By Solomon Runsewe & Damilola Akinmolayan
Traditional institution play a vital role in the society. Indeed, in the olden days, traditional rulers were the royal fathers in their various domains, and they perform better in accomplishing democracy, but with the coming of colonialists and democracy, the role of the traditional rulers became less recognized in a democratic system of government. What is the status of traditional rulers under the Nigerian Constitution? The Hope classics spoke with some stakeholders on the matter. Excerpts:
Traditional rulers are integral part of Governance in Nigeria as they help to serve as bridge through which the Government can get to the grassroots. The traditional rulers play useful roles in mediating between the people and the state, enhancing national identity, resolving minor conflicts and providing an institutional safety-valve for often inadequate state bureaucracies.
Traditional rulers are custodian of tradition, custom and customary law and these give them the power to adjudicate on minor issues in the community while their subjects often agree to their decisions being binding on them. The power enshrined in the traditional rulers make their relevance unquestionable but there is a limit to what they can do in governance. Traditional rulers today are still highly respected in many communities, and have considerable political and economic influence. Although they have no formal role in the democratic structure which makes their status to be of less importance in the system of government in Nigeria.
Under indirect rule administration, although the Oba received more pay, they lost their traditional ties and respect which joined them to their people.
The adoption of the indirect system of ruling had led to the power and authority of the Oba being tremendously and considerably diminished.
The white colonial masters went as far as deposing some traditional rulers who were considered too rude or uncooperative.
The increase of power work took its turn on the Oba. Gradually, they were turned into civil servants and bureaucrats who had little or no time left for the affairs of the people.
They could no longer perform their usual hospitality to their people. This marked the beginning of the predicament faced by the head of indigenous institutions because the Resident and District Offices started to control financial policies and the laws of succession and dethronement.
The traditional institution in modern Nigeria is confronted with several matters such as struggle for headship among traditional leaders in the Assembly of Traditional Leaders, participation in biased politics for individual gains and giving support for the reigning governments whether military or civilian.
Knowingly, the traditional rulers in the Nigerian context have also been suspected of continuous involvement in traditional centenary and ceremonial despite contemporary inspirations.
Besides, traditional institutions in Nigeria are caring of giving traditional rulers titles to rich and prosperous people in the society who have not made any important contribution to the development and growth of the society for their individual exaggeration and physical gains.
As maintained above, all these criticisms of the traditional institutions in contemporary Nigeria are insightful of the over-all political corruption in the country and not exceptional to traditional leadership.
The Nigeria traditional institutions have also contributed to destroying the institutions. This is because of the attitude of some traditional institutions that have been politicised by the corrupt politicians, for personal interests, so also some of the traditional rulers have polluted minds that contributed to negating the power of the traditional rulers in maintaining stable democracy in the nation.
I will suggest that leaders are supposed to be truthful, dedicated, honest and above all accountable, this would help in sustaining stable democracy and good governance.
Nigeria, many centuries before the advent of the British Colonialists into her political space in the nineteenth century, was certainly not a tabula rasa, as the various ethnic and tribal groups constituting our modern day Nigeria had diverse body of rules based on their customs, culture and traditions, regulating their activities and interactions. At this pre-colonial era, Nigeria was effectively run by Native Laws and Customs, which were predominantly unwritten, but commanded total obedience by the communities that were subject to them. It is pertinent and interesting to note that the drivers, or put more succinctly, the custodians and repositories of these native laws and customs, were and still are the Traditional Rulers, who are often aptly and reverently referred to as Royal Fathers.
The British Colonialists were so impressed with the way the traditional rulers were ruling their subjects when they came, and this prompted them to integrate the native laws and customs into the body of rules they brought along and eventually imposed on Nigeria.
Indeed the traditional rulers were well respected and given official recognition for their commendable roles in justice administration to the extent that they were given official functions which were eventually entrenched in both the 1960 and 1963 Nigeria Independence and Republican Constitution, when she was operating Parliamentary Democracy. The status of traditional rulers was greatly enhanced when the said Constitution made provision for the creation of the House of Chiefs which made the then traditional rulers active and official participants in the running of Nigeria Government, not only at the State level but even at the Federal level.
