Expediency Of Restoring Traditional Rulers’ Dignity

By Isaac Asabor
Oba Elemoro Palace Raze Down
Oba Elemoro Palace Raze Down

Before the scramble for Africa more than a century ago, traditional rulers were held in high esteem. But over the decades, colonialism, modernism, and politics have been threatening to end their influence. Instances abound across the country on how political leaders, particularly the governors, are bent on using their executive powers to whittle down the influence of traditional rulers who ought to be given deserved recognition that befits Nigerian traditional heritage and values.

Long before the coming of the British colonists, traditional rulers were considered to be the indisputable custodians of tradition and culture. Like the biblical King Solomon, they were seen as embodiments of wisdom and character, discharging their functions and delivering judgment with neither fear nor favor.

Unfortunately, those days seem to have gone when seen through the eyes of the realities of today as they affect traditional rulers across the country. For instance, the people of Kano and other concerned Nigerians will not forget in a hurry how Governor Abdullahi Ganduje’s administration in Kano State removed the 14th Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi, and banished him from the state. In a similar vein, Anambra State Governor Willie Obiano, few months ago suspended for one year the 12 traditional rulers who travelled to Abuja for a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari. Also, it has gone in history that Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State early this year talked down on monarchs in the state during a quarterly meeting at the government house. The governor had asked traditional rulers who had their staff of office to stand up, saying it’s disrespectful for them not to carry it around. “It’s not for you to take it (staff of office) and go and keep it in your bedroom or put it in your shrine, for those of you who worship at various shrines. “It’s for when you are coming out for official function, you come with it. That differentiates you from any other chief.

The monarchs responded by clapping but he interrupted them saying: “Stop clapping. You are being selfish. Stop clapping. It’s the right thing to do. It’s not because of you because you won’t be there forever. It’s to protect the institution. So, don’t clap because you are there now.

He continued his remarks this time around calling out one of the traditional rulers: “Stop shaking your head that’s sycophancy. You are one of those causing problems. They gave you chieftaincy but you are a young boy so you don’t even know what to do with it. And then when I’m speaking you are shaking your head like this because you think I will be happy.

“All fake! Fake! You just go and wear something that is bigger than you…when someone is looking for power. At this point, he faced the other traditional rulers ostensibly to tell them how familiar he was with the traditional ruler. “You’d think he’s an elderly person. Very small young man… this boy. I know when I was in school, he was running around us, going on errands. Now he’s putting on the cap like Usman Dan Fodio. Then he begins to breach protocol. He thinks when he’s shaking his head like this, I’d be happy. That’s fake…that’s fake ….”

Regrettably, from current events, it appears the disrespect been accorded traditional rulers has gone from bad to worse when supporters loyal to Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki clashed with that of Pastor Osaigie Ize-Iyamu at the exit gate point of the palace of the Oba of Benin, His Royal Majesty (HRM), Omo N' Oba N' Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II.

In the ensuing melee, weapons, including firearms, cutlasses and others were freely used in the process with several persons reportedly injured while others scampered for safety, with many cars parked at the front of the palace badly damaged.

If anyone thinks that with what happened within the precinct of the Oba of Benin Palace was a taboo taken too far, he would be rudely shocked at the depth of desecration that was perpetrated by hoodlums in the hallow chambers of palaces in the recent time on the heels of the EndSARS protests.

For instance, the media was agog with how the traditional ruler of Okeodo Elemoro Iwerekun Land in Ibeju Lekki, Lagos State, Oba Tajudeen Afolabi Adebanjo Elemoro’s multi-million naira palace was damaged by hoodlums, who hid under the #EndSARS protests to burn his palace.

In a similar vein, in August this year, a vehicle belonging to the Oba of Ire-Ekiti,Oye Local Government Area of Ekiti State, Oba Victor Bobade, was set ablaze by angry youths who protested against stoppage of the annual celebration of Ogun Onire traditional festival in the town due to COVID-19.

As if the attacks on traditional institutions and their custodians are not enough to those who advertently or inadvertently desecrate palaces through violent acts, the invasion of the palace of the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, on the heels of the #EndSARS protests would in history be considered to be the worst. Yes! When the news filtered in it was difficult to report as a story by Journalists as it was unthinkable and unprecedented. Literarily put, it made the ears of everyone that heard about it tingle.

At bus stops, particularly in central Lagos, people were seen standing with hands akimbo and mouth-agape as what led to it was unarguably difficult to come to terms with. People were seen talking about it in hush-hush tones, particularly as his palace on the Island was ransacked by the irate mob, with his staff of office, regarded as the symbol of authority, taken away.

Without any scintilla of hyperbole, traditional rulers and their followers have since independence, helplessly watched their power progressively shrink. It has come to the stage where one cannot be mistaken to say that they are been ridiculed. The media has a repository of records where some of them have being openly challenged by their subjects or arrested and jailed for murder, theft, embezzlement and illicit land sales. Others gain negative publicity with drunken fights in bars over alcohol and women. In some cases, irate subjects protesting corruption have set their palaces ablaze. It is against the foregoing backdrop that observers are unanimous in their views that the once revered traditional institution in Nigeria is currently teetering on the brink of collapse.

To my view, restoring the respect that the traditional institution in the bygone era was known for is tripartite in nature. Simply put, it requires input from the traditional rulers themselves, the people and the government.

For the traditional rulers, there is the need to at all time to act in accordance with the Constitution and the traditional laws of the land even as they must observe the customs pertaining to traditional leadership and exercise their functions for the purposes for which the institution of traditional leadership has been recognized. Again, when carrying out their duties, the traditional law of the land requires them to treat all persons equally and fairly. It further provides that they should not be members of any political party or in any way participate in partisan politics, including furthering the interests of any political party.

Most important of all is that a traditional ruler whose area of jurisdiction is cosmopolitan in nature should as much as possible endeavor to carry out the duties expected of him, and should not in any way be influenced by primordial sentiments that may be in the form of tribe, religion or party affiliation. For example, when adjudicating disputes, he should not give favorable decisions based on whether the person before the court is a woman or man or belongs to the ruling or opposition political party. This implies that whenever he discharges the traditional responsibilities expected of him that he must be neutral.