Who is the King?
Chieftaincy institution is the informal government of the traditional society until governance was taken over by the British colonial masters. As a form of government, it was based on kinship, with defined territories whose inhabitants are subject to that government. It means therefore, that chieftaincy institutions are organically rooted in the community as a creation of history, culture and tradition.
In Kogi State as in many other states, there are numerous ethnic nationalities each with its peculiar culture, language and tradition. While they may be similar in many areas, each is unique in its own cultural and physical environment and as such, no two cultures or chieftaincyship is exactly the same.
The geographical space called Kogi State today was the same as the Kabba Province of the pre-1967 era, grouping many ethnic groups with their various cultures and traditions under a single administrative unit. It was merged with Ilorin Province to form Kwara State in 1967, had Igala Division merged with Benue State in 1976, leaving the Ebira and Okun area in Kwara State. In 1991 Kogi State was created, thus resuscitating the defunct Kabba Province but with a new name.
Having been in several states between 1967 and 1991, there have been developments in several areas including the chieftaincy institution that needed to be streamlined at the birth of the State. For instance, the Okun area had a number of graded chiefs inherited from Kwara State whereas, the Ebira area came to Kogi with only one or two graded chiefs. And the Igala came from Benue State with several graded chiefs.
In the process of constituting the Kogi State Council of Chiefs in 1991, it was considered necessary to review the status of Chiefs, grade and upgrade them with a view of achieving harmony and equity among the three major components of the State. Thus, the 1991 chieftaincy review exercise was embarked upon by the government of the then Colonel Danladi Zakari. Considering the time at its disposal, which was short, Zakari government may not have carried out a comprehensive search for details, but overall, it was a good step in the right direction which outcome was well received throughout the state.
Chieftaincyship is an oligarchy of sort, in the sense that it is not open to all; meaning that it is not a free-for-all institution as obtained in a democratic government. This is partly because traditional government evolved on the basis of the history of a place, or a people, which are not subject to debate or competition. According to Sir Edward Tylor, a British pioneer anthropologist, culture is “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society,”
Being a product of culture and history, especially on the basis of kinship, chieftaincy was not designed to be a subject of or an object for all-comers. In most cases, it is a hereditary position to be occupied by people whose pedigree and dynasty are known to be the bonafide heirs of the throne(s). Unlike elective offices, which are achievable on the basis of ability, competition or contest, royal stools are subjects of ascription.
No wonder therefore that during the National Conference of traditional rulers held in 1984, it was defined that, “a traditional ruler is the person who by virtue of his ancestry occupies the throne or stool of an area and who has been appointed to it in accordance with the customs and traditions of the area and whose throne has been in existence before the advent of the British rule in Nigeria.” While the traditional rulers which fit the above definition are well-known and could be verified from records, there are other chiefs created by fiat of the colonial rulers known as Warrant Chiefs. These too, have joined the ranks of traditional rulers although; their stools are prone to controversy and contentions. It is these warrant chiefs that created problems in the royal institutions of Kogi State and other states.
The defunct Northern Regional Government in 1954 defined a Chief as “a person appointed by those entitled to appoint him by Native Law and Custom and is approved in his office by the Lieutenant Governor to carry out the duties incidental to his Chieftaincy.” Thus, it is obvious that chieftaincy is not subject to political party interests or is it one where partisanship is allowed a free rein. The colonial regional government went on to clarify the basis of the grading of chiefs when it said that “the important factor on which grading of Chiefs is dependent” are: –
(a) the extent of the area over which the Chiefs had effective control at the time of the British occupation;
(b) the traditional importance of the Chieftaincy
(c) grading is based therefore, on the importance attributed to the office itself and not on the personal attributes of the holder.”
Going by the above important factors of grading of Chiefs and given the need to make explicit what is meant by the “traditional importance of the chieftaincy” in so far as Kogi State or any of the states in the Middle-belt are concerned the following natural and historical factors or a combination of them are imperative.
