Traditional Institutions and the Contemporary Nigerian State: Mine, Jibrin’s and the Reflections of Two other Public Policy Experts – Ibraheem A. Waziri

You guys need to address that systems are run by individuals. The best of systems will still fail with the worst of individuals. In fact a system is as good as the people who run it; the traditional institutions that we all advocating that they should be given some constitutional power, used to have this same power. It was thoroughly abused which that led to clamour to dislodge them which eventually was achieved with the Dasuki committee.

About four weeks ago (May, 2019) and owing to the decision of the Kano State’s Abdullahi Gaduje led government, to balkanise the historical and traditional Kano Emirate into five dominions. I published, on these pages, my reflections on the turbulent relationship between the two conflicting orders of Nigeria and the old traditional Emirate System it toppled in the North; in their constant but passive battle, to take over the control of the existing social and cultural resources, to achieve the necessary stability needed for the progress of the nation.

A few days later I came across another Thought Essay written by Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim, The Traditional Institutions and the Rebuilding of the State. It was published a few days before mine, anchored different premises, but similar conclusions as mine. I published it here. I received a lot of reactions as usual. Here are few of them and my responses, for the progress of the conversation:

“You guys need to address that systems are run by individuals. The best of systems will still fail with the worst of individuals. In fact a system is as good as the people who run it; the traditional institutions that we all advocating that they should be given some constitutional power, used to have this same power. It was thoroughly abused which that led to clamour to dislodge them which eventually was achieved with the Dasuki committee.

I have reflected over these issues and one of my inescapable conclusions is that we got independent too early before we understood and developed capacity to run a modern western-style state. Secondly, the traditional institutions were sovereigns in charge of security of their domains all across Nigeria and Africa. Yet, Europeans sat down in Europe in 1888 and partitioned Africa and went ahead to implement it in a very short period of less than 20 years the whole of Africa is under colonial rule with exception of Ethiopia that had capable leaders that resisted and defeated the Italian colonial army that was allocated Ethiopia.

The rest fell to colonial conquest due to lack of capacity of the leaders to be aware of what is happening beyond their immediate surroundings and plan and execute a counter-measure to resist of defeat colonialism. My point, Malam, is that any state or any structure is as good as the capacity of people running it. Look at how Putin has almost single-handedly rebuilt Russia into a strategic world power in less than 30 years(Less than a generation) after the defeat and dismantling of USSR by the West.

Also, see how very capable Chinese leaders have built China into a compelling global player if not power in a generation. Look also at what rulers of Dubai has been able to do in turning a desert into an advanced country. All this three countries I mentioned used different models of government to achieve what they achieved. If we run away from interrogating leaders and their roles in the development narrative, we may be providing the template for the leaders to shift their failure to systems they r operating.” _ Umar Usman

“Sir, I think this has been discussed times without number, is it we in Black Africans that are not inherently wired for development according to the requirements of modern times or there are other explanations found in our circumstances and history? Is it that we naturally love simple explanations to our realities and very convenient solutions to problems than thinking hard and systematically about our realities and engaging in implementing, time consuming, and process oriented solutions that enduringly last long? At the end, the issues in our traditional institutions, why we were and how we arrive here, even in the context of Nigeria, can be chosen to be given to one of these two different approaches which will eventually result in two different answers and results.

Again I feel like, the conquest of Africa under twenty years by the European imperialists was not new in history and unique to Africa. The Muslims Arabs under Caliph Umar conquered both the then Eastern Byzantine millennia old empire and civilisation and Persian Kaisar Dynasty in just a period of eleven years. I think both Arab Muslim conquest and European imperialist conquest have one thing in common: motivation, drive and energy. One rooted in religious conviction and a sense of universal vision and another in secular imperialism and a sense of universal mission.

Maybe we couldn’t resist the European military power because we did not envisage its merciless assault. Maybe we had never had an equal greater sense of compelling universal mission or vision. It is also interesting to see that both the vision of the Muslim Arabs and mission of the European imperialists are grounded first and foremost in the principled dynamics of systems.

China or Russia, Dubai or Malaysia, if we talk about the capacity of leaders as responsible for their rapid development, we will see that capacity is rooted deeply in the ability for those leaders and their other public intellectuals to think, contextualise, analyse issues in their development within the ordained requirement of their unique cultural and social systems. In short, there is no real valuable capacity in nation building and development – wherever – that is not rooted in a system. If we talk more about the system, the leaders will not find excuses for their failures but find enough reasons and ways to address and fix the system issues as the ultimate panacea like their global counterparts as you cited. _ Ibraheem Waziri

“Well written; and leaves one more despondent than hopeful. I wish Sultan Attahiru defeated the colonial masters or that when they defeated him it was so total and pervasive that the Emirates were uprooted. This meandering between the Emirates and the secular political structures is only taking us back- neither here nor there.

