Traditional Institutes as a Recipe for Security and Unity
Government comes and goes but the traditional institution has remained an integral framework of our history and the bedrock of our nation's democracy. No government can work harmoniously without the assistance of the tradition institutions because these institutions have remained the pulse of the people and an enduring part of our cultural heritage, No society progresses without defined cultural norms and values which regulate the activities of its people. Politically, looking at the history of Africa shows that countries without defined structures for the traditional institution do not last and are much prone to wars and civil strife. Coming back to the crux of the issue in Nigeria is the empowerment of the traditional institution which many see as a constitutional role for our royal fathers which is long overdue as government officials come and go with pronouncements and promises without doing anything tangible to resuscitate the rights of the royal fathers which has been bastardized over the years by politicians merely for their selfish gains. lt is only when there are crises or a problem that we realize the importance of the institution as a rallying point for Nigerians. But if the truth must be told, it should not be so. Nigeria should have been able to emulate civilized societies like Great Britain, China Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia etc. and our next door neighbor Ghana that has a legislative chambers for both local and upper cadre for traditional rulers i.e. they have enshrined constitutional roles for traditional rulers and that is why today, Ghana is where it is because people aspiring to contest or be voted for in any elections are scrutinized by traditional rulers, district heads or elders of his community before he or she is appointed. lt goes to show that it is only those with integrity who can scale such hurdles to become an appointee. What we are experiencing today, the Boko Haram insurgency, the Niger Delta militants, OPC, IPOB and others would have been a thing of the past if community leaders/ traditional institutions were empowered. All these nomenclatures would have been nipped in the bud and confined to the dustbin of history during their infancy stages. But we now have a situation where the traditional rulers are just mere figure heads, with no funds or administrative powers to back up whatever they intend to do within their domain.
The history of Nigeria’s creation itself must be taken into consideration if meaningful development will be achieved. Issues like security, dispute resolution, health, education, sanitation, social development and judicial authorities and others are all in the kitty of traditional rulers then and both the issue of land which has become the bane of the Nigerian society. ln time past, the institution had all the powers to coordinate information regarding any issue from their various clan heads or emirs and this information were processed to avail peaceful co-existence and mutual love for one another in their respective domains. Funds were given to traditional rulers including the authority for the security of lives and property were also part of the administrative responsibilities of traditional rulers and at no time were there any misgivings or breakdown of law and order. But after the colonial masters left and Nigeria became independent, the political few started seeing the need to aggregate power to themselves by stripping the traditional institution of their legal rights and obligations and today Nigeria is worse for it.
Howbeit, the traditional institution in Nigeria have become an important part of the life of Nigerians and forms the bedrock of the political experience of many Nigerians; They elicit greater confidence and legitimacy in the eyes of the ordinary Nigerians than the institution of the modern state because of their belief of being their brother’s keeper at all times. That is why from the Sultan’s palace to the palace of the Ooni of lfe and the Amanyanabo of Kalabari, the words are the same and they preach peace, unity and stability, the very unifying factors that held us together as one nation, one people with a common heritage. The new role for traditional rulers in Nigeria is to allow for traditional bureaucracy, so that rulers can intercede for the common man and modern state making it possible for the institution to broker- a new development and projects due to their closeness to the people as most traditional rulers are now educated, enlightened and well-travelled.
The framers of the 1979 constitution realized the traditional institution as a good rival political power and largely succeeded in dismantling or curtailing their authority and did a lot of damage to the judiciary and legislative powers of traditional rulers by denying them political roles in the new constitution which was in sharp contrast to the 1963 constitution. So also is the 1989 and 1995 constitution did same and relegated the powers by not attaching importance to the institution. The sentiment among these constitutions was that the institutions were irrelevant within the context of the Nigerian state that emphasizes achievements rather than ascribed status or symbols. They seem uncomfortable with the institution whose mode of exercising political power appeared to conflict with their ideals of democratic governance and today, such disservice to the Nigeria people has suffered tremendous setback bringing us to where we are presently in a state of insecurity. The successive exclusion of the traditional institution from the day- to -day running of government is to a large extent, responsible for the loss of direction in governance, thus making life more unbearable for the teeming population of Nigerians.
In proper perspective, the institution has been divested of their formal role of executive, economic and judicial powers except in narrowly defined areas. They have been denied the requisite resources to effectively function and perform their roles also as custodians of the people's culture and traditions. These issues need the urgent attention of the present government if it wants to attain a lasting peace in Nigeria. The institution must be taken into cognizance once and for all. As government alone cannot provide all the basic needs for its people, the institution plays a vital role in the development process which at once enhances democracy and sustains our nation. They play such roles by mobilizing people to execute projects, sensitization about health hazards, promoting education, preaching peace, mutual co-existence and encouraging various enterprise inspiring respect for law and urging people to participate in electoral processes and most of these efforts are done without formal recognition or financial support from government but rather from the meagre funds of the traditional rulers and as such, they must be financially enhanced and motivated to carry out their functions.
The traditional rulers are the rallying point for the changing insecurity tide across Africa and Nigeria in particular in terms of value reorientation and moral obligations. The issue of Millennium Development Goals (MDG's), Sustainable Development Goals, vision 20:2020 and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) can only be achieved when traditional rulers are truly involved in the implementation, rather than pay lip service because majority of the rulers are close to the people at the grassroots and it is only through them that this development can percolate to this segment of the society. lt is my submission, they have to be equipped and empowered financially, materially, constitutionally, trained and re-trained on Advisory Dispute Resolution(ADR) and other matters as it affects our communities and that traditional rulers have to provide crucial leadership now and beyond if they are constitutionally empowered for national development, especially at this time of our nation's history. Traditional rulers are natural and obvious partners in the development process and governance in Nigeria, They are indeed partners. The issues of community policing, moral standards /value system, re-orientation of our culture and traditions, issues of security, wise counsel on various important national issues, including religious and inter-ethnic problems need the empowerment of traditional rulers to monitor the pulse of the nation. No concept of governance or development can be complete without acknowledging the role of the traditional institution.
The search for an enduring solution to the challenges of nation building must be viewed in the context of our desire for unity, peace and progress. The role of traditional rulers in the task of nation building cannot be over emphasized considering their long standing historical relevance to the political and economic development of any nation. The traditional institution as our social contract with the people is forever and not for the next election. The government should immediately look into the provision of a formidable constitutional role for our royal fathers who have remained an integral historical bedrock of our nation.
Omoba Kenneth Aigbegbele is a Culture Activist and National Co-ordinator of Nigerian Royalty Awards .
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