Outline of Address on My Induction as Vice-Patron of Lagos Country ClubThe Changing Status and Role of Traditional Rulers in Nigeria.
Outline of Address on My Induction as Vice-Patron of Lagos Country Club
The Changing Status and Role of Traditional Rulers in Nigeria.
• Traditional Rulers were usually the first points of contact for the European traders/colonialists on arrival in their domains. In Onitsha, Obi Akazua received the C.M.S (Anglican) missionaries in 1857.
• Progressively, the traditional rulers were coerced to enter treaties, leases and agreements for trade, protectorate, colonial and other purposes.
• Starting with lucrative trade in commodities, the traditional rulers were progressively coerced into the slave trade leading to wars among the various nation states under their respective control.
• Several traditional rulers resisted the incursion of the European traders/colonialists in famous and historic wars – Benin, Itsekiri (Nana), Opobo (Jaja), Nembe, etc.
• The sovereignty of the traditional rulers was eventually undermined by colonialism through conquest, agreements, subterfuge, etc;
• The colonialists then turned around to use the traditional rulers as agents for indirect rule. Where there were no natural rulers or rulership was diffused, such as in Igboland, warrant chiefs were created and enforced on the populace.
• The rise of nationalism led to the demand for independence, democracy and European style of governance. In the process, political leadership was appropriated by the (Western) educated elites through elections.
• Democratic elections effectively precluded traditional authorities from mainstream governance. The House of Chiefs was created for them as a palliative and compromise.
• Like the colonials, the indigenous political and, subsequent, military elites variously manipulated, exploited and then relegated, humiliated and abandoned the traditional rulers through constitutional and other means.
• In some states, particularly in Northern Nigeria, some arrangements were put in place to cater for the material sustenance of traditional rulers but they have no significant role in modern governance. Some are accorded ceremonial roles but they have become more obsessed with the “glorification of the past”.
• But the traditional institutions have remained a mystical factor and relevant in the lives of their people, though hardly acknowledged by the governing elites. In places like Onitsha, Benin, etc, the monarchy is the embodiment of the spirit of the community and with which every indigene identifies.
• Traditional institutions are the embodiment of the culture and traditions of their people. They are involved in security, customary social justice, economic empowerment, social mobilization, basic health, education, etc.
• They also continue to be looked up to collectively as fathers of the nation.
• Consequently, communities are now reaching out to entice their well-educated, accomplished and experienced indigenes (including ex-military officers) to become their traditional rulers – Akenzua, Edozien, Henshaw, Azikiwe, etc.
• But what does the 21st Century hold for the institution?
• Millenium challenges:
• Scientific changes
• Technological innovations
• Erosion of traditional values
• How do the above challenges impact on traditional institutions?
• How do the traditional institutions remain relevant to the urbanized townsfolk?
• Without relevance, how do the traditional institutions retain essential authority?
• It is inescapable and inevitable that change will constantly happen. In the past, traditional rulers fought against each other for territory, trade channels and slaves. Today, they have to come together to fight modern wars against the common enemies of ignorance, disease, injustice, poverty, hunger, unemployment, etc.
• They seek to achieve this through advocacy, promoting initiatives against social ills, building bridges of friendship across the country, dousing ethnic/religious conflicts, constructively advising and criticizing the government, acting as the conscience of the nation, etc.
• Thus, the traditional rulers remain as relevant today as prior to the colonial incursions into the country, dispossessed of their pre-colonial authority, but are better educated and professionally experienced to lead their communities in the 21st Century.
• It behoves the political and governing elites to accord due recognition and make adequate provision for the traditional institutions within the constitution of the nation.
29 October, 2011(?)