By Austine Uche-Ejeke
The furore that the xenophobic pronouncement of Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, made few days to the last gubernatorial election brought to a climax the ignoble role traditional rulers have been playing in our extant democracy in recent times.
Who is a traditional ruler, one may be forced to ask. And the simplest response is that a traditional ruler in the context of this discourse is the person entrusted with the rulership and guidance of a particular people in an area. Thus the office connotes a kind of father figure to all the people under the traditional ruler’s suzerainty
If this is the expected role and dispositions of traditional rulers, then the conduct of some prominent traditional rulers to say the least leaves much to be desired. This was more pronounced during the last electioneering season where known natural rulers became apparently partisan to the consternation of discerning Nigerians.
The custom and tradition is for a politician, be he the president, governor or any other political aspirant to pay homage to the domain of the ruler where the politician is visiting or intends to campaign. But this custom has been broken irretrievably as such visit that is supposed to be solemn is now turned to political campaign jamboree of some sorts.
It does not end there as we see in some cases where prominent traditional rulers come out to make pronouncements in support or denouncement of a particular candidate. Reported case of huge sums of money exchanging hands during such visits abound, so much so that the traditional institution has been reduced to a laughing stock.
Taking specific instances of this glaring display of partisanship is the out pouring of emotion of the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu towards one of the political parties, the All Progressive Congress. Right from the days of Alliance for Democracy to Action Congress of Nigeria, the Oba has not hidden his romance and sweetheart dealings with the ruling party in Lagos State.
This is always exhibited with open hobnobbing of the Oba with the leaders of the party at the slightest opportunity. Thus it was not a surprise that the Oba was one of the first people in Lagos to endorse the candidature of Akinwumi Ambode, the eventual winner of the governorship election. The surprising thing is that the Oba unabashedly told the world that Ambode was his anointed candidate and that any other candidate should stay clear! He openly admitted that the he had told the candidate of People’s Democratic Party, Jimi Agbaje, though his blood that he could never be the governor of Lagos State.
Jimi Agbaje on his part confirmed and even revealed of subtle threats to his life and that of his family for merely aspiring to govern Lagos, just like any other free, qualified citizen of Lagos State. To take this obscene open display of partisanship to the extreme, the Oba few days to the election openly proclaimed a curse to the effect that on anybody – with particular reference to people from the South-East – that anybody that voted against his preferred candidate would have a date in the Lagos Lagoon within seven days!
What absurdity from, as supposed, the father of all residents of Lagos. Why display such preference where you are supposed to be father of all the candidates, dishing out blessings, prayers and not threats and curses to all the candidates and at the same time wishing them good outing in the elections. By so doing the traditional ruler will maintain his dignity, honour and respect as a genuine father figure that commands respect from all and sundry.
Joining the list of the ignoble display of partisanship is the controversial Emir of Kano and dismissed former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who has not hidden his preference for the same All Progressives Congress. In fact, it is speculated in some quarters that his partisanship and open antagonistic dispositions made him to be a thorn in the flesh of the outgoing government of President Goodluck Jonathan and the ruling People’s Democratic Party.
That culminated in his removal as CBN Governor. To confirm the permutations of the pundits, the All Progressives Congress played a prominent role in his installation when most of their governors left their states and trooped to Kano and ensured that Sanusi emerged as the Emir of Kano! And as if to buttress the already known stance of the Emir and to say thank you to a political party that championed his cause, the Emir left his subjects and domain in Kano and flew straight to Lagos few days after the presidential election to felicitate with his fellow traditional partisan ruler Oba of Lagos on the victory of All progressive Congress.
A picture of the Emir of Kano, Oba of Lagos and leader of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu went viral on social media and most national newspapers carried the picture where the trio were laughing about vanquishing their opponents at the polls!
The same scenario played out in all states, particularly in the South-West and South-East where reports had it of exchange of huge amount of money for traditional rulers to endorse one candidate or the other. It is even more worrisome when it has been established that some traditional rulers help in rigging election and falsifying results. Some governors have guts to issue out orders to some traditional rulers to ensure that they deliver their domain or stand the risk of being dethroned! And this saw us witnessing direct involvement of traditional rulers in the activities of the election contrary to established norms.
But the good thing about this perfidy is that there are exceptional traditional rulers who still respect the sanctity of the throne they occupy. Prominent among these is the rare display of courage and boldness of the Obi of Onitsha two years ago when he openly confronted President Jonathan on not being forthright in the execution of the second Niger Bridge. It was reported that the Obi did not mince words in telling the president the chagrin and disappointment of the people of the South-East concerning the all important Bridge.
From all intents and purposes, it is only a traditional ruler that has not soiled his garment with filthy lucre from the powers that be that can muster enough courage to tell the president such biting and naked truth. This does not mean that his traditional stool was in opposition to the government of the day, but the traditional ruler was excising his right and due role of being father of all and one who praises when it is appropriate and chastises when the situation calls for that.
The same attribute was exhibited by the Oba of Benin who refused vehemently to endorse the candidature of any of the presidential candidates in the just concluded election. Feelers gotten from the traditional house of Oba of Benin had it that the Oba told the presidential candidates that it is a taboo of the Benin culture for a traditional ruler to endorse or coerce his subjects to vote for any particular candidate.
This to him is an abomination and the Oba excused himself from such act. In the same vein, the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Adetona, also told the president that he had no power to force any of his subjects to vote for him since such powers and rights resides only with the people. So in spite of all threats, enticements, entreaties, the Oba still maintained his stand and thereafter stood out as one of the traditional rulers who never compromised. A few other traditional rulers still maintained such noble stance which is what it is supposed to be for us to have equity, fairness and uprightness in the institution of traditional rulers.
It is on this note that politicians are advised to leave out traditional rulers in their political permutation and calculation. The best they can do is to urge the traditional rulers to maintain peace and tranquility in their various domains. This knack for corrupting traditional rulers or even brazenly co-opting them into supporting a particular candidate or political party will only brew bad blood that would at the end of the day mess up the once sacred institution.
If care is not taken, it will get to a point where the subjects will start seeing their traditional rulers as one of the politicians with no more value or respect attached to the occupier of the stool. And when this happens the very fabric that hold the nation will start disintegrating. Any traditional ruler that openly hobnobs with the governing party or a contesting candidate will not have the temerity to call such person to ordering in the event of misgovernance.
Yes some school of thought may say that after all traditional rulers are human beings with blood running in their veins and as such should support a candidate of their choice. This may be a truism. They may have liking for a particular candidate or party but for goodness’ sake they should keep such preference to themselves and not exhibit it openly to the extent of persuading or forcing people to toe the line of their choice or else Armageddon will be let loose.
All things being equal, with the envisaged tinkering of the constitution, Nigerians are hopeful that traditional rulers will be given their pride of place where their functions and limitation will be adequately spelt out. While we await that, traditional rulers should as a matter of respect and decency restrict themselves to their natural calling of being custodians of our norms, culture and tradition.
They should be contented with interpreting the customs and traditions of their people, administer and attend to the problems and challenges of their subjects without necessarily involving themselves to the politics of the day.
Austine Uche-Ejeke, A Public Affairs Analyst wrote vide firstname.lastname@example.org
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