Customary Law Principles as a Tool for Human Rights Advocacy: Innovating Nigerian Customary Practices Using Lessons from Ugandan and South African Courts

The concept of human rights has been criticized by some African scholars and leaders as a Western imposition of values, with such criticisms delegitimizing human rights efforts in Africa. In addition, international human rights institutions are often too far-removed from the everyday realities of most Africans, and thus are abstract means of vindicating basic rights and freedoms. This Note argues, in light of this context, and in response to anti-imperialist human rights criticisms, that a more immediate and seemingly legitimate means of human rights reform lies in courts using customary law norms, and the principles inherent at their origin, to push customary law to be more human rights compatible. The Note analyses a case from South Africa and a case from Uganda, where the customary practices of first-son inheritance and “bride price” were at issue, to showcase how Nigerian courts can draw on historical customary law principles to advance the law. The Note discusses women’s rights in Nigeria as a body of law where such reform can be useful. 

56 Colum. J. Transnat'l L. 636