In the contributions of Babafemi Badejo and S.A. Ogunyemi to the relevance of traditional rulership in Nigeria since the pre-colonial period till date, they opined that: “the institution of traditional rulership is a historic relic that belongs to antiquity: These relics of bye-gone instruments of oppression which are a constant reminder of uneven social development and sociological disunity are relevant to a society currently subject to the objective laws of capitalism controlled from the Western imperial seat of power.”
These impressions as articulated by the two scholars is to suggest that in view of the ancient nature of the monarchical institutions, the emergence of modern capitalism and the social content of disunity in Africa, with Nigeria inclusive, and traditional organs ought to be crippled and disbanded. Put simply, it is to stress that traditional rulership is no longer relevant and therefore should be dumped into the dustbin of history.
Perhaps, these assertions, too, were basically the intents and purposes which influenced the Babangida’s military government to constitute the Political Bureau Committee in 1986. The major term of reference of the committee was to ascertain the political preferences of Nigerians. This prompted the committee to organise serial national debates while it received abundant memoranda from Nigerians. In its report, however, the committee stated that the issue of traditional rulership was one of the topics in the debate which generated considerable interest. The 1979 Constitution which was an offshoot of the political bureau report denied the traditional rulers any formal political role in the new dispensation.
The 1979 Constitution which was anchored on the Political Bureau report was a sharp contradiction to the 1963 Constitution which created a legislative council for the traditional rulers in each of the three regions of Nigeria. It should be observed also that the 1989 and 1995 Constitutions made no provision for any meaningful political functions for the traditional rulers. The sentiment displayed by the framers of the three constitutions was that traditional rulers were irrelevant within the context of a Nigerian democracy which emphasizes achievement rather than ascribed status. Those who framed the constitutions were also uncomfortable in providing a constitutional role for the kings whose mode of exercising political power appears to be in conflict with the ideals of democratic rule.
It must be stated without any contradiction that the 1979, 1989 and 1999 Constitutions were deliberate attempts to relegate and diminish the political relevance of traditional rulers. Due to the uncomfortable habits of the political class and the framers of the constitutions, are we to conclude therefore, that the monarchs are no longer quintessential in the political and constitutional development of Nigeria as a sovereign state. My immediate response is to affirm and attest to the fact that it would be difficult for Nigeria to exist peacefully without the traditional and official roles of our monarchical institutions. Their roles are very crucial and essential in this regard.
Again I want to ask if traditional rulers are not important in the Nigerian societies, then why should there be acrimonies and disputes over successions to their thrones when vacant? Instances abound in the appointment of Ibrahim Dansuki over Muhammadu Maccido as the Sultan of Sokoto in 1988 which led to severe riots and the killings of 13 people. Also, dispute arose between two contestants to the throne of the Oluo of Ikeoyi in Kwara State in September 1993 which 1ed to several deaths and the of destruction of properties. In 1997, riots broke out in Agila village, Benue State, when an attempt was made by the state government to impose a new second class chief on the people. Several people died during the disturbances while their homes were looted, vandalized and burnt.
According to the late maximum ruler, General Sani Abacha, the institution of traditional rulers is an enduring part of our heritage. It plays a critical role as the custodian of our culture and tradition. Expectedly, our traditional rulers are closely linked with the grassroots and so understand the problems of our people. In our search for peace, order and stability in our society, the institution could be a veritable instrument. It is in the overall interest of our people.
It is my contention to add that even in the past, Military Governors and Administrators who were newly appointed, paid visits to influential traditional rulers in their domains and to solicit for their co-operation to enable them succeed as rulers. Within the civilian political class, virtually all those seeking for electoral contests will pay courtesy visits to the paramount rulers. The well-defined purpose is to seek for prayers, blessings and to drum up support for their political aspirations and ambitions. Even when the members of the civilian political class are through with their elections, they still pay regular visits to the paramount rulers for their maximum co-operation.
The traditional institutions actually elicit greater confidence and legitimacy in the eyes of many Nigerians than the institutions of the modern Nigerian state. It is not surprising that the wealthy, powerful and well-known Nigerians continue to show considerable interest to fill the vacant seats of the paramount thrones in the hope of occupying them. In view of these circumstances, I suggest that the current 1999 Constitution be amended to make provision for the House of Chiefs in all the states of the Federation to enable our royal fathers contribute their quota and rich experiences to national building.
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