THE RELEVANCE OF TRADITIONAL RULERS IN CONTEMPORARY NIGERIA’S GOVERNANCE
The relevance of traditional rulers in contemporary Nigeria’s governance has been a subject of great controversy. The discourse led to different opinions among Nigerians. In some quarters, they argued that traditional institutions are archaic, particularist and anti-democratic while some Nigerians believed that the institutions of traditional rulership should be preserved and allowed to co-exist with the democratic governance in vogue. It is in an attempt to resolve this argument that this academic exercise was necessitated. In this endeavour, the study utilizes relevant literatures and as well collected raw data through the use of the Likert Scale questionnaire and oral interview in surveying the opinion of the people in Ozoro Kingdom on what should be the position of our Royal Fathers in the emerging Nigerian Political order. The study revealed that before the advent of colonialism, traditional rulers were the custodian of the people’s culture and tradition but the situation changed when their powers were eroded through colonialism, military dictatorship, constitutional review and self inflicted attitudes of the Royal Fathers. It is conspicuous that the unholy marriage of the traditional rulers co-existing with elected representative in the Nigerian Democratic order is anomalous. However, due to primordial sentiments and legitimacy which the traditional rulers still enjoy among populace, it would be better to disallow them from active party politics and cloth them with honours pending on when Nigeria would be able to modernize her political system.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Title Page i
Table of Contents ix
1.1 Background of Study 1
1.2 Statement of Problem 8
1.3 Objectives of Study 10
1.4 Research Question 11
1.5 Propositions 12
1.6 Limitation 12
1.7 Significance of the study 13
1.8 Literature Review 14
1.9 Methodology 24
1.10 Definition of Terms 26
THE ROLE OF TRADITIONAL RULERS IN PRE-COLONIAL
AND COLONIAL NIGERIA
2.1 Traditional Rulers in Pre-Colonial era 31
2.2 Traditional Rulers and Colonialism 35
2.3 Traditional Rulers in the Modernizing era ofNigeria’s Government 40
2.4 Factors that led to the Decline of the Roles ofTraditional Rulers in Nigeria. 41
2.5 The role of Traditional Rulers in the 1976 Local
Government Reforms 42
2.6 Constitutional Development and the Role of Traditional Rulers in Nigeria. 43
THE OZORO KINGDOM IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
3.1 Origin of Ozoro 48
3.2 The Economic Life of Ozoro 57
3.3 Religious activities 58
3.4 Socio-Political Organization 58
3.5 Quarter Council 60
3.6 The Town Council 60
3.7 The Otota of the Kingdom 61
3.8 The Odion-Ologbo 62
3.9 The Oletu-Ologbo 63
3.10 The Ovie 64
3.11 The Emergence of Ovieship in Ozoro 64
3.12 Method of Selection and Ascension of the Ovie 69
3.13 The Struggle for dominance by Odion-Ologbo and the Ovie in Ozoro Politics 71
3.14 The Ovie’s Contributions to the economic and socio-political development of Ozoro Kingdom 75
THE OZOROS AND THEIR KINGDOM: A CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVE
4.1 Introduction 80
4.2 Rating of Returned Questionnaire 81
4.3 Demographic Data Analysis (Section A) 82
4.4 Data Analysis for Section B 89
CONCLUSION: RETHINKING THE ROLE OF TRADITIONAL
RULERS IN NIGERIA
5.1 Introduction 111
5.2 Major Findings 113
5.3 Conclusion 116
5.4 Recommendations 117
1.1 Background of the Study
Prior to 1861 when Britain annexed Lagos, governance in what is known as Nigeria revolved around Traditional rulers. There is no doubt that traditional rulers in Nigeria have witnessed the erosion of their powers. This political scenario had elicited so many arguments among stakeholders and traditional rulers on their role and relevance in the emerging political arrangement. It is on this note that this research may be timely and necessary to re-examine the relevance of traditional rulers in the Local government administration with particular reference to the Ozoro Kingdom in Isoko North Local Government Area of Delta State.
