Traditional justice system, Jigawa, Nigeria
Traditional Ruler and Subjects Jigawa ©

Nick Cavanagh/Nigeria Justice for All Programme

The traditional or informal justice system plays a significant role in the provision of justice services to many Nigerians, especially the poor. It is usually physically closer to the poor and proceedings tend to be fast and not overly technical; instead they are guided by the customs and traditions which users understand and accept.

The traditional justice system is often criticised for lacking respect for human rights, especially those of women and children and that the proceedings are arbitrary. Strengthening the capacity and competence of relevant oversight bodies will reduce arbitrary decisions, abuse of power and increase patronage.

What people say about J4A's work

'Every dispute we settle is now recorded… Women are beginning to use traditional justice more… it gives them confidence that decisions reached will not be breached in the future.'

- District Head, Sakwaya

'The record system will go a long way to boosting the esteem of the traditional justice system. The masses will appreciate the impact of traditional leadership through the administration of justice.'

- Jigawa State Justice and Law Reform Commission Chairman

Our aim

To develop an understanding of human rights and improve dispute resolution skills among traditional rulers to:

  • increase usage of the traditional justice system to provide fair, equitable and accessible services
  • increase and promote understanding of the importance of oversight of the traditional justice system and improve the functionality of the oversight process
  • make traditional justice an option for people seeking equitable justice, by providing improved services especially for women and children
  • promote the use of good practice in traditional dispute resolution and its management
  • improve the record-keeping skills of the traditional rulers so that they can showcase their contribution to justice more effectively.

Our approach

  • Assessing traditional justice systems
  • Conducting training courses and provide reference materials on dispute resolution and human rights
  • Improving processes and training for oversight bodies of traditional justice systems on their roles and functions
  • Implementing a record-keeping system for recording and analysis of data

Who we work with

  • Traditional rulers in Lagos and Jigaw
  • Other justice service providers and mechanisms including Sharia and Magistrates’ courts, the Ministry of Justice, Lagos State Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, the Nigerian Police Force, State Security Service and Voluntary Police Service
  • Civil Society Organisations

Delivering results

User satisfaction rate has increased by 10% in the last three years in Jigawa:

  • 2011: 67%
  • 2012: 74%
  • 2013: 77%

Jigawa State

  • Traditional rulers complying with code of ethics
  • Jigawa Justice Sector and Law Reform Commission is replicating the alternative dispute resolution/human rights training: 1,360 traditional rulers now trained
  • 43 traditional rulers actively using manual record system, up from 2 in 2011
  • Electronic record-keeping system Sulhu Scribe being used to keep data of cases handled by traditional rulers

Lagos State

  • Code of ethics developed and awaiting adoption

Spotlight on gender

In Jigawa:

  • 58% of women were satisfied with the performance of traditional justice systems in 2013, compared to 54% in 2012.
  • 93% of disputes brought by women to traditional rulers were resolved compared to 81% in 2011.
  • The rights of women have been incorporated in training manual for traditional rulers.
  • 100 wives of traditional rulers, trained on human rights and alternative dispute resolution, are actively engaged in resolving disputes among women.