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Judicial Instruments

Author: nick on 13-09-2013, 16:00, views: 8 232

38

In the pre-colonial Ikot Abasi society, there was no distinction between criminal and civil matters. Most actions which caused damage to individual could be condoned, provided that the injured parties were sufficiently compensated.

 

The major or criminal offences were those ones which, it was thought, would bring disaster on the community as a whole by insulting the gods, particularly the fertility god, or which endangered the community. They included murder, witchcraft, sexual intercourse with a woman in the bush, with a twin mother, or with a woman in mourning, theft, wilful destruction of property (Ibid: 34-35). In most cases, convicted criminals were killed or sold into slavery, depending on the gravity of the offence.

 

Civil offences were those which did not adversely affect the society. They included land disputes, ordinary adultery, debt, marriage disputes and false accusations or defamation of character (Ibid.).

 

Cases were judged in ekpuk, village, village group or clan meetings, depending on their seriousness. Petty matters, such as minor stealing for the first time, marriage matters, plain adultery, debt or land disputes concerning people of the same ekpuk were judged in the ekpuk meeting. The sale of a man into slavery was a matter for the village meeting and all the serious matters were settled there first. If the village meeting decided it was a case which deserved death, it had to be taken to the group meeting place, where the decision of the village was ratified. There was no difference between the administrative and judiciary, and the same people settled each with similar procedure.

 

It has generally been observed that the law enforcement agencies in Ibibioland were secret societies, and the traditional institutions described earlier (Ekpo Nyoho, Atat, Idiong, Ebre and Ibaan Isong) were used to exert a stabilising influence on the people and to maintain law and order in the community. Other traditional methods used as judicial instruments in Ibibioland and commonly applied in Ikot Abasi Local Government Area included Mbiam, Ukang, Eyei, Eyeyen, Ukot and Nka, to mention a few.

 

Mbiam

 

This was a very effective way of instilling discipline into the society. People would swear on mbiam to prove their innocence, or show that they spoke the truth. The belief in the potency of mbiam was so great that the penalty inflicted by mbiam on liars could extend to the entire family, which the man might be forced to include as among those on whom evil should befall if he was swearing falsely.

 

Ukang (Trial by ordeal)

 

To confirm the truth, an accused person might have to undergo ukang (trial by ordeal). One very common form of trial by ordeal was Ukang ufiop aran (ordeal by boiling oil). The abia ukang (priest) would put a stone in a large pot of boiling palm oil. The accused person, after being warned against the consequences of not telling the truth, was asked to put his or her hand in the pot and remove the stone from the boiling oil. If he did that without getting burnt, he or she was pronounced innocent. But if otherwise, he or she was deemed guilty. Another method was shaking a broom at the accused from a distance; the peppery substance from it affected the guilty person's eyes. These methods are still practised among the rural communities.

 

Eyei (Young Palm Frond)

 

When eyei (young palm frond) is placed on a piece of land, it connotes that there should be no trespassing on that land by anybody, otherwise grave consequences would follow. Eyei is also used as a symbol of peace or truce. If two villages are quarrelling and eyei is sent by one of them, that signifies the laying down of arms and calling for a negotiated peace.

 

Eyeyen (Grandchild Connection)

 

The eyeyen (grand child) is regarded as sacred in Ibibioland. When a grand child gets to his or her maternal grand parents' compound, he or she is entitled to many privileges. He could pluck any fruit from the compound without being challenged, because of the strong belief that if he is challenged the fruit trees would not bear any more fruit. An eyeyen is said to have the blood of his or her mother's lineage in his or her veins, and, therefore, was regarded as sacred to the mother's family, lineage and village. The eyeyen could neither be punished, nor killed for any reason. It is, however, observed that some irresponsible people could use this privilege to commit serious crimes with impunity.

 

Ukot (in-law)

 

Ukot epitomises a kind of strong linkage between two families, children from which have got married to each other. Because of this bond, members of the man's lineage regard members of his wife's family as sacred, and, therefore, a strong mutual respect exists between the members of the two families. Every attempt is made to prevent a conflict between the families. Any dispute arising is generally settled amicably and the decision taken is usually final and immutable.

 

Nka (Age Grade)

 

There is age group grading in the villages and the grading is both social and judicial. The grading ensured the orderly performance of duties in the village, like cleaning the roads, policing the town, sweeping the market places, etc. Judicial functions included punishment for failing to participate in the duties assigned to the particular age group, insolence to parents, etc. which could lead to immediate expulsion of the culprits from the group.

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