News / Africa

Nigeria's 'Royal Fathers' Seek Constitutional Role

Sani Umar (center) is the “Sarkinyekin Gagi,” which means the “Great Warrior of Gagi.
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

Sambisa Forest Stands Between Nigeria, Victory Over Boko Haram

Military takes back nearly all towns, villages in northeast, except for massive expanse of forest that spreads thousands of square kilometers over several states More

Islamic State Recruiting Stokes Fears for Parents in Georgia

Chechens are a notable part of Islamic State's gains in Syria and Iraq, and analysts fear what might happen if those fighters return to the Caucasus More

Yarmouk Camp Becomes Distant Memory for Palestinian Diaspora

Once thriving capital of Palestinian diaspora, after siege by Syrian government forces and Islamic State group, camp becomes 'deepest circle of hell' 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.
Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'i
X
Sharon Behn
April 21, 2015 9:18 PM
A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten. Sharon Behn reports on the politics of the word genocide on the 100th anniversary of the events.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video German Program Helps Migrants Overcome Traumatic Experience at Sea

Migrants fleeing poverty and violence in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia risk life and limb to reach safety in Europe. Those who have made it to European shores are traumatized by the experience. A program in Germany helps survivors overcome the trauma by giving a new perspective to their catastrophic experience. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs