Role of traditional rulers for a new Nigeria

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traditional rulers

Getting free education, healthcare, school feeding and other social programs reduce the economic burden of raising kids. The idea seems excellent until the ‘free’ giver starts interfering in people’s lives and choices; for he who feeds you controls you. By being addicted to free gifts, people lose the courage and capacity to provide for themselves, or resist the givers’ interference. Leaders or rulers coordinate their people’s productivity and civil relationships for security and progress in their territory. But, when they get addicted to external or internal free gifts, they lose the power to coordinate their people for security and progress. The desperate dependence of traditional rulers on postcolonial government for validation and sustenance highlights the destructive effect of colonialism.


Recent display of imported luxuries, even by traditional rulers of wretched kingdoms and communities in Nigeria shows a misunderstanding of leadership. Some traditional rulers now compete by displaying imported swag, wines, cars, mansions or money they spray to their impoverished and unproductive people. Yet, they become submissive to politicians, former colonialists and their allies from whom they expect imported consumer goods. Pictures of traditional rulers’ sitting around the British Prince-Charles at his last Nigerian visit mimicked school prefects summoned by a visiting principal/proprietor. Such submissive mood from traditional rulers to former colonialists raises no hope for socio-economic freedom from the postcolonial scheme.


Before colonialism, different kingdoms and communities lived distinctly and managed their territories, resources and cultures in various parts of Africa.[1][2] The different kingdoms and communities had their specific ways of making or removing rulers for their security and progress. While leadership in some areas were inherited by royal family members, others were elected by community elders. After coronation, traditional rulers became custodians of the people’s customs, traditions and wellbeing. Working with elders and chiefs, traditional rulers direct the management of resources, educate their people and govern their respective communities for justice, productivity, peace and progress.


Unfortunately, European colonialists invaded with machine guns[3] in search of foreign territories and raw materials. Using gun-power, colonialists killed, deposed or exiled the resistant traditional rulers, before installing and paying submissive ones to enforce colonial policies on the people.[4] They also created and paid warrant-chiefs to control and tax people in communities they did not understand its taxing system.[5] So, the different and unconsented kingdoms and communities were violently merged under colonial offices[6] for exploiting resources and labour.[7][8] And the colonialists’ scanty social services were meant only to facilitate exploitation; they were not given to any Africans whose labour was not directly producing surplus for export to Europe.[9]


“The main purpose of the colonial system was to train Africans to help man the local administration at the lowest ranks and to (protect) private capitalist firms owned by Europeans… That meant selecting a few Africans to participate in the domination and exploitation of the continent as a whole… and to instil a sense of deference towards all that was European and capitalist.”[10]


Before leaving at independence, colonialists replaced themselves with their native assistants and fixed constitutions to guide them[11] in seizing and exporting people’s resources[12][13][14] for European consumer products.[15] Thus, colonialists installed a divide-and-rule system between colonial successors who seize people’s resources for export and the defeated kingdoms and communities. To seem democratic, the colonially-imposed government created states, local governments and ministries to share few foreign products as infrastructure, salaries and charity handouts. Since then people struggle to occupy the colonially-made offices for controlling the sharing formula of seized resource-revenue.


Being subjected under postcolonial government offices, traditional rulers continue the colonial duties of controlling the people at the lowest ranks and rural areas; while the postcolonial government seizes and exports the resources people could have used for modern production. In return, the postcolonial government and foreign companies pay salaries and royalties to traditional rulers for controlling the exploited people. During elections, some traditional rulers support politicians who will advance the colonialists’ exploitative agenda. Now, both communities with mineral resources and those without resources, all, demand funds from the government’s seizure and auction of people’s resources. The communities without discovered resources for exploitation temporarily support or benefit from the exploitative system while waiting to be exploited last. This current roles of traditional rulers weakens the people’s zeal to reclaim their lands, discover and utilise their resources for productivity, as they recline like helpless beggars. This overdependence also exposes traditional institutions and communities to government interference like arbitrary kingdom-balkanization, dethronement, custom distortions, invasions and inability to defend themselves.


Getting a prosperous Nigeria requires that all kingdoms and ethnic communities develop their capacity to produce, industrially link and internally trade what they can from their lands. But Nigeria may never experience such progress if traditional rulers that should inspire people’s local productivity remain submissive middlemen for postcolonial exploiters. So, Nigeria may never progress until the traditional rulers inspire their respective peoples to look inwards for modern productivity and trade. Then the roles of traditional rulers for a progressive Nigeria will include:


  • Readjusting cultural values (productivity over helpless dependence): before colonialism, the different kingdoms and communities in Nigeria had several values that enabled them survive and flourish. People owned and used lands and resources for production as families, clans, community or kingdoms, and they educated their young ones using proverbs.[16] As the youths mature, they are given portions of land for agriculture, mining or other forms of production for sustenance. And people were respected and materially enriched for the goods and services they produce and exchange with other productive people in the community. The steady trade of products results in general and harmonious growth within the communities.


Now, after the colonial invasion for seizing and exporting people’s resources, individuals are rewarded for serving the colonially-imposed government. The postcolonial (civil) service comes directly through public administration, academics and military, or indirectly through distorted religious practices and marketing of foreign goods and services. Thus, many people’s reward increase based on how they assist in controlling, distracting or exploiting the people and their resources for colonial export. This crude resource-exportation diverts people’ mind to serving foreigners, instead of seeking resources to produce, use and trade commodities within.


