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

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Video One Year After Massacre, Iraq’s Yazidis a Broken People

Minority community still recovering from devastating assault by IS militants which spurred massive outrage More

‘Malvertisements’ Undermine Internet Trust

Hackers increasingly prey on users' trust of major websites to delivery malicious software 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.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs