues all this while but this one adds to our skills. Once you have been doing a certain job and you get the opportunity to be trained in what you have been doing to enhance your skills, you get better and can handle issues in a more technical manner

When we get back, we are definitely more equipped to mediate in issues using modern trends and technique. But I must add that this type of programme is supposed to be taken to states, not picking some Obas out of a state to represent all. It is supposed to be done state by state so that every traditional ruler will be involved and we can all learn these new trends of mediation, I want all traditional rulers to learn what I am learning so that they can update their knowledge and improve on their mode of settling issues and their mediating skills.  His Royal Majesty, Oba Shakirudeen Adesina Kuti, the Oba of Ewu land, Lagos.


obatugaOur modus operandi more standardized —Oba Micheal Obatuga Adetoye

It is a very good development and it will yield great results because when you learn something, you have to make use of what you have learnt and then it should be noted that all these things were what we have been doing in our communities but now, we know more technical procedures and trends to approach our duties. We have not only refreshed our memory but also we have learnt new methods that will make our modus operandi more standardized.

And on whether many people especially youth seems to have forgotten the tradition and have lost respect for traditional institutions, that is the essence of this Alternative Dispute Resolution training, some people will go to police station and thereafter go to court, but the moment they know that they will get fair and objective judgment in the palace, they will definitely come back to the palace because in my own case, I know I just have to be fair to every party irrespective of who the person is, even if you are my biological brother, I will not subvert the course of justice, I will be impartial. When as traditional rulers, we are impartial and we ensure those that sit in our courts to mediate in issues are beyond reproach, people will see this and come back to us for amicable resolution of matters. His Royal Majesty, Oba Micheal Obatuga Adetoye, the Jegun of Idepe, Okiti pupa, Ekiti State.