To get a prosperous society, traditional rulers and institutions will redirect their people to seek pride in productivity for dignified sustenance; and not depending on other people, especially former colonialists, for quick-depreciating finished products from exploitative sources. For the true measure of a people’s pride lies in what they can produce, not what they can consume. This implies modifying, modernizing and publicizing native proverbs, tales and festivals that celebrate real productivity and integrity. Hence, they can create role models by recognizing and awarding productive people, not just anybody with unjustifiable wealth.


  • Resolve land ownership: the colonial idea of commonwealth for seizing people’s lands when they contain mineral resources brought laziness, greed, corruption and unproductivity. Yet, following their precolonial cultures for owning lands, traditional rulers who desire progress will support the separation of lands according to families and communities. Afterwards, those who wish to merge their lands for higher productivity can agree to do so. Without retrieving their right to own their lands and resources for modern productivity, Nigerians may never develop. Instead, they will continue struggling to benefit from holding and exploiting the few communities who own mineral resources of foreign interest. But by using their lands and natural resources for productivity and internal trade, the people will develop.


  • Research on the people’s productive potentials: the necessary items for material productivity are human labour and natural resources. But without proper coordination between human labour and the various natural resources, productivity will be impossible or insufficient. Thus, in planning proper coordination for productivity, traditional rulers will enable researches on the available labour and natural resources; as well as present and past efforts to scientific productivity.[17] When people discover the industrial potentials for both their human and natural resources, they will eagerly learn and develop these potentials for prosperity.


  • Get good loans and diaspora support for their people’s education and industrialisation: free education becomes counterproductive when the people do not feel the need to pay back. But knowing that their education are investments or loans that must yield products, they choose right careers for productivity. Hence, traditional rulers will coordinate their natives for their resource-based industries and sponsorship/loan schemes for educating their people for local productivity. This will enable the people specialize on cultivating or extracting and industrially processing the different natural resources they have in their places.


  • Interlink their local productivity with matching products from other people: no modern product grows in isolation. A carmaker needs knowledge, labour, tools, glass, leather, steel, rubber, copper and other materials to make a car. Thus, he sources these materials from various people, who specialize in extracting and/or processing them. Knowing their people’s capacities or products, traditional rulers can connect their people to buyers or sellers of the products they require to complete their cycle of production.


  • Enlighten their people for security: when communities become productive and prosperous, they will require security for both their wealth and institutions. The highest tool for security is educating and enabling people to use their energies for productivity to avoid idleness and desperation. Also, by becoming shareholders in industries within their territories, people are eager to defend the areas. Hence, apart from engaging the people productively, traditional rulers can sensitize their people on vigilance and strategies for self-defence.


A father instils confidence in his family members by motivating them to find and develop their abilities to protect and provide for themselves. Not by positioning them to perpetually beg and depend on other people for survival, despite the moral compromises. By appreciating the dignity of productivity over the fear-induced dependence, traditional rulers will look beyond the colonially-imposed idea of commonwealth. Then they will be eager to develop themselves and negotiate with others in a true national conference for a new Nigeria.[18] Freeing themselves from the laziness of colonially-imposed commonwealth will not be aimed at insulting colonialists, but establishing, appreciating and utilizing your different cultures and environmental resources for productivity.

[1] Cf. Mogobe Ramose, “Discourses on Africa” in The African Philosophy Reader, Second Edition, Edited by P. H. Coetzee and A. P. J. Roux (New York: Routledge, 2003). p.3

[2] Walter Rodney, How Europe underdeveloped Africa, 2009 edition (Abuja: Panaf publishing Inc. 2009), pp 36-56

[3] Oladele Fadeiye, European conquest and African resistance (Lagos: Murfat publication, 2011), p.65-69

[4] Oladele Fadeiye, op. cit., p.68

[5] Ugochimalueze, HRH R. N. Iloh, reported by Chukwunwike Enekwechi, “Restartnaija visits Nise community ruled by HRM Igwe Ugochimalueze, R. N. Iloh, Ise-Nise” in Restartnaija, 13th March, 2018, Retrieved 5th August 2019.

[6] S. O. Oyedele, “Federalism in Nigeria” in Issues contemporary political economy of Nigeria (edited) Hassan A. Saliu, op.cit, p.57

[7] Walter Rodney, op. cit, p.273

[8] C. C. Dibie, Essential Government (Lagos: Tonad Publishers, 2012), p.137

[9] Walter Rodney, op. cit. p.250

[10] Walter Rodney, 293

[11] Cf. Walter Rodney, op. cit. 319.

[12] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1, paragraph 2 “… all lands in which minerals have been found in Nigeria and any area covered by its territorial waters or constituency and the Exclusive Economic Zone shall, from the commencement of this Act be acquired by the Government of the Federation…”  “No person shall search for or exploit mineral resources in Nigeria or divert or impound any water for the purpose of mining except as provided in this Act.”  “The property in mineral resources shall pass from the Government to the person by whom the mineral resources are lawfully won, upon their recovery in accordance with this Act.”

[13] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 2, paragraph 1

[14] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1, paragraph 3

[15] Walter Rodney, op. cit. p.319.

[16] Mogobe Ramose,

[17] Chukwunwike Enekwechi, “The social research for a new Nigeria” in Restartnaija June 5, 2018. retrieved 29th May, 2019.

[18] Chukwunwike Enekwechi, “Organizing the national conference for a new Nigeria” in Restartnaija February 5, 2019. retrieved 29th May, 2019.