The relevance of traditional rulers
in contemporary Nigeria’s
governance has been a subject of great controversy. The discourse led to different opinions among
Nigerians. In some quarters, they argued
that traditional institutions are archaic, particularist and anti-democratic
while some Nigerians believed that the institutions of traditional rulership
should be preserved and allowed to co-exist with the democratic governance in
vogue. It is in an attempt to resolve
this argument that this academic exercise was necessitated. In this endeavour, the study utilizes
relevant literatures and as well collected raw data through the use of the
Likert Scale questionnaire and oral interview in surveying the opinion of the
people in Ozoro Kingdom on what should be the position
of our Royal Fathers in the emerging Nigerian Political order. The study revealed that before the advent of
colonialism, traditional rulers were the custodian of the people’s culture and
tradition but the situation changed when their powers were eroded through colonialism,
military dictatorship, constitutional review and self inflicted attitudes of
the Royal Fathers. It is conspicuous
that the unholy marriage of the traditional rulers co-existing with elected
representative in the Nigerian Democratic order is anomalous. However, due to primordial sentiments and
legitimacy which the traditional rulers still enjoy among populace, it would be
better to disallow them from active party politics and cloth them with honours
pending on when Nigeria would be able to modernize her political system.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Title Page i
Table of Contents ix
1.1 Background of Study 1
1.2 Statement of Problem 8
1.3 Objectives of Study 10
1.4 Research Question 11
1.5 Propositions 12
1.6 Limitation 12
1.7 Significance of the study 13
1.8 Literature Review 14
1.9 Methodology 24
1.10 Definition of Terms 26
THE ROLE OF TRADITIONAL RULERS IN PRE-COLONIAL
AND COLONIAL NIGERIA
Traditional Rulers in Pre-Colonial era 31
Traditional Rulers and Colonialism 35
Rulers in the Modernizing era of
Nigeria’s Government 40
that led to the Decline of the Roles of
Traditional Rulers in Nigeria. 41
role of Traditional Rulers in the 1976 Local
Government Reforms 42
Development and the Role of
Traditional Rulers in Nigeria. 43
KINGDOM IN HISTORICAL
Origin of Ozoro 48
The Economic Life of Ozoro 57
Religious activities 58
Socio-Political Organization 58
Quarter Council 60
The Town Council 60
The Otota of the Kingdom 61
The Odion-Ologbo 62
The Oletu-Ologbo 63
The Ovie 64
The Emergence of Ovieship in Ozoro 64
Method of Selection and Ascension of the Ovie 69
Struggle for dominance by Odion-Ologbo and the
Ovie in Ozoro Politics 71
Ovie’s Contributions to the economic and
socio-political development of
Ozoro Kingodm 75
THE OZOROS AND THEIR KINGDOM: A CONTEMPORARY
Rating of Returned Questionnaire 81
Demographic Data Analysis (Section A) 82
Data Analysis for Section B 89
CONCLUSION: RETHINKING THE ROLE OF TRADITIONAL
RULERS IN NIGERIA
Major Findings 113
of the Study
to 1861 when Britain annexed
Lagos, governance in what is known as Nigeria
revolved around Traditional rulers.
There is no doubt that traditional rulers in Nigeria have witnessed the erosion
of their powers. This political scenario
had elicited so many arguments among stakeholders and traditional rulers on
their role and relevance in the emerging political arrangement. It is on this note that this research may be timely
and necessary to re-examine the relevance of traditional rulers in the Local
government administration with particular reference to the Ozoro Kingdom
in Isoko North Local Government Area of Delta State.
Institutions and their rulers have suffered extensively from the imposition of
colonial rule, revolution, wars and post independence political development in Nigeria.
earlier noted, before the advent of colonialism, traditional rulers were both
the political, social, cultural and economic administrators of their various
localities. They were parts of the
immutable African culture which ensured harmony and stability in the
society. However, the situation changed
when colonial rule was imposed on African societies which Nigeria is an integral
part. It was at this period that
Traditional Rulers, were subordinated and became instrumental for the
realization of the objectives of the indirect rule system.
is pertinent therefore to know who a traditional ruler is. Many views have been given over the
years. It is the intention of the
researcher to offer few definitions.
