Role of Traditional Rulers in Community Development

Role of Traditional Rulers in Community Development Case of Ikwo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State


3.1 The role of Traditional Rulers on the Social Development of Ikwo Local Government area of Ebonyi State:

     The role of the traditional rulers in the development of any given society cannot be disputed. Some national issues have been agitating my mind, and one of them concerns the constitutional roles that are envisaged for our traditional Nigeria order, peace and good government which remain the responsibilities of our royal fathers. It is against this background that this research is being carried out to examine some of the roles of traditional rulers in the overall development of our country specifically the Ikwo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.

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The traditional institution has been thoroughly humiliated over the years 1. The main reason is that it is a conquered institution in most cases. Some of the conquests by the colonialists were followed with heavy primitive expedition. The cases of the once mighty Benin kingdom and Sokoto caliphate brought down about a country ago are prime examples. The colonialists introduced the policy of removing traditional rulers from civic and political relevance by importing the policy of their home country.

The imposition of ceremonial roles on traditional rulers in Nigeria which their Ikwo counterpart are not in isolation and their strict prohibition from participation in partisan politics were  necessary  for the prosecution of colonial rule and even the military era that followed shortly after independence.

It is now becoming very clear that the nation is losing valuable manpower by pretending that traditional rulers are expendable in the administration of our democratic polity. This is the truth. Let us forget about intra-racial and inter-ethnic wars of the time that was not peculiar to us. Even the European countries were not free from these similar debates.  Today the power shift occasioned by western system of government has deprived our tradition al rulers of their primordial roles.

Nnanna noted that the dethronement of traditional rulers was followed up with the denial of their right to benefit from social tributes that helped make their ancestors wealthy on the throne. Their fortunes dipped even further with the dawn of indigenous rule. Today the rulers play little or no active role in revenue generation through taxation. In order to survive, traditional institutions gradually become strong elements in the campaign organizations of ruling politicians in spite of their prohibition from partisan politics. Most of them have resorted to the award of chieftaincy titles as a means of survival and the temptation to give out these titles to all manner of people with money is always there2.

We can restore the dignity of our traditional institution by defining some constitutional roles for the royal fathers. In this vein, they will be given tasks and they will receive rewards in form of regular income (not prehend or tokenistic stipends).

In recognition of the roles which a traditional ruler is expected to play in the administration of their local communities, the colonial government introduced the system of indirect rule which made the Nigeria traditional chiefs the central figure around which the system of administration of local community revolved.

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kusamotu highlighted the following as the roles assigned to traditional rulers under the customary laws of different ethnic group  in Nigeria which Ikwo Local government Area is one. They are:

  1. Preservation of public peace
  2. Settlement of disputes among their subjects
  3. Assisting in the collection of taxes and
  4. Acting as the custodian of their subjects and community customs and traditions 3 .

As the custodians of customary laws, while carrying out their customary functions, the traditional rulers must ensure that the discharge of such traditional functions is done in such a way that will not be in breach of the constitution or any statutory provision or in a way repugnant to morality, common law, equity, natural justice of good conscience.

Other roles of traditional rulers include amongst others the following.

  • Presiding over the meetings of elders and minor chieftains in their domains.
  1. Conferment of traditional chieftaincy title on qualified indigenes according to the customary law.
  2. Conferment of honorary chieftaincy titles on deserving indigenes and non-indigenes of their community.
  3. Encouragement of economic development in the areas within their domains.

3.1.1 The Role of traditional Rulers on the cultural development of Ikwo community

  Our culture would appear to be present in two manifestations, which though basically conflicting, yet manage somehow to exist side by side.

Kolade identified these two manifestations of culture as “primordial and constitutional” 4. Our primordial culture is that which existed even before society became conscious of its corporate existence, this forming the context within which the people came to relate to one another from the start of their co-existence. Within the primordial culture, standards of inter-relationship have evolved from the perceived need to respect each other’s interest and rights in order to enjoy peace rather than experience consistent tension and conflict. In its primordial state, culture has built up traditions of communal collaboration where people agree on broad forms of coordination and willingly commit themselves to pattern of relationship.

The distinct feature of this structure is that participants willingly come together after discovering that it is in their best interest to act in concert. This willing participation becomes the basis for regulating inter and intra-group behavior. For example, it promotes situation in which members of Ikwo community band together by agreement on particular days to embark on community development project such a construction of new rural/feeder roads or local bridges using nothing but the resources and efforts freely donated by individuals according to their capacity.

