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Justice League: The New Frontier

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The film (set from 1953-1960) begins with an unknown entity (voiced by Keith David) explaining how it has witnessed the evolution of life on Earth:

Like all things on this hurtling sphere, I emerged from the molten center of creation. But mine has been a unique path. Isolated, I developed attributes beyond those of lesser beings. Then the sphere was struck by a vast celestial stone. Black chunks of death filled the skies and the world became a chaotic garden of doom. Soon the sphere began to nurture new kinds of life. And there was one that stood above the rest. Its fragile shell belied its vicious nature. And in what seemed like a heartbeat, these things proliferated in both number and destructive means. Now they have harnessed the most destructive force. And I, The Centre, have concluded that the sphere must be cleansed of them.

This explanation is shown being written and illustrated under the title “The Last Story” by a mysterious person who then shoots himself.

The film cuts to the end of the Korean War, where United States Air Force pilot Hal Jordan (voiced by David Boreanaz) and his wingman, Kyle “Ace” Morgan (voiced by John Heard), are attacked by enemy pilots not yet informed of the cease-fire. Hal is shot down in the ensuing conflict, and forced to kill a North Korean soldier after ejecting to safety. The trauma of this event leads Hal to a mental ward within a hospital for two years.

Elsewhere, at Gotham Observatory, the last survivor of the Green Martian race, J’onn J’onzz (voiced by Miguel Ferrer), is inadvertently teleported to Earth by a scientist, Dr. Saul Erdel. The shock of J’onn’s appearance causes Erdel to succumb to a heart attack, though not before he apologizes for stranding the Martian. Unable to return to Mars, he disguises himself as Dr. Erdel.

The following year, Superman (voiced by Kyle MacLachlan) meets Wonder Woman (voiced by Lucy Lawless) in Vietnam, where she celebrates with a group of women she rescued from political rebels. The Amazon allowed them to exact their own brand of fatal justice upon their captors, which Superman is horrified to learn. He reminds Diana that the government is distrustful at best of the heroes, which has led to the Justice Society’s disbanding and Hourman’s death, as well as Batman’s branding as a fugitive vigilante. Superman also tries to remind her that mitigating the general public’s fear is why they signed loyalty oaths to the United States government. Diana, however, resolves that she must do what she feels is right. The two part at odds, and Diana later leaves America to return to Paradise Island. Superman later confides in Lois Lane (voiced by Kyra Sedgwick) about Wonder Woman and Batman, neither of whom, he says, would sacrifice their principles for each other.

In Gotham City, J’onn J’onzz has been living quietly under the guise of Dr. Erdel, while learning what he can about humans and Earth society through television. He shape-shifts into different guises during his nightly viewing, such as Groucho Marx and Bugs Bunny, before settling on the form of a film noir detective.

In Las Vegas, reporter Iris West (voiced by Vicki Lewis) is on assignment to interview singer Buddy Blake, at the same casino where Hal Jordan and Ace Morgan are enjoying themselves. While Iris is on the phone with her boyfriend Barry Allen (voiced by Neil Patrick Harris), Captain Cold (voiced by James Arnold Taylor) arrives to rob the casino. Hearing the events on the phone, Barry races to Vegas from Central City as The Flash and confronts Cold, who tells him he has hidden six cryogenic bombs around Vegas set to go off in 90 seconds. Flash zips around the city and locates five of the bombs, but deduces the sixth is a decoy, and captures Cold before he can escape by helicopter. Before being subdued, Cold is possessed by the unknown entity from the prologue, who asks Flash why he is faster than “the other lesser beings” before leaving the Rogue.

Hal and Ace leave the casino and head into the desert. Hal is unclear about their destination, which Ace keeps a surprise. Ace notices Hal has been acting differently, and Jordan confesses things haven’t been the same since the war and his time in the hospital. He also admits his past hospitalization has kept him from getting a job with a top aircraft company. It’s after Hal confides in Ace that the two arrive at Ferris Aircraft, where an opening as a test pilot is indeed waiting for Hal, thanks to a recommendation from his friend.

Back in Gotham, J’onn joins the Gotham City Police Department under the name John Jones, and with his integrity, cunning analytical skill, and telepathy, quickly rises to the ranks of detective in just two years. After investigating a kidnapping of a child which was later discovered to be part of a sacrificial ritual for a cult that worships something called The Centre, J’onn and his partner Slam Bradley (voiced by Jim Meskimen) meet Batman (voiced by Jeremy Sisto) for the first time as he is also investigating the kidnapping. The two cops join Batman in battle against the cult, but a fire is started during the fight, rendering J’onn powerless until Slam extinguishes it. Afterward, when Batman attempts to free the boy from his bonds, the child is terrified at the sight of him. J’onn arrives to calm the boy down and then he and his partner free the child themselves. The entity which possessed Captain Cold speaks through the incapacitated cult leader, identifying itself as “The Centre” and warning of an impending judgment.

Hal Jordan begins training exercises under Col. Rick Flagg (voiced by Lex Lang) at Ferris Industries. His joking, devil-may-care attitude rubs Flagg the wrong way, but Carol Ferris (voiced by Brooke Shields) is understanding and recognizes Hal’s natural ability. Carol also recognizes that Hal needs to know the true nature of his training, which she soon reveals to him: the government has commissioned Ferris Aircraft to build a spacecraft capable of travel to Mars. Special agent King Faraday (voiced by Phil Morris) is assigned to oversee the project, which is in response to Dr. Erdel’s contact with Mars and J’onn’s arrival.

Back in Gotham, the Dark Knight reveals his knowledge of J’onn’s true nature in his apartment, as he is able to find a way to shield his mind from J’onn’s telepathy, and suggests that they should form an alliance as they are both investigating the cult that is rising throughout the world cult that worships the Centre. J’onn’s demonstration of kindness toward the boy led Batman to believe that he can be a trusted ally. However, he warns J’onn that should he betray him, he is fully aware of and willing to use the Martian’s vulnerability to fire against him.

In Central City, The Flash defeats Gorilla Grodd (or, rather, a robotic duplicate), but is targeted by government agents, as they attempt to capture him in an effort to learn the secret of his powers. Though he narrowly escapes, the experience leads the Flash to consider retiring from his crimefighting career.

J’onn J’onzz interrogates Harry Leiter, a former Ferris employee apprehended for murder while under the influence of the Center. During the questioning, Harry lets word slip about the launch to Mars. Leiter’s ramblings are confirmed when Faraday arrives to take him into custody. J’onn briefly glimpses into the agent’s mind and learns the truth. After watching the Flash announce his retirement on live television, and seeing the public contemptuous response, a disheartened J’onn attempts to stow away on the rocket so that he may return home. Before leaving, he arrives in Batman’s headquarters, the Batcave, revealing that he’s been aware of Batman’s secrets for quite some time (using his cunning detective skills instead of his telepathy), and gives him the last of his research on The Centre. J’onn reveals to Batman that he’s losing faith in humanity, as he sees that there’s too much hatred, ignorance, and conformity within the people around him, which made him decide to leave Earth. Batman’s response is cold and brief, as he tells J’onn some people don’t have the luxury of leaving Earth.

While attempting to board the ship, J’onn is seen on camera by Faraday, who confronts J’onn and fights him on the launchpad. J’onn is able to beat Faraday, but saves him from the rocket exhaust by flying him to a platform before collapsing. The rocket is damaged and malfunctions shortly after exiting the atmosphere. Hal wants to attempt a landing, but his co-pilot, Col. Rick Flagg, reveals that the rocket is loaded with weapons of mass destruction, and as such he won’t risk it. After a brief struggle, Hal is ejected from the cockpit. Though he is saved by Superman, the distraction allows Flagg to detonate the rocket.

