Traditional institutions and the politics of exclusive power in Nigeria

One of the grievous mistakes of colonial legacy in Nigeria is the deliberate and constitutional exclusion of traditional institutions in decision making. Despite the over 1000 years of dynamic heritage and effective leadership, particularly in the North, these institutions were only able to secure a ceremonial mention and a consultative role under the Local Government System section 2, subsection b (ii) of the constitution of Nigeria. As old as Great Britain, the country still upholds and enjoys the value, integrity and stability of its traditional institution. How Nigeria can achieve that remains, as far as I’m concerned, a critical issue for the so-called cream of the crop, especially given the lack of probity that cloaks the current political system. 

You don’t need a genius to understand that the lack of values in our political system which is characterised by insensitivity and incompetence is a result of the loss of cultural ideals and rectitude which are the core standards of every traditional institution in the world. Institutions with great legacy would never turn a blind eye to what they have built gradually with over thousand years of hard work and sheer resilience being destroyed overnight! Everyone attests to the fact that, traditional institutions promote proper grounding of character, hard work, protection of the land and service to the people.

In a typical traditional institution, for example, heirs to the throne are rigorously brought up to be humble and responsible right at a tender age. Immorality and irresponsibility are not condoned. Young princes without focus, determination and concern for the well being of the people are never brought close to the throne. And if by birthright they are proclaimed to be heirs, the system doesn’t give them a single chance to miss the proper training of one who is decreed to lead a nation. We have many instances where a second in-line successor is favoured to the first because of lack of trust in the latter’s readiness to the throne.

As far as traditional institutions are concerned, leadership is both by merit and people’s choice. There are makers of kings who choose among candidates, a choice underlined by merit, societal values and popular opinion. We see this in monarchies around the world. We see it in kingdoms from Sokoto to a small village in a remote part of this country.

However, that doesn’t mean there is no mismanagement in monarchies. In fact, when you find one, it can be worst than any system. And so, it also requires further recalibration to address its weaknesses. But, what is good with monarchy is that the vetting standards, unlike in the so-called democratic processes, will hardly allow a bad egg go through to mess with the society.

Another system that shares similar principles of governance is meritocracy, a system originated centuries ago, modernised by a 20th-century sociologist, Michael Young, based on the belief that stewardship is entrusted based upon tested competency, measured achievement and demonstrated performance. No chances are taken when it comes to the affairs of the state. Today, we can say, China and Singapore are examples of countries where meritocracy is enshrined in their political system.

An institution that also shares this great approach toward developing a sound and disciplined society is the military. Don’t mistake me for an anti-democracy or an advocate for a military junta. No. I so much cherish the values contained in a democratic system, but principally object the experimentation of a foreign policy without taking into cognisance the dynamics of the new context.

Unfortunately, this is just what the so-called democracy’s done to most African countries, and it’s on now to the Middle East. It does not only destroy the political history of the continent but also gives way for partisan scrambles that often result in regional, religious and ethnic violence.

For example, if traditional institutions were given prominent role, they were allowed to invest their historical and credible values into the new African system, just as the case of United Kingdom, we wouldn’t have had so many leadership problems. We didn’t have to experiment western-oriented democracy for more than a century, and things still looked as if we just started.

In Northern Nigeria, for instance, we enjoyed over 400 years of an organized, nearly fully-developed leadership system, of course not without challenges, before the colonialists set their foot on the Niger region. How possible is it that governance in the region is still at conceptual and confused level? The leadership values for which it was known for centuries were eroded entirely in the characters of its present leaders.

Definitely, something went wrong. We formed a new system that not only refused to build upon past achievement but also deliberately neglected the dynamics of the present context.

I’d love to see a global democratic template that is customizable to the character and characteristics of a people, a system that wouldn’t care about your background, religious or ethnic affiliations, but would of your competence and conscience. I’d love a democracy that would build upon existing values of traditional institutions with adjustments that can be achieved evolutionarily. This kind of democracy no doubt will build diverse societies that pursue a common goal for the liberty and integrity of mankind.

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