(a) the aborigines and or primogeniture of the ethnic or sub ethnic group by way of clans;
(b) the first lineage or Clan to create a stool or title and install a Chief for the administration of the area, be it a district or division as it may then be known or called;
(c) the creation and control of cultural events and traditional rites or festivals celebrated by all in the chiefdom;
(d) the control and spiritual Priesthood of the Principal Deity of the District or clan-group or ethnic nation;
(e) the originator and custodian of a culture of law-making, enforcement and arbitration; and of defence and social control;
Based on the above criteria, it is no surprise that the Colonial government in 1922 had to direct all Residents in the then Northern Provinces to recognize and appoint Chiefs accordingly. The directive conveyed by the Secretary, Northern Provinces (Mr. G. S. Browne) and dated 29th May 1922 reads as follows. “I am directed by the Lieutenant-Governor to inform you that it has been brought to the Governor’s notice that, in certain primitive pagan Districts the tribes situated therein do not recognize clearly an authority higher than their local High Priest.
His Excellency thinks it will be found fairly generally among the more primitive of West African tribes that the office of Chief was, in the first instance, sacerdotal in character, and that it only became executive as a later development. Therefore, wherever a Priest acting as Chief is found, the best should be done to make use of him, and of his authority, and no attempt should be made to replace him by, or depose him in favour of, some lay executive Chief.”
It follows therefore, that any Chief who do not derive his stool from all or some of the above natural and historical phenomena is not qualified to be a Traditional Ruler and should not be graded as one. It is pertinent here to define Chiefs in their classes and the classification could fine their grading.
(a) A Traditional Ruler is the royal, spiritual, cultural and administrative Head of a social group of ethnic or sub-ethnic people in a definite territory with common origin and, so, serves as the symbol of the unity and continuum of such people and their territory. He could be graded as second or first class chief.
(b) A Traditional Chief is the head of a group of families called a Clan or the Priest of a cult or culture subscribed to by the people of a geographical area. He usually has no territorial jurisdiction. His authority and functions are symbolic and or ceremonial and limited to the people of his clan or to matters concerning the cult or rites. He is therefore a Chief but not a traditional ruler, and is not at the level to be graded beyond second or third class status.
(c) Honorary Chiefs are people who have distinguished themselves in personal achievement and in the service of the people and so are honoured by the Traditional Rulers of their district or area. They have no traditional powers and they function in advisory capacity only. Anyone not properly recommended, approved and honoured by those competent to do so, is not a honorary Chief. They need not be graded as their ranking depends absolutely on the appointing traditional ruler.
Review of Past Grading
The major grading exercise carried out in 1991 could be said to be meticulous with a few instances of flaw. However, the grading of 1999 on the eve of departure of the military government was ill-motivated as it was not based on any known factor or criteria as hitherto enumerated. It was obvious that the 1999 exercise was conceived as a parting gift to selected Chiefs who had influential relations or friends in government. It could not therefore conform to defined standards.
In reference to the 1991 grading and review exercise, there were a few cases of wrong grading which needs to be corrected. For example, in Ebira area, districts are deemed equal because their traditional rulers were autonomous before colonial rule. As a result, Eika and Ogori/Magongo districts ought to have been graded on the same class with Okengwe, Ihima Adavi and Eganyi. Therefore, the Adeika of Eika and the Ologori of Ogori deserves to be graded accordingly.
Where such deliberate or in advertent omission are found in the State, they must be corrected not on the basis of patronage or favour or party leaning but on the basis of equity and traditional importance of their Chieftaincy as well as their pre-colonial autonomy.
Political parties are mere platform for seeking power. People are free to change their platforms or ideology. Parties usually become defunct by proscription or by decline. Chieftaincy is the living symbol of a people or territory and therefore, an institution of identity, of indigenous civilization and traditional technology necessary for the perpetuation of our language and culture. Therefore, membership or sympathy for the ruling party or any party for that matter should never be a criterion for the grading, up-grading or deposition of a Chief or Traditional Ruler.
Appropriate in Inappropriate system
The squabbles of litigations prevalent today in the Chieftaincy Institution of the State could be attributed to:-
(a) Reckless and selfish claims to Chieftaincy by public servants using their executive or administrative influence;
(b) Undue party partisanship, by using grading or deposition or down-grading as a means of patronage and reward or as an instrument of punishing political opponents;
(c) Uncoded system based on whims and fancies such as perceived numerical strength rather than tangible and verifiable traditional services of the stool(s).
(d) No chiefdom must be made a theocracy. This is in line with the constitutional and universal freedom of choice to hold a belief or change it without let or hindrance. No condition must restrict a stool to one particular religious faith.
Theocracy, as we have seen in many places, breeds religious bigotry, diminishes the quality of citizenship of non-adherents, denies others of their natural and legal rights and the reason for negative reaction, rebellion and terrorism. No chiefdom in Kogi State and in the Middle-belt was founded on the basis of Islam or Christianity but on the culture, custom, traditions and history of the peoples. It is this native culture that makes the people distinct, identifiable and united. Divisive and discriminative systems such as emirates which seeks a monopoly for a section of the people is repugnant to equity, justice and peace and so, must be avoided at all costs.
(e) As a collorary to the above, religious titles unknown to the culture, language and history of the ethnic nationalities must be avoided and where in existence discouraged. Titles, whether hereditary or honourary are supposed to unite rather than segregate. Religious titles, if there must be one, should be confined to Churches and Mosques, and not extended to the larger society. The people must be free to relate with their title-holders on the basis of common bonds of biological, linguistic, territorial and socio-cultural grounds. Foreign religious titles are myopic and divisive, no matter how fanciful they are.
(f) Royal dress-codes must conform with the heritage of the people as a people. Since culture and man are dynamic, invention and creativity are possibilities that should be employed in the interest, service and progress of the people. Kogi people cannot progress if we cling to religiously foreign royal dress-codes or head crowns.
(g) Vassalage in titles, allegiance and loyalty outside each ethnic nationality must be avoided and discouraged. This is to reinforce the pre-colonial autonomy of the ethnic nationalities, which is also in accord with democratic principles of self-determination, free-choice and sustenance of native cultures.
This category of Chiefs, were created for administrative convenience of colonial administration and not on the basis of need or desires of the people. For this reason, warrant chiefs ceased to be useful or relevant on the eve of the departure of our colonial masters in 1960 – a reason why many of them were disgrace and or deposed by the British administrators who created them.
Most of the existing warrant Chiefs or titles serves no useful or practical purpose in the administration of the culture of their communities. They serve only as bureaucratic-bottlenecks, centres of intrigues and plots and agents of local neo-colonialism. If they serve as a clearing house, may be they could be useful but then, they constitute problems even to themselves by appropriating rights and authority unknown to their offices.
Warrant chieftaincy stools are seen as everybody’s heritage and so, succession to the stool is expected to be on the basis of universal adult male suffrage. This is contrary to the hereditary system known and practiced for centuries by numerous ethnic nationalities. Traditional rulership is conceived as the bastion of continuity, stability and corporate symbol and oneness of a people, to which warrant chiefs do not conform.
Succession battles into the stool of warrant chiefs has, over the years, weaken the cohesiveness of the ethnic groups, destroyed their unity, retarded their progress and made them a prey to foreign but useless values and substitutes. Because the history and culture of the people made no room and role for them, Warrant Chiefs sought – and still seek – relevance by willingly turning their stools into vassalage of other cultures and potentates outside their domain. This is a disservice to local and indigenous culture.
It is the stools of the Warrant Chiefs, which brought the confusion wrongly termed as republicanism into the chieftaincy institutions in Kogi State and the Middle-belt. The offices of Warrant Chiefs are copycats of the City State system of chieftaincy. In the entire Central Nigeria to which Kogi State belongs, Chieftaincy is built on ethnic basis, which recognized the autonomy of ethnic or sub-ethnic groups – a socio-cultural environment where borrowed systems do not, and cannot, work except where modified to conform to the cultural ideals and values of the people.
On the basis of the foregoing forensic analysis of the nature of Warrant Chiefs, it is recommended that they be scrapped in order to remove the principal cause of societal chaos and disorder from our various communities.
If it is considered necessary to retain Warrant Stools, then they must be made to conform with universal values of royalty, which is to say that it has to become a hereditary system and not, a lost-and-found no-man’s property as it is today.
Warrant Chieftaincy can never be cohesive and unifying if it is open to all in ethnic nationalities where the organizing principle of state is the common and collective culture that recognize and upholds sub-ethnic autonomy, seniority of people/clans etc.
