Amnesty in Eleme Tradition
In discussing Amnesty in Eleme Tradition it is wise we attempt to explore the basic idea(s) underlying amnesty. Whether and why Eleme tradition makes provision(s) for amnesty? What are the types of amnesty provided for in the Eleme tradition? Who is qualified for amnesty under the Eleme tradition? Who institutes or grants amnesty under the Eleme tradition? And how is such amnesty managed?
Amnesty is a pardon extended by an authority to a group or class of persons for offenses against the society. It is the act of a sovereign power officially forgiving certain classes of persons who are subject to trial but have not yet been convicted. Amnesty includes more than pardon, it eliminates all legal or traditional remembrance of an offense. True amnesty entails pardoning past violations without changing the laws violated.
An amnesty may be extended when the authority decides that bringing citizens into compliance with a law is more important than punishing them for past offenses. Amnesty after a war helps end a conflict and unite a people. While laws against treason, sedition, desecration and sacrileges, etc. are retained to discourage future criminalities, it makes sense to forgive past offenders, after the enemy no longer exists.
Amnesty can also be used to get people to turn in contraband or weapons, as in the case of the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme of the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Rivers State Amnesty Programme of His Excellency Chief Barrister Nyesom Ezenwo Wike (CON) where cultists and other criminals were encouraged to turn-in their weapons in exchange for amnesty.
There are several advantages of using amnesty in the society. They include:
- Avoiding expensive prosecutions (especially when massive numbers of violators are involved);
- Prompting violators to come forward who might otherwise have eluded authorities; and
- Promoting reconciliation between offenders, victims’ relations and the society.
To achieve the above objectives there are certain obligations required of the parties to an amnesty programme such as:
- Willingness and readiness of the beneficiaries to surrender their arms,
- Readiness to unconditionally renounce militancy, cultism, etc. as the case might be,
- Express endorsement of an undertaking to this effect by the beneficiaries.
In return, the authority is expected to pledge its commitment to institute programmes to assist the disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration of repentant offenders.
Are these processes or requirements part of Eleme Traditional Amnesty programme? The answer is NO.
The Eleme Traditional Amnesty is the way and manner in which a pardon or forgiveness extended by the traditional authority to a person or group of persons for offenses against the community is managed based on the culture and traditional of the people.
The traditional amnesty programme is not designed to enrich offenders, repentant criminals or cultists with cash rewards or property possession. Instead, it institutes forgiveness, builds the bridge of peace and provides responsible communal rehabilitation that integrates offenders back into society.
The Eleme Traditional Amnesty from inception lacks the capacity to institute the process for the beneficiaries to willingly surrender their weapons. Instead, the weapons of crime are left with the offender who voluntarily, chooses on his/her own volition, to surrender it to the community leadership, discard it or keeps it for future use.
Secondly, the tradition did not put in place a framework for the beneficiaries to sign any formal undertaking. Rather, the entire community acts as witness to the amnesty and ensures its implementation.
Fortunately, the above shortcomings are properly handled by the well-defined process of readiness of the offender to unconditionally renounce bloodshed, militancy, cultism, etc. as the case might be.
Who Receives Amnesty in Eleme Tradition?
In Eleme tradition amnesty is usually granted to someone who has committed a heinous offence deserving of death or banishment from the community but for which the Oku Nkporon (traditional leadership council) led by the Oneh Eh Eta decides to pardon after the performance of an elaborate sacrifice by the Oneh Nkiken (the Traditional Prime Minister) to free the offender from possible repercussions, cleanse the land and reintegrate him into society. They include someone who murderers an indigene, kill in war, during hunting expedition, etc.
An example of such offence is murder of an indigene. If an indigene is kill for whatever reason, unless a royal pardon (amnesty) is granted the murderer will remain in exile for life. It is an abomination for a murderer to return to the community when all the processes of traditional amnesty have not been concluded.
Killing in war also requires the same sacrifice to wash blood from the offender’s eyes and prevent him from further killings at the slightest provocation.
It is equally believed that if this ritual is not performed and the necessary sacrifice offered, the land will remain desecrated, the blood of the victim will continue to hunt the offender and he will eventually kill again.
Similarly, in Eleme, murder of indigene is known to plug the community into additional bloodshed thus desecrating the land except purification rituals are performed to cleanse the land and free the perpetrator from the wrath of “revengers of blood”.