On the other hand, constitutional culture has come about because the process of modernization created formal structures of political relationship and governance by which society could be relatively easily administered. Our experience of colonial governance created situations in which it became fashionable to concentrate resources in the hands of “district officers” who dispensed resources to village communities from central sources. Thus development came to be regarded as something that should come from government at the centre-federal, state or local rather than something growing out of the real needs of the community and the readiness of its members to make a joint positive contribution. The indigenous community was taught to express expectations rather than continue to be maximally productive through self effort.

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Modernization has added another role to the aforementioned traditional roles. This is the role of traditional rulers as representative of their communities either as the plaintiffs, being on behalf of their communities or as the defendants defending actions on behalf of their communities. This role emanates as a result of the prime position occupied by the traditional chieftains among the members of the community 5.

Traditional rulers indeed in Ikwo clan and other parts of the country were trusted with the responsibilities of managing community land. The management of community land by traditional rulers also includes the right to allocate land to strangers or new immigrants who decide to settle in Ikwo after attaining certain criteria to that effect.

Describing the traditional chieftaincy holders role as the manager and protector of communal land, late Dr. Elias, in his book Nigeria land law states “the chief as trusted or protector can allocate land as well as revoke its grants can receive tribute or rent and eject from the land for good cause and has a right of reversion as juridical embodiment of the community. He represents his own community in dealing with another community or with the other third parties

3.1.2 The Role of Traditional rulers on political Development of Ikwo Local Government Area       

The importance of chieftaincy institution in the administration of Nigeria was accorded due recognition by the colonial rulers of the country. It was as the result of the recognition of the importance of the institution that prompted the British government to include certain prominent paramount traditional rulers in the enlarged executive council and an advisory and deliberative body known as the Nigerian council in 1914. The importance of the institution was never lost sight of of the composition of the legislative bodies established for Nigeria under the Richard constitution of 1914. Under Richard’s constitution a house of chiefs was established for the western and the northern regions . In addition the two regions had their traditional chiefs as nominated unofficial members to the legislative council. Subsequent constitutions from 1957 down recognized the unique position and importance of chieftaincy institution 5 .

Kusamotu noted, that “in recognition of the importance of chieftaincy institution in Nigeria, the inclusion of a traditional chief from each state of the federation, in the members of council of state created for the country for the country under and by virtue of the provisions of section140 of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria, 1979 is guaranteed. The constitutional provisions which state the mode of appointing a chief to the council of state read: One person from each state shall as respects for that state be appointed by the council of chiefs of the state among themselves”.

As a member of council of state, a traditional chief’s duty and those of other members of the council are advisory. At the state level the constitution also allowed each state of the federation to establish state council of chiefs, the constitutional duties and powers of a state council of chief are stated in third schedule part of 1979 constitution.  The council shall have power to advice the governor on any matter relating to customary law or cultural affairs, inter-communal relation and chieftaincy matters.

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The council shall also have power to advice the governor whenever required to do so:

  1. The maintenance of public order with the state on any part thereof.
  2. Such other matters as the governor may direct.

With a view to involving traditional chiefs in the administration and development of their chieftaincy, Section 8 of the constitution empower each state house of   assembly to enact a law for the establishment of a traditional council which shall be presided over by a traditional ruler for a local government  area or a group of local government areas.

The traditional council can act only in advisory capacity in carrying out its constitutional duties which are enumerated in the 45 schedule (part 11) of the constitution thus,

  1. Giving general advice to the local council concerned.
  2. Advising the local government concerned on the proposed development plans.
  3. Assisting in the collection of taxes as may be required.
  4. Advising on religious matter where appropriate.
  5. Promoting and advising on art and culture.
  6. Subject to the law of the state dealing with and advising on chieftaincy matters and traditional titles and offices.
  7. Deliberating and expressing opinion to any organization on any other matters which deems to be of importance to the area as a whole or which may be referred to it by the government or other organization
  8. Assisting in the mobilization of human and material resources towards self-reliance, community development and welfare within the area.
  9. Such other functions as the local government council may from time to time refer to it.

Meanwhile, the traditional rulers in Ikwo and indeed every other part, though from the colonial era looked down as ceremonial, still have influential power in terms of political development of the country. They have closer contacts with the local inhabitants, interact with them frequently. They provide even information on security to the law enforcement agencies before they get out of hand. They are the chief mobilizers when it comes to political activities.



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