As an example, the Central Stool of Ebira ethnic nation was created by warrant. Because it was not created by the people or on the basis of their culture and tradition, it has remained a troublous throne with no agreed title and without succession rules. It was once known as the Atta, and it became the Ohinoyi and now, it vacillates between the two. Attempts to confine it to a ruling house and reactions to make it into a beans cake which anybody may price and pick-up have rendered the throne the devil to pay.
Some self-righteous ‘republicans’ succeeded in convincing the military government to promulgate an Edict No.3 of 1997, making the Ohinoyi a title or stool to be rotated between five Ebira traditional districts. This in itself creates fresh intractable problems of order of succession among the clans in the districts, the procedure and process of nomination of the individuals, not to talk of the order of succession among the districts. Succession and nomination processes in a free-for-all stool as conceived by Edict N.3 of 1997 would require an INEC and or a SIEC to manage.
The authors of Edict No.3 of 1997 probably meant well and attempted to solve a sore problem once and for all. However, they suffered from ignorance of the culture and history of the people, as they appeared propelled by some narrow interests. In order to properly rotate the Stool among the five traditional districts, three issues or questions must be settled and they are: –
(a) Can all the Districts sustain the throne from Okene?
(b) If not, shall there be a rotating capital, whereby the town of the incumbent District becomes the Ebira capital?
(c) Are the people prepared for an Exodus or a Hijra so as to install and sustain the rule of their sons at and from Okene?
Without reasonable, practical and acceptable answers to these questions, Edict No.3 of 1997 remains a monstrous piece of legislation that makes the Ebira Central Warrant Stool even more cantankerous and explosive. Why? Atta Ibrahim was forced to relocate from Okeneba to the place he built his palace because he was unacceptable to Eziogu clan of Okeneba. Ohinoyi Sani Omolori was always on forced ‘pilgrimage’ away from Okene during Echane or Ekuechi festivals as a result of stoning by clans who saw him as an usurper. Both Atta Ibrahim and Ohinoyi Omolori are from Adavi and Okengwe Districts respectively and these two districts share common boundary at a land where Okene, the capital of Ebiraland situates. If the Adavi and Okengwe Districts which should feel safe at home in Okene were forced to relocate or embark on pilgrimage (or forced leave), how does Ihima, Eika or Eganyi Districts intend to establish and sustain their rule from Okene without an Exodus or a Hijra?
The obvious and ultimate solution therefore is, either scrap the throne or; confine it to one district with defined ruling houses while the four other districts constitute the kingmakers accordingly. Republicanism as understood by the authors of Edict No.3 of 1997 is an Utopia that is impractable in the socio-cultural environment of Ebira people. If the Warrant Central Stool is scrapped, the Chairmanship of Ebira Area Traditional Council could be rotated among the five traditional rulers of the five districts. This is as far as democracy or republican ethos can go in traditional institutions.
By nomination procedures, it is understood to be referring to succession processes. Government, while trying to be responsive to the yearnings of party members, must be seen to act in responsible manner. There is no phenomenon known as Kogi State Culture, the state itself being an arbitrary creation. But there is what is known as the Igala culture, the Ebira culture, the Okun culture, the Bassa culture etc. None of these cultures could be exchanged and transferred or interchanged. Borrowing one from one place to another is to force values on people and because their worldview differs even as their environment, it often does not work. Instead, imposition of values creates unending dissension and fissions.
Nomination procedures of candidates to a vacant throne are the sole business of the Ruling House whose turn it is to occupy the throne. The nomination procedure can be responsive and easy only where and if there are known Ruling Houses with well-defined Order of Succession. Where there is none, one should be formed by the traditional authorities of the area. This is more relevant to Warrant Chiefs than to pre-colonial traditional rulers with well known ruling houses and order of succession. Official interference by State or Local Government officials with a view of influencing the outcome serve only to distort the picture, pervert the process and create intractable disagreements.
