News / Africa

Nigeria's 'Royal Fathers' Seek Constitutional Role

Sani Umar (center) is the “Sarkinyekin Gagi,” which means the “Great Warrior of Gagi." This title has been in his family for centuries but Nigerian royalty lost formal powers when the British colonials took over. (H. Murdock/VOA)
Sani Umar (center) is the “Sarkinyekin Gagi,” which means the “Great Warrior of Gagi." This title has been in his family for centuries but Nigerian royalty lost formal powers when the British colonials took over. (H. Murdock/VOA)
Heather Murdock
Technically, Nigeria is a democracy and a federation of states. But many Nigerians say kings and clerics govern their daily lives, not elected officials. Nigerian royals say they are guardians of the common man, and lawmakers are reviewing a bill that would formalize their role in government.

In Sokoto, the home of Nigeria’s most famous traditional ruler, the Sultan of Sokoto, locals say their “natural leaders” are above politics.

At an outdoor roadside shop, bean cakes boil on an open fire. Abash, an education department worker, is eager to praise the “Royal Fathers.”

“They are very, very important. They play a lot of roles in their field toward the development of the community. In fact, we praise them and Insha'Allah [God willing] they are successful," said Abash. "People comply with them. They hear their voice and they comply with their directives.”  

Praising traditional rulers

Abash said traditional rulers keep the peace by directing people not to fight, while political leaders stir up trouble as they compete for power.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the British took over Nigeria and, like many colonial powers in Africa, they used the governing structure already in place to control the country. Kings, chiefs and clerics were made in charge of lands they had controlled for as long as anyone could remember.

Sani Umar is from a long line of local rulers of a district called Gagi. He is the “Sarkinyekin Gagi,” which means the “Great Warrior of Gagi.”  He said the colonial structure allowed Nigerians to hold on to their cultural values and traditions while being ruled by foreigners.

“The grassroots people respect traditional rulers. That is what [gave] an opportunity for traditional rulers to continue ruling people through their own cultural values and diversity,” he said.

Playing a role

Umar said the relationship between the Nigerian government and traditional rulers is much the same as it was in colonial times. Traditional rulers speak to the people on behalf of the government and they speak to the government on behalf of the people.

“I’m the custodian of the grass root people. I mobilize support for government programs through various ways of educating the populace for behavior change and communication at the grass roots,” said Umar.

Like other traditional rulers in Sokoto, Umar also has a government title and salary.

Sokoto State Information Commissioner Malam Nasiru Danladi Bako said traditional rulers have no formal role in government role, but parliament is currently reviewing a bill that would define their powers and duties constitutionally. He said traditional rulers are needed to implement policies and projects because people in the countryside trust them.

Pros, Cons of 'Royal Fathers'

For example, he said traditional rulers advocate for modern tools to prevent malaria, one of Nigeria’s biggest killers.

“They are made to campaign for the use of mosquito nets. They are made to campaign for fumigation of the area and the use insecticides,” said Bako.

However, not everyone is as confident in Nigeria’s traditional rulers. Critics say the fact that they technically work for the government and that they have the ability to manipulate popular opinion creates a conflict of interest. They say traditional rulers are perfectly poised to trade their influence for gifts.

But political endorsements from traditional rulers can be an enormous boon to a campaign. Such endorsements also draw criticism from Nigerians who believe traditional rulers should be above the political fray.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: valentine from: imo state
November 08, 2012 4:15 PM
The traditional rulers has all left their job to join partisan politics,my main concern is for the parliament to increase the penalty of gay and lesbians to life imprisonment,the 14yrs is too small for such devilish act

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid