Call for Insulation of Traditional Rulers From Politics and Interference From the Executive

March 15 21:28 2020

The recent dethronement and banishment of the Emir of Kano, HRH Lamido Sanusi II, has brought to the front burner the gradual but now entrenched desecration of the position of traditional rulers in the country. It did not start with Sanusi nor will it end with him except urgent actions are taken to protect their sanctity and insulate them from non- permissible unilateral executive decision- making.

EVER since that ill-fated attempt by the erstwhile British colonial administration Nigeria to impose on the people a uniform system of local administration, Nigerians have continued in the endless search for a role or function for traditional rulers in the country.

Faced with the problems of funds and lack of qualified personnel to help administer its newly acquired territory, but not willing to commit its resources in a foreign land, the colonial government decided to apply the “very efficient” emirate system which it found in the northern part of the country to other parts of the territory without taking into account the cultural differences and political outlook among the people. That was the Lugard’s Indirect Rule system, whereby some few favoured individuals were selected and imposed on the people as “Warrant Chiefs” and told to run the day-to-day affairs of their various communities subject, however, to the overall control or supervision by British Officials sitting at the remote headquarters of the administration.

The imposition of colonial rule on the South undoubtedly altered the hitherto traditional political system. The traditional political institutions under this new dispensation i.e. colonialism suffered a departure from the previous arrangement. These were as a result of the administrative policies initiated by the British government. In the period of the de-colonialization, traditional institutions were further weakened by their involvement in partisan politics. During this period, the traditional rulers were further confused about what specific role to play. This dilemma was further entrenched by the emergence of political parties and their activities. These parties started competing bitterly for control.  Thus, for quick and effective impact of the political parties at the grassroots, each party relentlessly strove to secure the support of the Chiefs.

 Independence no doubt also changed the status of the traditional rulers. It is a period when traditional rulers become mere appendages of politicians or of parliamentary enactments. This situation further exposed the traditional rulers to an agonizing dilemma. This period was an era of successive civilian and military regimes in Nigeria. These regimes had their different ideas of what duties they wanted to assign to the traditional rulers in Nigeria. With the Military coming to power in 1966 and the suspension of partisan politics, traditional rulers were virtually removed from governing their people at the state level. Thus, Military intervention in politics in Nigeria ushered in period of gradual reduction of the participatory role of traditional rulers in local matters.

In an attempt to modify the roles of traditional rulers in the governance of their people, there was the local government reforms of 1976 which for the first time in the history of Nigeria were centrally conceived and implemented. This reform, spelt out a non-executive function for the traditional rulers. The 1979 constitution however, did not improve on the former position of traditional chiefs. It prescribed no executive role for them in the political system and it also insulated them from partisan politics thereby depriving them of any serious political power. This was the situation in which traditional institutions found themselves and which still persists up till today.

Traditional rulers are seen, across the country, as the custodians of our culture and, as such, are expected to be neutral father figures in their respective domains. Some of them are so highly regarded in their areas of influence that they are also accorded spiritual authority as well. Because their authority is rooted in tradition and culture, they readily command the respect of all their subjects.

Traditional rulers, ideally, reciprocate this reverence by not taking sides in contestable matters, such as politics or lawsuits. Because of this, many of them are seen as pillars of stability not only in their various communities but in their states and, in some cases, in the whole country.

Traditional rulers should remain politically neutral. They are the ones the citizens, in spite of their political stance or affiliation, should look up to for succor in all manner of circumstances.

In spite of the existence of formal courts, many of our rural folks still resort to the intervention of traditional rulers for the settlement of their petty socio-cultural and even criminal matters. This is because traditional mediation is usually cheaper and more accessible. Justice is dispensed swiftly and, in customary terms, fairly.

The enviable positions our traditional rulers occupy do not obtain in the countries we borrowed our electoral practices from and it is imperative that, to maintain the stability of our polity, we should strive to preserve and guard jealously the sanctity of our traditional institutions.

Vision 2010 Committee (1997), First Presidential Retreat of National Security (2001), Presidential Panel on National Security (2002), and the Panel on 2011 Electoral Violence (2011), among other ad hoc bodies set up by government to study matters concerning security and welfare of Nigerians, have all given due attention to the role of traditional rulers in governance in Nigeria.

Findings reveal that the partisanship of some traditional rulers was one of the major factors that provoked communal violence in the past. It was also one of the reasons why traditional institutions in such communities were unable to contain or nip such violence in the bud.

Although the existence of traditional rulers is statutorily inconsistent with the republican system of governance practised in Nigeria, it has been generally appreciated that the traditional institution has become an integral part of the Nigerian society.

Indeed, government, in manifest recognition of the interwoven nature of the functions of traditional rulers, has so far refrained from prescribing a constitutional role for them or stipulating their responsibilities by law.

Such a law, it is felt, would circumscribe their powers and offer the citizen the temptation to challenge them when they go outside it. For now, traditional rulers seem to be protected by the old-fashioned but usually uncontested saying, ‘The king can do no wrong.’

This saying is now being  openly challenged through the reckless manner in which Governors intervene in the management of the affairs of traditional institutions through imposition, creation of autonomous communities and Emirates without recourse to history and  diversity  and unilateral deposition and banishment on flimsy and unsubstantiated excuses.  

What is strongly being advocated here is that Nigeria being a country of great diversity, traditional rulers and traditional institutions should be pillars of stability. This should be consciously nurtured to insulate them from political partisanship and executive interference, especially in the face of increasingly unbridled contest for power among our politicians.

Traditional institutions should be like other pillars of stability in the country, such as the judiciary, the security services and religious bodies, which are expected to be politically neutral.

Traditional institutions, as custodians of tradition and culture, preoccupy themselves with maintenance of peace and security at the state and grassroots levels. They seize upon their closeness to their subjects to articulate their interests and put them across as shopping lists to any candidate who, out of respect, may pay homage to them during their political campaigns. They must be seen to demonstrate, by their actions and utterances, political neutrality in that regard.

In the past, traditional rulers engaged in the policing of their communities and ran vigilante activities to ensure the security and safety of the subjects. Today with political incursion and executive interference in their activities, we are witnessing rising cases of banditry, kidnapping armed robbery, proliferation of small arms and terrorism because the perpetrators have their stronghold and sponsors in the political establishment who use as thugs an ballot box warriors during elections. Traditional rulers are no longer in control of their communities and watch helplessly as their subjects are killed, maimed and raped.

There must be some social institutions that thrive above sectarian and political divides in any stable polity.

The nobility and neutrality of our traditional institution should be preserved to ensure that it continues to function as one of the credible pillars of our communities, states and the nation.

In spite of the general contemptuous treatment of the traditional rulers, there is no doubt about their relevance in modern governance in Nigeria. The traditional rulers could provide the necessary link between the past and the present in the most objective and rational way. They are also useful in championing developmental projects in their communities. Since they are closer to the people, they no doubt know the problems faced by them and therefore table them before the government. Consequently, government will be aware of such problems and proffer solution to them.

History shows that despite their general contemptuous treatment their relevance in modern governance in Nigeria is incontrovertible and this fact was recognized by some administrations. Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi, the first military head of state held a major conference with the representatives of the traditional rulers in Ibadan on June 28, 1966. One of the reasons for holding such a meeting was to explain fully the political programmes of the new administration with a view to enlisting the support of the traditional rulers. The new military government sought for the cooperation of traditional rulers for some reasons, which the military believed that after the elimination of the politicians, the traditional rulers were to be brought in to act as advisers and the channel of communication with the masses of the country. Secondly, the political inexperience of the military gave them the impression that the traditional rulers could provide the necessary link between the past and the present in the most objective and rational way.

Traditional rulers act as agents of peace-making in the society. In the administration of justice, settle disputes such as land and chieftaincy disputes and therefore there is the need for the continued recognition of the institution as a force in politics. This is because the royal fathers still enjoy grassroots acceptance based on the view that it symbolized their heritage and sense of identity. Thus, one of the most remarkable contributions of the royal fathers to the development of their areas has been the way they forged a sense of oneness among their people. It was based on these virtues that the military governments used them, not only to legitimize their ruler but, in seeking their support in times of crisis. To them, therefore, the traditional rulers were the most valuable asset the nation had which is now being systematically destroyed by politicians through executive recklessness.

We are therefore calling on the National Assembly to amend the 1999 Constitution to provide a role for traditional Rulers, provide for the establishment of the National Council of Traditional Rulers and most importantly revert the power for their selection and removal to the people, their subjects according to established customs and tradition.

They are indeed our most important asset.

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