The Eleme Tradition recognized blood as a curse when wantonly shed, unless duly expiated. The two prominent revengers of blood identified by Eleme culture are Almighty God, who is believed must require human blood from anyone who viciously spills it.
The second is the nearest relatives of the deceased who must be pacified or appeased to avoid more bloodshed in the community.
It is also a general believe in Eleme that even soldiers who participate in war and people who defend their community during conflicts with another community must be subjected to this process to enable them live normal life and free themselves from the “Revenger of Blood”.
Process of Managing Amnesty in Eleme Tradition
The process of managing amnesty in Eleme tradition is time consuming, painful and costly. The steps involved include: acceptance of wrongdoing by the offender, identification of offender and relatives, identification of victims and relatives, negotiation, administering of oaths/swearing, sacrifice of peace offering/purification rites and reintegration of the offender into the community.
1. Acceptance of Wrongdoing
The offender is required to show remorse and formerly and publicly accept responsibility for his actions.
2. Identification of Offender and Victim Relatives
The traditional leadership must properly identify the victim’s nearest relatives who must be contacted and involved in the negotiation process. Amnesty in Eleme is not an arbitrary announcement by the traditional leadership. It entails painstaking negation involving the offender’s relatives, the victim’s relatives and the community to achieve a lasting solution. In fact, it is the offender and his/her relatives that appeal for amnesty and not the other way round.
This involves bringing the parties to the negotiating table. Narrating how the people of Eteo managed traditional amnesty in November, 2016, the Paramount Ruler of Eteo, HRH Emere Emmanuel Tekara Akobe said, “when it became necessary that the cultists were tired of killing themselves and needed to turn a new leaf, we the chiefs, initiated the process of amnesty for them”, he explained.
It could be recalled that on the night of Saturday October 15, 2016 suspected members of a cult group raided Eteo community in Eleme, killing scores of people, including a pregnant woman. The incident which saw a whole family wiped out turned the community into a ghost town as residents deserted the community to seek refuge in the nearby towns and villages.
“Through those who were in contact with them, we set into motion a process of influencing them to see reasons and then established more direct communication with a view to helping us resolve the cult violence in Eteo by reaching an agreement”, he pointed out.
“This communication ignited the process of discovering mutual interest; it created a suitable environment for working together towards lasting peace in Eteo”, he continued.
“In the process we identified several options for resolving disagreement between groups of people and placed values on them, but settled for the Traditional Method, a system that was widely used by our ancestors and it worked for them effectively”, Akobe said.
4. Ajija Ritual
Ajija is a term that generally refers to any sacrifice which gives the offender a chance to confess and expiate his/her guilt; cleanse the land, and placate and win back the friendship and approval of the gods, the nearest relatives of the victim and the society. Ajija is the symbol of the intercession of the community’s Traditional Prime Minister accompanying and making efficacious the prayer of the people. As direct descendant of the founder of the community, his words are law and highly honoured by all citizens, including human beings, spirit beings, deities and the ancestors that he represents.
Ajija is the core of all Eleme Traditional Amnesty programmes. If it is absent or ignored for whatever reason, it means that the whole amnesty programme is mere jamboree and of no effect both physically and spiritually. It also leaves the revengers of blood (God and the nearest relatives of the deceased) with no other alternative than to revenge the wanton bloodshed at the appropriate place and time, and under suitable circumstance. Ignoring Ajija definitely brings about more bloodshed in the offenders family and in the community sooner or later. The history of blood seeking revenge and troubling the land abounds everywhere.
There are many types of Ajija in Eleme tradition. Few among are Pregnancy Ajija, Sexual Ajija, Murder Ajija, Killing Ajija, etc. Ofu Mmi Adε is unique in its character. All these types of Ajija have their peculiar versions of Ojuri Ajija Rituals and Ͻlͻ Ajija Sacrifices, which are beyond the scope of this essay.
5. Purification Rituals
Apart from the expiatory ritual which gives the offender a chance to confess and expiate his guilt and propitiatory sacrifice which are made to win back the friendship and approval of the gods, the nearest relatives of the deceased and the society a purification sacrifice must be made to cleanse the land, especially the scene of the murder, sexual offence, etc. This Ajija is known as Peace Offering. It is offered to cleanse the land .This is the ritual observances whereby Eleme person is formally absolved from the taint of uncleanness; especially those connected with blood that was wantonly shed.
