Maybe the traditional rulers of Nigeria are the answer to the problems facing Nigeria. Can we turn to them for solutions to the intractable problems that are about to swamp us all? Has this group of Very Important Nigerians conducted themselves with the dignity and respect attached to their offices, crowns, stools and thrones? Have they proved themselves to be the pillars of moral and ethical strength and of exemplary character to all and sundry? Have they been impartial, non-partisan and completely untainted throughout the saga of the Nigeria darkest moments?
Nigeria, like many African countries or nations, was a peacefully governed polity before the on-set of the Europeans and Arabs in Africa. Most of the communities were settled and the peoples related to one another as neighbours. No inter-ethnic or inter-tribal wars were recorded or at the minimal, if at all. The peoples managed to the best of their abilities and their needs to establish workable governments. The Biroms, The Edos, The Gobirawas, The Gwaris, The Ibibios, The Idomas, The Ijaws, The Jukuns, The Kanuris, The Nupes, The Tivs, The Yorubas, and so on and so forth all managed to establish kingdoms where law and order were perfectly maintained. Their lives were peaceful as far as humanly possible apart from the culturally cultivated superstitions and fears of the gods created and nurtured by the irrational influence of the witch doctors and other local power-loving priests and priestesses.
However, in the early part of the nineteenth century, two different foreigners forced their ways into this harmonious geographical space now named Nigeria to destabilise irreparably the serenity and the peaceful existence of the indigenous people of the land. These were the Fulanis and the British expeditionary. Since the coming of these two adventurers, the near perfect harmonious existence of the various kingdoms was completely disorganised. First it was the Fulanis who managed to wreck havoc on the old Hausa kingdoms under the disguise of religious supremacy, while the British also under the pretence of racial supremacy did the same using trade as their entry point. Since the coming of these two supremacist believers the people of this rich and blessed land have not been the same again. Even after almost four decades of political independence from one of the colonisers, the indigenous peoples are yet to recover their damaged personal self respect and trampled human dignity. While the Fulanis managed to blend through marriage and other cultural exchanges, the white British overlords were too high up there to come so low. Since the British refused to blend and become Yoruba-English or Igbo-English or Ijaw-English like their counterpart in the north who now go by the double-barrel label of Hausa-Fulani it was possible for the nationalist to kick them out.
However, since these two groups of foreign occupation forces came into Nigeria, the traditional political institutions of the indigenous people have drastically changed in value and content, even though in some places it still retained the empty structures. When the history of the different kingdoms are compared and analysed, it is found that the Yoruba kingdom had a democratic government as authentic as any that could be found in the original philosophy of the Greek civilisation.
The Yorubas, like the Jews, believed they could trace their patriarchal progenitor to Oduduwa the acknowledged father of the tribe. It is customary among them to test the authenticity of an Oba in the Yoruba towns by his ability to trace his origin to Oduduwa in Ile-Ife as a great grandson who migrated to establish a new settlement. The Kingdom of Oyo that finally emerged had an elaborate well-defined structure of government made up of Oba, High Chiefs and other Chiefs drawn from the political, social, spiritual or religious circles. The chiefs acted as the checks and balances against any excesses of a reigning monarch. The political institutions of the kingdom were not over centralised as each town or village or hamlet was allowed to establish its own administrative arrangement around an Oba of its choice.
The allegiance and respect an Oba commands within the kingdom depended on the traced seniority of lineage of birth from Oduduwa. The kingdom had glorious eras of peace and contentment until the Europeans emerged from the sea and the Fulani from the desert to shatter this serene fellowship of human beings that trusted and respected one another as brothers and sisters of one family. Naturally there were differences but there were established procedures for settling and making it up. All these admirable institutions went up in flames because of these two interfering racial and religious supremacists.
