In Alike community and indeed other communities of Obowu L.G.A, Imo State South East Nigeria, the People’s Assembly popularly called Ala Di Nma (literarily meaning “the land is well”) exists in various villages and hamlets for the purpose of deliberation on matters affecting peace, unity, infrastructural provision, taxation, among others. The unique feature of Ala Di Nma is the capability of the assembly to provide “Alternative Judicial Service” similar to the multi-door courthouse for alternative dispute resolution relating to family feuds, land matters, stealing/theft cases, marital issues, crimes and criminalities among others. The assembly presides over these cases as reported to it, passes and enforces judgment. Traditional laws and norms set by the ancestors, cultural practices, and moral standards are the codes applied in settling cases.
Ala Di Nma assembly in Alike autonomous community comprises men who performed Iwa Akwa rite (a ceremony that transits a child to adulthood) and married women. Occasionally, advanced-in-age single mothers could be allowed to participate in the assembly. Every member of the community who meets these criteria is usually compulsorily a member.
However, some community members may as a result of religious belief opt out of the assembly, sometimes citing the Federal laws of Nigeria which allow freedom of association as a right of a citizen. Worthy of note is the presence of the council of Chief Priests of different gods of the land for oath administration and ranting of curses when and where necessary using their staff of authority or Ofo. Recently, oath taking using the Holy Bible has been introduced for Christians who opt for it.
Leadership of the Assembly
The assembly is headed by a Chairman called Onye isi oche Ala Di Nma. Usually, a person is appointed into such office by voice vote, and must hold a traditional title, had previously exhibited sterling leadership quality and transparency, as well as be eloquent in speech making. A secretary to document all proceedings of the assembly is selected among educated men of the assembly. An elders’ council comprising mainly title holders of Nze, Ichie, and other titled men preside over the assembly as judges. Women are not allowed to hold any office. Members of elders’ council represent each clan of the community. The traditional Monarch, the Eze, is usually not a member of the assembly as the community may decide to split into smaller Ala Di Nma units for faster dispensation of cases. However, for cases considered to be grievous such as the defilement of sacred laws of the land, murder, rape, among others, His Royal Highness, the Eze and his cabinet will be briefed by the elders for stiffer penalties like banishment, exile or prosecution by the relevant authorities of the nation.
Ala Di Nma Session
The assembly holds its session once every eight market days. For instance, Ala Di Nma Alike holds its session on Nkwo Alike market day which comes once in every eight days. The session starts around 8:00 am and concludes about mid-day to allow people participate in the business of the market which commences at 3:00 pm. During the session, no eligible member of the community will be absent except the elderly, the sick and those in Diaspora. No farming, trading or any other business will be allowed to take place. Defaulters are fined in accordance with guidelines set by the elders’ council. Young men especially members of the last age grade that had performed Iwa Akwa rite, are delegated to demand and collect fines from defaulters.
Instituting a Case
An aggrieved individual can institute a case against someone by reporting the matter to the leadership and elders of the assembly with any amount like N5,000. An elder will be delegated to the accused that a case has been instituted against him for N5,000. He is expected to report to the leadership with the same amount where a date for hearing will be fixed. At the end of judgment, if the complainant wins the case, the accused loses the money to the assembly, while the complainant regains his money. Conversely, if the accused is acquitted, the complainant will forfeit his money to the assembly, while the accused recovers his money.
Case Proceedings and Settlement
On the appointed date, the complainant is called to the centre to lay his complaint before the Ala Di Nma assembly. Thereafter, the defence is asked to respond to all the allegations. Both the complainant and the defence are required to call witnesses where relevant. Any interested member of the assembly may cross-examine all parties to the case. In some instances especially in land matters, delegates may visit the scene for appraisal and report back to the assembly. Before a judgment is entered, consultation will be made among the leadership, council of elders and Chief Priests. Every judgment is confirmed by a chorus of Iseee!, meaning Amen, which rants the air after pronouncement by the Chairman. In cases where judgment cannot easily be delivered due to lack of evidence, mystery, ambiguity or other unresolved issues, the council of Chief Priests will be called to commit the judgment to the gods. Death or permanent disability is expected sign of the direction of the judgment of the gods. Occasionally, oath taking is employed to decide ambiguous cases. Sometimes, the outcome of such judgment is not instantaneous. When eventually it occurs, the deceased or affected family will be asked to provide materials for sacrifice including goat to appease the gods from extending the judgment beyond the victim. However, this is now optional to Christians based on years of agitation.
Enforcement of Judgment
Enforcement of judgment is carried out by age grade nominated for that assignment. Where the person affected belongs to a younger age grade, members of his grade will be used to execute the judgment. However, in cases of the elderly, a younger age grade will enforce judgment. In cases of realignment of land boundary, the elders’ council will execute the judgment. All monies realized from case settlements are reserved for community development.
Significance of Ala Di Nma Assembly
Ala Di Nma assembly came into existence in the 1970s to address growing violence, family feuds and moral decadence introduced in the society due to the effects of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war. Over the years, the assembly has continued to provide an avenue for peaceful dispute resolution. It is perceived as crime against the community for any native to engage the services of the police or apply court means to seek redress for a dispute within the community without reporting the matter to Ala Di Nma assembly. This type of multi-door courthouse provides an alternative jurisprudence using traditional laws, culture and norms of the people. The outcome of the resolution or judgment leaves no victor nor vanquish.