According to Orewa ( 1978) a traditional ruler is:
an Oba, Emir, Obi or Paramount Chief who before the
advent of the colonial government in Nigeria had complete sovereignty over his
territory and was not subject to any other higher authority within or outside
his domain (Orewa, 1978 :151).
In the same way, the Oba of Benin in a conference held at Ibadan on the 11th
September, 1984, defined a traditional ruler as:
The traditional head of an ethnic community whose
stool conferred the highest traditional authority on the incumbent since the
time before the beginning of British rule.
(Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo Uku Akpolokpolo,
The law of the former Western Region also
applicable in Delta
State defines traditional
the traditional head of an ethnic group or clan who is
the holder of the indigenous polity or who has been appointed to the position
in accordance with the customs and tradition of the area concerned by
instrument or order of the state government and whose title is recognized as
traditional ruler by the government of the state (Tonwe and Ola, 2005:156).
attempted a conceptualization of Traditional Rulers, it would be imperative to
give a brief record of power configuration and regional bases of traditional
rulers and their localities that gave birth to the modern Nigerian State. It should be borne in mind that every region
and locality has its unique power structure.
the Ibo pre-colonial society of the present day Nigeria, Robert Ola observed
that “these traditional rulers or authorities were considered by their people
as repositories of religious, executive, legislative as well as judicial
functions” (Robert Ola, 1984:23). In
addition, the autonomous local community according to Ogunna (Ogunna, 1987:363)
the Ibo traditional political system was a federation of villages each village
was composed of kindred units. Local
government under the Ibo pre-colonial political system was therefore carried
out by the village elders (Idichie) and kindred units head. In such areas where traditional rulers did
not exist the elders or family heads meet at the village square to decide
issues as they affect the generality of the people.
Northern regional base has the Emirs as the repository of religious,
legislative, executive and judicial functions.
Yoruba speaking society also has their own power configured around the
Obas. However, the Obas were not absolute
king when compared to the Hausa-Fulani counterparts.
situated in the defunct Mid-western region which later metamorphosed into Delta State
has Ovie as its paramount ruler. Like
his counterpart in other parts of the country, the Ovie performs executive
legislative and judicial functions (Oyolo, 2007:23). He also performs religious function in
collaboration with the high priest “Opara” ( Akegwure, N.D.:
uniqueness of these various kingdoms, empires, and emirates are indications
that traditional rulers were the nucleus of governance in their various
territories. It further shows that the
geographical spheres of these authorities were localized. It therefore means that no traditional ruler
had jurisdiction over the entire geographical area which later became Nigeria.
emergence of Traditional Rulership into the Nigerian polity could be traceable
to the Lugardian administration when he said thus:
Our aim…. Is to rule through the existing Chiefs to
enlist them on our side in the work and progress of good governance… (our) is
that we may make of these born rulers…. Type of British officials working for
the good of their subjects in accordance with the ideals of the British empire (Whitetaker, C.S. Jr., 1970:16).
enlistment of traditional rulers into the indirect rule system further
consolidated the powers of these natural rulers. They became more recognized when the native
courts were integrated into the English Legal system. While the evolving state drifted towards
independence. However, things began to
change when it seems as if these born rulers had reached their apogee with the
introduction of democratic values and agitation by nationalists struggle. The situation became worsened when the
military took over government from the elected leaders at the early years of Nigeria’s
independence. The final blow came when
the 1979 constitution refused to grant any executive role to traditional rulers
in the local government level.(Federal Republic of Nigeria : 1979). Many Nigerians became critical on what role traditional
rulers should play in the emerging political order . Gbong Gwon of Jos, a traditional ruler on the
Nigerian Television Authority’s National News Broadcast of 8th July,
2009 was reported to have opposed constitutional role for traditional rulers
contrary to Senator David Mark’s opinion of finding a specific role for them in
the 2009 constitution following the review of the 1999 constitution.
two views best capture contemporary thinking on the issue, an acknowledgement
that there is a problem and a situation involving our Royal Fathers and that
something needs to be done. The delema
however remains finding the best way forward in order not to compromise the
ancient institutions that traditional rulers represent, which is that of acting
as custodians of native customs, traditions, culture and as spiritual fathers
of members of their immediate communities.
The most surprising issue is that this vital institution of traditional
rulers that controlled their locality in the pre-colonial society up till the
later part of colonialism has been questioned, should these traditional
institutions be abolished?
1.2 Statement of the Problem
rulers over the years from the pre-colonial society were the custodian of the
people’s culture and tradition. They
were also involved in the western government as introduced then from colonial
days. In short, records had it that some
traditional rulers were members of the house of Chiefs in the Northern part of
the country during the period of 1944 –1951.
Again, the Macpherson Constitution allowed traditional rulers in the
north and western regions to make direct input into the selection of the members of Regional House of Assembly.
Rulers also legislated along side with the Regional Houses of Assembly.
situation gradually changed as independence approached. It was worsened after independence. It became confusing that many issues were
raised after the enactment of the 1979, 1989 and the 1999 constitutions. Some of the envisaged problems facing the
traditional institutions are:
Whether Traditional rulers are well fitted for contemporary
governance arguing that traditional institutions are archaic.
The constitution of Nigeria made little or no provision
for traditional rulers.
Traditional rulers in the country are not well funded.
and military government’s interference in traditional affairs has been a threat
to their relevance in contemporary governance.
Corruption among traditional rulers had weakened their
Many traditional rulers are easily manipulated by political
and military leaders for their selfish purposes.
Many traditional rulers only reign and not rule.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
research is aimed at unveiling the roles of the traditional rulers, their
impact in government and how they can contribute to a more viable united Nigeria.
this effort, the researcher shall delve into the past and shall critically
examine the present to enable him project into the future.
be concise, these objectives are:
To examine carefully the roles of traditional rulers in the
present democratic governance.
To evaluate their roles and effectiveness over the years to
the present democratic government.
To examine if they have become more or less relevant and
determine why they are so as the case may be.
d. To make recommendations where
appropriate to the local government and other levels of government towards the
enhancement of the Nigerian polity.
1.4 Research Questions
order to have a thorough grasp of the understanding of this research, certain
questions need to be asked. These are:
What are their roles in contemporary government?
How has the constitution enhanced the roles of traditional
rulers in the country?
What are their problems in contemporary governance?
How have they lost their votes in contemporary governance?
How have they
performed in their responsibility
What precipitated the weakness of traditional rulers in
What makes traditional rulers to reign without ruling?
Peace and harmony in governance is the bedrock of national
Traditional rulers are the custodian of custom and
Good governance with respect to the Nigerian democracy
cannot be achieved without the grassroots mobilization.
National development and progress shall be elusive without
the support of traditional rulers.
study is carried out within the purview of traditional rulers and the modern
governance in the present day Nigeria.
data shall be collected from the Ozoro
Kingdom in Isoko-North
Local Government Area of Delta State.
reason is that the Researcher believes that he might not be able to access the
state council of chiefs at the Federal level and Council of states.
was in consonant with the 1999 constitution that the Researcher chooses to
study the roles of traditional rulers in the traditional council at the Isoko
North Local Government Area of Delta State with particular reference to the Ozoro Kingdom.
1.7 Significance of
research work is directed at contributing to knowledge of the Nigerian
politics. These are:
It is aimed at knowing the relevance of the traditional
institution, roles and contribution to the contemporary Nigeria
It is also significant in knowing the extent of involvement
of traditional rulers in this democratic dispensation.
The study is also of great importance since it shall reveal
the connectivity or relationship that exists among traditional rulers and
It shall also indicate the area of weakness so that
improvement and adjustment can be made so as to improve the Nigerian state.
1.8 Literature Review
debate over the relevance of traditional rulers in contemporary Nigeria’s
governance is highly controversial. The
reason for this confusion is due to the fact that before colonialism as well as
a substantial part of the colonial era that predates Nigeria’s independence, traditional
rulers played active roles in the governance and development of the country’s
is therefore surprising that the essence of these vital institution and
traditional elites are being questioned in the emerging political order.
are divergent views and opinions in this controversy. Egwurube as cited by Tonwe and
Ola (Tonwe, and Ola 2005:169) Identified three schools of thoughts. According to him (Egwurube) there exists the
Retentionist school, the Abolitionist school and the Political enhancement
school of thoughts.
Abolitionist school of thought contended that the marriage between traditional
rulers and the democratically elected elites in Nigerian politics is unholy and
should be divorced. They argued further
that the Traditional Rulers in the modernizing Nigerian democracy is an
anachronism. The protagonists of this
school of thought contended the constitutional provision of the 1979, 1989 and
1999 constitutions which guarantees local government elected officials and
traditional rulers working side by side as anomalous (Aghayere, 1997:185).
also opined that traditional institutions are ascriptive while the contemporary
state is democratic. In other words, the
era of hereditary leadership or natural rulers as envisaged in 1914 by Lord
Lugard is archaic.
the views of Uche Nwora (2007), partisanship in politics, defecation of
traditional values, lack of integrity by some money – for chieftancy policies,
in-fighting and “Igweship”, “Ezeship”, “Obaship”, “Ovieship” tussles have
eroded their values and should be abolished.
is no doubt that many traditional rulers are educated and as such can adapt
modern thoughts and ideology but the exigency of politics and the easy manner
in which some of the traditional rulers succumb to manipulations leaves much to
be desired. The “political mannerism” of
the Late General Sanni Abacha where some traditional rulers were shown to have
towed the path of the military head of state remained fresh in the memories of
indication which corroborates with Uche Nworah’s perception is the
proliferation of chieftancy titles or honorary chiefs without potfolios or roles in the society. Many thieves and public robbers including
criminalized politicians are given chieftancy titles. Such recognition by traditional rulers has
created a society with false values and negative role models (Uche Nworah,
agitation for republicanism or the desire of people to decide their affairs
rather than having a supreme human Lording it over them made this school of
thought to condemn the traditional rulers and their institutions in its
entirety and strongly advocated its abolition (Ibid).
argument in support of their position is that the existence of traditional
rulers amidst of democratic governance creates dual loyalty among the Nigerian
populace (Ibid). The incidence that took
place between Group Captain Anthony Oyerugbelen, a one time military Governor
of Edo State and the Oba of Benin, Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa,
when the said Governor suspended the Monarch from the Council of Chiefs created
a great controversy among the people of Edo State. Many Edos do not know who should be blamed or
obeyed. In some quarters, the Oba was
seen as the owner of the land (Edo) while
others saw the military Governor as the primus interperis and should be
obeyed. This unwholesome political
debacle can be avoided when a single form of governance is adopted in the
second school of thought is the political enhancement school. This school of thought believed that
traditional rulers are citizens of the
country and as such should be allowed to contribute meaningfully towards
National development (Aghayere, 1997:185)
In their views, their removal from politics as stated in the 1999
constitution, where the clause affirmed that nothing should be misconstrued as
confirming any executive function on the traditional rulers is an abuse of
the past they were custodian of the people at their different localities but
things had gradually changed and their powers had been eroded. They argued that such phenomenal changes is
a forum organized by the Diasporan stakeholders on the 15th
November, 2007, Uche Nworah (Uche Nworah, 2007) remarked that distinguished
traditional rulers like the Alafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, Igwe Osita
Agwuna, Igwe of Umunri and Eze, Enugwu – Ukwu among others should not be
allowed to idle away. He added that
these traditional rulers are sound and first-class individuals. In other words, these highly talented
materials should be allowed to participate politically for national
third and final school of thought is the retentionist school. It could also be seen as the middle-path
school of thought in the continuum of the Abolitionists and the political
enhancement school of thoughts. The
protagonist of this school held that traditional authorities should be retained
and enhanced for national development.