In the northern part of the country the kingdoms of the various Hausa-speaking people and other nationalities were similarly scattered and demolished. The Hausa-speaking people and other groups in the north also related to one another as one big happy family and had almost identical political administrative institutions as the Yorubas. The Fulanis destroyed all these under the pretence of instituting a godly religious administration. The events of the Fulani’s rule before and after the British conquest of the Fulani Empire have not shown anything godly apart from an elaborate outward appearance of piety and godliness. Their love for earthly power can be seen in the way they over-ran and dominated all the political institutions of the north under the Jihadist crusade. This is more of a people that have their eyes set on earthly glory than any concern for reward in paradise.
The Igbos on the eastern part of the country had no kingdom or elaborate political administrative institutions. The Igbo’s societies were originally and still at heart natural republics until the British colonialist created and forced traditional stools on them. Now the Igbo princes are more princely and more flamboyantly attired than any prince you can find anywhere in the world. This creation was foreign to the nature, temperament and cultural orientation of the Igbos. They are a people of individualistic but family and community-oriented, industrious and entrepreneurial spirit.
The Nigeria convoluted history succeeded in taming their good admirable personality. Rather than be adventurous and creative in a productive sense as they used to be, the Igbos have become the greatest opportunist class in Nigeria. They have since jettisoned all moral and ethical principles with which their independence of spirit was secured for generation and have adopted, in the context of the reality forced on them by Nigeria, an attitude that is prepared to make the best for themselves out of a bad situation. Thanks to Nigeria, the pride and indomitable spirit of a noble, resilient and energetic people have been temporarily destroyed.
The above is a brief historical analysis of the nature of traditional institutions in the country. In the 1960s after Nigeria gained political independence from Britain, the Obas in the West and some Emirs in the North had an unsavoury experience and a raw taste of what democracy and republicanism mean to non-political party elected rulers. The democratically elected regional governments managed to put all recalcitrant traditional rulers in the place where they thought they belong – archives. Before 1960, however, the colonial government had also managed to use and abuse the traditional rulers particularly in the north as partners and as naïve collaborators for their make-believe obnoxious and degrading indirect rule administration.
The traditional rulers were the middlemen doing all the dirty works for the colonial government. They became exceedingly corrupt and were over pampered by the colonial civil servants. Although, just before the British officials left the political scene and prior to independence some of their erstwhile dependable associates were cut down from their high pedestals. Names like Yakubu III, The Emir of Bauchi; Ahmadu, The Lamido of Adamawa; and Umar Ibn Mohammed, The Shehu of Borno were some of those used as scapegoats by the departing colonial government.3 Unfortunately, the treatment meted to these loyal servants of the Crown became the precedents on which the politicians of the First Republic built their policy of brewing a non-interference posture from the Traditional Rulers.
In the Western Region, some of the Obas were refused salaries and allowances or their stipends were cut down to pittance. The politicians treated them with disrespect and with total ignominy. Is it therefore still a surprise to the discerning Nigerians why the traditional rulers have been playing mouse and cat game with politics and preferring to dance to the tune of the military boys? Political instincts and common sense would have taught them that democratic rule could never be to their advantage. It is quite obvious that as far as the traditional rulers of Nigeria are concerned, they would rather prefer the safe unitary government of the despotic soldiers than face the unsafe but sure water of democracy that will ensure freedom, justice and equality for all rather than the few.
This crafty but sensible selfish calculation form the basis of the pattern of behaviours found among traditional rulers that seem to be blowing hot and cold when self-rule agenda come under focus. The military boys cherished the loyalty of the traditional rulers and they have used it over and over to build and to gain legitimacy for their illegal rule over Nigeria. It is customary that as soon as the renegade coup plotters seize power either from the civilian or from their own kind, the first port of call is the palaces of the traditional rulers.
The former Sultan of Sokoto, Sir Abubakir before he died was the uncrowned Monarch of Nigeria. When the Buhari junta seized power in 1983, the first official engagement they undertook was to send a delegation led by Brigadier Mohammed Magoro, to the palace of the Sultan to formally inform him that there are new kids in power and to seek his blessings. Even though, he took offence as to why the head of the coup plotter did not come personally, but all the same he gave his blessings. However, since he died and since the Babangida and Abacha administrations have colluded to scuttle that formidable power base of the Northern oligarchy or feudalism, the institution had been made ineffectual and of no longer any major significance in the national power structure. Thanks to the merry go round musical chair game the two musketeers played with Ibrahim Dansuki and Muhamadu Maccido the two rivals to the vacant throne of the Sultan.
