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Traditional institutions represent the indigenous instruments by which the various Nigerian peoples organised themselves and managed their affairs long before the imposition of British colonial rule. Traditional rulers, on the other hand, are the divinely ordained individuals chosen by their peoples to administer the affairs of their respective domains in accordance with their customs and traditions. One of the most developed characteristics of African civilisation was traditional monarchical institution which is well noted for its dynamism, resilience and unending relevance In spite of changes and modifications introduced by modernity, the traditional political institution has endured all vicissitudes and has continued to re-define itself for more relevance. It has remained the predominant form of traditional political system in most Nigerian societies and communities.
The historical development of towns and cities in Nigeria often demonstrate the diligence, astuteness and resourcefulness of their respective traditional rulers in the growth and development of each of them. The success of this model of governance and administration consequently re-affirmed the relevance of the institution to the continued existence of states, kingdoms, towns and cities. It is not too farfetched to opine that it was the well developed nature of the traditional political institutions in Nigeria that encouraged the British colonial authorities to adopt the existing system of traditional administrative practice under the Indirect Rule scheme of Captain Fredrick Lugard in 1914. The call on traditional office holders to assist in colonial administration was predicated on the belief that the best avenue for reaching the various colonial subjects was through their respective traditional rulers whom they respected and acknowledged as custodians of their ancestral social and cultural values.
There are different societies and ethnic groups in Nigeria with respective traditional rulers bearing different titles. The system of governance also varied based on differences and variations in culture and history. Traditional rulers in the Hausa-speaking parts of Northern Nigeria were called Emirs because they preside over administrative units known as Emirates. The only notable exceptions to this are Sokoto and Borno where the titles are Sultan and Shewu respectively. Apart from these ones, there were numerous other autonomous traditional tittles in the Northern Nigeria such as the Etsu among the Nupe; Aku-Uka of Wukari (Jukun); the Gbom Gwom of Jos; the Tor Tiv among the Tiv and the Ochidoma of Idoma land among others.
In Yorubaland, the Oba occupies a position of pre-eminence and he is regarded as the ultimate law giver, second only to the gods. After a prolonged period of state formation, all Yoruba sub groups developed an elaborate system of state administration which was designed and constructed around and about the person of the Oba. The major titles include, Ooni of Ife; Alaafin of Oyo, Orangun of Ila and Oke-Ila, Owa Obokun of Ijesa, Alake of Abeokuta, Awujale of Ijebu-Ode, Osemawe of Ondo, Deji of Akure, Ogoga of Ikere, Olowo of Owo, Olugbo of Ugbo and numerous others. In the South-South and South-Eastern geo-political zones, there were paramount rulers equivalent to the Yoruba Oba or Emirs in Northern Nigeria. In this category are Oba of Benin, Olu of Warri (Itshekiri) Obong of Calabar (Efik), Amanyanabo of Bonny (Ijaw); Obi of Agbor (Igbo) and Obi of Onitsha (Igbo). Other Igbo-speaking areas did not have traditional rulers or centralised authority systems because of the acephalous nature and character of the kinship system. The absence of constituted central authorities among some Igbo was what compelled the British authorities to create the Warrant Chiefs to help administer the Igbo people in preference to the village democracy previously practised. It was later in the post-colonial period that the Eze Traditional Rulers were created in these areas as will be further discussed in a latter section of this paper.
Under the pre-colonial constitutional arrangement, traditional rulers in Nigeria exercised legislative, executive and judicial powers put together. However, in many places, they exercised these powers with the advice of their respective high chiefs, counsellors and a consciousness of being under the close watch of the gods and ancestors. The process of selecting traditional rulers varied from one Nigerian region to another. In Yorubaland, the Oba was appointed after a due process had been followed with the choice of the Oba confirmed by the Ifa Oracle. It was expected of Yoruba Oba to be a living repository of the history, culture and traditions of his throne, people and race; including their relationship with neighbours. The Yoruba traditional ruler was the focus of political authority and the rallying point for social, cultural, economic and diplomatic activities; hence his description as representatives of the gods and ancestors. The structure of Yoruba traditional rulership was such that the Oba never ruled alone as the burden of political administration was shared and carried by an elaborate machinery managed by state officials of differing grades and functions These nobilities included Agba Ife and Modewa in Ife, Oyo Mesi in Oyo, Osugbo or Ogboni in Ijebu and Egba areas and others. As noted by Atanda, Oyo political architecture which has been fully studied and well researched provided a robust example of an elegantly designed and delicately operated system of balance or re-distribution of power with the Alaafin at the apex of power, prestige, reverence and authority. Political stability was therefore a function of the sagacity, astuteness, leadership qualities and élan of the Oba to operate within the ambit of this political philosophy of shared responsibility, agency and ownership. It would seem that the adoption of rallying cry ‘Eko o ni baje’ by Lagos State was a borrowing from Yoruba political thought which emphasised service to the state by all arms of government and the citizenry and not to the person of the traditional ruler. This is a perfect description of ownership and collective commitment to the success of the political system. The Oba saw himself as the captain of the ship who must ensure that his tenure had significant achievements and remarkable progress. The reign of the Oba was always a referential phase in the history of his domain just as his achievements were a measure of his success and contribution to society. The Oba was daily guided by the consciousness that his reign would be dispassionately assessed, scrutinized and put in the memories of his people. He was expected therefore to live above board and provide functional leadership on all matters.
In pre-colonial Northern Nigeria, the Hausa had a well-defined local system of civil administration under Habe rule before the Jihad of 1804. Even after the creation of the caliphate and the supplanting of the Habe rulers, the new Fulani rulers retained significant portion of the machinery of government created and developed by the old order. The systems of tax collection and judicial administration were just slightly modified to inject some amount of Islamic observances. The Emir was the final locus of power and was not accountable to anyone, except the council of Ulama in the exercise of the power and authority of his office. In practical terms the Emir was assisted by a council of chiefs chosen from among the nobility. Their major function was to advise and facilitate the execution of the Emir’s orders.
Unlike the Northern and Western parts of Nigeria, there was no form of centralised monarchical system in the pre-colonial period of Igbo societies except for Agbor and Onitsha mentioned above. The system here was more of republicanism which was characterised by village or clan democracy. The society was rooted in segmentary lineage structure due to the absence of large kingdoms or city states as they existed among the Yoruba or Hausa. The society was run a council of Elders, age grades, titled men and others.
Colonial Rule and Traditional Institutions
The subjugation of Nigerian society by British imperial military forces from the 1880s and the subsequent introduction of Colonial rule marked a definite point in the relevance and role of traditional institutions in Nigeria. This was a strategy for effective colonial administration and to involve traditional rulers in the administration of their communities. This was called the Indirect Rule system of colonial administration. In doing so the British colonial invaders took away the sovereignty previously enjoyed by the indigenous towns and communities and those of their traditional rulers. Communities that proved recalcitrant were usually subjugated by maximum force of arms until they were subdued.
It is trite that traditional rulers in colonial Nigeria assumed new leadership roles which became inevitable as a result of colonial rule and existence of a higher level of power to which traditional rulers and institutions deferred. To ensure the success of the newly imposed system of indirect rule, traditional rulers were given new obligations which in many instances conflicted with their traditional roles. For instance, they were deprived of some rights such as tax collection, trade and policy formulation. Some of their assumed functions were Native Court Presidency, membership of Provincial and Divisional Councils, involvement in partisan politics and others. Thus, these new changes had cultural implication on the traditional royal stools. Despite scathing remarks and unwarranted criticisms from upstarts in politics many of these traditional rulers demonstrated statesmanship and became champions of progress, development and nation building. The involvement of Nigerian monarchs as heads of traditional institutions of administration and government during the period of Indirect Rule made them perhaps symbols of stability and mirrors of morality in their respective societies. Despite the new order of recognition by the British crown through its representative in Nigeria, traditional rulers of centralised political systems in practice assumed derived the power to rule as ancestral entitlement. Accordingly, Sir Lord Lugard attested to this fact when he described traditional leadership as an integral part of British administration. However, colonial realities and the excesses of certain colonial administrators reduced the powers exercisable by traditional rulers and in the bid for relevance in the new order some traditional rulers became susceptible to manipulations by British administrators. Margery Perham captured this when she wrote on the changing role of Emir of Kano that the town monarch “must be partly, and may be entirely controlled by the Resident and Senior Staff”.
Furthermore, when Fredrick Lugard appointed Attahiru as Sultan of Sokoto on 22 March 1903, he made the newly installed Sultan realise the fact British ownership of the right of succession in all British colonies. The latter was compelled to take an oath of allegiance to the Queen of England instead of ancestral oath rooted in Islamic jurisprudence.
In spite of major changes introduced by colonial rule to traditional rulership, the institution no doubt continued to be relevant and in the consciousness of the people who still looked up to the traditional rulers as law givers and protector of their collective will. Colonial rule still allowed for some level of involvement of traditional rulers in cultural, economic, political, educational and religious matters. Importantly, traditional rulers began to play expanded role in judicial, legislative and executive duties in accordance with colonial rule and the new order. Thus, following the reorganization of native administration after World War II, local government legislation based on English model was passed in the Eastern, Western and Northern regions of Nigeria in the early 1950s. The local government legislation expected traditional leadership to perform these functions: maintenance of law and order, protection of lives and properties, making of bye-laws and such others. The new local government system gave traditional rulers opportunity to participate in social and political engineering as most of them served as the presidents of their Divisional and District Councils.
In the Western Region, the local government laws gave circumscribed or limited political opportunity to traditional rulers to form one-third of the elected council members. Interestingly though, their role as Presidents of the Council was ceremonial because they could not participate in council deliberations. The best they could do as president was to influence some decisions directly through bargaining or indirectly through subtle manipulation or intimidation. This period was also noted for the creation of another instrument of administration designated as the Emir-in-Council or Oba-in-Council. It is plausible to argue that the councils were created to check the traditional rulers’ arbitrariness.
Traditional institutions involvement in partisan politics and political development probably started with Sir Arthur Richard constitution of 1944-1951. One important purpose of the Richard’s constitution was to bridge the gap between the native authorities at the local level and appointed official legislative council members at the national level. The constitution established the House of Assembly and House of Chiefs in the three regions. The latter was created to supplement the House of Assembly. Membership of the House of Chiefs included the First Class traditional rulers in the regions. Thus, they spilled over to the national level where the legislative council members were elected at the regional assemblies. Most of the nationalist and African conferences since 1948 had foremost traditional rulers in attendance, actively participating in the discussion of national affairs. The 1948 African Conference which held at Lancaster House, England between 13 and 28 October had, in attendance, the then Ooni of Ife, Oba Adesoji Aderemi. The conference was to create a forum for dialogue between the British and their colonial subjects. Again in 1953 the Conference was attended by Oba Adesoji Aderemi and Alhaji Usman Nagogo, the then Emir of Katsina.
At the first session of the Western House of Assembly on 13 January 1947 at Ibadan, Oba Aderemi in the inaugural address called for cooperation between Nigerian traditional rulers on one hand and the colonial administration on the other in matters that pertained to progress, prosperity and attainment of independence of Nigeria. The appointment of the Ooni of Ife, Oba of Benin and the Alake of Egbaland to the deliberative legislative assembly triggered fear within the rank of traditional rulers particularly Yoruba Obas which considered it strange for high ranking monarchs to sit with their subjects in a legislative chamber. Ooni Aderemi was able allay this fear by showing that their legislative role in nation building would not undermine their sacred roles within their respective communities and subjects. Indeed, the legislative role gave them the opportunity to positively influence the regional House of Assembly members.
Further to the constitutional role given to the traditional rulers by the Richard’s constitution, the subsequent Macpherson, Littleton, Independence and Republican constitutions gave traditional rulers opportunity to play active role in the formation of political parties during the era of party politics. These parties were Action Group (A.G.), Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and NCNC. Thus, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his party, A.G. had cordial relationship with the Yoruba Obas from 1950s to 1966. It was Egbe Omo Oduduwa that provided the cultural foundation upon which the Action Group was erected as a dominant political party in the Western Region. The general acceptance of the party by Westerners was because its ideology and interests co-terminated with the aspirations and worldview of the dominant groups in the Region. The main purpose of Egbe Omo Oduduwa was to unite every Yoruba sub-group at home and in the Diaspora culturally and politically. The organisation’s aims and objectives reflected its usefulness to the Yoruba agenda for development:
To recognise and maintain the monarchical and other similar institutions of Yorubaland to plan for their complete enlightenment and democratization, to acknowledge the leadership of Yoruba Obas and to establish a firm basis of entire cooperation between the Yoruba people and their Obas in the political, economic, and social affairs of Yorubaland.
It is important that we underscore the emphasis of the Egbe on the pre-eminence, prestige and responsibility of the Yoruba Oba. As noted above, arguably, the most developed fewature of Yoruba civilization is the monarchy, which has, at various times and occasions, been profoundly and thorough re-defined or re-conceptualised. In spite of external and internal pressures and institutional dynamism, Obaship as an institution has endured and remained eternally relevant and sought after as a necessary machinery of government among the Yoruba. The modernization and sophistication of government especially in the period since 1960 could not displace the role traditional institutions play in the ordering of society, definition of cultural values and in power relations. The obvious relevance of the obaship institution among the Yoruba of south-western Nigeria is emphasised by the social, cultural and intellectual consciousness of the Yoruba. As urban dwellers and empire builders, the Yoruba necessarily developed a highly sophisticated urban culture with the attendant needs of social engineering and of the maintenance of law and order, to provide an atmosphere conducive for the establishment of a politically stable and economically viable state.
As for Northern Nigeria, what later became the dominant and best known political party began as a socio-cultural organisation, Jam’iyyar Mutanen Arewa. It later metamorphosed into the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC). The focus of the group was to utilise the sympathies of the northern traditional rulers to shore up the image and relevance of the party. This awareness was a lesson learnt from the sudden collapse of the former Northern Elements Progressive Association (NEPA) in the mid-1940s. The sudden extinction of NEPA was due to the direct involvement of the Northerners who were in the employment of the Northern colonial service. This unsavoury event changed the political orientation of the elite toward relying on traditional rulers for support and encouragement. For instance, the party once declared:
The Jam’iyyar (NPC) does not intend to usurp the authority of our Natural rulers; on the contrary, it is our ardent desire to enhance such authority where ever possible. We want to help our Natural rulers in the proper discharge of their duties.
In all of the above, it might be difficult if not impossible to give politicians a clean bill of health in their relationship with traditional rulers. There were many instances of over bearing influence of the new political elite on the office and duties of traditional rulers. Some of the elite misunderstood, misinterpreted and misapplied their new roles and offices. They sometimes clashed with traditional rulers especially after the seasons of elections and electioneering campaigns. Leading politicians equally suspected some traditional rulers, especially those in opposition and acted as if some of them might work against their personal political ambitions and the electoral fortunes of their parties.
Traditional Rulership in the Immediate Post-independence Era
Between 1966 and 1999, much of the delegated or constitutional roles of traditional rulers in the administration of their local councils were eroded. All the constitutional roles which included executive and legislative powers were vested in the hands of military administrators and the Federal Military Government under the Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree No. 1 of 1966. Among other things, the Decree led to the exclusion of traditional rulers from playing any role at state and federal levels. However, in its ambivalence or confusion about the relevance of traditional rulers in state administration, the Major General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi led military administration acknowledged the role of traditional rulers in the sustenance of peace and order in Nigeria. The Head of State had good reason/cause to invite the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar Sadiq III to Lagos which was by then the federal capital and seat of government. The purpose of the invitation was for the Sultan to use the power, prestige, pre-eminence and influence of his office as Sultan of Sokoto and Head of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs to advise the Northern troops to cooperate with the new military government.
The local government system which used to be the primary administrative domains of the Obas, Emirs and other traditional rulers, was re-organised in a way that provided no specific roles for the royal fathers. However, though they were not directly involved in governance, their position was still considered paramount in the country especially at the town and village levels. This fact was eloquently attested to by the decision of the government of the East Central State (now Anambra, Enugu, Imo, Ebonyi and Abia States) to create kingship institutions where they did not exist around 1975. A Chieftaincy Review Panel chaired by Adiele Afigbo sat, considered and recommended to the government of the East Central State that every autonomous community with group of villages that had history of common origin or ancestry should have a king. That government adopted their report and it became a template since then for the appointment of Ezes (Kings) addressed as Igwe in Igbo land. With this, other Igbo communities, apart from Agbor and Onitsha, now have kings. This showed that Nigerian indigenous towns and communities could had hardly develop at the grassroots level without the traditional rulers to articulate their demands and present them before the governments for implementation.
Traditional rulers fared differently under the successive military and civilian governments that had ruled Nigeria since independence. Subsequent military heads of state and president, viz; Generals Yakubu Gowon, Ramat Muritala Muhammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, Muhammed Buhari, Ibrahim Badamasi Babaginda (IBB), Sanni Abacha and Abdulsalam Abubakar had different attitudes toward traditional leadership in Nigeria and their role in nation building. Gen Babaginda led military administration had mixed perception toward to the traditional rulers. His administration deposed some traditional rulers such as Emir of Muri, Alhaji Abasi Nijidda Tafida. On another occasion, he nominated four traditional rulers to the Constituent Assembly in the aborted Third Republic to formulate a new progressive economic and socio-political order for Nigeria and Nigerians. They were Oba Akadiri Momoh (Olukare of Ikare-Akoko), His Highness Godwin Emiko Atuwatse III (Olu of Warri), His Highness Fom Bot (Gbong Gwom of Jos) and Alhaji Umar Sanda Ndayako (the Estu of Nupe and Emir of Bida). Furthermore, during the 12 June, 1993 political crisis, the IBB led administration believed that for the crisis to settle, it was necessary to involve Nigerian traditional rulers, especially Yoruba Obas since the main actor in the aborted June 12 election, Moshood Abiola, was a Yoruba. At a meeting with some traditional rulers on July 12 1993, Yoruba Obas made it to known that the denial of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola as the elected president would affect the unity, progress and development of the country. Ooni Okunade Sijuwade reportedly, in the presence of Awujale of Ijebu, Alaafin of Oyo, Oba of Benin, Oba of Lagos and others stated:
Abiola, who is our own son should have the mandate of the people. He won the election; you (IBB) refused to appoint (swear) him. If there was no cogent reason then the Yorubas are no longer interested in the Nigerian union.
However, the military administrations at one time or the other created councils of chiefs where traditional rulers could discuss and advise the government of the day. Also the military administrations were not left out as they appointed frontline traditional rulers as chancellors of universities and other tertiary institutions based on their wealth of experiences to federal and state universities. The appointment serves as mark of honour and respect for traditional institution. According to Ibrahim Babangida: “Nigeria traditional rulers are the most valuable asset the nation had”.
Traditional Rulers and National Development: Implications for the Traditional Institution
Despite the declining status in Nigeria traditional institution under colonial, military and democratic systems of government, they still have certain informal roles to play in contemporary Nigeria. The debate over apportioning constitutional roles to traditional rulers is almost puerile and unnecessary. However, in this Fourth Republic, individuals and groups have being seeking or speaking in support of constitutional roles for traditional rulers in the fourth republic constitution. Even the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo affirmed this point that the defect in the 1999 constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria did not state a specific role for Nigerian monarchs as we have in the First, Second and Third Republics. The call was made when he had meeting with the Obong of Calabar, Edidem Ita Henshaw VI. He expressed his personal opinion in favour of assigning a role to traditional rulers whenever the subsisting 1999 constitution was amended”. This, however, did not happen till he left office in 2007. Also, a former Senate President buttressed the point that Nigerian traditional rulers were good in strengthening the cord of peace and unity in Nigeria. Furthermore, “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”. Also late President Umar Yar’dua proposed new constitutional role for Nigerian traditional rulers under the forum titled National Council for Traditional Rulers (NCTR). The call for constitutional role led to debates whether for or against.
There was the view that if traditional rulers are allowed to be given constitutional role, this would pitch them against the political elites, who were their subjects, and it would undermine their status. Another view that supported the proposed constitutional role based their argument on the ground that most Nigeria traditional rulers were highly educated, and with this they could contribute meaningfully to nation building. Furthermore, not just to be given specific roles, but to retain the dignity and powerful role bestowed on their traditional stool in the pre-colonial period. Babatunde Ogala stressed the point that giving traditional rulers constitutional roles would erode the eminence of the traditional institution. While others who were of the view stated further that traditional rulers cannot cope with character assassination, sabotage, political insults or mocking, bickering, sabotage and host of others associated with Nigerian partisan politics. One should not run away from the fact that for traditional institution to become relevant in community and nation building it is necessary not to stay aloof in advising the government of the day based on this suggestion: “for traditional rulers to maintain the credibility of their office, they have to adjust to changing times, otherwise what remains of the glory may be swept out of the stool by tide of change”.
Opinions have diverged across the country on whether or not traditional rulers should be sufficiently factored into the present political arrangement to render them more active in the running of the nation’s affairs. There were those who were persuaded that the traditional rulers could successfully manage both their traditional role in their respective domains and democratic political assignments. There were those with the persuasion that Nigeria’s political climate was rather too rough and dirty for the Royal Fathers to dabble into because of the sacredness of their offices and the possibility of getting soiled by the highly corrupt political culture. Traditional rulers in Nigeria had contented themselves with their respective primary calling which have to do with their administration of their domains.
Since the return to representative democracy in 1999, the role of the institution of kingship is being re-evaluated largely because the constitutional error of not directly involving traditional rulers and institutions in the process of administration. It is obvious that traditional rulers are major stakeholders in the democratic experiment as they continue to serve as the last clearing house for government initiatives in the local communities. The inconsistency of the constitution is better seen in the provision of maintenance allowances for the palaces and yet denying the rulers direct involvement in administration. For the local governments, chieftaincy matters are very important and the paramount ruler of each local government plays a vital role, albeit behind the scene, in every major policy option. Indeed some chief executive officers of local governments take the paramount rulers into confidence and treat them with due regard and respect. Politicians cannot afford to sideline traditional rulers and chiefs if they intend to remain in office. traditional rulers are very central to every effort at mobilizing the citizenry towards effective participation in government activities. They encourage their people to discharge their civic responsibilities and lead campaigns for the elimination of unsanitary attitudes and practices that could impair the health and good being of the society. Non-governmental organisations seek the support of traditional rulers and chiefs in their campaigns against the six killer diseases through immunization, practice of safe sex and HIV/ AIDS awareness.
Traditional rulers equally canvass support for political office seekers because of the enormity of the control they exert on the local society. Political campaigns begin and end in the palaces of traditional rulers, who by being a symbol of respect, could cause the political machinery to swing in a particular direction. Recent developments in the Nigerian political theatre would confirm that politicians use the traditional rulers as godfathers and as channels through which they could get the votes and support of the electorates. traditional rulers also serve as peacemakers for politicians in their quest for power. Political wrangling is usually settled in the palaces and it would seem that traditional rulers are now directly involved in the political negotiations and horse trading which is the order of the day in any representative government.
Traditional Rulers and the Future
The relevance of the chieftaincy institution in Nigeria is no longer in doubt. The elaborate re-definition of the institution and the enduring or abiding faith of Nigerians in what they consider to be the most viable system of local administration will ensure the future relevance of the institution. Many royal fathers are well and broadly educated, knowledgeable and have established themselves as accomplished respectable in all fields of human endeavours. Hardly any society in Nigeria will, because of traditional requirement, allow a mediocre to accede to the throne. The general attitude is to select as ruler someone who had seen it all and who could lead the process of development in the local communities. Technocrats and professionals take delight in assuming the positions of leadership as traditional rulers and they bring a lot of integrity, respect and grandiose to the office. The involvement of every segment of the society in what the ruler does is equally capable of ensuring the continued relevance of the institution in Nigeria. Honorific chieftaincy titles are meant to encourage sons and daughters of the soil to identify with their hometowns and to play very active roles in the process of development. As long as traditional rulers hold sway as the pivot of development, the institution will continue to enjoy popular acclaim and support. The present crops of monarchs in Nigeria are engaging, resourceful and purpose driven to the extent that their relevance and the desideratum of the institution they represent or personify cannot be ignored.
As cultural icons, traditional rulers are expected to play the central role of resuscitating cultural values in the promotion of unity, harmony and mutual understanding. There are enough bases for unity in Nigeria’s cultural expressions, in intellectual traditions, performing or visual arts. Studies have confirmed the ingenuity of the Black race in Empire and state building, with the monarchy playing a leading role. The institutions of state and Empire have been well developed, tried and tested many times over to serve as an agency of change and progress.History has equally demonstrated the pivotal role of culture in national development and indeed in human centred development. The present state of motion without progress is partly the result of the criminal neglect of culture and its intrinsic valued. The point must be made that traditional rulers are divinely ordained to keep the culture and traditions of their people. They exercise power broadly defined to mobilise the resources and potentials of the land to create a better society, preserve the present order by ensuring life more abundant and indeed create a robust opportunity for a far much better tomorrow. As the representative of the past, the custodian of the values of the past, the preservator of the present and the eyes of the future, traditional rulers stand at the junction of history. A journey of more than 100 years with foreign models of politics and development must have demonstrated the limited possibility of the success of an imported and foreign value system in deeply culturally sensitive societies. For development efforts to succeed, the paradigms must be so constructed with adequate recognition of the values prevalent among the people.
Concluding Remarks and Take-aways
This paper has discussed the place of traditional institutions and the roles of the traditional rulers in Nigeria’s national development. It has found that the pre-colonial socio-political order of the various indigenous towns and communities were anchored in their traditional institutions which their traditional rulers represented. The paper found also that the colonial conquest of the various Nigerian communities led to the loss of much powers previously exercised by these traditional rulers. However, in spite of drastic reduction in the power of these monarchs, they were highly recognised and participated actively in governance under colonial rule. The only difference was that their mandate to rule derived from the colonial authorities who could hire and fire them contrary to the pre-colonial traditional practices where their mandate came from their respective customs and values.
Most of the functions and roles played today by the executive chairmen of local governments in Nigeria were played by the traditional rulers under colonial rule. Many of the Obas of the major Yoruba towns were appointed as Native Authorities and later Local Authorities, which was actually the origin of what we now have as the local government. This was the government at the grassroots closest to the governed. They also doubled as the Presidents of their respective Native Courts and were also the Chief Accounting Officers of their respective districts answerable only to the European District Officer. This paper uncovered that while the colonial administration, which was alien, recognised the importance of the traditional rulers and involved them in administration, post-independence Nigerian governments did not. They merely made the traditional rulers play informal advisory roles to the government without engaging them in more meaningful ways in the administration of the country.
The study further discovered that even in places like most Igbo communities previously not having kings, the King of Eze stools were created in the mid-1970s. Since that period, every autonomous community in Igbo land has had king to administer the community as provided in the respective state’s chieftaincy regulations. This went to show that even though specific administrative functions were not created for the traditional rulers in Nigeria in the state and federal constitutions, their place and importance was never in dispute in the country’s political experience. They were always the first port of call with regard to mobilisation for inclusive political participation at the grassroots. Their opinions were always sought and counsels obtained by the governors and even the president on local and national issues affecting the citizens.
More than any level of government, traditional rulership is the most accountable in terms of service delivery. Traditional rulers are accountable to the political order from which they received their staff of authority to rule over their people. No traditional ruler would be allowed to exercise traditional authority and power without due recognition by the government of the day through the Governor of the state. In this regard, he who appoints could fire. There had been many instances of removal, suspension and deportation of traditional rulers for one reason or the other. These rulers sometime, hold office to the pleasure of the Governor. Traditional rulers are equally accountable to their people who could demand their removal from office with or without going through due process. A traditional ruler must at all times have the interest of his people at heart and live in the awareness that he could be removed from office even through mob action. Traditional rulers are importantly, accountable to the ancestors and gods of the land. They live in the consciousness of being supervised by a superior authority which could impose sanctions. The spirituality and sacredness of the office of traditional rulers are such that would compel accountability and good conscience. Finally, the traditional ruler is constantly under the watch of history. As leaders of the people, the personify and symbolise the collective aspirations and history of their people and to that extent are hedged down on all sides to be accountable, forthright and committed without waiting for compensation, gratification or inducement. The cankerworm of impunity and corruption therefore has no shelter with traditional institutions as there are enough physical and spiritual safeguards to prevent its infestation. For development to be human centred, consciously driven toward success, sustainable and functional, it must be anchored on the intrinsic values inherent in the culture and traditions of the people over which the traditional rulers preside with elan and class. The paper therefore concludes that traditional rulers remain essential and central to development in Nigeria with or without specifically created constitutional roles.