Customary Mediation in Marriage in Nigeria

Nigeria is made up of several tribes and cultures each of which is governed by various laws and customs. Customary law is a system of law that reflects and reveals the culture, custom, values and habits of the people whose activities are regulated by their custom. The custom varies from one tribe to another, which mostly adapt to the social, economic and political changes in the tribe without losing its character. This law has the capacity to settle any dispute within the family without resorting to the courts. Some of the subject matters that are regulated by customary law include marriage, divorce, inheritance, guardianship and custody of children.

Customary law has the capacity to settle family disputes without resorting to the courts. Click To Tweet

While mediation simply means “the settlement of a dispute with the help of a neutral third party called the mediator” the mediator does not impose a decision on the parties, he or she only helps them to come to an acceptable solution to the dispute. The mediation process in Nigeria is similar among all the cultures, especially in matters relating to marriage, because we all share the belief of a peaceful and happy home. Though the mediation processes are not written down and most times the mediators are not educated people, they are usually the elders of both parties of the disputants which may be the husband and his wife.

Under the Yoruba custom there is a proverb that says that “in the presence of elders there must not be any turbulent or catastrophic situation in the family” and it follows also in every other custom in Nigeria. For this reason if there is any crisis within the family the elders strive to mediate, even though they are not trained mediators they have passed through this road before and so they deploy their wealth of experiences in life to mediate on such matters.

The elders use different procedures to mediate. In the Yoruba culture the venue of the mediation is usually at the house of the eldest member of the family except where he chooses to waive that right and sometimes for certain reasons and circumstances behind the settlement the elders may decide to meet at the couple’s house. The eldest member starts the process with a short speech on the need to maintain family values and harmony in the home, and the reason they are all there. With the permission of other mediators he asks the husband as the head of the family to tell them the cause of the dispute, after whom the wife then takes her turn to say her own side of the story.

After each party has said their sides of what happened the elders will critically examine the two sides of the story, the eldest will then invite each mediator to address the disputants on their grievances. The eldest thereafter advises both husband and wife on the need to maintain family values, love, peace and unity and also specifically addresses the dispute at hand. He will then finalise the mediation in pointing out each disputant’s mistakes and errors and how to make amendment for the interest of the family.

If the husband is guilty he will be advised and asked to correct mistakes. On the other hand if it is the wife that is guilty, the mediators will advise her to correct her mistakes and guard against future recurrence of such. The wife is urged to ask for forgiveness from her husband and the husband will in return forgive his wife.

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