Traditional Institutions, Constitution and the Challenges of Time with Particular Reference to Northern Nigeria. By
Department of History Isa Kaita College of Education, Dutsinma, Katsina.
Being A Paper Presented at the History Week of Department of History, Isa Kaita College of Education,P. M. B. 5007, Dutsin- Ma. Katsina State.
26TH JULY, 2012.
Since independence there have been debates on what role traditional institutions should play in the governance of Nigeria. While some groups are of the opinion that they should be given some role in the constitution, others are of the view that they should be phased out but remain as custodian of our cultures. This paper therefore traces the historical development of these institutions and contends that those who know the historical roots and development of traditional institutions could attest to their relevance in the governance of Nigeria.
Traditional institutions have been defined as people appointed to thrones according to the customs and traditions of the area.Indeed, traditional political institutions have evolved quite naturally, over a long period of time, among African societies. Traditional rule evolved from the social experiences of people, and that is why it is termed traditional meaning something indigenous. It represents an outcrop of the peoples’ experiences, their needs, and ability to organize and manage their affairs. Today, while some people favour for assigning some specific role to them, in the contemporary politics, others underrate their capabilities so much so that they wish them out of their existence. But a standing fact about the Sarauta system in Northern Nigeria as opined by Yandaki is that, it is homegrown and is rooted in our socio-cultural and religious experiences and practices. And that since early times, beginning with its striking roots in the formation of hamlets and village authorities up to the emergence of towns and cities, traditional political rule and authority have ever remained relevant, functional and at the disposal of the society.
Traditional Rulers in the Pre-Colonial Period
Before the emergence of states in Nigeria, the pattern of local authority was largely restrictive. In other words, the day-today political authority among the communities was basically family/clan based. As Alkali noted, the allegiance of the various communities was to their family/clan heads. Also, a man might have multiple allegiances such as home, profession, etc. Through this allegiance, administration of the various communities was carried out smoothly, without much friction and foreign intervention. However, communities from hamlets/villages began to assume cosmopolitan outlook in the first and second millennium A. D. By the 15th century these villages were transformed into states with Sarki as the overall leader. Smith pointed that this development came as a result of gradual increase in the concentration of people and need for security. The authority that was formerly vested in Maigida (family head) or clan head started to shift to Sarki. The Sarakuna became the custodians and adjudicators of the people economically, politically and socially. These important roles continued to be exercised by the Sarakuna up to the eve of colonial conquest of Northern Nigeria in 1903. However, as noted by Davies, the traditional rulers were not absolute rulers as some writers have portrayed them. Rather, their authority and political behavior were limited by institutional restraints, convention and customs. The Changing Status in the Colonial Period
The conquest of Northern Nigeria by the British in 1903 also dealt a serious blow to the dignity of traditional institutions. The British in their attempt to achieve their colonial objectives introduced the policy of “Indirect rule.”Under it a partnership developed between the traditional authorities and the British colonial officers as the only option or expediency...
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