Jibrin said all that and ended with just a sentence on ‘traditional and religious institutions as well as civil society have a huge role in playing their part in taking the first steps towards reconstruction’ yet title of his piece is actually ‘traditional institutions and rebuilding the state’. His argument is basically one, government is failing, family is failing, … is it not also true that traditional and religious institutions were the first to fail ?

Let me speak for myself, I have positive considerations toward Sanusi not for the throne he sits on but for his scholarship and potential to do great work. I think his personal choice to be on that throne has limited him because of the very ‘system reality’ you discussed in your piece. I would rather wish it is Sanusi that is the governor and Ganduje the emir. That way I’ll have a Sanusi bringing in knowledge and class to improve the system with the aid of instruments of power while Ganduje’s mediocrity is turbaned.

In Zamfara, some traditional heads have actually been benefiting from the proceeds of crime and banditry .
My proposition:

Option 1.

We create constitutional jobs for the traditional and religious houses, clear benchmarks and salaries and have them integrated into governance properly. An emir should be able to be a governor, senator or rep. This entire dichotomy is unnecessary so far the work gets done.

Option 2.

The Emirates should create a trust and be 100% self-funding. No money from government coffers. No taxes to government. Let’s see how far they will go. They should be free to raise money from society like churches and invest in universities and community businesses. Government through the CAC will only ensure the regulations are followed. No governor should have the power to dethrone. No taxation, no funding, no power to expel. Otherwise, as it seems, this current structure will destroy both structures going forward.” _ Umayr Adnan

“Yes that’s what Jibrin proposed. Except that I think the Emirates as custodians of values and traditions are actually the leaders in civil society. The hierarchy is like, in ascending order:

a. Civil society
b. The traditional institutions
c. The government

The problem seems to be like we have long ago side-lined and emasculated the traditional leadership denying them any place and a voice within social hierarchy thereby actively facilitating their failure. The government failed and made sure it dragged the traditional institutions along with it. Then the civil society has no any direction. Sometimes it doesn’t even know what it should fight for. It lacks cogent paradigm that is rooted in our African Truths and authentic paradigms.

I agree with you on Sanusi but I also like the fact that he is now a monarch and all these things are happening thereby forcing us to have this conversation and reflection. I think Sanusi’s purpose in Nigeria or Northern Nigeria, by some natural design, is to provoke some long forgotten vital consciousness. He did that with Shari’a debate in the 2000s. And he is doing that with traditional institutions now. I see him as a necessary catalyst for the facilitation of greater Nigeria. That is why I follow his controversies diligently; something great for the nation is likely to follow his choices. I hope he will stay on the throne and he keeps bringing all controversies until we are all thoroughly sorted.

As Stephen Covey would say, “we are not human beings having spiritual experience but we are rather spiritual beings having human experience”. I agree with Covey, though, he was a Mormon Christian and I Sunni-Ashariy Muslim at the very basic. We share this aspect of etherealists paradigm. El-Rufai too referred to it in his analyses of Obansajo’s life fortune in his, The Accidental Public Servant.

For Sanusi it seems everything good about him is in the context of the Caliphate. The entire him is a mission to revive the glory of that institution in Nigeria. From his public “interventions” as he used to refer to them of 1998 celebrating his fellow princes in Government like the late Shehu Musa Yar’adua, his controversial, Fulani in History, and the subsequent, Fulani Without Apology, in which he mercilessly took down Okey Ndibe. In fact in his altercation with the late Jaafar in 2005, there was a veiled assertion that he was speaking in the interest of the true ownership of these territories in modern way, which of course are the traditional institutions. Sanusi never missed the opportunity to tell anybody willing or unwilling to listen that he is a Prince and he prefers the throne than any other thing or position in Nigeria.

Maybe he believes as some of us that the thrones are the most reasonable and realistic vehicles through which the, long awaited catalyst of social reengineering in the Northern Nigeria will emerge. Already since his ordainment five years ago, he has championed the production of a new, culturally and religiously compatible and contemporary family code for the entire Northern Nigerian Muslims that is now only waiting to be adopted by all. It may take some time. There may be problems here and there. But already the Jinni is out of the bottle. A year, a decade or two! We will all go back to it or at most, its modified version.

This is also why I am most inclined to your option two above. Traditional institutions in the North should just be empowered enough to be social stabilizing factors. They should be protected from the assaults of politicians. They should be setting the agenda for development in the society, through anchoring conversations on issues of concerns, since they are closer to the society’s core values and authentic paradigms. Now with the freedom as you outlined backed and protected by the constitution, they will be checking the excesses of the politicians and as well serve as the custodians of the state and regional wide phased development plans against which politicians will always be assessed and voted in or out of a political office. ” _ Ibraheem Waziri


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