Traditional Institutions and their rulers have suffered extensively from the imposition of colonial rule, revolution, wars and post independence political development in Nigeria.
As earlier noted, before the advent of colonialism, traditional rulers were both the political, social, cultural and economic administrators of their various localities. They were parts of the immutable African culture which ensured harmony and stability in the society. However, the situation changed when colonial rule was imposed on African societies which Nigeria is an integral part. It was at this period that Traditional Rulers, were subordinated and became instrumental for the realization of the objectives of the indirect rule system.
It is pertinent therefore to know who a traditional ruler is. Many views have been given over the years. It is the intention of the researcher to offer few definitions. According to Orewa ( 1978) a traditional ruler is:
an Oba, Emir, Obi or Paramount Chief who before the advent of the colonial government in Nigeria had complete sovereignty over his territory and was not subject to any other higher authority within or outside his domain (Orewa, 1978 :151).
In the same way, the Oba of Benin in a conference held at Ibadan on the 11th September, 1984, defined a traditional ruler as:
The traditional head of an ethnic community whose stool conferred the highest traditional authority on the incumbent since the time before the beginning of British rule. (Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Erediawa, 1984).
The law of the former Western Region also applicable in Delta State defines traditional rulers as:
the traditional head of an ethnic group or clan who is the holder of the indigenous polity or who has been appointed to the position in accordance with the customs and tradition of the area concerned by instrument or order of the state government and whose title is recognized as traditional ruler by the government of the state (Tonwe and Ola, 2005:156).
Having attempted a conceptualization of Traditional Rulers, it would be imperative to give a brief record of power configuration and regional bases of traditional rulers and their localities that gave birth to the modern Nigerian State. It should be borne in mind that every region and locality has its unique power structure.
In the Ibo pre-colonial society of the present day Nigeria, Robert Ola observed that “these traditional rulers or authorities were considered by their people as repositories of religious, executive, legislative as well as judicial functions” (Robert Ola, 1984:23). In addition, the autonomous local community according to Ogunna (Ogunna, 1987:363) the Ibo traditional political system was a federation of villages each village was composed of kindred units. Local government under the Ibo pre-colonial political system was therefore carried out by the village elders (Idichie) and kindred units head. In such areas where traditional rulers did not exist the elders or family heads meet at the village square to decide issues as they affect the generality of the people.
The Northern regional base has the Emirs as the repository of religious, legislative, executive and judicial functions.
The Yoruba speaking society also has their own power configured around the Obas. However, the Obas were not absolute king when compared to the Hausa-Fulani counterparts.
The Ozoro Kingdom situated in the defunct Mid-western region which later metamorphosed into Delta State has Ovie as its paramount ruler. Like his counterpart in other parts of the country, the Ovie performs executive legislative and judicial functions (Oyolo, 2007:23). He also performs religious function in collaboration with the high priest “Opara” ( Akegwure, N.D.: 9).
The uniqueness of these various kingdoms, empires, and emirates are indications that traditional rulers were the nucleus of governance in their various territories. It further shows that the geographical spheres of these authorities were localized. It therefore means that no traditional ruler had jurisdiction over the entire geographical area which later became Nigeria.
The emergence of Traditional Rulership into the Nigerian polity could be traceable to the Lugardian administration when he said thus:
Our aim…. Is to rule through the existing Chiefs to enlist them on our side in the work and progress of good governance… (our) is that we may make of these born rulers…. Type of British officials working for the good of their subjects in accordance with the ideals of the British empire (Whitetaker, C.S. Jr., 1970:16).
