Saturday, 3rd June 2023

A world without kings and princes

By Paul Onomuakpokpo
20 August 2015   |   2:28 am
WITH the contemporary world racked by a phalanx of challenges that require urgent solutions, it makes a huge sense to dispense with any  cultural practice  that does not redound to the development of the human race

earthWITH the contemporary world racked by a phalanx of challenges that require urgent solutions, it makes a huge sense to dispense with any  cultural practice  that does not redound to the development of the human race. Humanity is faced with natural disasters,  intractable  diseases such as  cancer and economic crises like those  that have  hobbled  the Greeks as well as Nigerians.  One  cultural formation  that has become a burden  to the Nigerian people  that  should urgently be consigned to the past  is  contained  in  the traditional institution of  kings  with the  nomenclatorial variegation of oba, obi,  eze , ovie, olu,  emir , among others.

True, despite the pull of globalisation, we must maintain our cultural practices that mark us out as a distinct people.  We must not  pander to the socio-cultural aberrations of the West  that now threaten civilisation. An  argument  in  support of the traditional institution is always  that  it has  been with us; it is  a reminder of our past .  But the ultimate  question that should determine its relevance today is what direct benefit  does it confer on  the people? Or do we go back to living in caves because our forbears once did?  We cannot keep on  maintaining  this  institution because our ancestors  once revered it. Just as we the living do not have the right to  determine  how our ancestors live, so they  do not have the right to control us  the living. A culture  is  only relevant  to us today  to that extent it helps  us to solve our problems.  Frantz Fanon’s warning  in this regard is as  relevant  now as during the anti-colonial struggle . According to Fanon, the culture of a people fighting for freedom, in our case economic and political development,  must be dynamic;    instead of being enamoured of fossilised cultural practices, “… it is  to the zone of occult instability where the people dwell that we must come..”

This  traditional institution  has survived not because it is relevant  to our individual or national development.  And  this  is  a  fact  that  the nation’s  constitution well acknowledges by not granting  it any roles. Its survival is not due to  the often- bandied about  assumption that  traditional rulers  are catalysts  of communal cohesion. We have the  elected  local government council and community leaders  to do this .  Its survival  has been due  to  the  protection given to it by a few people  who benefit from it.  These are the kings and their families, politicians  who  need the endorsement  of kings  to  win elections and  those  who run to  the kings  for protection from the wrath of the  law after  unconscionably  depleting  the common treasury .

As  Thomas Paine reminds  us , the  injustice  of  the  institution of kings  is  even seen from birth within the family. In a family of six children , once  a king emerges among them, the other five are destined to become second-class citizens within that hierarchical structure.  They  cannot claim the same rights as the king; they must be subject to him. And  if his siblings  are subject  to him, it  means  that every other person where the king has his jurisdiction is subject  to him.  The  hereditary  system  by which kings emerge  has  ended  up afflicting  humanity  with monsters  of all manner . The heir apparent might even be a moron or a  misanthrope , but as long as he becomes the one who  sits on the throne , his  whims become  the rules.  It was  this  system  that produced in Russia  Ivan the Terrible  and  Peter the Great  who  broke his enemies on the rack and hanged them in Red Square.

The perpetuation of the traditional institution of kings  is a tribute to indolence . The members  of the institutions are not known  to being  the most hardworking class of any society. Yet , they live a luxurious life. Who pays  for their expensive lifestyles? It  is  the people  who cannot feed  themselves whose funds are used to sustain them .They  live in luxurious mansions , they ride the  most expensive vehicles and they send their children to the best schools in the world while  those outside the royal family eke out a hard living . So here we nurture a parasitic culture whose ultimate beneficiaries feed fat on others , yet we  hector others  about the imperative of  industry. The message would  not resonate with the people, no wonder we are lazy in this part of the world.

For  those  who are fixated  on the institution, there is often the ludicrous  recourse  to the bromide  that  those  who now occupy  the traditional institution are educated, some are even professors.  Such  people  are wittingly or unwittingly oblivious of the fact that education does not necessarily purge one  of the tendencies  to be selfish; to pander to what is far from being altruistic. And this is why the more people are educated, the more universities we build, the more our values are reduced and civilisation is threatened. Even Joseph Goebbels’ doctor of philosophy did not stop him  from being selfish, defending Adolf  Hitler’s  atrocious crimes. Despite  their  high level  of educational attainment,  scientists  in  Hitler’s  Germany after  Albert  Einstein and other great teachers  were hounded out of their  jobs , became conduits  for the solidification of  Nazi aberrations. Instead of science being an area of human knowledge  with a  universal application, these Nazi scientists  formulated a notion of  German physics, German chemistry, German mathematics .

Writing in the 18th century,  Arthur Schopenhauer identifies three kinds of aristocracies : of birth and rank; of wealth ; and of  intellect . For him, the last is really the most distinguished of the three,  as so eminent a  king as Frederick the Great even  acknowledged  this fact to his chamberlain , when the latter expressed his surprise that Voltaire should have a seat at the table reserved for kings and princes , while ministers and generals were relegated to the chamberlain’s .  At  the time that Schopenhauer wrote, it was  acceptable  to identify the above as  the markers of aristocracy . But in contemporary times, these markers have  collapsed  . Now everybody  should be treated  as a king not on account of hereditary privileges but because  they are human beings with inherent dignity .  And  even the British monarchy can  no longer provide a magical  bulwark for the institution of kings as  citizens  have for a long time been interrogating  its relevance to them now.

Nigeria is a republic , so anybody could identify with any cultural practice they choose.  If anybody is so enamoured of the traditional institution of kings, they are  free to have it. But let only  them  fund  their  kings’  harems and other egregious appetites.  Those who  do not want kings, princes and princesses  should not be made to bear their  financial burden. And when they die, the people who do not owe allegiance to them should not be harassed with  their burial rites  that curtail the freedom of movement.

• Dr. Onomuakpokpo is a member of The Guardian Editorial Board