One Disrespect To Traditional Rulers, Too Many

By Isaac Asabor

On a particular day in the month of January, 2020, former Governor of Rivers State, Mr. Nyesom Wike, now the minister of the FCT, ostensibly woke up to a bad day. While attending a quarterly meeting with traditional rulers in the State, he was captured in a video that showed him letting down his guard, losing his cool and going pedestrian. To be fair, this was not the first time the former governor was exposing his soft underbelly; he has been angry before the ugly incident been recalled in this context, railing against his real and perceived enemies, swearing and threatening to deal with them at an appropriate time.

In a manner that was reminiscent of a meeting between a headmaster of old and his pupils, Wike ordered the traditional rulers to stand with their staff of office, to identify the majority that had attended the session with a walking stick instead of staff! Apparently confirming his doubts, he gave a stern warning to the majority who left the staff at the palace.

Unarguably irked by the monarchs whom he visibly considered to be non-compliant, he cheekily talked down on them thus: “I cannot be addressing you (traditional rulers) when some of you are using an ordinary walking stick to come here. Since you don’t want to use your staff in the office, I will give it to other people. You don’t know the authority it carries… Sometimes you just want something without knowing the implication of it.”

Ostensibly unable to contain himself, he seemingly went wild, switched to uncouth and vituperated language, shouted and presumably talked down to a royal father who he said was his errand boy in his undergraduate days. He was visibly piqued, a sign that exposed his irritability, and which was no doubt a veritable shortcoming for a leader who at the time held the highest office in the State.

While dressing down the monarch whom he alleged used to be his errand boy, he likened his cap, which was invariably a royal accoutrement, to that of Uthman Dan Fodio thereby making other monarchs presence at the royal event to laugh and giggle. The monarch’s sin was that he nodded in agreement to Wike’s decision to check the increase in number of ‘Royal Highnesses’ that have been undermining their royal disposition.

In reaction to his outburst and sheer disrespect of the traditional ruler, not a few commentators on social mediaplatforms vehemently upbraided the governor for ostensibly being power drunk.

Given the foregoing humiliating scenario, anyone that is not abreast with the prevailing relationship between Nigeria’s political leaders, particularly Governors; and the traditional rulers, may think Wike is alone in the world of belittling crowned monarchs. Never, it is far from the truth as not a few Nigerians have witnessed how royal fatherswere publicly humiliated by politicians in the past, and thus left them to be burlesqued by young people who see them as representing an archaic institution.

In fact, Nigerians, particularly those of Northern extraction, will never forget the brutal dethronement of the Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II by the then state governor, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje, who invoked his constitutional powers to depose the emir after accusing him of "insubordination".

Though, the number of monarchs in multi-ethnic Nigeria is no doubt on the high side as virtually every community; no matter how small it is, is ruled by a traditional leader, and given the fusion of modern system of government and traditional system of government, not a few traditional rulers are often at loggerheads with the politicians who have constitutional authority to either whittle down their power and authority or out rightly dethrone them.

For instance, in 2016, barely a week left to serve out his two-term tenure as the Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole suspended King Zaiki Edenojie II of Uromi Kingdom for one year in addition to losing his rights and privileges that he had hitherto exercised and also lose a share of the five percent revenue accruing to the local council.

It will be recalled in this context that the Edo State Government announced the king’s suspension for failing to apologise within the stipulated period to a woman, Betty Okoeber, whom he allegedly assaulted on September 28, among other infractions. However it was alleged that the monarch was humiliated by the former governor for tacitly supporting the People Democratic Party (PDP) on Election Day to which he denied.

In a similar vein, the former Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, in 2020 reportedly placed a one-year suspension on 12 traditional rulers in the state who went on a trip to Abuja with oil magnate, Prince Arthur Eze, to see former President Muhammad Buhari. What was their collective offence? The monarchs were alleged to have traveled with Eze to report the governor to the president over his non-conduct of local government elections in the state among other complaints. The then Commissioner for Local Government, Chieftaincy and Community Affairs, Mr. Greg Obi, listed the affected traditional rulers as follows: Igwe Alex Edozieuno of Mkpunando; Igwe Mark Anthony Okonkwo of Alor; Igwe Chukuwma Bob Vincent Orji of Ezinifite, and Igwe G.B.C Mbakwe of Abacha.

Others were Igwe Chijioke Nwankwo of Nawfia; Igwe NkeliNelly of Igbariam; Igwe Anthony Onyekwere of Owelle; Igwe A. N Onwuneme of Ikenga; Igwe Simon IkechukwuChidubem of Umumbo; Igwe S. O Uche of Ezira; Igwe Dr. Emeka Ilouno of Ifitedunu, and Igwe Peter IkegbunemUdoji of Eziagulu Otu.

The suspension according to him through a circular stated that “The suspended Igwes are not to parade themselves as traditional rulers, and should desist from discharging their functions as traditional rulers in their communities or anywhere within the state and beyond with immediate effect”.

Punitive enough, a portion of the circular also revoked their membership of the Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council and any appointment they may be holding in government committees until the suspension is lifted, and added that the suspension may be lifted at the end of one year, renewed or upgraded in the intervening period depending on the government’s review of the conduct of the errant royal fathers.

Surprisingly, while not a few connoisseurs of tradition and culture have in the last few years been worried about the deepening level of disrespect being accorded to traditional leaders, and desecration of traditional institutions, mostly by politicians, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was reported to have tongue-lashed the traditional rulers from Oke-Ogun, Ibadan, Oyo and Ibarapa, and termed their effrontery as disrespect to ‘constituted authority’, because they failed to stand up when the governor, Seyi Makindeand himself in turn climbed the rostrum for their addresses. The incident was said to have happened at the commissioning of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, LAUTECH’s College of Agricultural Science and Renewable Natural Resources, Iseyin, on Friday.September 15, 2023.

The former president was reported to have said, “Wherever a governor or president is sitting, traditional rulers must show them respect.”

However, the elder statesman’s action drew the ire of at least one prominent Oba in the South-West, Oluwo of Iwo, Oba Abdurosheed Akanbi, who described the incident as condemnable, and an intentional desecrastion of the traditional institutions, and demanded unreserved apology from the ex-president.

At this juncture, it is expedient to confess that the essence of expressing this view on this news platform is to urge our political leaders to always respect traditional leaders as our forefathers were wont to do during their earthly journey. We should not allow modernity to devalue our god-gifted system of government even as a proverb in Igbanke says in Ika dialect that “Wamu Eze Efe Wa KpaNwanta” which interpretatively mean, “A king is worshipped from birth, and he is never seen to be a child”.

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