The enlistment of traditional rulers into the indirect rule system further consolidated the powers of these natural rulers. They became more recognized when the native courts were integrated into the English Legal system. While the evolving state drifted towards independence. However, things began to change when it seems as if these born rulers had reached their apogee with the introduction of democratic values and agitation by nationalists struggle. The situation became worsened when the military took over government from the elected leaders at the early years of Nigeria’s independence. The final blow came when the 1979 constitution refused to grant any executive role to traditional rulers in the local government level.(Federal Republic of Nigeria : 1979). Many Nigerians became critical on what role traditional rulers should play in the emerging political order . Gbong Gwon of Jos, a traditional ruler on the Nigerian Television Authority’s National News Broadcast of 8th July, 2009 was reported to have opposed constitutional role for traditional rulers contrary to Senator David Mark’s opinion of finding a specific role for them in the 2009 constitution following the review of the 1999 constitution.
These two views best capture contemporary thinking on the issue, an acknowledgement that there is a problem and a situation involving our Royal Fathers and that something needs to be done. The delema however remains finding the best way forward in order not to compromise the ancient institutions that traditional rulers represent, which is that of acting as custodians of native customs, traditions, culture and as spiritual fathers of members of their immediate communities. The most surprising issue is that this vital institution of traditional rulers that controlled their locality in the pre-colonial society up till the later part of colonialism has been questioned, should these traditional institutions be abolished?
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Traditional rulers over the years from the pre-colonial society were the custodian of the people’s culture and tradition. They were also involved in the western government as introduced then from colonial days. In short, records had it that some traditional rulers were members of the house of Chiefs in the Northern part of the country during the period of 1944 –1951. Again, the Macpherson Constitution allowed traditional rulers in the north and western regions to make direct input into the selection of the members of Regional House of Assembly.
Traditional Rulers also legislated along side with the Regional Houses of Assembly.
The situation gradually changed as independence approached. It was worsened after independence. It became confusing that many issues were raised after the enactment of the 1979, 1989 and the 1999 constitutions. Some of the envisaged problems facing the traditional institutions are:
a. Whether Traditional rulers are well fitted for contemporary governance arguing that traditional institutions are archaic.
b. The constitution of Nigeria made little or no provision for traditional rulers.
c. Traditional rulers in the country are not well funded.
d. Whether Political and military government’s interference in traditional affairs has been a threat to their relevance in contemporary governance.
e. Corruption among traditional rulers had weakened their powers.
f. Many traditional rulers are easily manipulated by political and military leaders for their selfish purposes.
g. Many traditional rulers only reign and not rule.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The research is aimed at unveiling the roles of the traditional rulers, their impact in government and how they can contribute to a more viable united Nigeria.
In this effort, the researcher shall delve into the past and shall critically examine the present to enable him project into the future.
To be concise, these objectives are:
a. To examine carefully the roles of traditional rulers in the present democratic governance.
b. To evaluate their roles and effectiveness over the years to the present democratic government.
c. To examine if they have become more or less relevant and determine why they are so as the case may be.
d. To make recommendations where appropriate to the local government and other levels of government towards the enhancement of the Nigerian polity.
1.4 Research Questions
In order to have a thorough grasp of the understanding of this research, certain questions need to be asked. These are:
a. What are their roles in contemporary government?
b. How has the constitution enhanced the roles of traditional rulers in the country?
c. What are their problems in contemporary governance?
d. How have they lost their votes in contemporary governance?
e. How have they performed in their responsibility ?
f. What precipitated the weakness of traditional rulers in contemporary governance?
g. What makes traditional rulers to reign without ruling?
a. Peace and harmony in governance is the bedrock of national unity.
b. Traditional rulers are the custodian of custom and tradition.
c. Good governance with respect to the Nigerian democracy cannot be achieved without the grassroots mobilization.
d. National development and progress shall be elusive without the support of traditional rulers.
The study is carried out within the purview of traditional rulers and the modern governance in the present day Nigeria.
However, data shall be collected from the Ozoro Kingdom in Isoko-North Local Government Area of Delta State.
The reason is that the Researcher believes that he might not be able to access the state council of chiefs at the Federal level and Council of states.
It was in consonant with the 1999 constitution that the Researcher chooses to study the roles of traditional rulers in the traditional council at the Isoko North Local Government Area of Delta State with particular reference to the Ozoro Kingdom.
