Tuesday Platform

March 12, 2013

Mining the cultural wealth in our traditional rulers

Mining the cultural wealth in our traditional rulers

By John Amoda
AS a republican in a Republic of Nigeria I have not harboured kind thoughts on the value of the institutions of traditional rulership. I saw their survival in an empire as a function of the strategies of pacification and policing of populations ultimately ruled by imperial force.

After I read AWUJALE- The autobiography of Alaiyeluwa Oba S.K Adetona, Ogbagba II, I began to appreciate not only the importance of their reading of the history of European empire making in their domains but even more so how their pre-colonial subjects have sustained their political relevance through the colonial period and continue to do so even so in these tumultuous post-colonial transitions.

How do we explain the explosion in the growth of monarchical ‘traditions’ and traits in our Republic if we do not reckon with “the subjects” demand for “our own kings”? How do we explain the popularity of tradition titles conferred by “our ruler-father” on their successful and influential sons and daughters?

All these thoughts have been recently articulated by a seemingly little matter of a king’s choice of his queen. ThisDay of February 17, 2013 carried the story of Victor Efeizomor titled: “Igbodo Community Battles Monarch over Alien wife…”. “In Delta State town of Igbodo, the battle line has been drawn between its youthful monarch, Obi Ikechukwu Nkeobikwu Osadume and the rest of the community for his refusal to marry a native.

“This community of Igbodo who, typically Nigerian have not risen with one voice to protect their votes, have in this case done so with vehement viogour to defend the integrity of their tradition as defined by the rules that both the ruled and the rulers have made for the legitimation of the Igbodo Kinship. Victor reports:

“Mrs Elizabeth Nwaeze 79… Top on her agenda that day was to attend the emergency meeting at the village square summoned that morning by the traditional prime minster (the Iyase) of Igbodo community. As she approached the venue of the meeting she mumbled to herself: ‘We must not allow this to happen! Our ancestors will not take it kindly with us, not in my time’.

The previous night, the town-crier had sounded the gong that summoned an emergency general meeting of the village heads, market women, the youths as well as members of Igbodo royal family to discuss a ‘nauseating’ issue they considered an ‘abominable and sacrilegious act of our king’.

Trouble started when the Obi of Igbodo Kingdom in Ika North East Local Government Area of Delta State, married an Ebonyi-born woman, a development that earned the youthful king (28) the wrath of palace chiefs and a good number of people in the community mostly women.

Their grouse? They cannot afford to have a non-Igbodo native as their queen. According to the customs of the Igbodo Kingdom, the first legitimate wife of the monarch must be a native of (the) kingdom to pave the way for the heir to the throne, who must be a native of Igbodo by birth”.

In this event it has become obvious that Igbodo can be mobilized to see, speak and act as one to defend the integrity of the Igbodo community; it has shown that the Igbodo society is held together by the Igbodo community whose displeasure can remove monarchs from the throne and whose pleasure can assure the Igbodo society of peace and safety.

All governments, local, state and federal, have understated the value of ‘traditional communities’, a mistake which the Igbodo Monarch perhaps now regrets. The Igodo marriage crisis shows that there is ‘an art of rulership’ and ‘there is art in rulership’. To this latter point an older monarch in the same cultural geography as the Igbodo ruler has the following to say.

“According to him: ‘Civilization landed us in this messy situation. Since we started crowning young men, in their 20’s as kings, we have been experiencing one sort of sacrilegious conduct to the other. Today, you hear that one of us committed adultery with another person’s wife; tomorrow they pass corruptible judgement on matters of public interest.

Usurpation of power, wrongful installation and what have you, are not new things but the way and manner they are being handled these days, and how tradition and custom are being flagrantly abused and flouted call for concern. Imagine what is happening in Igbodo, he continued, where a boy of 28 years is trying to turn back the hand of time.

To me, ignorance is the cause. I am sure he did not know what he became king for. Neither was he properly briefed on what he wanted to become. He didn’t believe in the king he became. He didn’t receive, sing and act it in his heart. How will he understand? My brother, traditional stool has been distorted and is gradually becoming messy in our state (Delta)”.

The import of the above remarks by an older king is his assumption that the Igbodo monarch is ignorant of the importance of the art in rulership. Oba Adetona was only 26 when he became king and instinctively knew that if he did not come into office with appreciation of the diplomacy for managing the ambitions of his palace chiefs, he would be reduced to a nominal ruler. He thus relates his first meeting with his chiefs:

“The first meeting was called at the instance of the Chiefs and I obliged them. On the appointed day, I waited for them in the Aafin. Being a stickler for punctuality, I was not too pleased that they arrived late. Not only were they late, they sauntered in, coming in ones and twos. When they had finally assembled for the meeting, I greeted them respectfully.

Thereupon they asked me to excuse them so that they could hold a preliminary meeting. They indicated that my meeting with them would be held after they had concluded their preliminary meeting. I obliged them. When they were through with their preliminary meeting, they invited me in for our scheduled meeting.

As soon as I took my seat, I told them that I could no longer hold a meeting with them on that day. I further told them that when next a meeting was called, they were welcome to hold their preliminary meetings before coming to the Aafin and not at our scheduled time.

In addition, I warned them not to be late again for our subsequent meetings. Our scheduled meeting was not held. I dismissed them. They were shocked. The Chiefs were enraged at my decison and they left en masse for Chief Odutola’s house where another meeting was held. They probably decided to deal with me so as to prevent this young Oba from growing wings”.

Oba Adetona knew from the first day in His Government that there was art in rulership and he must retain the initiative in every power play. He understood what a king was. He knew an equally important truth, namely that there is art of rulership and he must learn to rule in the very process of ruling.

“Many days following the coronation, there was a throng of dignitaries, visitors and well-wishers coming to the Aafin to congratulate me. Sooner or later, I knew that work outside the exchange of courtesies would commence in earnest and I realized that I had no training on how to be an Oba”.

My father had never been Oba and so there were few lessons available from his end. I had a job for life for which I had no apprenticeship. So I decided that I would have to rely on the institutional apparatus of the IjebuKingdom”.

We have seen in the Oba’s own narration of his encounter with the Chiefs of the Kingdom that he must rely first on his sense of the appropriate to rule and to govern through the institutional apparatus of the IjebuKingdom. It is the sense of the appropriate that has been developed into art of rulership characterizing the reigns of effective kings.

There are mines of cultural wisdom and knowledge embodied in the traditional rulers’ experience of managing the politics of their Kingdom Communities. The colonial rulers funded studies of these communities for strategies on how to convert enemies and rivals into administrative collaborators. Our political parties have not understood the value of the art of rulership mastered by the wise of our traditional rulers.

These traditional rulers have outlived the colonialists and the military rulers. Governments have been content with fueling hegemonic rivalries amongst these traditional rulers and have not fully appreciated the strategic roles of these rulers in mediating NigerianNationBuilding. Parables like the Igbodo politics of succession help to explain  why Kingdom communities like Igbodo continue to thrive in conditions where Nigerian national societies are atrophying.