It also include making of a sacrificial atonement to cleanse the shed blood from eyes of the perpetrator to appease the number one revenger of blood – God, who must require of all BLOOD, and avert a curse from falling upon those who wantonly shed blood and the land.
Because blood is the mysterious sacredness which belongs to life, it becomes a curse when wantonly shed. Once shed, it torments the offender, the land and leads to more bloodshed. It is to prevent this scenario that the sacrifice known as Ofu Mmi Adε is also performed before the offender is allowed to return to the community to live normal life.
6. Administration of Oath/Swearing
Once the relevant Ajija sacrifices have been offered, the next stage is swearing in the name of a Deity by the parties involved. This step involves the procurement of the Deity, offering of necessary sacrifices at the Town-Square in the presence of the entire community on an appointed day and time and publicly swearing.
The swearing in the name of a known deity at the town-square, at the agreed day and time blows off the offender’s cover and brings him/her face-to-face with the relatives of the deceased. Although risky, it helps to consolidate the amnesty or forgiveness processes which were initiated some weeks or months ago and to pacify aggrieved bereaved relatives.
It reassures the deceased relatives that the traditional leadership is concerned about the dead and has taken necessary steps according to our tradition to pacify the deceased’s spirit, appeal to them for forgiveness and cleanse the desecrated land.
It encourages the revengers of blood to truly and totally forgive the offender and let the ancestors tamper justice with mercy.
It builds trust, credibility, and reciprocation; promotes understanding, and deals with the issues rather than persons.
It ensures commitment by all parties to its implementation and maintenance, publicizing it accordingly.
Where swearing in the name of a deity is frowned at due to the compromising and manipulative tendencies of the elders, Eleme Tradition favours “Nkpͻrͻ Eta”, which is the symbol of sovereignty, power, peace, unity and justice as instrument of swearing. Many families and linage in Eleme have been extinct, destroyed or devastated for swearing Nkpͻrͻ falsely.
Swearing provides the framework for implementation of the purification and reintegration rituals, which is the final level of traditional amnesty programme.
Comparing Modern and Traditional Amnesties
Both traditional and modern amnesties aim to officially forgive certain classes of persons who are subject to trial but have not yet been convicted. In the past both the traditional and modern leaderships have demonstrated the political will to manage amnesty but lack the socio-economic frameworks and resources to ensure its proper implementation, monitoring and controls needed for it success. These shortcomings are responsible for the failure of all conceived amnesties in recent times.
The traditional amnesty lacks the important ingredients of a well-defined amnesty programme which are Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of the offenders into normal life. Although, it tries to demobilize and reintegrate the offenders, it lack formal approach and there is no explicit procedure and institution for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.
The traditional leadership is just peace makers and has little or no stake in the amnesty programme. They buy nothing into it and buy nothing out of it.
It also lacks the institution(s) to properly coordinate, fund and promote concerted development strategy for the community with the aim of addressing underdevelopment as a major driver of instability in the community.
In the case of cultism, the traditional system lacks the strategy to disarm cultists as there are no frameworks in place in which available arms and ammunition can be retrieved from the cultists thereby reducing the volume of arms in circulation and for re-armament.
The traditional institution lacks the capacity to make provisions for skill development, training, job placement and employment for the beneficiaries of the traditional amnesty programme. This shortcoming makes it possible for the repentant cultists and criminals to return to life of crimes worse than they were before the amnesty.
No provision for nonviolence transformational training tailored to extinguish the belief of the cultists in violence or provide them a more powerful alternative – nonviolence activities.
There are also no follow up with cordon and search operation in the area and as well as any legislative framework to sanction the possession of arms by anyone particularly members of the groups who were disarmed.
Because the deity is the ultimate arbitrator here, groups and individuals in the community are prevented from participating in mopping up arms cache in their communities.
The disarmed cultists and their leaders are similarly not compelled to sign any legally binding undertaking never to conduct an act of insurgency against the state or be found bearing arms in the community. The oath they took is mere pronouncement to cease fire, which in most cases are short-lived and breakable as the deities are known today to lose their efficacy due to the growing influence of Christianity and Western Education.