1.7 Significance of the Study
The research work is directed at contributing to knowledge of the Nigerian politics. These are:
1. It is aimed at knowing the relevance of the traditional institution, roles and contribution to the contemporary Nigeria democracy.
2. It is also significant in knowing the extent of involvement of traditional rulers in this democratic dispensation.
3. The study is also of great importance since it shall reveal the connectivity or relationship that exists among traditional rulers and democratic government.
4. It shall also indicate the area of weakness so that improvement and adjustment can be made so as to improve the Nigerian state.
1.8 Literature Review
The debate over the relevance of traditional rulers in contemporary Nigeria’s governance is highly controversial. The reason for this confusion is due to the fact that before colonialism as well as a substantial part of the colonial era that predates Nigeria’s independence, traditional rulers played active roles in the governance and development of the country’s polity.
It is therefore surprising that the essence of these vital institution and traditional elites are being questioned in the emerging political order.
There are divergent views and opinions in this controversy. Egwurube as cited by Tonwe and Ola (Tonwe, and Ola 2005:169) Identified three schools of thoughts. According to him (Egwurube) there exists the Retentionist school, the Abolitionist school and the Political enhancement school of thoughts.
The Abolitionist school of thought contended that the marriage between traditional rulers and the democratically elected elites in Nigerian politics is unholy and should be divorced. They argued further that the Traditional Rulers in the modernizing Nigerian democracy is an anachronism. The protagonists of this school of thought contended the constitutional provision of the 1979, 1989 and 1999 constitutions which guarantees local government elected officials and traditional rulers working side by side as anomalous (Aghayere, 1997:185).
They also opined that traditional institutions are ascriptive while the contemporary state is democratic. In other words, the era of hereditary leadership or natural rulers as envisaged in 1914 by Lord Lugard is archaic.
In the views of Uche Nwora (2007), partisanship in politics, defecation of traditional values, lack of integrity by some money – for chieftancy policies, in-fighting and “Igweship”, “Ezeship”, “Obaship”, “Ovieship” tussles have eroded their values and should be abolished.
There is no doubt that many traditional rulers are educated and as such can adapt modern thoughts and ideology but the exigency of politics and the easy manner in which some of the traditional rulers succumb to manipulations leaves much to be desired. The “political mannerism” of the Late General Sanni Abacha where some traditional rulers were shown to have towed the path of the military head of state remained fresh in the memories of Nigerians.
Another indication which corroborates with Uche Nworah’s perception is the proliferation of chieftancy titles or honorary chiefs without potfolios or roles in the society. Many thieves and public robbers including criminalized politicians are given chieftancy titles. Such recognition by traditional rulers has created a society with false values and negative role models (Uche Nworah, 2007).
The agitation for republicanism or the desire of people to decide their affairs rather than having a supreme human Lording it over them made this school of thought to condemn the traditional rulers and their institutions in its entirety and strongly advocated its abolition (Ibid).
Another argument in support of their position is that the existence of traditional rulers amidst of democratic governance creates dual loyalty among the Nigerian populace (Ibid). The incidence that took place between Group Captain Anthony Oyerugbelen, a one time military Governor of Edo State and the Oba of Benin, Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa, when the said Governor suspended the Monarch from the Council of Chiefs created a great controversy among the people of Edo State. Many Edos do not know who should be blamed or obeyed. In some quarters, the Oba was seen as the owner of the land (Edo) while others saw the military Governor as the primus interperis and should be obeyed. This unwholesome political debacle can be avoided when a single form of governance is adopted in the state.
The second school of thought is the political enhancement school. This school of thought believed that traditional rulers are citizens of the country and as such should be allowed to contribute meaningfully towards National development (Aghayere, 1997:185) In their views, their removal from politics as stated in the 1999 constitution, where the clause affirmed that nothing should be misconstrued as confirming any executive function on the traditional rulers is an abuse of their franchise.
In the past they were custodian of the people at their different localities but things had gradually changed and their powers had been eroded. They argued that such phenomenal changes is unfair.
In a forum organized by the Diasporan stakeholders on the 15th November, 2007, Uche Nworah (Uche Nworah, 2007) remarked that distinguished traditional rulers like the Alafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, Igwe Osita Agwuna, Igwe of Umunri and Eze, Enugwu – Ukwu among others should not be allowed to idle away. He added that these traditional rulers are sound and first-class individuals. In other words, these highly talented materials should be allowed to participate politically for national development.
The third and final school of thought is the retentionist school. It could also be seen as the middle-path school of thought in the continuum of the Abolitionists and the political enhancement school of thoughts. The protagonist of this school held that traditional authorities should be retained and enhanced for national development. According to Egwurube Joseph, (Egurube, 1985:223) the retentionist school will not only ensure stability and continuity of the emergent political order but also would at the same time tap the strength of traditional authorities in the sphere of citizens mobilization for national development at grass-root level.
It is obvious that traditional rulers had firm grip of power before colonialism and as such it will be incongruous to eliminate these elites simply because of their weaknesses due to pressure from the politically elected class of the public.
There is no gainsaying that most traditional rulers are adaptable to modern philosophies. Records had it that most of them are well educated, the Sultan of Sokoto, the Emir of Gwandu, the Etsu Nupe and the Emir of Zuru were generals in the Nigerian Army. The Oba of Lagos was a Police Deputy Inspector-General, the Emir of Kazaraure had Ph.D. in Law, just as the Asagba of Asaba is a Professor, the Ovie of Ozoro had Masters in Law and most chiefs and Emirs were also in the public service and diplomat such as the Emir of Kano (Uche , 2007)
Perhaps, due to the plight and dwindling prestige of traditional rules in the present democratic government of Nigeria that made the Senate President, Senator David Mark during a condolence visit at the palace of the Shehu of Borno, Mustapha Umaru El Kanemi, on the passing away of the Waziri of Borno, Alhaji Ahmed was quoted in Guardian Newspaper of July 17th, 2007 to have remarked thus:
We will continue to assist our traditional rulers and leaders who are responsible for unity, peace in order to further strengthen their roles. We shall find specific roles for them in the constitution when we finally review the 1999 constitution. (Guardian, 17 July, 2007).
Taking a clue from the Senate President’s speech, traditional rulers have been responsible for peace, unity and good governance in the country.
Again, flowing from the statement quoted above, it became obvious that traditional rulers have given full support and ensured maintenance of law and order in the corporate existence of their locality. Hence, he advocated a re-definition of the roles of the traditional rulers in the Nigerian politics in the 2009 constitution which shall take care of the inadequacies of the 1999 constitution.
But the irony is that the existence and survival of the contemporary governance in Nigeria does not adopt a Monarch as the central figure of Administration.
The vision of the Senate President, Senator David Mark was equally shared by General Badamosi Babangida during his military administration as the president of the country when he craftly made the constitution drafting committee to find a place for the traditional rulers in the Nigerian presidential system of government.
Apart from the military regimes in Nigeria, the civilian regimes of the Second Republic and Fourth Republic endeavoured to keep traditional rulers afloat in the country’s politics.
It is an indisputable fact that the civilian head of state in the second republic headed by Alhaji Shehu Shagari recognized the involvement of traditional rulers in his administration when he appointed Chiefs and traditional rulers to the position of chancellors and Chairmen of cultural councils and universities governing councils.
Similarly, the recent Obasanjo civilian regime of 1999 – 2007 and the current Yar A’dua’s administration of 2007 till date appointed traditional rulers to offices of chancellors of universities with the University of Benin as a good example.
