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Traditional Rulers: Jonathan’s Sales Men?

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TRADITIONAL

Traditional Rulers

I WAS quite appalled to read in the media the astonishing news that President Jonathan, in his desperate bid for re-election, has recruited 11 teams of traditional rulers to woo the support of their colleagues across the country for his re-election campaign. Neither the presidency nor those traditional rulers mentioned has denied the report. Yet, the traditional rulers utilised for this purpose are communal leaders of no mean stature. Many of them are men of long-standing good reputation and are unfortunately risking their hard-earned reputations on a risky venture that may ultimately prove worthless.

Some of those allegedly spearheading the President’s cause in this regard are unquestionably illustrious and accomplished Nigerians who had made their marks in diverse spheres of life before electing to preside over the traditional heritage and affairs of their people.

Of course, traditional rulers are human beings even if they have blue blood running through their veins. They will, therefore, naturally have their political preferences. However, wisdom dictates that such preferences be kept subtle and private. This is because the traditional ruler is expected to be father of all. He represents an institution that transcends partisan, religious and other sectional divisions. The greater the distance between the traditional ruler and the partisan political fray, the muddy terrain of politics, the greater will be the confidence and support enjoyed by the traditional ruler among a broad cross-section of his people or subjects, if you like. Once the traditional ruler is identified with a given political party or tendency, particularly one that is antithetical to the popular wishes of the people, he begins to court alienation and dislike from a considerable section of his traditional jurisdiction.

Should traditional rulers agree to be the points-men of any politician? This writer does not think so. Such a role can only diminish the traditional ruler and erode the royal mystique that is the unique hallmark of the institution. It appears to me that President Jonathan is not being considerate or fair to the traditional rulers when he deploys them on such ‘partisan’ errands on his behalf. The truth is that not many Nigerians, including traditional rulers, may have the courage to decline a request by the President of the country.

However, we can only assume that traditional rulers who agree to lobby their colleagues to support President Jonathan’s re-election are already committed to the president’s cause. They are, therefore, presumably acting out of conviction and not for any selfish motives. But that is exactly where the problem lies. The media has been replete with stories of the Jonathan presidential campaign doling out astounding sums of money in dollars to various individuals and groups particularly during the period in which the elections were shifted forward by six weeks at the instance of the country’s security chiefs. These reports have not been emphatically and credibly denied by Jonathan’s campaign team. This raises serious questions as regards the moral integrity of the affected traditional rulers.

These traditional rulers will have to convince their people that the Jonathan administration has performed and that the lot of their people is better today than it was before the advent of the Jonathan presidency. Any traditional ruler who canvasses this view is obviously out of touch with the existential living realities of his people. It is a gross error of judgement on the part of the Jonathan administration to believe that catering for traditional rulers, who will then convince their people to vote for his re-election, can substitute for pursuing the welfare of the people in fulfilment of its electoral social contract with the people. In this day and age no traditional ruler, not even in the most illiterate society, can simply order his people to vote for a party or candidate and expect them to comply unthinkingly.

Indeed, as a result of the widespread reports of ‘dollar rain’ on traditional rulers and other influential individuals and groups by the Jonathan campaign team, anybody, including traditional rulers, who seek to advocate support for his re-election risks being seen as only working to justify the largesse he or she has collected. The normal reaction of the average human being in such situations will be to ask for his or her own share of the ‘national cake’. In other words, this whole idea of mobilising traditional rulers monetarily to canvass support for Jonathan may backfire badly as the people may see their royal fathers as compromised and lacking in credibility.

The problem then is that the traditional rulers currently engaged to sell Jonathan’s candidacy to their colleagues nationwide may have serious difficulty convincing sceptical Nigerians that they are doing this only as an honest patriotic gesture. Their credibility and integrity are, therefore, at stake even if they are performing their role gratis. It is my view that the President has enough men and women in his party from across the country that can be his sales persons. They are in a better position to sell the merits of his candidacy beyond narrow circles of traditional rulers or religious clerics to the general populace that will constitute the bulk of the voting electorate. These aides of the President include his array of Ministers, Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants in government and the countless others who are not formally in government but have benefitted from patronage, and should now be willing to invest in the re-election of their benefactor.

This writer agrees completely with the assertion by the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, that while traditional rulers can give any aspiring politician who visits them royal blessings, it is improper for them to campaign for the election of any candidate. Indeed, the Awujale ranks among the class of honourable, courageous and credible traditional rulers who have never hesitated to stand for the good and best interest of their people against all odds. We will recall that even under military dictatorship, the Awujale refused to hobnob with the military dictators of the day.

It is difficult to decipher the merit of the Jonathan administration in trying to reach the people through the medium of traditional rulers. There is hardly any traditional ruler that can convince his people to vote for an administration that has had little or no impact on the daily condition of their lives. This is particularly so in the South-West where the Yoruba have cultivated a high degree of political consciousness, sophistication and discernment. The task of the traditional rulers spearheading Jonathan’s cause is made more onerous by the perception, rightly or wrongly, that the Jonathan campaign has been spending money as if the commodity is going out of fashion.

These traditional rulers will have to convince their people that the Jonathan administration has performed and that the lot of their people is better today than it was before the advent of the Jonathan presidency. Any traditional ruler who canvasses this view is obviously out of touch with the existential living realities of his people. It is a gross error of judgement on the part of the Jonathan administration to believe that catering for traditional rulers, who will then convince their people to vote for his re-election, can substitute for pursuing the welfare of the people in fulfilment of its electoral social contract with the people. In this day and age no traditional ruler, not even in the most illiterate society, can simply order his people to vote for a party or candidate and expect them to comply unthinkingly.

This writer urges all traditional rulers to leave politics to the politicians. They should bless all those who come to seek their royal blessings but leave the politicians to go and woo the electorate directly by showcasing their performance in office. A traditional ruler who openly canvasses support for a politician who eventually loses the election would have lost a substantial degree of prestige, respect and public confidence among his people. The moral authority that is the bedrock of the traditional institution would have been badly eroded.

The traditional rulers should remain as fathers to all, irrespective of the political camps they belong to. As for the Jonathan presidency, it should have sufficient substantial achievements to show for its four years in power. This is what it should be showcasing to win electoral support rather than drawing clerics and traditional rulers into the murky terrain of politics. It is unfortunate that the Jonathan administration is likely to go down in history as one that has done the greatest damage to the integrity and efficacy of formal and informal institutions just because of its desperation to remain in power at all costs.

Dahunsi is a Lagos-based public affairs analyst.



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