J’onn J’onzz is held as a prisoner by Faraday. Superman blasts Faraday for treating J’onn differently from him (a Kryptonian and thus also an alien), just because J’onn looks radically different. He also points out the captivity is entirely J’onn’s decision because he can escape at any time using his powers.

On Paradise Island, Wonder Woman trains with Mala, and tells her of how America has changed since the war. Her training partner says the island has changed as well, and that many Amazons desire a change in leadership. Though Diana quickly fends off a challenge from her fellow Amazon, the two of them are soon beset upon by the approaching Center.

Hal Jordan is later found by Abin Sur (voiced by Corey Burton), the Green Lantern of Sector 2814. The destruction of the rocket badly wounds him as he enters Earth’s atmosphere, so he instructs his ring to find a worthy replacement. He leaves his ring with Hal, and tells him of The Centre, which he describes as a “monstrous creature” that fears humans and seeks their destruction.

In the Batcave, Superman reviews J’onn’s research with Batman and meets Robin (voiced by Shane Haboucha) for the first time. Batman has altered the design of his suit so it won’t frighten an innocent, but is still able to strike terror in the heart of a guilty. As they discuss the Centre, they hear Lois reporting on the attack of a giant pterodactyl at Cape Canaveral. Superman arrives at the scene and quickly defeats the creature. Almost immediately afterwards, Wonder Woman’s invisible jet makes a crash landing, its cockpit smeared with blood. Before losing consciousness, Wonder Woman warns Superman that the Centre is coming.

Faraday eventually befriends J’onn who saved his life, and occasionally plays chess with him. J’onn reveals to Faraday that he decided to remain at the agent’s base willingly because of the upcoming battle with The Centre, and had telepathically looked into the agent’s mind during their battle at the platform. J’onn found that Faraday believes that one day the world won’t be living in fear and hate. Finding that within Faraday, J’onn has renewed hope for humanity and decides to participate in the battle to save Earth. Before leaving with Faraday, J’onn adopts a new Martian/human superheroic hybrid form as the Martian Manhunter, believing it is honest to his heritage with a friendly appearance to human perception.

The Centre

Following this, the Centre begins its attack in earnest at the coast of Florida, finally revealed as a massive flying island, with an army of mutated dinosaurs to guard it. The threat draws heroes such as Flash (whom Iris talks into coming out of retirement), Green Arrow, Adam Strange, the Challengers of the Unknown, and the Blackhawks, who clash with the soldiers on base. The conflict is stopped by Superman, who advocates cooperation between the two sides. He is unexpectedly seconded by Faraday, accompanied by J’onn, who agrees that the government and the heroes must work together for freedom. With that, Superman heads out to do reconnaissance on the Centre, but is swiftly and shockingly defeated.

Moved by his effort, the rest of Earth’s superheroes and military forces band together to defeat the Centre. Batman interrupts a meeting between Faraday, J’onn, Will Magnus (voiced by Townsend Coleman), and the Challengers. Batman brought with him Ray Palmer, a scientist known for his work with matter reduction. When one of the Challengers argues the technology is too unreliable, destabilizing anything it shrinks, Batman replies that’s exactly the point, and a plan is formed to use Palmer’s reduction ray to destabilize the island. The heroes will distract the Centre with a frontal assault (while Hal and Ace fly a bombing mission into the creature), leaving Flash to quickly crisscross the island with the ray.

While the aerial assault (including Batman and Green Arrow as pilots) is nearly outmatched before the intervention of the Blackhawks, Faraday’s ground forces are ambushed by a herd of rampaging mutant dinosaurs. J’onn is overwhelmed by the psychic impact from The Centre and is rescued by Faraday, who is shortly thereafter captured by a dinosaur. As he is about to be eaten by a tyrannosaurus, Faraday grabs two hand grenades and pulls the pins. The dinosaur swallows Faraday and immediately afterwards its head explodes from the grenade detonation, killing both it and Faraday. The shock of his friend’s death helps J’onn shake off the Centre’s hold, and he and a recovered Wonder Woman help turn the tide of the ground battle.

Hal Jordan and Ace Morgan manage to shoot their way into the core of the creature, but are disoriented at first by its hallucinogenic effects. The creature secretes a thick red fluid that jams their weapons and almost suffocates them. It is then that Hal’s ring activates, relaying instructions from the Guardians of the Universe (voiced by Robin Atkin Downes) as to its use. Ace manages to detonate his payload, and is rescued by Hal–now dressed in a costume identical to Abin Sur’s–just before his plane explodes.

The explosion gives the ground crew their opening as they prepare to send Flash to finish the creature. The speedster is struck by the gravity of the situation and his role in it, but J’onn reassures him that everyone will be behind him. Flash races across the ocean and leaps onto the Centre’s surface, covering the entire surface on foot before leaping into the ocean. The Centre begins to shrink, but realizing its imminent destruction, it heads toward land to destroy the humans along with it. Hal realizes what he must do, and envelops the island in green energy, then tows it into space where it explodes.

The entire world celebrates the Centre’s defeat. As many participants in the battle attend a ceremony, Hal celebrates the victory his own way by pursuing his lifelong dream: flying through space with the aid of his new power ring. During the celebration, Superman is revealed to be injured but still alive, saved by a man named Arthur (voiced by Alan Ritchson) who claims to be from an underwater kingdom. He and his subjects treated Superman’s wounds during the battle with the Centre. Superman is reunited with Lois and the rest of the heroes, who are touted so on the front page of the Daily Planet.

This monumental victory and display of teamwork changes public opinion about superheroes, and a montage of various heroes and villains (with cameos by Supergirl, the Teen Titans, Black Manta, Brainiac, Captain Marvel, Darkseid, Black Canary, Doctor Light, Doctor Sivana, Gentleman Ghost, Harley Quinn, Joker, Key, Lex Luthor, Monocle, Plastic Man, Ra’s al Ghul, Riddler, Robin, Star Sapphire, Two-Face, and Ultra-Humanite) as well as the birth of the world’s second generation superhero team: Justice League, set to the titular John F. Kennedy speech, is shown just before the film ends.


Voice actor


David Boreanaz

Harold “Hal” Jordan/Green Lantern

Miguel Ferrer

J’onn J’onzz/John Jones/Martian Manhunter

Neil Patrick Harris

Bartholomew “Barry” Allen/The Flash

John Heard

Kyle “Ace” Morgan

Lucy Lawless

Princess Diana of Themyscira/Wonder Woman

Kyle MacLachlan

Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman

Phil Morris

King Faraday

Kyra Sedgwick

Lois Lane

Brooke Shields

Carol Ferris

Jeremy Sisto

Bruce Wayne/Batman

Alan Ritchson

Orin/Arthur Curry/Aquaman

Keith David

The Centre

Vicki Lewis

Iris West

Lex Lang

Rick Flagg

Shane Haboucha

Dick Grayson/Robin

Townsend Coleman

Dr. Will Magnus

James Arnold Taylor

Leonard Snart/Captain Cold

Robin Atkin Downes

Guardians of the Universe

Corey Burton

Abin Sur

Jim Meskimen

Samuel “Slam” Bradley

Critical reception

Justice League: The New Frontier received mostly positive reviews. Screener copies were sent to those who reviewed them on websites a month prior to the DVD’s official release. Even then, most of the reviews were positive and geared up the film’s release even more.

Newsarama reviewed the DTV before its Feb. 26th release, saying that it was “one of the best things to ever come out of [Bruce] Timm stable.” Commenting also that the acting was exceptional. The World’s Finest, a fansite dealing with DC Animations, said that it was “the first animated feature in a long time that Ie felt completely satisfied while walking away from.” A reviewer from Ain’t it Cool News said that it was “my favorite film of 2008” and also said that it was “everything I had hoped for.” Other sites, including some non-fansites, had similar reactions. From IGN giving the film and DVD total an 8.0, ENI saying it was enjoyable, and DVDTalk.com labeling its advice as “Recommended”.

Entertainment Weekly, talking about direct-to-videos and Superman Doomsday, revealed that pre-orders for The New Frontier were tracking further ahead than expected.

The New Frontier was nominated for an Emmy under the category of Outstanding Animated Program (for Programming One Hour Or More) in 2008.


Justice League: The New Frontier is available in both single and two-disc editions. The cover of the single disc includes the pan shot from DC: The New Frontier with the heroes going forth, while the two-disc, HD DVD and Blu-ray editions includes Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman above the title logo with Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, Flash and others below it. Best Buy had an exclusive with a Green Lantern action figure from DC Direct with the DVD package. This Green Lantern figure stands under 3 inches tall. Wal-Mart had a single DVD package exclusive with “The New Frontier Green Lantern” CD-ROM Comic Book inside. The single, two-disc and Blu-ray editions were released on February 26, 2008, with the HD DVD edition released on March 18, 2008.

The special features range from a documentary on the forty-seven year history of the Justice League, commentaries, a documentary on how the early mythological villain archetypes were adapted into the Justice League stories, a featurette on the themes, elements from the comic to film versions of New Frontier, three episodes of Justice League Unlimited and finally a 10 minute preview to the next animated film; Batman: Gotham Knight.


Like Superman: Doomsday, Justice League: The New Frontier had a soundtrack released by La La Records on March 18, 2008. The music was composed by Kevin Manthei, the track listing is as follows.

Justice League: The New Frontier (Soundtrack From The DC Universe Animated Original Movie)

Film score by Kevin Manthei


March 18, 2008


La-La Land Records

“Main Titles” (2:01)

“The Centre / Hal Shot Down” (2:50)

“J’onn J’onzz Arrives” (0:51)

“Wonder Woman Recounts / J’onzz Watches TV” (2:11)

“The Flash Saves Las Vegas” (3:32)

“J’onn Becomes John / Church Brawl” (3:12)

“Carol & Hal Banter” (0:22)

“Driving to Ferris / The Real Ferris” (1:34)

“Hal’s Mission Revealed / Batman Surprises J’onzz / The Flash Fights Gorilla” (2:52)

“Crazy Scientist” (1:37)

“J’onzz Contemplates / J’onzz is Leaving” (1:18)

“To Space” (1:27)

“Mars Mission Mess” (4:13)

“New Green Lantern” (3:56)

“Superman Ties It Up / J’onzz Bonds” (2:41)

“Island Revealed / Superman Down” (5:22)

“Plan to Action” (2:35)

“Thick of Battle” (4:32)

“The Flash vs. Centre / Last Bit of Business” (3:37)

“Victory” (3:09)

“End Credits” (3:01)


^ Justice League DVD news: Release Date for Justice League: The New Frontier | TVShowsOnDVD.com

^ Animated Shorts: Justice League: The New Frontier Review – Newsarama

^ Harry discovers JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER!!! – Ain’t It Cool News: The best in movie, TV, DVD, and comic book news

^ IGN: Justice League: The New Frontier Review

^ Entertainment Reviews – Justice League: The New Frontier – ENewsI.com

^ DVD Talk Review: Justice League – The New Frontier

^ Direct-to-DVD movies growing in popularity – Entertainment News, Weekly TV, Media – Variety

^ The 60th Primetime Emmy Awards and Creative Arts Emmy Awards Nominees are…

^ The World’s Finest

^ The World’s Finest

^ The World’s Finest

^ The World’s Finest

External links

Justice League: The New Frontier Official Movie Site

Justice League: The New Frontier at the Internet Movie Database

Justice League: The New Frontier Myspace page

Justice League: The New Frontier @ The World’s Finest

First article releasing on the DTV

Justice League: The New Frontier Press Release

Justice League: The New Frontier Trailer Trailer (Windows Media)

Justice League: The New Frontier Trailer Trailer (Quicktime)

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DC Comics animated films

Stand-alone films

Superman (1941) Gen (1998) The Batman vs. Dracula (2005) Superman: Brainiac Attacks (2006) Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo (2006)

Original Animated Movies

Superman: Doomsday (2007) Justice League: The New Frontier (2008) Batman: Gotham Knight (2008) Wonder Woman (2009) Green Lantern: First Flight (2009) Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009) Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)

Batman: Gotham Knight

Have I Got A Story For You Crossfire Field Test In Darkness Dwells Working Through Pain Deadshot

DC animated universe

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1998) Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000) Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003)

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Justice League


Gardner Fox

Founding Members

Superman  Batman  Wonder Woman  Green Lantern  Flash  Aquaman  Martian Manhunter

Related teams

Justice League Elite  Justice Society of America  Justice League Antarctica  Justice League (Smallville)  Outsiders  Super Buddies  Teen Titans  Young Justice  Justice Guild of America


Amazo  Amos Fortune  The Appelaxians  Asmodel  Brainiac  Crime Syndicate of America  Copperhead  Darkseid  The Demons Three  Despero  Doctor Destiny  Doctor Light  Doomsday  Eclipso  Epoch the Lord of Time  The Extremists  Felix Faust  Funky Flashman  Gamemnae  The General  Gentleman Ghost  The Injustice Gang  The Injustice League  Kanjar Ro  The Key  Kobra  Lex Luthor  Libra  Magog  Morgaine le Fey  Neron  Professor Ivo  Prometheus  Queen Bee  The Queen of Fables  Qwsp  Rama Khan  Red King  The Royal Flush Gang  The Secret Society of Super Villains  Shaggy Man  Starbreaker  Starro  T. O. Morrow  The Ultra-Humanite  Vandal Savage  The Wizard  The White Martians


Secret Sanctuary  Justice League Satellite  Justice League Watchtower  The Hall

Current series

Justice League of America (vol. 2)  Super Friends

Previous series

Justice League of America  Justice League International  Justice League Europe  Justice League Quarterly  Justice League Task Force  Extreme Justice  JLA  Justice  Justice League Antarctica  JLA: Classified


“World War III”  JLA: Earth 2  JLA/Avengers  “The Lightning Saga”  “Pain of the Gods”

Limited series

The Nail  Created Equal  Act of God  Destiny  Age of Wonder  Another Nail  Justice League: Cry for Justice


The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure  Super Friends  Justice League  Justice League Unlimited  Justice League: The New Frontier  Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths


Legends of the Superheroes  Justice League of America  Justice League (Smallville)


In other media

Video games

Justice League Task Force  Justice League: Injustice for All  Justice League: Chronicles  Justice League Heroes

Categories: English-language films | 2008 films | Warner Bros. Animation films | DC animation | Justice League films | Warner Bros. Batman films | DC Universe Original Animated Movies | Superhero films | Direct-to-video films | Films set in the 1950s | Animated Batman films | Animated Superman filmsHidden categories: Film articles using deprecated parameters | Wikipedia articles with plot summary needing attention from February 2009 | All Wikipedia articles with plot summary needing attention

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Eurocentric Perception of Pre-Colonial Africa Justice Administration Process

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Eurocentric Perception of Pre-Colonial Africa Justice Administration Process


Every society has its own methods of controlling the social order to achieve a decorous culture; hence the essence of the legal framework cannot be denied. So, the criminal justice system delivers among other things, corrective procedure by which social deviants are brought in conformity with societal norms.

