By Kalu Idika
President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, has said that certain gaps in the 1999 Constitution created by the exclusion of traditional institutions in the governance and security architecture of the country remains largely responsible for the deteriorating security situation in Nigeria.
Lawan made the disclosure on Thursday when delivering a speech to declare open a meeting between the Senator Ovie Omo-Agege-led Constitution Review Committee and the National Council of Traditional Rulers in Abuja.
According to Lawan, the worsening activities of insurgents, bandits and criminals have placed Nigeria in a dire situation that demands an urgent review of the 1999 Constitution along the lines of reorganizing the structure of governance to give specific roles to traditional rulers in various communities, as well as the incorporation of traditional institutions as part of the security architecture of the country.
The Senate President while advocating for roles for traditional rulers in the constitution, also underscored the need for specific functions for traditional institutions in guaranteeing the safety of lives and properties within their various jurisdictions.
He said: “I’m here to show the commitment of the National Assembly in its entirety, to listening and supporting our royal fathers on the Constitutional Review currently going on, and in what many of us believe that is the right thing; that we have our royal fathers properly and formally given some roles in the governance structure or the administration of our country.
“The pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial history of our royal fathers give us indication of how important our traditional institution was in those days.
“In fact, at the risk of going into some avoidable history, in 1947 the British created a single traditional institution for the Tivs by creating the title of Tor Tiv. This was because they knew that the traditional institutions were playing very critical and crucial roles in running the affairs of those they governed.
“Probably, the 1979 constitution had envisaged specific functions for the traditional institutions, but I think we missed it after that, and maybe the 1999 Constitution did not take account of certain things that could have been helpful.
“Maybe before the 1976 local government reforms, the traditional institutions might have played some roles in ensuring that our communities were secured and safe.
“So, what do we need to do to bring our country into a safer climate and more secured life for our people and their property?
“I believe that we need to take a holistic assessment of our situation. Every community, every people makes law for itself to specifically deal with some challenges, and you don’t have to copy what works elsewhere, because your history may be different. So, we have a a very peculiar history when it comes to our traditional institutions playing some roles in the affairs of our people.
“This is an opportunity for our traditional institutions to ask for specific roles, but our desire as a National Assembly is to undertake this Constitutional Review because it is part of a very important legislative agenda, and also our desire to continuously work as a Legislature with the Executive arm of government to create a safer and more secured Nigeria.
The Senate President who recalled the critical role played by traditional institutions in security arrangements in the country before 1976, stressed that the current security architecture should not be limited to the armed forces, police and other paramilitary organizations alone.
“If our traditional institutions would be part of our security architecture, so be it. Actually, what we need is to secure the lives and properties of our people. How do we achieve that? This is where the meeting of today, between our Constitution Review Committee headed by the Deputy President of the Senate, and the National Council of Traditional Rulers would be very critical.
“I’m sure most if not all members of the National Assembly, would like to see a situation where our security architecture is not limited to our armed forces, the police and paramilitary alone.
“You have played a very significant and important role before in the security arrangement of our communities. Though our communities have transformed, I’m sure that our traditional institutions have also transformed and, therefore, we can get the kind of benefit and value that the traditional institutions can bring to bear in our security arrangement and, of course, in the administration of the country in a non-executive function”, Lawan said.
In his presentation of a memorandum by the National Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria signed by the Chairman, His Eminence, Alh Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto and the Co-Chair, His Royal Majesty, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, Ooni of Ife to the Constitution Review Committee, the Etsu Nupe, His Royal Highness, Alhaji (Dr.) Yahaya Abubakar recalled that the Nigerian First Republic Regional Governments had bi-cameral Legislative arrangement with the Houses of Chiefs serving as the Upper chambers to those of the elected Houses of Assemblies.
“The society was at that time progressive, peaceful, decent and full of beautiful traditions and cultures. Lives and properties were sacrosanct and accountability and honesty were the hallmarks of the traditional local Administrations,” he said.
According to him, “General Ironsi 1966 Unitary Government Decree, General Gowon’s and General Obasanjo’s 1967 and 1976 Local Government Reform Decrees respectively stripped Traditional Rules of their powers and gave same to the local government council thereby giving birth to the present insecurity and corruption, Constitutionally and protocol wise, traditional Rulers are relegated to the background.”
The Etsu Nupe lamented that under the present arrangement, “Traditional Rulers do not have the Constitutional or other legal backing to perform effectively as they are not even mentioned in the 1999 Constitution.”
“This is a great departure from all earlier Constitutions that recognised them and even gave them some functions to perform.
“Indeed, all the Nigerian earlier Constitutions gave the Chairmen of the States Councils of Chiefs seats in the National Council of State alongside former Presidents, Chief Justices, etc. For exampie, this is clearly provided for under Section 140 (l) and under Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1979 Constitution,” he added.
The traditional ruler, however, emphasized that “no Community or Nation would thrive successfully without due consideration of its historical evolution, customs, values and beliefs, adding that, “the Nigerian Nation evolved from the amalgamation of several Empires, Kingdoms, Caliphates, Chiefdoms and autonomous communities.”
“Undermining the Traditional Institution through unsavory politically motivated actions will reduce the respect accorded it by the citizenry.
“This will translate into its ineffectiveness in performing its roles. It will also affect its capacity to mobilize the people towards governments programmes and projects and in managing communal, ethnic and religious conflicts and crisis.
“This will certainly not augur well for the envisaged peace, progress and wellbeing of the Nation and its people as the government will lose a respected willing partner in these regards, he warned.
The Etsu Nupe while calling on the National Assembly to intervene in safeguarding the sanctity of the Traditional Institution by ensuring its insulation from politically motivated actions that run foul of the well-established traditional settings, advised that Traditional Rulers should be accorded specific responsibilities for conflict and security management in their domains.
He added that, “Nigeria needs to explore all available means of conflict resolution, intelligence gathering and containment of insecurities that will complement the conventional security outfits.”
On his part, the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, who chairs the Constitution Review Committee, said, “what you’re seeking here today, is the reinstatement of the Council of Traditional Rulers that we had in all of our previous Constitutions which was omitted in the 1999 Constitution. The question becomes, why was there that omission?”
“With respect to this request, it shouldn’t be very demanding because we all come constituencies and we are all your subjects.
“At a time like this when we have so much insurgency in the North-East, banditry in the North-West and most of the North-Central, the same challenges we also have in the South-South, South-East and South-West; with religious tension everywhere, if His Royal Highness said that in Colonial and Pre-Colonial and Post-Colonial times, that there was need to maintain the status of traditional institutions to help us preserve peace, now is even more apt today than it was.
“We don’t need to convince people too much about this, we just need to work out the structures here at the national level which we have already activated in your presentations and the structures at the state level,” Omo-Agege added.