Continued from last week
In the first part of this piece, I made a serious case for the inclusion of the role for traditional rulers in our constitution. Certainly, there are bound to be contrasting opinions to my position, but it does not really matter. What is important is that our traditional rulers, because of their strategic position in the maintenance of law and order in their respective domains, deserve more legitimate recognition.
Naturally, traditional rulers have a huge role to play as custodians of the culture and tradition of their people. This position confers on them some unique authority to help mould public opinion on strategic issues.
Many communities have found themselves in difficulties as a result of their inability to choose a traditional ruler. It is generally believed that traditional rulers because of their close affinity to their people determine, to a large extent, how things are done in their communities. It is for this reason that the government has always found it more reasonable to use them to discharge certain functions.
In Nigeria, almost every state has a traditional rulers’ council which duty is to assemble the traditional rulers in a state to meet from time to time to reach important decisions which they pass on to government for implementation if found worthy. Through this medium government passes useful information across to them for dissemination to their respective communities.
The harmony that has existed (even though there are exceptions) between traditional rulers and their state governments has assisted in driving government programmes, especially in the areas of tax collection, security, law and order. It has been established that little progress is made where there has been misunderstanding between traditional rulers and their governments. This is why it is imperative that such governments should do everything possible to restore peace.
It is painful that some governors treat the traditional institution with disdain, often denigrating them to achieve their parochial interests. This unfortunate situation has been allowed to fester because there has not been any constitutional role for traditional rulers. If their role is enshrined in the constitution it will be difficult for governors to take undue advantage of them, let alone demean their stature.
In any case, the agitation for a constitutional role for traditional rulers has continued to tempo, particularly now that crimes and crises at the grassroots have continued to exacerbate.
Those opposed to carving out a role for traditional rulers in the constitution do so substantially out of ignorance. Nobody is closer to the people than the traditional rulers. The peace and security of their communities revolve around them. It is for this reason that the government finds it easier to use them to disseminate important information about its key activities, such as voter information, immunisation against communicable diseases, census, and maintenance of law and order.
Indeed it has become imperative to take a more dispassionate look at the matter with a view to doing justice to it.
It is sad that despite the strategic position traditional rulers occupy and the very important role they play in national unity, peace and security, there is no definitive role ascribed to them in the 1999 Constitution.
I could not but align myself to the warning by a former Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Olubunmi Adetumbi, that continuously ignoring the institution of the traditional fathers could spell doom for the nation as this can only be avoided if their role is included in the constitution. For instance, the issue of insecurity caused by Boko Haram in the North and wanton kidnapping and hostage taking in the South should have been dealt with if they had been entrusted to the royal fathers. They are closer to the people and know people from their communities and should be able to fish out the bad eggs for discipline if only they had the constitutional obligation and backing to do so.
The same situation is obtainable in the Niger Delta. I have always wondered what the region could have turned into if not for the intervention of the traditional rulers of the communities that make up the region. The ongoing discussions between the Avengers and government negotiators would have been smoother and faster if the traditional rulers had been assigned this onerous task. They have more capacity than those handling it at the moment to restore normalcy in the Niger Delta Region.
Traditional rulers can play useful roles in brokering peace and amity between the government and the people. They can enhance national unity and help to resolve minor and major conflicts that threaten our national existence.
There is no part of Nigeria today that is not reaping bountifully from chaos, anarchy and restiveness of the citizens resulting from challenges of governance and defective mechanisms in responding to the needs of the people which force people to self-help and other criminal tendencies. This is a challenge to all and sundry in this country and it requires intelligence gathering from the grassroots before such problems could be tackled.
No one is better placed for this role than the traditional rulers if only that is a constitutional duty assigned to them. Traditional rulers are better positioned to track locals who do crime in their areas of jurisdiction.
Community policing was introduced as a way of taking the war against crimes to the grassroots. It was believed that the traditional rulers and other leaders of thought at the local level are better positioned to proffer solutions to how to maintain security and order in their domains. And it is paying off.
Imagine what would happen if a traditional ruler is constitutionally empowered to deal with cases of security, law and order in his community. In addition, his morale will be boosted if he is paid something commensurate every month to help to achieve it.
Traditional rulers can be used to help decongest the courts if they are trusted with the responsibility of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in their various communities. The aim of ADR is reconciliation, and traditional rulers are there naturally to do that exercise for the courts and for government. In fact, one of the most important assignments of traditional rulers is dispute resolution and that is why they sit in their palaces daily taking far-reaching decisions. In the same vein, cases of boundary disputes, communal clashes and marriage issues are better handled by traditional rulers. It is better than going to court to spend a fortune without getting the result that will assuage the anger of all the feuding parties.
Traditional rulers can also be used to attain restorative justice which is an approach that focuses on the victim and offender as well as the involved community to take active role in the process whereby the offender is encouraged to take responsibility for his actions either by apologising or restoring what has been stolen or doing community service in return.
The traditional rulers cannot perform this role if they have no legal backing. More so, the victim of crime will ever remain uncompensated.
Under matters of inheritance, it is the traditional rulers that should handle such issues rather than the courts. If the royal fathers are assigned this role, they will handle it well as custodians of culture, custom and tradition.
Again, grassroots mobilisation for elections, head count or any national assignment is better handled by the traditional rulers. It is has always been the practice even when this role is not prescribed in the constitution.
If I may ask: Why has the 1999 Constitution sidetracked the royal institution when it is obvious that good governance lies squarely in the grassroots?
It is my candid opinion that the institution of traditional rulers is underutilised and that is not the best for the country in this era of democracy. The institution should not only be recognised when the political class needs recognition or chieftaincy titles. The government already spends some money to maintain the institution. If that is the case, then why will it be a big deal to let the royal fathers contribute to the development of the nation at least from their local communities?
What is the way out? We all know that traditional rulers are already performing some of the roles already mentioned, although at rudimentary level, I still suggest the roles be constitutionally assigned, defined and funded by government.
There should be the re-introduction of the traditional rulers’ council at the local, state and federal levels of government where they do not already exist. The traditional fathers should be the last point of giving honest, sincere and courageous advice to the political class.
Again, ADR should be left with the royal fathers in matters relating to land, boundaries, marriages, inheritance and sharing inheritance. By so doing, the courts will have time to dispense with other technical issues.
The traditional institution should not be made another tier of government, but should be assigned constitutional recognition and funded accordingly. Democracy is all about the people and no government will succeed without the people getting involved in its affairs. The traditional rulers are the link between the people and government and therefore, their institution is pivotal to good governance and political administration.
Therefore the call for constitutionality of the roles of traditional rulers is justified. The issue is not having a forth tier of government, but all about having royal fathers in political governance, especially to deal with critical issues involving security, information dissemination, ADR, tax generation and even distribution of government amenities.
The time to accomplish this task is now that the National Assembly is reviewing the constitution.