The position of the retentionist school of thought corroborate with Ali Mazru’s popular quotation where he said “Bashikolshi Shikoloshi” which can be interpreted as “He who knows the way, let him lead the way”. Akin to this is the popular aforison of Abraham Lincoln where he was said to have quoted thus: “He who knows what to do and fail to do it shall have the hottest part of Hell fire”. It was in realization of the relevant role that the Traditional Rulers played in the pre-colonial and subsequent years that made the traditional rulers critical of their roles in the emerging political order. It was on this ground that the Oni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade II in July 1988 on his return from Cuba where he was said to have visited Fidel Castro announced at the Ikeja Airport that traditional rulers all over the country would soon meet to put their heads together to brainstorm on the future role of traditional rulers in the government of the country. Consequent upon the meeting of traditional rulers on August 1988, the Oba of Benin noted with disappointment the acceptance of the Bureau’s recommendation that no specific role has been given to traditional rulers. Inspite of the genuine interest and confidence expressed by traditional rulers to contribute to the development of their fatherland, the defunct Armed Forces Ruling Council in 1989 took a bold step by adopting the decision and recommendation of the Bureau that the traditional rulers be insulated from politics.
Following this development, the Oba of Benin in a national conference of Traditional Rulers in Ife consoled themselves when he positioned that the function of traditional rulers are already and clearly laid down in their community’s customs and traditions and urged them to perform them without fear or favour as fathers of the people.
The constitutional and political development that preceded Nigeria’s independence has weakened the powers of traditional rulers. The situation is confusing that scholars and stakeholders holds contrary views on the relevance of this institution. It is on this realization that this study has been necessitated to lay such argument to rest.
This encompasses how the researcher intends to carry out the study. It is divided into sources of data collection and data analysis.
Sources of Data: Data shall be collected from primary and secondary sources.
In the case of the former, the researcher shall randomly distribute 100 questionnaires to people in Ozoro Kingdom, the seat of the Local Government headquarters. Twenty questions shall be asked and the questionnaire shall be collected the same day.
In addition, oral interview shall be applied. Here, the researcher shall adopt a simple random sampling by asking some dignitaries in the Local Government Secretariat and the Ovie’s palace questions.
However, this interview shall be unstructured since the situation and respondents can be dynamic.
Finally, existing records and documents shall be cross-examined as they relate to the role of the traditional institution in the locality.
Data Analysis: The data collected shall be presented orderly for analysis. It is the intention of the researcher to use simple percentage in the analysis.
Each question shall be analyzed by the responses of the people across the board. Finally a deduction shall be made from the respondents opinions and a conclusion shall be drawn to that effect.
1.10 Definition of Terms
1. Ahe: A cotton tree used for the burial of the Ovie in Ozoro kingdom.
2. Aka: The name of the Benin Kingdom as used by the Ozoro people. It denotes the distant land of their migration.
3. Ala: The name of a place which is the centre point of the Ozoro kingdom.
4. Dwindling: The waning or reduction in value of a thing.
5. Emir: The traditional head of an emirate. It is the title for the traditional ruler in the Northern part of the country.
6. Emaha: The children or an age grade in the Ozoro Kingdom.
1. Evragwa: The youth age-grade of the Ozoro kingdom.
2. Edion: The elders council of the Ozoro socio-political systems.
3. Egweya: The women council of the Ozoro traditional political system.
4. Local Government: The government at the grassroots level in a Federal system like Nigeria and headed by a democratically elected chairman or sole administrator appointed by the governor of the state.
5. Local Administration: This is the system of administration controlled by chiefs, obas, ovies, emirs, etc.
6. Ovieship: This is the kingship as used in the Niger Delta region especially among the Isokos and the Urhobos.
7. Ovie: The head or king of kingdoms in the Isoko and Urhobo axis of Delta State.
8. Oba: The title of the traditional head in the Yorubas and Benin kingdoms.
9. Relevance: The importance or necessity, usefulness, etc. It could be operationalised as power or vote, etc.
10. Traditional Ruler: Any head or representative of a traditional institution. It could also mean the paramount ruler of a kingdom, emirate or locality.
11. Usu: Plint or charmed sword used by the Founder of the Ozoro kingdom.
12. Votes of traditional rulers: The power and influence of traditional rulers.
13. Renaissance: The re-birth of the Nigerian democracy.
Nigerian Project: The government aimed at improving the lots of the Nigerian people.
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