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How Government Undermines Trado – Institutions


For the better part of the last two decades, at my free times, I have read researched articles on a very intriguing term known as consociational democracy.

The term consociational democracy is seen as the form of democratic governance system found in countries that are deeply divided into distinct religions, ethnic, racial or regional segments. 

These conditions present in these countries are usually considered unfavorable for stable democracy.

The two central characteristics of consociationalism, in the understanding of the writers of an exploratory piece on this terminology found in the website known as www.britannica.com, are government by grand coalition and segmental autonomy.

Specifically, a political expert Mr. Arend Lijphart sees this sort of democratic practice as best suited for plural societies as the panacea to the issues of social dislocations and discord.

In his book titled “Democracy in plural societies – A comparative exploration,” Mr. Lijphart emphatically offered what he thinks is the panacea to the many conflicts of mutual suspicious noticeable in plural societies such as Nigeria. 

His words: “This book’s message to the political leaders of plural societies is to encourage them to engage in a form of political engineering: if they wish to establish or strengthen democratic institutions in their countries, they must become constitutional engineers.” 

Political scientists, he said, have generally been far too reluctant to make macro-level policy recommendations. 

This lacuna according to this author is as it pertains Particularly to the serious  issues of development, and these political scientists he says, contrasts with their colleagues in economics is a stark one. 

Citing the work of MA Giovanni Sartori who observed thus: “with reference to economic development the economist is a planner; with reference to political development the political scientist is a spectator. The economist intervenes: His knowledge is applied knowledge. The political scientist awaits: He explains what happens, but does not make it happen.” 

Arend Lijphart argues then that “yet we find ourselves in a genuine dilemma. On the one hand, if we conceive of political development not as any change but as induced change towards an intended goal – such as stable democracy – the need to specify the means whereby this end can be reached is self-evident. On the other hand, are we justified in engaging in political engineering or in advising political engineers when our knowledge is imperfect? Specifically, is our knowledge sufficient to justify the recommendation of the means of consociational democracy for the objective of an effective and durable democratic regime in a plural society?”

Mr. Lijphart’s observations are germane. Indeed, the absence of genuinely credible democratic practices are much more noticeable in the systematic way that elected state governors in Nigeria  have over the years fundamentally weakened the administration of local government structures. 

Perhaps, the framers of the 1999 constitution, aware of the avaricious nature of the species of persons that would become governors, inserted section 7 (1) as a safeguard for democratic practice in the local government areas. 

This section of the grund norm  if well implemented in the spirit and letter would have pragmatically showcased the beauty of what may look like CONSOCIATIONAL democracy. 

That section aforementioned provides thus: “the system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the government of every state shall subject to section 8, ensure their existence under a law which provides amongst others, the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.” 

But at the same time, the last portion of the above section seems to have provided the perfect political alibi for the brigandage and massive looting of local government allocations from the Federation Account by these state governments hiding under the joint state and local government accounts.

These species of greedy governors did not just stop at financially crippling the local councils but proceeded to appoint their lackeys as local government sole administrators hiding under some dubious legislations from the rubber –stamped state legislatures made up mostly of nominees of these state governors. 

Even when the governors pretentiously stage manage the local government council polls, such are choreographed to produce a set of zombies whose political umbilical chords are irretrievably tied to the pockets of the governors thus making the emergence of sustainably durable democracy a mirage. 

The crippling of local government area administration has immediate impacts negatively on the running of traditional or chieftaincy institutions which ought to be the nearest administrative structures to the rural populace. 

This systematic annihilation of local trado-cultural autonomies in thereal sense of it was helped by the silence of the Constitution to atleast mention the place of traditional institutions.  This then makes it open to abuses by the State legislatures that are dominated by members whose loyalties are slavishly tied to the governors. 

The result on the long run is the eventual incapacitation of traditional institutions. 

This muzzling of the traditional institutions is compounded by the installation of persons with political affiliations to the governor as custodians of these traditional stools such as village or District heads. 

There are two states that currently presents good example of how not to undermine the autonomy of traditional institutions and these are Imo and Kaduna states.

In Imo state, some few years ago, the governor Mr. Rochas Okorocha was in the process of scoring cheap popularity and this resulted in the creation of what he termed community government or fourth tier of government.

He arbitrarily created non-viable districts and village heads through numerous autonomous communities with minimum scientific thinking. 

Most of these community-based governance organs were  never going to thrive because the state government has stifled the financial independence of local councils and have refused to conduct local elections that would liberally bring in the choices of the rural electorates as council officials.  

In what looks like well-choreographed social disaster, the traditional institutions in Imo and Kaduna, amongst other states are now unable to meet up with their financial obligations because the local government area councils are not democratically administered. 

The absence of democracy or consociational democracy at the grass roots means that economic activities will fold up thereby severely limiting the sources of generation of revenues by these councils which would then be in a position to fund the activities of traditional institutions in their domains.

Recently, a motion to withdraw the recognition of 110, out of 664 communities in Imo State, had pitted the community leaders against the 27-member House of Assembly.

The Chairman, House Committee on Autonomous Communities and Chieftaincy Affairs, Innocent Arthur Egwim, sponsored the motion.

Egwim said the suspension was authorized by the seventh assembly in line with the Imo State Autonomous Community Law No. 6 2000 (as amended). 

He explained that out of the 117 applications recommended for recognition by the immediate past assembly, only seven monarchs were approved and given the staff of office.

He added that it was the inclusion that raised the number from 637 to 644, stressing that it had become a financial burden on the state government to maintain them.

The lawmaker said it was the assembly’s responsibility to approve autonomous communities from the list of applicants that meet the conditions. 

He asked Governor Rochas Okorocha to suspend all the executive actions and recognition hitherto accorded to the affected communities.

The leaders of the communities have threatened to resist the action if it was adopted and implemented by the governor. 

But the state Chairman of the Council of Traditional Rulers and National Coordinator of the South East Traditional Rulers Council, Sam Ohiri, has given support to the planned nullification. Ofcourse he has no choice since his appointment got the blessing of governor Rochas Okorocha who is using him as a political canon fodder. The man he displaced Eze Cletus Ilumuanya is battling Imo State governor for his alleged wrongful deposition.  

However, Mr. Mike Iheanetu, a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s member representing Aboh Mbaise) and Ikechukwu Amuka of the All Progressives Congress (APC, Ideato North) called for a retraction of the publication earlier made by the seventh assembly.

Similarly, over 3,121 district and village heads in Kaduna State should lose their titles and domains, a committee for restructuring of traditional institutions has recommended to the state government.

The recommendations according to Daily Trust, are contained in a report of the committee set up by Governor Nasiru el-Rufai on “Restructuring of district and village administration in Kaduna State.”

The committee recommended the scrapping of the positions of 194 district heads, 2,927 village heads, as well as 643 council members and staff of the traditional institutions in the state.

The committee said the restructuring had become expedient because “most of the new districts were created based on political considerations,” and funding them had become “major constraints to infrastructural development at the grassroots level.”

There are presently 390 district heads, 5,854 village heads, 399 council members and 1,152 staff in the 32 emirates and chiefdoms spread across the 23 local government areas of the state.

About 4,447 of the 5,854 village heads are not on the payrolls of the local government councils, according to the committee.

Of the 32 emirates and chiefdoms,10 of them are of first class status thus: Zazzau, Birnin Gwari, and Jema’a emirates; and Kagoro, Moro’a, Jaba, Atyap, Bajju, Gwong, and Adara chiefdoms.

Hundreds of district and village heads have not been paid since the coming of Governor Nasiru el-Rufai administration two years ago, our reporters gathered.

The seven-member committee, chaired by the permanent secretary, Ministry for Local Government in the state, Ibrahim Sabo, submitted its report to the governor in January, 2017.

Now the question that should be asked is why the governors are so quick to annul traditional institutions created to bring governance closer to the people but still enjoy the ill-gotten wealth called security votes which aren’t usually captured by the annual budgets. 

Why will Kaduna state governor not pay heads of distinctive traditional institutions created long before he was sworn in to office just because of his mistaken belief that they aren’t viable. 

The way out is for the National Assembly to properly complete the Constitution amendments process so that the appropriate provisions are inserted smartly to accord the traditional institutions their constitutional protection and to entrench grassroots democracy at the local levels to serve the yearnings of the divergent Ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria.  

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and blogs @www.emmanuelonwubiko.com; www.huriwa@blogspot.com.  

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