Due to the current challenges of the current penal system in Nigeria, including its inability to effectively deter the commission of crimes and re-offending rates, stakeholders in the criminal justice system have made calls for an alternative response. One possible alternative is making greater use of Restorative Justice (RJ). This is due to the perceived similarities between RJ and pre-colonial restorative practices in Nigeria. Before colonial rule, the main objective of the pre-colonial justice systems was to restore social safety with little or no recourse to the use of extreme punishments like imprisonment or the death penalty. This paper first conducts a historical exploration of the justice systems in the Igbo communities in pre-colonial eastern Nigeria as a case study. It proceeds to conduct a comparative analysis between RJ and the aforementioned pre-colonial Igbo justice systems and concludes that they both share similar principles and practices.
These findings provide the foundation for the argument that RJ can functions as a 21st century alternative and for its integration into rehabilitation programmes in Nigerian prisons. This paper concludes with recommendations for its implementation in the Nigeria penal system.
Key words: Nigeria, Igbo Pre-Colonial Justice Practices, Crime, Punishment, Restorative Justice