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Wanted! constitutional role for monarchs

By Alabi Williams
14 May 2017   |   4:18 am
Dogara made the call at last Sunday’s turbanning of the chief whip of the House, Alhassan Ado Doguwa, as Dallatun Kangiwa, in Arewa local government area of Kebbi State.

Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara PHOTO: TWITTER/DOGARA

Speaker of House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara has advocated inclusion of traditional rulers in the Constitution. In other words, he wants a mention of them and roles created for traditional fathers and mothers in the Constitution. Dogara made the call at last Sunday’s turbanning of the chief whip of the House, Alhassan Ado Doguwa, as Dallatun Kangiwa, in Arewa local government area of Kebbi State. The Speaker, who was represented on the occasion by the Deputy Leader of the House, Umar Jibril, said it was time rulers were given constitutional recognition, since according to him, in time past people derived power and authority from them. He said: “It is high time we started going down the memory lane to actualise this dream. We pray that we shall achieve this and promote the traditional rulers to their actual positions in the country.” Dream indeed.

The strength of that dream and aspiration is that it has gained traction at the highest lawmaking body in the country. Speaker Dogara has joined the campaign to give official roles to traditional rulers, in addition to vast patronage they enjoy and enormous influence they peddle.

The same Dogara was to later accuse his state governor, Mohammed Abubakar of denying him access to traditional rulers in their state, Bauchi. An aide to the Speaker, Iliyasu Zwall announced this to newsmen last week. The story is that the Speaker and Governor are not in good political terms. In the struggle to assert authority in the state, perhaps, the governor felt the need to limit the amount of socialisation Dogara was entitled to within the state’s traditional rulers council.

Zwall said: “It was reliably gathered that the state government has ordered that Speaker Dogara should not be allowed to visit any palace or be received by any of the traditional rulers across the state for reason best known to them.” The allegation was denied immediately by the state, but not after it has provided opportunity for debaters to visit this topic once again.

Did Dogara actually mean to have a role created for traditional rulers in the Constitution, when he knows that Nigeria operates a republican constitution, which does not look like a constitutional monarchy? How does he want to carry out this campaign at a time when far more serious issues confront the polity? Or, is he just sounding nice so that traditional rulers will put in a word for him, when he is set to run for office again in 2019?

Seriously, the subject of creating a constitutional role for monarchs is one that will generate a lot of interest. Indeed, traditional rulers were once in charge of administration of their subjects long before the colonial masters came. After they came, colonial governments still used the traditional institution to rule the people indirectly. In other words, foreign rulers had no direct relationship with the people, but through monarchs, they were able to govern. The result is that even after independence had been attained, today’s government still benefits from the indirect rule system because government uses traditional institutions to reach the grassroots. In some extreme situations, elected official rely on traditional rulers to legitimise their stay in government.

Politicians need endorsements of traditional rulers during campaigns for elections. To make government policies and programmes, government relies on traditional rulers to market such programmes. For instance, government uses emirs, obas and obis to sell such social policies as immunisation and matters of national orientation. Without being written in the constitution, the traditional system is already a partner with elected constitutional government. Traditional rulers are supported with funds from government. Though what they get might not be enough, they enjoy patronage in other ways. Foremost traditional rulers own companies and bid for public jobs. Some are very influential and have never been very far from governments. They are members of the security council of states, and are relied on to preach peace in their constituencies and report unruly behaviours to governments. They are the eyes of government in their localities. What remains to complete their participation in government is a constitutional mention.

How safe will it be to create constitutional roles for monarchs in today’s government? Some would think it is the next thing to do, since they are already part and parcel of government. Listing traditional institution in the constitution could, therefore, be formality since they are already performing roles.

On the other hand, a mention of traditional fathers/mothers in the constitution could translate to having a fourth arm of government, in the manner of the executive, legislature and judiciary. There could be a whole chapter devoted to explaining their qualifications, how they may be appointed and the rigorous process of their removal from office, same way it is not easy to remove an executive, members of the judiciary and legislature. There will be a budget for traditional rulers, drawn by them and defended by them. Maybe a separate House of Chiefs will be built adjacent to each state House of Assembly, solely for chiefs; or present Houses of Assembly could be expanded to accommodate elected members and chiefs sitting together.

The cost could be huge, since we are already complaining of over-bloated governance cost. If the dream comes true and traditional rulers are accommodated, recurrent budgets will climb up astronomically. Government might take full responsibility for funding palaces and their several ‘other rooms’ since that is a major indoor game for a sedentary lifestyle.

More seriously, managing the relationship between them and elected politicians could be very tasking, if they have to drink from the same cup. They could lock horns. Take for instance, the situation in Kano, where Muhammad Sanusi II, CON, Sarkin Kano, also referred to as emir of Kano, is being probed for a few billions. In historical times, the Kano emir could have been a big emperor in the calibre of Mansa Musa, Sundiata and others, men who presided over large and strong empires, such as Mali, Songhai, which in their heydays were objects of awe for their feats in greatness, military conquests and opulence.
History has continued to celebrate these men and the empires they built because they showed leadership. They showed discipline and candour. It was not recorded that their operations were circumscribed within constitutional frameworks. They operated conventions and were limitless while they lasted.

Given the wealth and size of present day Kano, the city and adjoining towns that make up the emirate, all of it could have passed for an empire under Emir Sanusi. Except that he now has to share that space and authority with modern leaders, who are permitted by the constitution to join issues with him. Whereas in those days of empires, the emir, or king was an absolute monarchy with no parliament or legislature to interrogate his powers, it was a republican governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, who generously wielded the staff of office that allowed Sanusi to mount the throne. It was actually a contest that could have gone either way. But Rabiu Kwankwaso favoured Sanusi and allowed him to be where he is. In turn, Sanusi helped in no small way to traduce the fleeing government of Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Kwankwaso’s tenure has lapsed and a new governor is in town. The dynamics have also changed. Unfortunately for the emir, he does not dissemble. He does not play politics. He tells the truth, for which forces that are against real change now hound him. It was the same way he heckled the previous government for lacking direction and discipline, which made the opposition then to adopt him. His attempt to now tell the northern political establishment that time is up in their game of sidelining poor masses has landed him in big trouble. He has foretold the Northern Spring, but no one is listening.

But what would have happened were the Emir of Kano to enjoy some constitutional immunity? This is where we are now and it is left for Speaker Dogara to expand the debate.