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THE RELEVANCE OF TRADITIONAL RULERS IN CONTEMPORARY NIGERIA AS GOVERNANCE

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ABSTRACT

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.

 

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

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).

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).

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). In addition, the autonomous local community according to Ogunna (Ogunna, 1987) 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).  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).

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?

1.5    Proposition

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.

1.6   Limitation

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. It shall also indicate the area of weakness so that improvement and adjustment can be made so as to improve the Nigerian state.

 

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