Unfortunately though, and with the exception of bonds swore to by the cultists, most of these steps were not initiated as a follow up to the disarmament of the groups in Eleme.
The aim of demobilization is to disband the armed group by breaking down its command structure and dispersing the members thereby making remobilization difficult if not impossible. The Traditional Amnesty programme lacks the ability to achieve this objective. The various threats coming from the commanders of the rival former armed groups and the ease with which they converge in Ebubu and sack the city are evident indications that the command structures still remain intact and members can easily be mobilised.
We noted in Eteo, Ebubu, Alesa and other Eleme communities that communications with the cultists are done through their commanders. This arrangement reinforced pre-existing loyalties and command relationship which fostered dependency on their commanders. It makes remobilization easy, fast and cheap.
The absence of a well-defined reintegration system is a serious setback to the entire process of traditional amnesty. After demobilization (sic) what become of these ex-cultists? This question, the traditional system makes no provisions, thus worsening the security situation after a short while.
These cultists depend on guns and other weapons for their livelihood. When the guns are not collected from them what does the system expect them to do next? What alternatives does the system give to them to encourage them turn their back on the guns? Perhaps, this is the main reason why they were not requested to return their arms because it has nothing to give to them as alternative means of livelihood? Besides, the cultists are reluctant to return their weapons for fear of being stripped of everything and given nothing in return – no empowerment programmes, no development projects, nothing in sight, no hope to live for.
Importantly, swearing in the name of a Deity or invocation of Juju is no longer in vogue. In the time past, this option worked effectively due to the prevailing belief and attachment to worship of deities and ancestral spirits. Today, everybody claims to be Christian or Muslim but wicked than the devil in all ramifications.
Secondly, the system is full of flaws and subject to several manipulations by compromising-community leaders who are known to invoke juju round the community in the day and go behind to revoke same in the night due to their complicity in the whole episode.
These are also some of the factors that make it impossible for the restoring of peace, safety and security in the community using the instrumentalities of Eleme Traditional Amnesty Programme.
Amnesties in Nigeria have always failed not because of absence of political-will on the part of the government but the authorities inability to categorize amnesties, identify all parties to a particular amnesty, and encourage them to play their respective roles actively. The non-incorporation of the traditional aspects of offering the appropriate sacrifices to obtain pardon for the offender, restoring and reintegrating the offender of blood into the community, and cleansing the land as part of the amnesty process by the government leaves wide room for reoccurrence of violence and bloodbath at the slightest incitement. The Chinese, Indians, Koreans, Japanese, Britons, Russians, Germans, Israelis, and so on honour their culture above every other thing. Their culture is their teacher! If government is too busy to remember that aspect or too scared to dabble into it, what are our traditional institutions doing? What are the family elders doing to rescue their children?
Africa is a continent of cultures. Nigeria prides itself as giant of Africa because of its wide cultural diversity. What makes a people thick and unique is their culture. All cultures have a way and manner of dealing with nasty bloodshed. Different cultures define different ways of offering pardon, restoring and reintegrating an offender of blood into the community, and cleansing the land. These issues and the processes involved are usually not for public consumption but the peace, stability and security that are obtained therefrom benefits all.
Therefore, elders (African Elders) of the various families and communities whose children were granted amnesty in the past or recently should as a matter of importance do the needful to save our children and communities from further bloodshed. Blood is not water, blood is not wine. Blood is life. The potency of blood is incomparable. Blood sees, hears, speaks, acts, and have the powers to fight back except properly placated. Blood is God in man. No one ever sheds blood and goes scot-free.
If those who spilled blood and are living normal life, or walking freely on the streets, tell you what they pass through to be so free you will do everything humanly possible to avoid bloodshed. Let us do something to help the government to reclaim all our children from the devil!
- Bryan A. Gardner (ed.). 2009. Blacks Law Dictionary (9th ed.). St. Paul, MN: West
- Ollorwi Osaro (2012). Community Policing and Crime Control in Pre-Colonial Eleme: Issues & Perspectives, Nigerian Institute of Security, Port Harcourt
- Ollorwi Osaro (2016) http://www.ollorwi.com.ng Addressing Insecurity in Eleme a Memorandum Submitted to CTC Chairman of Eleme Local Government, Hon. Johnson O. Nwogu.