By their passionate appeal seeking constitutional support to contribute their quota to national development, Royal fathers, grouped as National Traditional Council of Nigeria clearly are desirous of a more stable Nigerian society. They, however, seem to underrate the enormous power they wield from being spiritual leaders and custodians of the culture and tradition of their people, which makes it possible for them to play their desired role without any enabling provision of the constitution.
In seeking a constitutional role for themselves, the traditional rulers recently posited that in time past when they had such constitutional empowerment, the polity was peaceful, progressive, decent, and full of beautiful tradition and culture. They lament that under the extant constitution, ‘‘traditional rulers do not have the constitutional or other legal backings to perform effectively [and] this is a great departure from all earlier constitutions that recognised them, and even gave them some functions to perform.’’
They specifically seek to be constitutionally part of the decision-making process in such matters as religion, culture, security, and justice. In respect of security, for example, the monarchs argue that ‘‘the official involvement of traditional rulers (particularly the district, village and ward heads, under the supervision of the kings, emirs, and chiefs) …will ensure that bad eggs do not find hiding places in their localities since new faces in the community will easily be detected and investigated.’’
In pursuit of their objective nonetheless, the royal fathers have, through the chairman of the Coordinating Committee of the Council, the Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, submitted a memorandum to the Senate Constitution Review Committee in which they, furthermore, an express desire that governors include chairmen of the states’ council of chiefs in their State Councils.
The patriotic desire of the royal fathers to contribute more toward good governance – peace, security, and other aspects cannot be faulted. Indeed, it is in everyone’s best interest that the security and welfare of the people be constantly sustained if there is, to be at all, a country to live in or rule.
The truth is that traditional rulers do not need a constitutionally defined role before they can contribute meaningfully to good governance, or to uphold Section 14(2) (b) of the Constitution. It should be noted that the prevailing 1999 Constitution in section 24, charges every citizen with fundamental duties to project the Nigerian State in all ramifications. Under that provision, it is the duty of every citizen to, among others, “help to enhance the power, prestige and good name of Nigeria and render such national service as may be required” (sub-section b); “make positive and useful contributions to the advancement, progress and well-being of the community where he resides” (sub-section d), and “render assistance to appropriate and lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order” (sub-section e).
Clearly the provisions in Section 24 are all-encompassing. And every citizen referred to does not preclude traditional rulers who are in a vantage position, above other citizens, to discharge the duties so outlined. Indeed, the powers that traditional rulers wield in their communities are, at least in principle, sufficiently enormous to be able to speak up for every aspect of good governance including courageously speaking truth to power.
It is true that in times past, constitutional provisions granted legislative and administrative functions to traditional rulers. In the days of the regions, houses of chiefs were even superior in ranking to the legislative houses of elected representatives of the people. While the houses of chiefs added value to the governing process no doubt, the order of things shifted the authority and power that derived from the trust and loyalty of the community into the hands of overlords within a foreign structure of government. Traditional rulers became answerable to the District Officers and ultimately to the governor resident in a distant administrative headquarters sometimes to the detriment of their subjects. In cases where the interests of the subjects clashed with that of the foreign overlord, a traditional ruler who sought to retain his position by kowtowing to the dictates of the D.O risked alienation from his people and all that this implies. That was then.
Over the years, some traditional rulers have sadly compromised their throne and undermined the reverence of their office either by dabbling unnecessarily into partisan politics or engaging in conducts that reduce the extolled values of their society and institution. As the embodiments of spiritual and material culture and tradition of the community, traditional rulers carry enormous responsibility to pursue the good of their people. In fact, the people are called their ‘subject’ as an indication of the near-total power they have in matters of culture.
Traditional rulers are not called ‘royal fathers’ for nothing: The phrase is weighty as royalty connotes a wide range of meanings that include majestic, regal, noble, and dignified. But referent power, like respect, is earned; their ‘subjects’ must trust and identify with traditional rulers. Genuine leadership at any level is hinged on credibility. Royal fathers must exhibit the truly royal and fatherly qualities in attitude and in behaviour; in sum, traditional rulers that want to be taken seriously first by their own ‘subjects’ and second, by the government must be royal and fatherly in thought, word, and deeds. This includes being above board in matters of personal integrity and partisan politics. For, it is trite to say that in their respective domains, they are fathers to everyone regardless of ethnic, religious, or political colouration.
To serve as a royal father in the truest meaning is a huge task. Because he is respected, his opinion carries weight and his advice is sought by the high and the lowly; because of his spiritual authority derived from the culture, he is in a position to settle disputes; he is in a position to gather intelligence from the community on strange or antisocial persons because the people are loyal and serve as his ear to the ground.
In a well-organised country, the constitution is merely a guide to a people – rulers and the ruled- who self-govern with minimum control. A country without a written constitution does function reasonably well, even better than many countries with copiously written documents. Armed with their referent power, the royal fathers can contribute a great deal to make this country much better than it is. They do not need the constitution to assign them roles to do this.