After the nomination by the appropriate Ruling House, the next stage is the making of the King. Here, the· Kingmakers are the sale judge of who is qualified to be king. If nomination conforms to traditions, it sails through. If not, the ball is thrown back to the Ruling House to work on it again. For the purpose of respect for local autonomy in adherence to the principle of and the right to self-rule, the work of the Ruling House and the Kingmakers must not be interfered with. There is often the temptation on the part of the government to show authority and or leadership by interfering in local and traditional matters. However, the state must resist the temptation so as to allow local mechanisms of governance to be practiced, to work and to be sustainable.
It is the duty of the Kingmakers to submit the name and person of the successful candidate to the Local Government Traditional Council and who in turn, send same to the Area Traditional Council who then forwards it to the State Government through the appropriate ministry or department for formal approval. There are no ways to make nomination procedures more responsive and dynamic than to allow each cultural tradition to work in its domain without undue interference. The nomination procedures for an elective office cannot work in Chieftaincy and should never be attempted if the throne is to remain stable and productive. Checks & Balances
The administration of chieftaincy matters to ensure justice, fairness and equity can be achieved only when the state authorities respects the local autonomy of the ethnic and sub-ethnic groups, adheres to the rule of law and sheds the logo of omnipotence and omniscience – both attitudes being vestiges of colonial mentality. Recognition must be given to the fact that ethnic or sub-ethnic groups enjoyed self-rule before colonial rule and but for colonial interference, could have developed into a better and more modern management and administrative competence than presently obtained.
In a democratic dispensation such as we claim to be there are no better checks and balances than to allow the traditional organs of society and of the systems such as the ruling houses, the Kingmakers and the traditional councils to do their duties devoid of unwholesome and overbearing influence of state or local government officials.
Democracy does not ensure equity, justice and fairness any more than Chieftaincy. To the extent that their goals are similar but different in depth and scope, to that extent should there be mutual respect and adherence to the rule of law. Democracy cannot pretend to be Chieftaincy or vice versa and therefore, both systems are different and must be administered differently. Chieftaincy has no need for political parties, elections and general vote casts, just as democracy has no need for ruling houses and kingmakers etc.
Every attempt to transpose democracy into chieftaincy or the other way round, results in the devaluation of both, which makes the people the weaker and poorer. This underscores the need to isolate partisan party interests from Stools and insulate chiefs from partisan politicking!
Laws guiding subjects are supposed to be made with altruistic motive and purposes. Experience has shown that governments in the past made some laws for purposes of expediency and targeted at individuals or certain groups in a punitive manner. These laws may achieve its objectives but do much damage to corporate unity by distancing people from themselves.
Majority rule is not to be equated with mob action. Democratic government is controlled by an oligarchy called the Executive Council in the same way as Chieftaincy is controlled by oligarchy of ruling houses. The difference is that while democracy is subject to populist choice whose oligarchy is terminated or renewed at appointed time, the oligarchy of Chieftaincy is terminated earlier or later by death. While one represents change, the other represents continuity of the society, and the world is ruled by both change and continuity. One is elective and achievable; the other is hereditary and ascriptive. Their differences and inherent separation of powers, values and right must be respected and maintained for the good of all.
Review exercises may not achieve all that is achievable or desirable and so, should never be used as a panacea for the perceived ills of Chieftaincy. The review exercise should therefore be targeted at: –
(a) verifying the historical evolution of Chieftaincies in the State;
(b) identifying ruling houses and kingmakers of each title or throne;
(c) authenticating titles and ensuring that they are rooted in the cultural history of the chiefdoms;
(d) allowing adequate autonomy to ethnic and sub-ethnic nationalities to enable their traditional institutions to function and grow;
(e) upholding the rule of law by obeying or observing court rulings concerning decided cases in chieftaincy disputes;
(f) adherence to separation of powers between democratic government and chieftaincyship and respecting the difference between both systems;
(g) separating partisan party members’ interests and desires from the needs and imperative of the traditional society which serve as its sinew of stability and continuity;
(h) codifying the above in legal declarations and promulgated into laws that are enforceable.
These are in our view, the best ways and means to achieve better administration of our Chieftaincy Institution in Kogi State in particular and in the Middlebelt in general.
Reports by Ochekwu Anyebe, Ahmed el-Salam and anchored by Sam Onimisi
Culled from Our VISION magazine, Vol.5 No.4, 2004