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|The Concept Of Okpokpo In Dispute Resolution In Ogba Land by ajuksobi: 7:32pm On Mar 20|
THE CONCEPT OF OKPOKPO IN DISPUTE RESOLUTION IN OGBA LAND.
Ajukura, Fidelis O.
19th March, 2023
Long before the colonialists penetrated the continent of Africa, Africans including Ogba people had institutional mechanisms of settling disputes. The essence of this was to maintain values of peace, tolerance, solidarity and respect for one another. The approach or method applied in resolving disputes reflected the communalistic way of life of the people.
In traditional Ogba society, the people were governed by participatory democracy - decisions were not taken by one person alone but the entire house known as 'imeulor' and larger family known as 'obudo'. Beyond this, the entire village sometimes converge in the playground (Anama) to deliberate or try to settle a particular case. In this scenario, the elders (okhyes) remained in the epicenter of the deliberation.
Meetings or gatherings at the various levels were not only to resolve disputes but to manage and prevent reoccurrence of similar quarrel or disagreement. In this regard, whatever decision that is reached becomes binding on all parties. The reason being that, individuals are intrinsically connected to their families. Since family is concerned, every member of the family e.g, elders, family heads etc become deeply involved in the resolution of the conflict.
In traditional Ogba society, major causes of conflict are identified as; land, chieftaincy, personal relationship issues, family property, honour, murder, arson, rape, poisoning through sorcery and witchcraft means, malicious allegations, matrimonial fall outs etc. In addressing these problems, the principles of equity, justice and fairness are constantly employed in order to get a satisfactory result.
The major thrust of this work however, is not on the general approach towards settling conflict or dispute between warring parties but in the concept of 'okpokpo'. okpokpo is a dispute resolution mechanism geared towards addressing weighty or heinous allegations. In Ogba tradition, there are cases that; because of their degree of seriousness were not discussed at the house (imeulor) or family (obudo) levels but in village square or playground. Okpokpo, is sometimes erroneously referred to the process of summoning members to a case in the playground. Okpokpo actually goes beyond inviting members of the community but about what goes on in the arena such as; giving of statement by the accused and defendant, trial and ruling or pronouncement by the elders.
Okpokpo is reserved for very serious cases. Okpokpo, according to Ogba tradition is the height of arbitration in the land. Any case that gets to the level of okpokpo had reached the climax of dispute. For this reason, many people avoided it because they do not want the entire community or village listening to their problem.
The process of instituting an okpokpo case is different from other trivial cases. Before an okpokpo case is instituted, the landlords (Umuezalis) of the particular community or village will be notified by the aggrieved person or person(s). Upon receipt of such notification, invitation is extended to the accused person to appear in the playground on a given day and time in order to respond to the allegation leveled against him/her. When all the necessary conditions are met, the landlords (Umuezalis), in the playground beat their traditional drum to summon the people. At the end, if the accused is found guilty, he/she may be compelled to make reparations, swear an oath, be banished etc.
Okpokpo in traditional Ogba society was very effective because of the size of the community - Ogba communities were not as big as they are today. For example, Obieti playground (Anama Obieti) was a central point for Omoku people. Whatever happens in the playground is heard by all and sundry including those in the plantations and other communities or villages
Incidentally, the introduction of modern judicial system and its strict processes have religated the idea and practice of okpokpo to the background. However, the custodians of Ogba culture can workout modalities to improve the practice and make it more attractive.
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