Lagos, Nigeria – October 17, 2017. The constitution of Nigeria makes no provision for the existence of Obas and Chiefs; it therefore amounts to a violation of our constitution to pay traditional rulers from the public purse. This was stated by Mr. Olasupo Shasore, a former Attorney-General of Lagos State and Senior Advocate of Nigeria at a policy dialogue hosted on 17th October, 2017, by the Centre for Public Policy Alternatives (CPPA), a non-partisan public policy think tank based in Lagos, and the Lagos Court of Arbitration (LCA). While not advocating the abolition of traditional institutions as enforced by traditional rulers, he reiterated the need to legalize their existence and constitutionally define their powers, roles and jurisdiction in 21st Century Nigeria.
According to him, “there is a gap between what we say and what we do. If we say traditional institutions are no longer relevant, how is it that traditional rulers were instrumental in resolving (at least temporarily) the conflicts in the Niger Delta and the ultimatum issued to Igbos? If the traditional institutions were so revered, how come we could distort and disrupt years of history with such events as those in Oyo State? Why do state governments have the power to arbitrarily ‘upgrade’ monarchs? We need to constitutionalize these traditional institutions, and delegitimize the lies.”
The event was organized by CPPA and LCA to evaluate the role of traditional institutions in governance and dispute resolution in present day Nigeria, while seeking to harmonize the rule of law with traditional dispute resolution mechanisms for economic recovery and growth.
Speaking at the event, the Obi of Onitsha, HRM Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe, opined that although the monarch’s ruling is final within the traditional council, the council in fact accepts the superiority of the civil courts; dissatisfied disputers may therefore seek resolution at the civil courts. He added that “unlike English law which uses a winner-takes-all approach, the Onitsha traditional council takes a conciliatory approach to dispute resolution and judges each case on its own merit. A case may be won or lost on the facts rather than technicalities. The traditional courts also reduce the workload of the civil courts by resolving cases in a timely manner.”
While discussing the continued relevance of traditional institutions in 21st Century Nigeria, HRM Serena Dokubo-Spiff, the Amadabo of Ada-Ama (Brass Local Government) Bayelsa State, stated that traditional institutions were largely successful in fostering an atmosphere of peace, stability and economic progress in pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial Nigeria. If these are eroded, disruption is inevitable. According to him, “the usurpation of traditional government is symptomatic of the failings of Nigeria as a country. Despite the contributions of traditional rulers in resolving conflicts in past and present day Nigeria, there exists no legal mechanism for sustaining and institutionalizing such efforts.”
In his remarks, the Emir of Kano, HRH Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II, who was represented by HRH Alhaji Shehu Muhammad, posited that the relevance (or otherwise) of traditional institutions is often a question of attitudes. If people continue to have a sense of trust, equity and justice, then technology, urbanization and 21st Century progress will not make traditional institutions irrelevant or extinct.
Also present at the event were Professor Melvin Ayogu (Visiting Professor of Economics, American University of Sharjah), legal experts, community rulers, business executives and policy analysts from the Center for Public Policy Alternatives.
The Center for Public Policy Alternatives is a non-partisan, public policy think tank focused on providing evidence-based policy recommendations to sub-national, national, and regional governments in sub-Saharan Africa. It has offices in Lagos, Nigeria, and Washington DC, USA.