It is instructive to note that all the States in Nigeria accord traditional rulers enviable legal status and this is quite evident in that all the States have enacted the Chiefs Laws in their respective States wherein statutorily recognized functions were assigned to all the recognized chieftaincies. In further recognition of the enormous and commendable roles played by the traditional rulers in maintaining law and order and peaceful co-existence in their various domains, they are paid salaries and other maintenance allowances; some were and still being provided with mobility in form of cars.
The core functions of these traditional rulers include inter alia, settlement of all conflicts arising from the customs, culture and traditions of the people, such as customary landholdings/tenure, matrimonial causes, boundary disputes, and even to a reasonable extent, criminal issues such as robbery, kidnapping, stealing, etc.
In some cases, the traditional rulers serve as veritable channels through which government policies and programmes are communicated to the people, particularly those living in the rural areas.
It is disheartening to note however that even though the Traditional Rulers functions are strictly restricted to customary issues as patently stipulated in the various Chiefs Laws of the States, the extant Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which provides for Presidential System of Government fails to give the much needed and richly deserved legal status to our traditional fathers.
It is equally very sad to note that some of these supposedly royal fathers have debased and derogated the exalted Royal Stools by becoming and functioning as political stooges of the notable political office holders by procuring for these politicians, thugs who perpetrate heinous electoral malpractices before, during and after elections to achieve undeserved electoral victory for these unscrupulous politicians. Indeed, many traditional rulers have been dethroned or suspended unjustly for political reasons, not only by some past military juntas but also by democratically elected governors. The celebrated yet a despicable deposition of a former CBN governor as an Emir by Alhaji Abdullahi Ganduje (Governor of Kano State) leaves very sour taste in the mouth, and cannot be easily forgotten!
The reasons for these demeaning and shabby treatment mainly by the State Governors are not far-fetched, as it could easily and correctly attributable to the fact that all recognized traditional rulers are installed, and given Staff of Office, which is a symbol of authority, by the State Governments through their respective Ministry of Local Governments and Chieftaincy Affairs and Local Government Authorities. Sadly too, the tenure of these royal fathers which normally should ensure in perpetuity or till death, is in most cases at the pleasure, whims and caprices of the Governor! The remuneration and grading/ratings of the traditional rulers are the exclusive preserve of the Executive Governors, and this is one of the major reasons why some supposedly royal fathers are more or less subservient to, or better still, stooge of the Governors in their political interests, thereby compromising the interests of the larger society.
The enormous responsibilities of traditional rulers in ensuring peaceful co-existence amongst the citizens and helping the security agencies in curbing criminal activities as well as helping in the decongestion of court cases, cannot be gainsaid. Therefore it is my humble submission that the status of our royal fathers should be further and better enhanced by giving constitutional backing to the office of our traditional rulers by creating constitutionally recognized functions for them. By this, the dwindling or lost glory of our traditional rulers/royal fathers will be rekindled, and this certainly will spur them to put in their best in the national duty of ensuring and sustaining a peaceful, just and egalitarian society in Nigeria.
The current 1999 constitution, however does not mention the traditional institution at all thereby reversing most of the gains the institution made over the years. Traditional rulers possess accurate local knowledge going back many years and may also have good networks of communication with the grassroots through title holders, traditional rulers were accorded with responsibility during colonial rule, they were members of colonial administration apparatus they were given wide power over matters in their domains.
There area number of factors that have contributed and are still contributing to the gradual loss of relevance of traditional rulers in governance of recent. Fatile (2010) posits that, these factors are self inflicted by the traditional institutions itself while others are systematically engendered.
First of the self inflicted factors is the non regard for due process in their appointment. Traditionally, the appointment of traditional rulers follow laid down traditional procedure whereby only members of the royal families had the right to be so crowned. In several parts of the country many of the current crops of traditional rulers’ ancestry cannot be traced to any form of royalty.
Instances about where history is invented to favour some candidates for royal tools over another.
The proliferation of chieftaincy titles has not also helped matters. Whereas in the past it was not normal for two traditional rulers to operate in the same domain, this is not the case now where people leave their state of origin to crown themselves as traditional rulers in ‘foreign land’.
The proliferation of Eze Ndigbo chieftaincy title all over Nigeria is a case in reference (Fajonyomi, It got to head in some states like Oyo and Lagos that holders of such traditional titles were banned from using them.
Further to the above is in-fighting and competition among traditional title holders over seniority.
In an attempt to secure assistance in their search for superiority over one another, traditional rulers tactically engage in partisan politics by backing candidates who they believe can support their cause. This is against their expected role of non partisanship in the discharge of their royal functions.
Systemically, the political process is not in favour of traditional rulers. Traditional rulers, by their relationship to land tenure and sale, had access to enormous wealth.
This however changed with the promulgation of the Land Use Decree of 1978 which reversed ownership of land to State government. The 1984 law which gave five percent (5%) of revenue allocated to local-governments to traditional rulers that are in the local government, in addition to monthly salaries paid to them by state government may be considered as a form of compensation.
This however it is not comparable to the life style some of them were used to. In fact most local governments do not remit this 5% to traditional rulers at all or only pay after pressures from superior tiers of government.
Government at all levels need to demonstrate readiness to the roles of traditional rulers in other to build and enhance local capacity, we need to understand the roles of traditional rulers in the chain of land disputes so as to place land administration in a stronger position, both countrywide and at the local level. Traditional rulers must not abuse their office in order to command public respect.
In fact, traditional rulers are the effective access to the people. In most communities, the structure is that the elders and traditional rulers enjoy very powerful position in the communities.
This highly influential position can be explored by government to the advantage of the general public.
The reliance of the local community and their ruling structure offers great advantage. It is possible to strengthen the local capacity for management and settlement of disputes rather than imposing the formal state legal system.
The traditional institution is one of the oldest institutions of administration in Nigeria. The institution is rooted in the culture, history and traditions of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. In practical terms, the institution overtime has contributed to the process of administering Nigeria in the pre-colonial times,
The roles of traditional institution during the pre-colonial times were important and respected administrative body of different ethnic and cultural bodies. Under the colonial period, the traditional institution roles in Nigeria are linked to several events. First, to the administrative process of the colonies- agent of indirect rule, collection of colonial taxes and promotion of colonial economic goals. In matters of politics, the amalgamation of the northern and Southern protectorate after the agitations of the National Council of British West African State for Elective Principles put the institution at the center stage of politics. In the early hours of the amalgamation, Nigeria traditional rulers played an important role as unofficial members. Two Emirs from the north, the Alaafin of Oyo, and other official members from Lagos, Calabar, and Benin-Warri axis. The formal introduction of elective principle under the governor General Hugh Clifford in 1922 relegated the position of the traditional ruler to matters of local administration under Native Authority Ordinances, Proclamations while political matters were entrusted for the elites. Since the post-independence period, traditional institution does not have any constitutional role or function in matters of governance and administration. In practical terms, traditional rulers do not have any official role to play in the political machinery and governance in contemporary Nigeria. At best, they serve in an unofficial capacity as mere advisory body to the local, state and federal government functionaries.
In Nigeria today, democratic government claims their legitimacy i.e. acceptance and recognition through general election, it is crystal clear also that despite the constitutional restriction of traditional institutions from matters of democratic governance, there is ample evidence to show that traditional leaders have been accomplices in election victimization and use of traditional institutions to manipulate the electoral processes. In Nigeria today, scholars and public policy makers have argued that traditional institutions are facing a problem of relevance and recognition in modern democratic space. These relevance, survival and recognition issue are measured in humiliation of the personality and individual authority of the traditional rulers, restriction from public policies and local administration, relegation of welfarism policies for traditional institution such as salary stoppage as well as salary reduction and suspension of salary payment. A vivid example is the suspension of the Ibeyanaowei of Oluasiri by the Bayelsa state government accusing him of flagrant abuse of state government directives (Sahara Reporters 2018). In similar vein, scholars have argued that traditional institutions in Nigeria are not battling with issues of relevance but rather constitutional relevance in Nigeria political domain. This is because their subject still held in them high esteem. Traditional institutions in Nigeria have been battling with the inability of Nigeria system of administration to incorporate the role of traditional institution not only in her constitution but also in her inability to possess a suitable system of administration that incorporate these institution towards a sustainable democratic structures.