According to Egwurube Joseph, (Egurube, 1985:223) the retentionist
school will not only ensure stability and continuity of the emergent political
order but also would at the same time tap the strength of traditional authorities
in the sphere of citizens mobilization for national development at grass-root
is obvious that traditional rulers had firm grip of power before colonialism
and as such it will be incongruous to eliminate these elites simply because of
their weaknesses due to pressure from the politically elected class of the
is no gainsaying that most traditional rulers are adaptable to modern
philosophies. Records had it that most
of them are well educated, the Sultan of Sokoto, the Emir of Gwandu, the Etsu
Nupe and the Emir of Zuru were generals in the Nigerian Army. The Oba of Lagos was a Police Deputy
Inspector-General, the Emir of Kazaraure had Ph.D. in Law, just as the Asagba
of Asaba is a Professor, the Ovie of Ozoro had Masters in Law and most chiefs
and Emirs were also in the public service and diplomat such as the Emir of Kano (Uche , 2007)
due to the plight and dwindling prestige of traditional rules in the present
democratic government of Nigeria that made the Senate President, Senator David
Mark during a condolence visit at the palace of the Shehu of Borno, Mustapha
Umaru El Kanemi, on the passing away of the Waziri of Borno, Alhaji Ahmed was
quoted in Guardian Newspaper of July 17th, 2007 to have remarked
We will continue to assist our traditional rulers and
leaders who are responsible for unity, peace in order to further strengthen
their roles. We shall find specific
roles for them in the constitution when we finally review the 1999
constitution. (Guardian, 17 July, 2007).
a clue from the Senate President’s speech, traditional rulers have been
responsible for peace, unity and good governance in the country.
flowing from the statement quoted above, it became obvious that traditional
rulers have given full support and ensured maintenance of law and order in the
corporate existence of their locality.
Hence, he advocated a re-definition of the roles of the traditional
rulers in the Nigerian politics in the 2009 constitution which shall take care
of the inadequacies of the 1999 constitution.
the irony is that the existence and survival of the contemporary governance in Nigeria
does not adopt a Monarch as the central figure of Administration.
vision of the Senate President, Senator David Mark was equally shared by
General Badamosi Babangida during his military administration as the president
of the country when he craftly made the constitution drafting committee to find
a place for the traditional rulers in the Nigerian presidential system of government.
from the military regimes in Nigeria,
the civilian regimes of the Second Republic and Fourth Republic
endeavoured to keep traditional rulers afloat in the country’s politics.
is an indisputable fact that the civilian head of state in the second republic
headed by Alhaji Shehu Shagari recognized the involvement of traditional rulers
in his administration when he appointed Chiefs and traditional rulers to the
position of chancellors and Chairmen of cultural councils and universities
the recent Obasanjo civilian regime of 1999 – 2007 and the current Yar A’dua’s
administration of 2007 till date appointed traditional rulers to offices of
chancellors of universities with the University
of Benin as a good
position of the retentionist school of thought corroborate with Ali Mazru’s
popular quotation where he said “Bashikolshi Shikoloshi” which can be
interpreted as “He who knows the way, let him lead the way”. Akin to this is the popular aforison of Abraham
Lincoln where he was said to have quoted thus:
“He who knows what to do and fail to do it shall have the hottest part
of Hell fire”. It was in realization of
the relevant role that the Traditional Rulers played in the pre-colonial and
subsequent years that made the traditional rulers critical of their roles in
the emerging political order. It was on
this ground that the Oni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade II in July 1988 on his
return from Cuba where he was said to have visited Fidel Castro announced at
the Ikeja Airport that traditional rulers all over the country would soon meet
to put their heads together to brainstorm on the future role of traditional
rulers in the government of the country.