The African society is not an exception to this precept and in fact an epitome of operative customary criminal justice system, which though largely unwritten before the advent of colonialism, integrated a lush African culture unto its civilization. The post-independence era of most African countries however, bestowed utter aversion to these hitherto entrenched opulent customary criminal justice administration, downrightly reducing the system to nothing including those of the Nigerian customary criminal law.

Influenced by the received English law system, most postcolonial African countries are currently faced with the question of reconciling contradicting and often negating foreign law enforcement methods. The negative attitudes towards the African customary law practices have naturally stemmed from the lack of genuine efforts by the postcolonial African States to manage or resolve the unconventionalities for the overall good of the people, aggravating social instability stemming from breakdown of moral values; personal discontent, alienation, and anxieties of rampant conflict situations.

Nigeria, while not by any means the only postcolonial African State in this situation, typifies immersed brashness of imperialists Eurocentrism that is sequestered in primordial convictions of the Western world. Whereas, successive postcolonial governments have ignored to fervently resist negative tolerance of African indigenous law enforcement and social control mechanisms; thus, the native law systems have persisted and remain widely practiced throughout the continent.

This article hence aims to discuss remodeling of law enforcement in postcolonial Africa to reflect the uniqueness of the indigenous peoples, to remedy foreign abhorrence of the African justice process in insolence of preserving the bath-water after throwing away the baby.

The fields of criminal justice administration and particularly criminology only appreciably developed in the recent years. The main concentration as a consequence, being in the English speaking countries and Western European countries that presaged a state of western dominance of especially the historical criminology, making the western countries to pride themselves of many patterns of work in some areas of these fields.

In Britain for example there are a great number of documented commentaries that relate to the history of crime and crime control (see Emsley, 2002; Gattrell et. al., 1980; Godfrey, 1999).  Conversely, the dearth of criminological writings is a stumbling block to the African continent, even if there have been a marked change, as several authors have begun to advance this field (See Ebbe (ed.) 1996, 2000; Onwudiwe, 2000). Yet, the historical criminology of Africa is under-researched.

Additionally, penmanship of pre-colonial African history, especially those of sub-Saharan West Africa were largely ignored by mainstream academia since the authors that contributed to the field (for example, Karenga, Diop, Walker) were (at best) acclaimed for limited inquiry into Black (African) history. Whereas advances that paralleled such historical and concurrent theories of African criminology prior to colonisation could only be acquiesced by a few influential individuals and organizations, ranging from political figures, historians, journalists and the British government itself.

This comparative lack of exploration of African criminology lacking the conventional documentation of pre-colonial Black History provided clamp for the apparent lack of notional test of historical criminal Justice Administration that existed in Africa. That is to say, although the disciplines have not been completely obscured; Diop, Walker and Millar, for example have made references to (criminal) justice, much of which will be amplified by this article.

All the same, developments in this area have been and continue to be blighted by Eurocentric theories, that not only negate the existence of the criminal justice process in Africa prior to colonialism, but essentially endorse that law and order was a gift of it. This phenomenon has the undermining effect of being the conventional view at issue, devaluing the victims of European colonisation and diminishing the likelihood of alternative research being widely accepted or encouraged within this purview.

The regions of the African continent that will be examined for our present purpose will be the domain of the Songhai Empire, underscoring the existence of criminal justice system prior to colonisation. It is important to note at this point that the Songhai Empire should not be taken to reflect the entire continent of Africa (the reasons for which will become clear soon). On the other hand, the proponents of pro-colonial viewpoint describe Africa as a homogeneous entity (including the geographical area covered by the Songhai); which this article will serve to disprove to emasculate the aforementioned European colonialist propaganda and in fact be exposing it to be (however witting or unwitting) a distortion of African history to justify, or rationalise European colonialism.

From the Eurocentric pro-colonialist propaganda perspectives, people have been and continue to be misled to assume that the European colonialists brought the criminal justice system as well as law and order to Africa. Yet there is preponderance of evidence that this not so, as held by the following submissions:

 “From a very early date the influence of Islam had made itself felt in the North, and the religious revival of the early years of the nineteenth century had formed the motive for the Fulani conquests, which swept the country from Sokoto in the northwest to Yola, 1,000 miles to the East, and from the Sahara to the confines of the Equatorial Belt. The social and religious organization of the Koran supplemented, and combined with the pre-existing, and probably advanced form of tribal administration handed down from the powerful Songhai Empire, which had extended from Chad to Timbuktu. The courts were served by judges erudite in Moslem law and fearless in its impartial application. The system of taxation was highly developed, and the form of Administration highly centralised”. – F.D. LUGARD: (colonial Governor-General of Nigeria), at paragraph 2.2:Report on the Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria April 9th, 1919.

Accordingly this article is designed to drawing on academicinvestigations of African history in establishing the concentration and trend of the criminal justice systems in Africa, especially pre-colonial West Africa, earlier than the advent of colonialism. In this context of modern society committed to eradicating the Eurocentric cultural prejudices, this work will perhaps inspire other authors to continue tackling this under-researched area of social crime control mechanism, to reevaluate the distortions of ancient criminal justice in Africa in its right perspectives.

Motifs of propaganda

The malady of confusing and distorting views about Africa is not an uncommon phenomenon and (perhaps expectedly) those responsible are the very much revered Western societies and often the elite class. Expectedly reverberations of opinions continue to be very much promoted in mainstream society and popular news media (in the case of Britain, government publications) disseminating spiteful sentiments that are disdainful of pre-colonial African accomplishments and civilization through bigwigs like Hegel, who in one of his most prominent works stated:

“The peculiarly African character is difficult to comprehend, for the very reason that in reference to it, we must give up the principle which naturally accompanies all our ideas – the category of Universality…The Negro exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state” (Hegel, 1956:93).

Hegel is an epitome of exclusionist in downgrading of Africa and the entire black race. Who say group behaviors (whether in Africa or elsewhere) do not universally manifest passions for disorderliness? Yet, citing this biased view of Hegel’s is merely to eloquently suggest why it is necessary to point readers to the highpoints of negative perceptions about Africa (Young, 2000; Said, 1993). Similar sentiments of unconstructive allusions to Africa and its people have been peddled by such eminent personalities like David Hume, John Stuart Mill, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, and more. In the context of this theme, perhaps one of the most derogatory is that of one of Britain’s most famed historians Arnold Toynbee who stated:

“When we classify mankind by colour, the only one of the primary races…which has not made a creative contribution to any of our twenty-one civilizations is the black race” (‘The Study of History, Vol. 1′, quoted in Jackson: 1972: 184).

Why on earth would anybody think that the colour of man makes him less creative to contribute to humanity? The views espoused by Toynbee and his cronies reverberate the works of other eminent and distinguished historians such as Andrew Roberts, Senior Honorary Scholar of Gonville & Cauis College, Cambridge. Though appearing slightly modest (at least in countenance) than the likes of Toynbee or Churchill; Roberts was rather fervent in defending the issues of British occupation in trying to justify colonization. Unlike Churchill who believes Europeans to be “a stronger race and higher ranking race” (Churchill to the Palestinian Royal Commission, 1937), Roberts’ renunciation of the African accomplishment is based on a rather compulsion for re-colonization, to improve the African lot as suggested by a topical tabloid:

“But in the short time that Britain ran large parts of it [Africa], a system of laws and good government was imposed that meant that endemic inter-tribal massacres were banished” (Daily Mail, January 6, 2005).

Roberts did not however propose any evidence as to why these laws and ‘good government’ needed to be imposed, yet justifies why:

 “Churchill and his contemporaries believed that the most developed countries, such as Britain, had an absolute moral duty to bring civilisation to those that were less developed” (ibid).