Despite all the outrageous things done by Sani Abacha, Nigerians ought to be grateful to him, for bringing out to the fore the true colours of the traditional rulers as a lily-livered bunch of sycophants. Abacha truly showed them up as untraditional and unprincipled rulers that they have become this past 100 years. It was disheartening to see a group of people who were hitherto regarded as almost divine, selling their souls, their positions and their subjects for a bowl of pottage or for lucre, or contracts or favours and for other such mundane privileges. These VIPs of Nigeria were seen daily thronging to and from Aso Rock either on state or zonal representations or on personal delegation or audience. They were reckless in their show of solidarity and in the manner they rally and shove up support for a madman like Sani Abacha.
They were, or they pretended to be, oblivious of the atrocities going on all around them and under their noses. They were frightened of being cut off from Aso Rock certified privileges and so they failed to raise a finger or a voice when subjects in their domain were being arrested, incarcerated, tortured and killed by Abacha’s secret and non secret agents. No single word of wisdom or of condemnation was uttered by these eminent divine personalities. Instead they would rather queue up in Abuja for their rations of comfort in cash and kind than to make any protest for the liberty and justice of their subjects. It was a shameful episode and a disgrace to the traditional institution in Nigeria. The damage done to the high esteem and honour hitherto accorded this office cannot be measured neither can it ever be the same again. In short, the death knell of this institution has been sounded; whatever remains of it as at now merely exists on borrowed time.
Therefore, Dear Nigerian, can these so-called fathers of the nation be trusted to save Nigeria? Can they fight on behalf of the people who put so much faith in them to lead them without fear or favour but with justice? Are these people worth the beaded and non-beaded crowns or bandages they wrap round their heads or feathers they put on their red caps? Can Nigeria put their trust in them again for anything? Is their throne and stools worth preserving when the people come into true knowledge of the meaning of life? Can anyone give assurance for the safety of these institutions when the people come into a true understanding of their rights as people created in the image of God? Is this institution compatible with democratic ideals that encourage the people to realise they are individually endowed with inalienable rights to freedom and equality with all other men on the planet earth?
These and many other questions are what Nigerians, individually and collectively, must seek answers to in their consciences aided by the natural gift of sensory organs of perception as well as a developed mental skill of reasoning. Nigerians must have to stop hiding under discredited leaders. Nigerians must learn to stand-up singly for a belief without fear. Every Nigerian is afraid of death, poverty, hunger, suffering, torture and such likes yet these are the daily experiences of every Nigerian in spite of the fears and the total submission to the likes of Babangida and Abacha. Yet these realities can never disappear on their own unless every Nigerian do something about them. It is high time Nigerians call a stop to their stupidity and their collective folly or foolishness. The scumbags in our midst have ridden on our backs long enough because of the simple fact that we have a venerable attachment to traditional myths and superstitions. They have used this simple faith to blindfold us from facing the reality of life in the twentieth century world.
It is obvious to all that care to use their intelligence that the traditional rulers have also become a liability and a problem to the true emancipation and freedom of the people of Nigeria. Unless every Nigerian understands this cruel game going on between the soldiers and the untraditional rulers of the land, then democracy or whatever we are aspiring for as a people will forever remain a mirage.
In the sense analysed above, the traditional rulers have also become the problem and not the solution to the predicaments facing Nigeria. What then can we do about it? We must answer this question in our hearts individually and whatever the outcome we arrive at, each of us must act on it as per our understanding and circumstances. But let the weapon on which our decision shall be effected be rooted in love and peace. Let knowledge rule not sentiments, not myths, not superstitions but pure common sense knowledge which gives true power that is capable of setting every man free and truly free indeed.
SAM ABBD ISRAEL
29 January 1999
3. Alhaji M.Yakubu ‘Coercing Old Guard Emirs in Northern Nigeria: The Abdication of Yakubu III’ in African Affairs.