Consequent upon the meeting of traditional rulers on August 1988, the
Oba of Benin noted with disappointment the acceptance of the Bureau’s
recommendation that no specific role has been given to traditional rulers. Inspite of the genuine interest and
confidence expressed by traditional rulers to contribute to the development of
their fatherland, the defunct Armed Forces Ruling Council in 1989 took a bold
step by adopting the decision and recommendation of the Bureau that the
traditional rulers be insulated from politics.
this development, the Oba of Benin in a national conference of Traditional
Rulers in Ife consoled themselves when he positioned that the function of
traditional rulers are already and clearly laid down in their community’s
customs and traditions and urged them to perform them without fear or favour as
fathers of the people.
constitutional and political development that preceded Nigeria’s independence has weakened
the powers of traditional rulers. The
situation is confusing that scholars and stakeholders holds contrary views on
the relevance of this institution. It is
on this realization that this study has been necessitated to lay such argument
encompasses how the researcher intends to carry out the study. It is divided into sources of data collection
and data analysis.
Sources of Data: Data shall be
collected from primary and secondary sources.
the case of the former, the researcher shall randomly distribute 100
questionnaires to people in Ozoro
Kingdom, the seat of the
Local Government headquarters. Twenty
questions shall be asked and the questionnaire shall be collected the same day.
addition, oral interview shall be applied.
Here, the researcher shall adopt a simple random sampling by asking some
dignitaries in the Local Government Secretariat and the Ovie’s palace
this interview shall be unstructured since the situation and respondents can be
existing records and documents shall be cross-examined as they relate to the
role of the traditional institution in the locality.
Data Analysis: The data collected
shall be presented orderly for
analysis. It is the intention of the
researcher to use simple percentage in the analysis.
question shall be analyzed by the responses of the people across the board. Finally a deduction shall be made from the
respondents opinions and a conclusion shall be drawn to that effect.
A cotton tree used for the burial of the
Ovie in Ozoro kingdom.
Aka: The name of the Benin Kingdom
as used by the Ozoro people. It denotes
the distant land of their migration.
Ala: The name of a place which is the centre point
of the Ozoro kingdom.
4. Dwindling: The waning or reduction in value of a thing.
5. Emir: The traditional head of an emirate. It is the title for the traditional ruler in
the Northern part of the country.
6. Emaha: The children or an age grade in the Ozoro Kingdom.
Evragwa: The youth age-grade of the Ozoro kingdom.
Edion: The elders council of the Ozoro
Egweya: The women council of the Ozoro traditional
Local Government: The government at the grassroots level in a
Federal system like Nigeria
and headed by a democratically elected chairman or sole administrator appointed
by the governor of the state.
Local Administration: This is the system of administration
controlled by chiefs, obas, ovies, emirs, etc.
Ovieship: This is the kingship as used in the Niger
Delta region especially among the Isokos and the Urhobos.
Ovie: The head or king of kingdoms in the Isoko and
Urhobo axis of Delta
Oba: The title of the traditional head in the
Yorubas and Benin
Relevance: The importance or necessity, usefulness,
etc. It could be operationalised as
power or vote, etc.
Traditional Ruler: Any head or representative of a traditional
institution. It could also mean the
paramount ruler of a kingdom, emirate or locality.
Usu: Plint or charmed sword used by the Founder of
the Ozoro kingdom.
Votes of traditional
rulers: The power and influence of traditional
Renaissance: The re-birth of the Nigerian democracy.
government aimed at improving the lots of the Nigerian people.