Whilst Roberts does not also proclaim African values to be unenforceable, his intolerance of pre-colonial African justice methodology is utterly based on Eurocentric fanaticism, supported by another uncouth commentary on Africa:

“Africa has never known better times than during British rule, whereas before-hand there was anarchy and all too often afterwards, tyranny…Might not a reintroduction of the English speaking world’s cultural creed, such as technical expertise, impartial justice, financial rectitude and ethical business practices, be exactly what so many countries – in particular those in Africa – need right now? (Daily Mail, January 8, 2005).

The Daily Mail (according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation Statistics) produced an average daily circulation of about 2.5 million in 2004, making it the second most popular UK Daily National Newspaper (ABC, 2004) – that is to say deliberately distorting Africa and its people to such a catholic audience of readers.

Yet again the contrived ‘lawlessness‘ of pre-colonial Africa is not enlisted in any particular manner. Contrariwise the facts to be established in the fullness of time knock off ingredients out of this spiteful overtone for a re-colonization of Africa for the continent to be relevant in the scheme of global reckoning.

Put tersely, how voguish a statement, and uncharitable distortions of the views of western propaganda? The defamation of Africa as an expanse lacking orderliness is not just the mainstay of neo-colonialist propaganda but a classical attitude of British rule, who also speculated in a contemporary publication that:

“For many indigenous peoples in Africa and elsewhere the British Empire often brought more regular, acceptable and impartial systems of law and order than many had experienced under their own rulers…The spread of the English language helped unite disparate tribal areas that gradually came to see themselves as nations” (Home Office, 2004).

What a deliberate distortion of facts! Evidence abound that the prevailing conflicts tearing Africa into shreds are the consequences of abhorrent European conquest with inconsistent colonial policies. For many centuries, Africa was branded by the Western world as the“dark continent”, denoting an unexplored, savage and untamed region, populated by heathens and wild animals. With this kind of mentality explorers classically roused the desire of traversing a hostile and unfamiliar place, yet Africa was an allure to many European explorers.

The colonization of Africa in this manner, thus produced a lingering history of the most absurd phase of the European Scramble for Africa in the nineteenth century. Therefore, the legacy of British colonisation in Africa with retrospection is largely an unsavory experience; in that most of the former British colonies have found it difficult to build stable liberal democracies to achieve sustainable levels of political and economic stability.

Nigeria for example came into existence on the 1st of January 1914, as creation of Britain and has since then (almost a century of existence) been enmeshed in conflicts and bloodshed that still remain the core roots of ethnic disagreements. The diverse nations and tribes remain hostile, at loggerhead to each other even after achieving independence from Britain in 1960, because the various tribal groups with different cultures, and political affiliations were “forcibly” brought together under British rule to form an entirely unworkable make-believe country.

The volatility and confusion rooted on this mutual suspicion of the ethnic nationalities since the advent of British colonial rule is summed up by a protagonist (ChukwuemekaOdumegwu-Ojukwu) of the Nigerian civil war of 1967 – 1970  thus:

“The true problem with Nigeria is that she is truly embroiled in an identity crisis. The Nigerian of today is a socio-path in search of a society. Our leaders have been and still are politicians in search of a national program. We live in a country in search of a common character. The source of our problem is rooted in our fear of unity… this disunity has distorted, complicated and to a large extent stultified every development effort undertaken by government. The effect of the shibboleth called dichotomy is so very well known that it has become a cancer in our body politic…”   (Odumegwu-Ojukwu C: 1989)

Therefore, from Hume to Toynbee and to the present-day, the Eurocentric assumption of Africa’s neediness of civilization or self-worth (or in more recent times), objectivity of law and order that should be substituted with re-colonization is blatantly imprudent and premised on irrational judgments. Quests for evidence in backing of this arrogance accentuate unfounded speculations with regressive interpretations that cannot be of material benefit to Africa of the present age, other than inordinate pursuits for imperialist re-colonization and subjugation.


Apart from history replete with versions civilization starting from Africa (Egyptian pyramids etc.), the Songhai civilization is by design suitable for knocking-off the subjective attitudes implicit in the Eurocentric chauvinisms as shall become lucid shortly; its geographical landmass covers many of the modern countries that were subjected to European (and in effect British) rule. Additionally, it provides some of the most inclusive and indisputable evidence of pre-colonial Africa that were presented in the European languages. But for the purposes of objectivity, a brief explanation of the Songhai Empire is essential before specifics are examined.

Social control in postcolonial Nigeria and most of Africa is largely classified into the indigenous and foreign varieties. In the Nigerian context, the indigenous diversity is rooted in a multiplicity of Nigerian traditions, customs and native laws, while the foreign type takes source from England and bears the hallmarks of European culture. But it is equally true that over the years, the English social control mechanisms adopted for Nigeria has taken on some garb of local African content, the same way it effectively maintains the English and European background – i.e., it is typically alien to the Africans.

To be precise, the modern Nigerian setup for instance imposes an outlandish system that presumes to modulate the lives of local people who are down-to-earth alien to the European culture. The lifestyle and environment of a Nigerian and/or other African is fundamentally different from that of English or other European, for which reason, the English social control practices has not been compatible to policing the African society.

Hence the assertion that the English-based law enforcement apparatuses do not estimably guarantee a stable postcolonial Africa that tends to be supported by prevalence of confusions in the various African countries. To many African observers, the postcolonial modern nation should earnestly pursue social controls that are consistent with the yearnings and aspirations of their peoples and in fact jettison the old-fashioned vestiges of the ex-colonizers’ justice administration systems. Harmonious with this conviction, Africa’s contemporary social control mechanisms must be actually balanced with the modern-day values and not Eurocentric obsolete postcolonial versions of imperialism. Whatever the case may be, social control in postcolonial Africa ought not to be entirely contingent on erstwhile imported British judicial variety.

Since there is really nothing classy about the European social control system – the English system as a model developed from the traditions, customs, and native practices (tribal laws) of the people of England should not be imposed on those of Africa. Accordingly, the English system will be perhaps best suited to adjudicate relationships among the English people, and not among Africa’s wide-ranging ethnic nations. The prevailing postcolonial justice system establishing dual structures (foreign and indigenous if at all allowed) should be scrapped to reflect African peculiarity. Alternatively, African States including Nigeria should improve their legal systems on archaic ordinances that devalue indigenous social control practice in favour of the borrowed foreign techniques.

While the foreign systems reflect alien (usually European) standards instead of the native customs, the average African suffers the perplexities of (normless) condition in which bureaucracies override native rules of conduct that contrast, and disconcerts the local customary practices, as is the case with Nigeria (Okafo, 2005, September 23, Internet sources).

Despite that the African elites’ and official governments’ trends to sponsor and promote European social control systems to the detriments of local African jurisprudence, the traditions still persist with several factors actually being responsible as distinct from the opulent evidence in the subsequent illustrations.

Development of pre-colonial justice system

The Songhai Empire developed in the mid-fourteenth century when Ali Kolon ascended the Songhai throne and achieved independence from the Malian Empire. Songhai remained sovereign until another emperor Sonni Ali Ber captured most of the Malian Empire, annexing additional territories. Several generations after Sonni Ali Ber, the most creative of the Emperors, Askia Muhammad (b. Muhammad Toure, a.k.a. ‘Askia the Great’) came to power. Many scholars have described Askia’s reign in detail based on written evidence of that era, or citation of authors based well-founded facts (see Diop, 1987; Walker, 1999:52-58; Walker and Millar, 2000).

For a clearer picture, modern states that were included in the then Songhai Empire – Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and almost all of modern-day Mali including large parts of Niger, Guinea, Mauritania with small parts of Sierra-Leone, Cote D’Ivoire, Benin, Burkina-Faso, in addition to the northern portion of present-day Nigeria known as ‘Hausaland’. As a result, in terms of land mass the Songhai Empire was the largest West African civilization famed for various academic institutions. In their descriptive account of the Songhai Empire, Robin Walker and Siaf Millar informed that: “The subjects taught at the tertiary levels were mathematics, accountancy, grammar, Islamic law, logic, astronomy, geography, poetry and art” (Walker and Millar, 2000:49).

At this point it is important to re-evaluate how authors have failed to provide evidence of limited accounts, besides vital factual proof of pre-colonial Africa, which serves to emasculate the declarations of distinct lack of realization or contribution to civilization, as asserted by Toynbee. Moreover, the issue of good government and objective law and order – raised by Roberts and the Home Office respectively – can be deflated by examining the facts about Songhai. The Songhai Empire built-in an organized government and administrative system consisting of a number of ministerial positions: Tari-mundio (Inspector of Agriculture); Barei-koi (Chief of Etiquette and Protocol); and Tara-farma (Cavalry Chief). Several other executive positions existed both at central and local level.

Once again, this evidence can be traced back to the period in question, and by the very nature of having ministers for minorities, the notion of the lack of ineffective justice is dented. From these findings we can start to see a pattern emergin on how fitting the phrase ‘Western Thought’ is. Until a clear time-bound evidence that substantively counters the proof offered here emerges, theory is what it will remain to be.

Before examining the Songhai on the subject of criminal justice and the law, it may be useful to echo how the Songhai Empire came to an end in 1529 when Askia Muhammad was overthrown by his son Musa and the Songhai Empire fell into decline. Although several leaders followed, it was eventually destroyed in the wake of a Moroccan invasion in 1591.

Justice and the Songhai Empire

Along with the local ministers designated above, there were also local head-judges or Grand-Qadi. The justice system was two-fold: that of the monarch and that of the Qadi. The Qadi was appointed by the king and dealt with common-law misdemeanors or disputes either between citizens and foreigners or amongst citizens themselves. The disputes were settled by the procedure of a tribunal, administered by the Qadi. The Qadi also had power to grant pardon or to offer protection. Given that the Qadi was a Muslim Head-Judge, the public-law in this context appears to be adminisred through the Islamic (Qur’an) Sharia Law. Diop also affirms that due to large-scale commercial immigration, another judge apart from the Qadi was appointed. This judge was able to settle disputes between the immigrants merchants. (Diop, 1987:124). Evidence of these Qadi’s, judges and their functions is also provided by two authors of that time Kati and Sadi, (see Kati, 1913; Diop, 1987, Hunwick, 1999).

Royal justice concerned crimes such as treason. The king did not always judge the defendants but sometimes insisted on doing so, and in Diop’s book there is reference to two kings doing so: Askia El Hadj and Askia Ishaq II (Diop, 1987:126). The town crier announced results of trials or tribunals that were of public interest. Punishment usually meant confiscation of merchandise, or imprisonment, as there were a number of prisons in the Songhai Empire. In fact:

“There was a state prison for political offenders, which seems to have served a purpose similar to that of the Tower of London, and the courtyard of the prison of Kanato was no less famous in local annals than Tower Hill” – Lady Lugard: 1906:199-200.

In addition to the more common forms of punishments, there were rather some strange ones, such as being buried alive inside a sewn-up bull’s hide (Diop, 1987:126). However, the latter punishment concerned a local minister and may have been awarded him because of his status even though there was no information as to the nature of his crime. The use of the word ‘unusual’ is emphasized because in comparison to those used in Britain at the time it was no more barbaric or uncivilized, nor less acceptable than that carried out in Britain during the same period, as Farringdon highlighted:

“The penalty for not attending church in the time of Henry VIII was the loss of one or both ears…His son and successor, Edward VI [made] the crime of brawling in a church or churchyard…punishable by mutilation…Poor standards of hygiene meant that the punishment of mutilation was tantamount to a death penalty for many” – Farringdon, 1996: 27.

As already mentioned, the Qadi worked at local level with several of them posted to the major cities such as Djenne, or Timbuktu. This was also the case for the assara-mundios who were police chiefs as documented by Diop (1987) and Hunwick (1999), both contemporary writers that documented evidence of a number of Arab scholars including Kati and Sadi (African researchers whose work dates back to the 16th century). Diop indicated that the assara-mundio “was a kind of police commissioner” (1987:111), whereas, Hunwick merely made a passing synopsis in his appendix, suggesting that the ‘ashar-mondyo’ could have been an assistant to the Qadi (Hunwick, 1999:336).

Kati (translated from Arabic to French by Houdas and Delafosse in 1913) mentioned this administrative position a number of times. The translated text referred to the following: “assara-moundio de la ville de Djenné” and “…chef de la police ou exécuteur des jugements…” in the associated footnote (Kati, 1913:60); “Le Tombouctou-moundio” and “…commissaire de police de la ville de Tombouctou” in the related footnote (Kati, 1913:202); and “[L]e moundio et le tassara-moundio” and “inspecteur ou chef de la police de la ville” in the related footnote (Kati, 1913:239), which also contains cross-references to p.60 and p.202.

These phrases translated into English denote “assara-moundio of the town of Djenné”, “chief of the police and executor of judgements”, “police commissioner in the town of Timbuktu”, and “inspector and chief of the police of the town” respectively. There are further references to the assara-moundio, police commissioner and executor of judgements in both the text and the footnotes (Kati, 1913:223).

Despite these sources being interpreted from Arabic, it is strikingly archaicthat it suffices to consider it to be synonymous with the present day’s systems of governments and policing decentralization.

African Justice and the law enforcement before Songhai

The security obligation for crime prevention and general law enforcement duties in the traditional African society devolves on various community members, groups, institutions and nomenclatures. Such responsibilities rest on the structural levels of supervision as the family, the extended family, the village, village clusters, the town and groups of towns based on well understood geographical and jurisdictional capacities under considerations.

At each administrative level, there are provisions for security maintenance, crime prevention and general law enforcement in the entirety of community acting together or, as is more often the case, through their elected or appointed representatives as well as by specialized agencies, such as the Age Grades.

Thus, the natives willingly participated in programs and activities crime control and deviancy in the society; that is to say, members individually and collectively play security roles in each society’s law enforcement drive. The main reasons for this wide acceptance and acceptance of the local law enforcement procedures is that the citizens know their social controls, justice and law personnel well. Like in other aspects of social control, justice and law enforcement in indigenous Africa have strong linkage of the traditional mechanisms for maintenance of law and order.

The pre-colonial Africa instruments of law enforcement varied from one community to another; yet, there was originality of security, justice andfairness in the African way of applying the native controls developed out of the local traditions, customs and native laws. In addition to information on the Songhai Empire itself, there are references to justice in western Africa in several books prior to the Songhai Empire as reported by Muslim scholars and merchants who traveled to West Africa between the 11th and 15th centuries. These traditional African crime control and general law preservation were based on peculiarities of the individual society’s historical antecedences, yearnings and aspirations.

While traveling in Ancient Ghana in the 11th century, Al-Bakri for instance referred to the king’s “court of justice” (Levtzion & Spaulding (eds.) 2003:15). Al-Idrisi, writing a century later, also with reference to Ancient Ghana spoke of the “widely-known justice” of the ruler Takruri, besides, he referred to the people of this region as “black in color with crinkled hair” (Levtzion & Spaulding (eds.) 2003:29). Al-Idrisi moreover described another ruler in Ancient Ghana as follows:

“One of his practices in keeping close to the people and upholding justice among them is that he has a corps of army commanders who come on horseback to his palace every morning…When all the commanders have assembled, the king mounts his horse and rides at their head through the lanes of the town and around it. Anyone who has suffered injustice or misfortune confronts him, and stays there until the wrong is remedied… His riding, twice every day, is a well-known practice and this is what is famous about his justice” – Levtzion & Spaulding (eds.) 2003:32-33.

Ibn Khaldun wrote in the fourteenth century that “Mansa Musa [a king in Medieval Mali] was an upright man and a great king, and tales of his justice are still told” (Levtzion & Spaulding (eds.) 2003: 94). Also, in the fourteenth century Al-Qalqashandi mentioned judges, magistrates and jurists, with reference to the king of Borno, Borno being located in the same vicinity as it is now, in north east Nigeria, although in those times Nigeria did not exist as a state. Furthermore,Ancient Ghana was not situated in the same area as modern Ghana. It was situated where modern Senegal and western Mali stand and was a geographical precursor of Songhai. It is believed to have begun in around A.D. 300

This proof of the existence of justice (despite the lack of detail) earlier than Songhai along with that of Songhai itself proves the existence of the criminal justice process among the inhabitants of Africa, prior to colonial influences. Not merely that, the justice system was well organized by fundamental administrative apparatus (i.e. the emperor) and administered at local level.

For instance, the Youth’s Age Grade among the Igbos of southeast Nigeria could be charged with obligation for security and general law enforcement. The community hence could order and expect the Youth’s Age Grade to apply universally sanctioned vigilantism to foil criminal inclinations by identifying, apprehending, and putting on trial suspected social deviants. In addition they may be required to enforce judicial decisions, such recovery of fines (oriri iwu) or publicly shaming and humiliating a non-conformist (igba ekpe) (Okereafoezeke, 1996; 2002).

Also in the pre-colonial era as in communities of the present day Igbo, the mmanwu (masquerade) among other roles has the obligation of preserving and maintaining law and order in Igbo land as the case might be. The masquerade cult (mmanwu) as [traditional] administrative functionary’s has several responsibilities to ensure submission to punishment meted by the commune on an offender. The masquerades could raid an offender’s residence, and confiscate all his properties until the owner paid the stipulated fine for his crime to repossess his property with additional payments of fine. Some of the intelligent masquerades (iga), also mounted surveillance over strategic village interest like streams during the dry season to prevent abuse of use of water and communal utilities – oral account of Noo Udala (102 years elder statesman), native of Umuaga, Agbaja, Igbo, quoted in Isichei, 1978, 74).

“Informal social controls are prevalent throughout the world, especially in developing countries. They are the cornerstone of law enforcement and access to justice for the majority of populations, especially the poor and underprivileged that usually resolve between 80 and 90 percent of disputes through the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

Some aspects of the social control mechanisms in contemporary African societies are hence not unlike those of the pre-colonial practices. Through its direct functions, traditional/informal control systems are considered to significantly enhance people’s access to justice especially for the poor and disadvantaged. Access to justice being characterized as:

“ability of people to seek and obtain a remedy through formal or informal institutions of justice and in conformity with human rights standards”.

Four main characteristics of traditional/informal justice systems explain their role in enhancing effective crime control.

  •  Use of local languages: the language(s) used in traditional/control systems is indigenous and thus familiar to the common people, whereas the formal system generally uses only the official language(s) of the state which may be unfamiliar to many people living in rural communities.
  • Geographical proximity: institutions of the formal control systems are usually located in the capital city or regional capitals and are thus geographically remote from people living in rural communities. Traditional/informal control systems on the other hand are located in villages and are geographically easily accessible to people. 
  • Cultural relevance: formal legal proceedings can be complicated and confusing, whereas traditional/informal ones are more familiar and easily understood; it therefore has a better chance to fit the priorities of the communities and local implications of a conflict; hence, its verdicts may be better accepted.
  • Costliness: preference for the formal security system can be costly and time-consuming because it often entails traveling long distances, paying transportation costs and legal fees, all of which are generally very reduced with the traditional/informal control, this system can also be more efficient as it is generally less bureaucratic.

In short, “informal controls are often more accessible to poor and disadvantaged people and may have the potential to provide quick, cheap and culturally relevant remedies.” Moreover, in post-conflict societies, people may use traditional and informal control systems not only because these systems outperform formal ones but also because they often deal with issues that the formal justice system does not, or they find solutions and deliver remedies in ways that are more relevant, effective or socially acceptable.

Factors that promote native social control in modern African States

Citing the Nigerian State to exemplify this segment of the article and to succinctly pinpoint legitimacy for examining reasons for preference of traditional social control method, Okafo (2005), extensively draws on the August 2004 Okija incident (in which the Nigeria Police Force retrieved dozens of human skulls and decomposing corpses from an “evil forest” at the site of Ogwugwu Isiula, Okija, a traditional Igbo shrine in Okija town – southeast, Nigeria) to illustrate the efficacy of traditional social controls bearing evil oddity that is morally reprehensible, and asks:

“Why do the Okija’s … exist and flourish among us?” The fact that Nigeria’s official Criminal Code criminalizes the type of traditional crime management that apparently occurred in the August 2004 Okija incident makes this question particularly relevant. The Code defines this form of native-based crime management as a “trial by ordeal” punishable under sections 207-213. In view of this pungent, negative official attitude toward this traditional process, those Nigerians that persist in managing their civil and criminal cases through the deities must be doing so for compelling reasons.

 The prevalence and as many would argue for efficacy of the native social control mechanisms in postcolonial African States is very well established (see Nzimiro, 1972; Okereafezeke, 2002; Elechi, 2006) with (Okafo: 2005, Okereafezeke, 2006) further advancing a number of justifications for the continued resort to spiritualisms and mystical practices approximating the Okija’s and other such indigenous criminal justice process in the society as enunciated by the following explanations:

  1. (Perceived) Ineffectiveness and Inefficiency of English Law and Justice: In the face of escalating societal crimes (particularly unsolved violent crimes), many, perhaps most Nigerians no longer have faith in the formal crime control mechanisms and view the English system of law and justice as ineffective and inefficient.
  2. Alienation from the British-Imposed, English System: The imposed English-built common law system of social control lacks the basis as practiced in Nigeria because it is bereft of the cultural essence it enjoys back home in its native England. The common law hence, is a failure for vote of no confidence by the people.
  3. Pride in Culture: The innovation and persistence of home-grown social control techniques somewhat derives from assorted African natural human inclination to resist British “substitutive interaction” (Okereafezeke, 20: 18-20) policies toward the natives. By their obnoxious policies, the colonialists sought to abolish, emasculate, or substitute the original justice systems and practices with the British versions.
  4. Mounting evidence against a “Developing, Modern Nigeria”: In virtually every respect, the public institutions and infrastructure of the State (energy, road networks, Medicare, educational institutions, electoral process and organization, etc.) have become very much tarnished. Nowadays, the public utilities and infrastructure are in virtually all respect become decadent far worse than they were under British imperial rule, mainly because of entrenched corruption of the unfeasible colonial heritage.
  5. Yearning for speedy and cheap dispensation of justice: Justice in the English-based judicial system is too expensive, time consuming, and unresponsive to the aspiration of the common people and indigenous African culture. The continent’s native social control mechanisms on the other hand, appear to satisfy this nostalgia for quicker, informal, less expensive and culturally relevant justice and social order.

These and many more reasons as submitted above for a sustained and enduring appliance of the native social control model support the opinion that the tradition will not die in hurry. There are credible and objective socio-cultural and coherent ethnic cum religious reasons, beside explanations of ineffectiveness of the formal justice administration system over and above peoples’ conceit, and indifference occasioned by resources limitation in favor of the traditional African belief to fall back on their accustomed native social controls, rather than the atypical English-based system. The practice will probably endure and most likely wax stronger as people lose faith in the official English-based system.

As with many African countries, as long as the aforesaid reasons persist, indigenous law enforcement systems and practices and other social control apparatus will continue to thrive and persist even stronger in “modern” African states. With particular focus on law enforcement as with the Nigerian model, the subsequent sections of this article examines the role of indigenous law enforcement as well as the nature of the relationships between the local and the official European-based criminal justice systems.

Eurocentric thought and Afrocentric evidence

Returning to Roberts’ comments, the preponderance of above facts highlight a variety of ministerial positions, a regional structure of the government, Ministers for minorities, judges, Police Commissioners and academics. Not only are these facts very well established they are presented to be of high status known to England of that time, making the comments about the need to impose systems of government or references to anarchy groundless and unwarranted.

Furthermore, they provided services for people in their country something relative to modern the criminal justice concept in Europe. Whilst being mindful of Howe’s disdain for comparing these achievements with modern societies, examining Songhai in tandem with Britain during the 14th and 16th centuries on a purely comparative term would be remarkably curious in the context of knowing how the two were analogous or dissimilar.

What is unclear – perhaps as a result of the Eurocentric slanting of Africa’s past and partial distorting of the information about it – is that there is little evidence provided beyond how these individuals carried out their ministerial or administrative tasks. The supplementary works on Songhai’s antecedents pose further questions for example, as to who created these arrangements and why? Evidence suggest that between 10th and 16th centuries, West Africa advanced a system of criminal justice and governance contrasting what is portrayed by the colonizers, their successors, or modern commentators.

Yet, that is not to say that these are anything comparable to the arrangements obtainable in Britain in the past. But, in addressing the rationalizations of Toynbee, Churchill, Roberts and the Home Office, it does not seem to be the deficiency of good governance or administration, nor the ‘better’ criminal justice systems that need to be imposed that is the kernel of the Eurocentric defamations of Africa, given that Britain was at a point in history at similar stage of development. Again this shows that the African perceptions in contemporary societies (in the UK and/or other Western countries for example) are no different to, and have their origins in pre-colonial sentiments. To be exact, the powers that be should change their negative attitudes towards Africa and to rather prevail on professionals to adopt more investigations of the criminal justice field from the indigenous facets.

Finally, most of the works examined in this article, despite being rooted in primary evidence does not seem to even infer a lack of cultured behavior of the African or the black people en bloc. Whereas evidence and other findings above suggest that:

  • In terms of administration and governance there are similarities with Western systems (especially Britain);
  • In some instances the Songhai governments surpassed their European counterparts, providing ministers for subgroups in their kingdom, strife or conquest was the criterion of European appraisal of events at that time. The invasion of Mali does not appear odd when examined alongside similar European attempted incursions like the Spanish Armada yet that society in considered more humane than Africa.

This final point that must be made tends to explain interpretations of the Eurocentric theorists: that what occurred in pre-colonial Africa, despite the semblance of events or achievements of the both societies is that they are not viewed as equal.

The evidence provided only serves to demonstrate that not only are these notions (and that is all they are), are not premised on objective facts. This is especially disturbing because these designs are the nearest to the mainstream view in many societies all over the world and moreover impedes the likelihood of an impeccable African Historical Criminology. Unless the one-sidedness is redressed the status quo remains with the recurrent twisted state of affairs.


Society is made of people with diverse cultures, manners and ways of life, yet people must relate with one another in the course of daily existence. By this process, some do intentionally or advertently step on the toes of others. Redress mechanisms has to be in place so as to check the excesses of the lawbreakers and delinquents, if peace and order are to be maintained in an organized society. It is against this backdrop that the state creates the criminal justice apparatuses to regulate the societal conduct.

The Criminal Justice System in Africa has a good history that was developed from sources, the subject matters of which have been examined in great details in this article. In most pre-colonial states of Africa (like Nigeria), there existed some systems of customary criminal law which regulated the standards of behaviour of the people; even though the laws were generally unwritten.

The communities with Islamic religious practices had a highly developed system of Moslem law that regulates societal conducts and crime control with different schools as the Maliki being one of the most prominent. Paganism also with its unique traditional religious practices enforced communal discipline with its peculiar criminal law. But when the modern English common law practice was introduced into the colonies (in the case of Nigeria by ordinance No. 3 of 1863 the Customary Criminal Law was unconditionally abolished by a proclamation articulated in the 1959 Bill of Rights developed and approved by the Colonial Government in London. The various political evolutions in the diverse protectorates and colonies hence manifested transformation of of customary criminal law practice into the English common law system.

Lord Lugard (governor of the Northern protectorate) for example in 1904 introduced by proclamation a Criminal Code which incidentally was made applicable to the whole of Nigeria in 1916 after an ignoble amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914. Yet, elsewhere, particularly in some parts of Southern Nigeria, the application of customary criminal law remained in practice. The British Government however incorporated the following clause into section 22 (10) of the 1963 Republican Constitution. That section of the constitution reads:

“No person shall be convicted of a criminal offence unless that offence is defined and the penalty therefore is prescribed in a written law”.

The foregoing became basis for later court’s decisions, as in the case of Aoko V. Fagbemi (1961) I All M 400. In that case, the court held that a woman could no longer be convicted of adultery (a morally reprehensible conduct) which has not been elevated to the level of a crime in the Criminal Code, effectively outlawing the unwritten customary criminal law enforcement because the state’s codified the criminal law system (Criminal Code and the Penal Code) supercedes the indegenous criminal law of the people. While for effective administration of Criminal Justice administration, the courts are only authorized to apply the English patterned codified Criminal Procedure code, and the Criminal Procedure Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, created by the custom of the people and decisions of judges in England.

The facts so far presented, climaxes Eurocentric biasedness of the workings of pre-colonial Africa criminal justice system with several aspects of the social control mechanisms permeating contemporary African societies, unlike the pre-colonial practices, the functions of the traditional/informal control systems significantly enhance people’s access to justice especially the poor and underprivileged who cannot afford the grandiure, costiliness and cumbersomeness of the Western type.

One main attribute of this was a two-tier system of justice, where customary law/Sharia law practices was dealt with by the Qadi, and royal justice administered by the King concerning crimes of treason. The regional police chief documented as the police chief assisted the Qadi, with their provincial responsibilities’ law enforcement and justice administration.

This comparison of historical criminal justice in Songhai hence exemplifies a number of parallels with Britain’s criminal justice system of the same period, for example the practice of common-law. That is, the judicial interpretations of local customs (in the case of the Qadi concerning the interpretation of Sharia law) and the decisions made thereof. This has been the foundation of the laws (including criminal law) in many countries around the world, including England and Wales. The similarities in terms of the more common punishments meted out (imprisonment, fine and confiscation of offender’s property) and also the systems of policing were alsoperceptible.

To reiterate, the Songhai Empire was only a small fragment of a vast African continent. In creating an image of the pre-colonial criminal justice process, the extant evidences are quite conclusive. Nonetheless, it may not be suggestive to assert that Songhai reflected other regions of the continent, neither is it possible without further proof to compare and contrast the different regions of Africa at that time.

Finally, with reference to the notion of British open-mindedness and fairness, history is replete with Eurocentric detachment and lack of objectivity of the criminal justice system involving Britain and other western interest (see Mhlanga, 1997; MacPherson, 1999; Bowling & Phillips, 2002; Phillips & Bowling, 2002; Young, 2002; Agozino, 2003). This again serves to undermine the validity of ‘impartial justice’ and the expediency of exploiting this reason to re-colonize Africa just as it were, as an unfortunate, erroneous and subjective justification or explanation with reference to pre-colonial Africa. 


James O. Akpeninor

Author/Security Consultant

Tel: 2348032396800

Email: jameskpeninor@gmail.com


Source by James Ohwofasa Akpeninor