The Discourse: Traditional Rulers In The Republican State

The Discourse: Traditional Rulers In The Republican State
  • PublishedOctober 20, 2023

By Olu Joseph

ON Friday September 15, a comico-bizzare incident occurred in Iseyin, Oyo State, at a public function in which former President Olusegun Obasanjo was seen in a video bellowing instruction to the traditional rulers present, asking them to stand up and then sit down. They sheepishly obliged him.

The incident has generated angst and shock mixed with hilarity, as traditional rulers were being commandeered like primary school children by a non-royal, who at best was a military and democratic leader.

That was an unusual happening. Kings are historically regal and by definition are absolute rulers. They answer to no one and cannot be questioned. They only give instructions and take no instruction from anyone. The crowning glory of their might is that they hold the power of life and death, which they exercise at their whim.

There is something actually about kings or the institution of kingship that is elevated and sublime. Kings are extraordinary people. In ancient Egypt, the Pharaoh was one of the gods worshipped in Egypt. In Yorubaland, kings are greeted as ‘Alase Ekeji Orisa’ (the absolute authority, next to the gods). The cognomen of the Alaafin of Oyo is ‘Iku Baba Yeye’ (Death: The father and mother), to depict his absoluteness over the subjects. Ooni, the title of the paramount ruler of Ile-Ife, is actually a short form of Oonirisa, a contraction of Ooni Orisa (Ooni the god).

Seeing therefore a congregation of kings, like errant school children, being publicly upbraided is comical as well as demystifying. They were publicly stripped of their kingly robes, so to speak.

However, the sustained public reaction of shock and angst is a reflection of the fact that the Yoruba are still living in denial over the tectonic shift of a seismic dimension in state legality that had occurred since colonisation.

Kings were the repository and custodians of state sovereignty where they hold the executive, legislative and judicial powers of state – until colonisation. But the colonial order overthrew them, though retaining the façade of their existence, but it has effectively taken all executive, legislative and judicial powers from them.

The monarchical order is therefore gone and has been replaced effectively with republicanism. Nigeria is a REPUBLIC and for the avoidance of doubt, her name is Federal Republic of Nigeria. We only call it the shortened form, Nigeria. A republic is a country where there are no privileges of birth. It is a territory of equals where political power rests with the public and their representatives. Indeed in a republic, the people are the SOVEREIGN. This is reflected in the Nigerian Constitution that recognises the three arms of government as distinct from each other and where executive and legislative offices are occupied from the consent of the people, as expressed through democratic elections.

This is different from the monarchical kingdoms in places like Thailand, Lesotho, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Omar and Bhutan where state power derives from the monarchy. It is also different from the United Kingdom, Spain and other parts of Europe where they operate constitutional monarchy with the kings playing only ceremonial roles but state power is exercised by the people through their elected representatives. Of course, France, Germany, United States of America and India are pure republics without any monarchical structures.

Republicanism began in ancient Rome in 509 BC with the overthrow of the king and the establishment of a republican order that consists of a senate. Julius Caesar was assassinated, from the explanation of the conspirators who killed him, because he was assuming too much power and gravitating towards becoming a king, undermining the republic.

The Maharaj were the traditional rulers in India and were made even more popular and powerful by the British colonial authority who ruled nearly a third of the Indian subcontinent through them. But with the adoption of the Republican constitution at independence, their reigns ended with no successor and were excluded from public affairs while their palaces were turned to museums after their passage.

The colonial government defeated – by military force or guile – the various kingdoms in what is today’s Nigeria and established its order. This order has progressed till the government we have today. The implication of the subordination of kings to the existing state order is that they are employees of the local government under the authority and leadership of the chairman of the council. The state governor would have to appoint a king before he can be crowned and give him the staff of office at the installation. By the same token, kings are also removed by the government. The king therefore exists at the pleasure of the political leader of the day.

More importantly, the government has tinkered with traditional institutions beyond recognition. The government now sets the laws recognising ruling houses, segregated the kings into categories of ‘first class’, ‘second class ’and so on and created kings for communities that had none hitherto.

Except for the prominent ones, there is therefore little or nothing traditional or customary about a lot of the kings we have now. In places where we used to have Baale, Oloja or representatives of the big kings, we now have upgrades to beaded crown kings strutting the land and living in the first palaces they built by themselves.

Obasanjo has a reputation for brashness and aggression, as expressed in his caustic language and brazen demystification of the traditional rulers at the event. This has actually obfuscated the background to the story, his explanation and the import of what happened at the event.

The repository of state sovereignty, governor or president as elected representative of the people, is superior to the kings in a republic. Protocols therefore demands that all present in a function should stand to welcome them when they arrive. But it so happened that when the governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde, arrived the venue, all the people present stood up to welcome him, except the kings. When the governor stood up to speak, the same breech of protocols by the kings was repeated, even as he was honoured by those present.

It was unpleasant no doubt to have seen traditional rulers being dragged and humiliated, which some even argued could have been done in a more dignifying manner, but the import of this incident is that the kings do not have it anymore and their status and worth in the order of the state is the relic of the past we still hold in our head.

Obasanjo has crudely awakened us to the stark reality of the status of the king in modern time.

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not represent the opinions or views of OSUN DEFENDER.

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