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

India PM Modi's Party Distances Itself From Religious Conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid