The Guardian
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On democracy and traditionalism


image source gapersblock

image source gapersblock

When the Americans forcefully sought their independence from Britain in 1776, one culture they were determined not to inherit was the aristocratic one. They asserted the equality of men and women in their declaration of independence “… We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”

Their determination to establish a true republic, rather than a society of nobility, was given the full force of constitutional pronouncement. Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 of the American constitution states emphatically; “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United states: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state”

The Americans’ determination to establish a state and a democracy based on an egalitarian philosophy contrasts sharply with those nations where traditional cultures and values predated democracy and its institutions. In Nigeria, for instance, traditionalism and the new culture of democracy compete for equal loyalty.

When General Olusegun Obasanjo recently visited Ile-Ife in Osun State and prostrated in greeting the town’s monarch, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunlusi, not many of those who share his Yoruba culture saw anything particularly unusual about it. However, there were not a few non-Yoruba who assumed Obasanjo’s traditional gesture degraded the prestige and aura of the institution of national leadership which, by virtue of his previous position as President, he forever remains its symbol.

Of course, Obasanjo hardly does his things without being theatrical, his gesture of deference nevertheless asserts the place of culture in the hearts of adherents. The one that would want to win a democratic election seeks to be in the good book of the traditional ruler, and might even want to parade a traditional title of some sort for self-aggrandizement!

There might have been a time when it was assumed that only the less educated men and women in society would take up traditional roles; those who could devote time to performing traditional rites. This assumption no longer holds; traditional positions have more or less become the ultimate aspirations of the rich and those who had succeeded in diverse professions. Quite a number of retired generals, professors, or judges, have become traditional elites in various communities of the Nigerian “republic”.

When it was brought to my attention that some kind of “supremacy” battle was brewing between two traditional institutions in the Ikere-Ekiti community – the Ogoga and Olukere – my immediate response was to say that such a development was not surprising. In the quest for power and prestige, the educated and rich who have acquired traditional positions would want to make historical claims and assert new positions. A similar rivalry has been ongoing in Ikare-Akoko, Ondo state, between the Olukare and Owa-Ale, and the consequences have been violently unpalatable for intra-communal harmony.

The Ikere situation, not unexpectedly, has engaged the attention of concerned citizens, and thus suggests a people cannot distance themselves from their communal politics, regardless of how loudly we profess democracy as the modern culture. Democracy can only triumph where its environment is peaceful and conducive.

A marriage of convenience between democracy and traditionalism would seem inevitable. It is hard to envisage a revolution that will sweep away Nigeria’s traditional institutions, anachronistic as they might seem in the eyes of others.

The message of unity being promoted by the dynamic and forward-looking Ooni of Ife, Oba Ogunlusi, is important and has salutary implications for democracy and understanding in the larger Nigerian society. He enjoins his fellow traditional rulers, especially in the Yoruba region, to seek the interests of the larger community above personal pride and arrogance. He believes economic and political progress can only be achieved when there is unity. However, a new dimension can be incorporated into this mission of unity.

There can never be a one hundred percent unity anywhere. Unity may not stop someone from wanting to snatch away the wife or husband of another! Neither can unity halt rivalry in a competitive political system. Rivalry is inextricably linked to many aspects of human endeavour. The type of unity that will help democracy and our nation is that in which we are all agreed in the minimum standard of behaviour and the sanctions that go with deviation. The law of the land must be no respecter of any individual. Equality of men and women before the law, as we all definitely are before God, must be the new message in our society that has sadly become increasingly corrupt and lawless – a nation ravaged by the multiple evils of cultism, robbery, kidnapping, and religious extremism or intolerance. The quest for an orderly state cannot be over-exaggerated.

Dr. Akinola wrote from Oxford, United Kingdom.

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