Traditional Rulers, the State & the People
By – Ak Kingsley
My friend Itoro Etti believes that all Paramount Rulers in Akwa Ibom State are First Class monarchs at least at the level of the state. He is also unhappy that royal fathers in Akwa Ibom don’t get the kind of glorious treat enjoyed by some of their colleagues in some parts of Nigeria and blames this on the people whom he says have not done enough to glorify their own royal fathers.
Etti’s thought provocation has inspired this piece which was first partly written in March 2020 in response to the dethronement of Emir Sanusi by Governor Ganduje of Kano, an incidence that sparked no small stir in the country and particularly, the media space. Not to forget the #UsmanDanfodioChallenge that Governor Wike socially engineered us to enter, that year.
First, on the power of the state over traditional institution, I don’t know if anything can or will be done about it soon, or in the far future, but let’s look at it this way; a state governor is as well the traditional ruler’s governor, just as the traditional ruler is the governor’s traditional ruler (since the governor also has a village, clan and LGA). The post colonial traditional rulership in Nigeria (by structure, operation and survival), is largely a creation of government, whereas the government is not a creation of the traditional institutions and politicians make up the government.
The north had a more organised traditional institution, but when western oriented government came, it put itself above traditional institutions and failed or refused to introduce constitutional monarchy, as in Spain and UK. That is why without the governor, even the most revered monarch in Nigeria will probably have to farm, or do business to survival and feed his family, or rely on pension if he is a retired civil servant like that case usually is. The exotic cars, flamboyant lifestyle, ‘mansion-palaces’, gold plated belongings and all trappings of royalty would never happen without the governor’s funding.
In the south, it was worse. In Ibibio for instance, traditional rulership was less prestigious. What we call true federalism today is what existed in Ibibio because power rested on family heads, who were collectively more powerful than the village head. The highest level one could reach as traditional ruler back then was clan headship. Even as clan head, you had to own your farm and harvest your own crops to survive. Nobody paid any rooyalty or tax to the clan head. In an attempt to ridicule traditional rulership here, colonial masters in the name of warrant chieftaincy system, handpicked people to become village heads. If proper tracing is done, it will be discovered that some people who claim to be royal blood today are simply descendants of colonial warrant chiefs, a somewhat fake royalty.
Subsequently, the beehive then got stirred when the state created an ‘artificial’ traditional office and named the occupant, Paramount Ruler and made him higher than Clan Head who was before colonialism the highest. In the mix of efforts to further reduce the ranking of clan headship, a socio-cultural organisation shows up, create a traditional office called ‘Oku Ibom Ibibio’ (Supreme priest of Ibibio) and declares the that office is the highest traditional portfolio in Ibibio land. Further, the potency of the clan headship reduces the more. In a subtle smackdown style, the state moves in to create yet another traditional office and calls the occupant, chairman Traditional Rulers Council and then make him the head of all monarchs in the state, giving him alone the power to perform coronation rituals for every new paramount ruler. Of course the state and not the people, decides his tenure and welfare.
Given these, one would query how all paramount rulers are in Etti’s view, First Class, when in fact, there is one among them that is higher than all. Again, as the state put itself above traditional institutions, it is only the state (including federal government) that can decide which mornach is First Class and still, it is only the state that can decide the level of prestige enjoyed by royal fathers. The people are more of a club of spectators on this matter and this will remain so probably till eternity.