The Oba of Benin Kingdom in Edo State, Southern Nigeria, His Royal Majesty, Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II, on Wednesday, August 8, delivered a keynote on “The Role of Traditional Institutions in the Preservation of Cultural Values and the Management of National Security”.
Oba Ewuare II delivered the keynote at the Executive Intelligence Management Course Organized by The Institute for Security Studies, Lower Usuma Dam, Bwari, Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
Read the full text of the paper below:
The Role of Traditional Institutions in the Preservation of Cultural Values and the Management of National Security Being text of A Paper Delivered by His Royal Majesty, Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II, Oba of Benin, On the 8th of August 2018, At The Executive Intelligence Management Course Organized by The Institute for Security Studies, Lower Usuma Dam, Bwari, Abuja.
In the name of the Almighty God, the Great Geometrician of the universe and in the name of Our Royal Ancestors, I greet you all.
It is my singular honour and privilege to have been invited here today by this reputable Institute of Security Studies to share some thoughts with you on the subject of the “Role of Traditional Institutions in the Preservation of Cultural Values and Management of National Security”. I am indeed most delighted to be in your midst.
There is certainly no more topical and momentous issue in today’s Nigeria than that of security. It is not under any kind of contention that our dear country has a long history of security challenges, but what we are witnessing now indicates a disheartening peacetime climax. The situation is such that every well-meaning individual or group, from the leadership class to the ordinary person on the street, has expressed deep concerns about the monumental rise in insecurity across the country. Among these would, instructively, be individuals who have witnessed and played critical roles in the nation’s most devastating experience of violence in the form of the Nigerian civil war. For instance, General Yakubu Gowon, who was Head of State during the unfortunate phase of our national history in April 2018, described the situation as “worrisome,” and “man’s’ inhumanity to man that is happening throughout the length and breadth of Nigeria. General Theophilus Danjuma similarly expressed concern particularly about his own state of origin, Taraba, in March of 2018: “Taraba is a mini Nigeria with diverse ethnic groups living together peacefully but the peace in this state is under assault.” Only in June 2018, General Olusegun Obasanjo, responding to the spate of killings in May 2018, said he did not know of any Nigerian living or dead today who could boast of being adequately secured. I cite these examples principally because these are men who had seen and known violence of far bigger dimensions, but who have nonetheless been taken aback by what is happening in the country at the moment as it has to do with security of lives and property. And on the score of the rising level of violence, I think we have to agree with them.
We are all aware of the numerous security challenges that have bedeviled our dear nation for sometime now. If one considers the reports of security challenges that the country has experienced in recent years, the spate of armed robberies and kidnappings in various parts of the country, the activities of militant groups in different parts of the country, the scourge of Boko Haram insurgency, the perennial Herders/Farmers clashes, and the wide spread heinous attacks on several rural communities by armed militias, many of whom are believed to be foreign nationals, one must admit that the country is passing through its darkest hour in the history of its existence. At this juncture, may I sound a note of optimism. It is said that the darkest hour of the night is just before dawn. Also relevant is the age-old adage that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Our nation can be described as currently undergoing its darkest hour in security terms. With all hands on deck we should be optimistic that the only direction for our dear nation to go is into the LIGHT-the DAWN after the darkest hour. Failure is not the act of falling down but falling down and remaining there. Nigeria cannot be allowed to degenerate into a failed State as a result of the numerous security challenges of immense and unprecedented proportions. Patriotic Nigerians must all work assiduously together to ensure this does not happen.
The question now is how did our Country get to this unacceptable situation? Several factors may be considered to have been responsible, among which is the negative effect of globalization, the inability for our politicians to get to understand and grasp the essential tenets and principles of democratic practice, deficient Public Administrative Structure or its practice, economic underdevelopment and gradual erosion of our cultural values.
May I crave your indulgence to now delve into the crust of the subject matter – The Role of Traditional Institutions in the Preservation of our Cultural Values and Management of National Security.
It is pertinent, perhaps, at this point to first take a cursory look at the present day security challenges facing our dear country.
This is hardly the place for the exhibition of statistics, but the figures are still as alarming as they are benumbing, and the year 2018 is fast acquiring notoriety as the bloodiest year of Nigerian recent history, with 1,351 violent deaths in the opening ten weeks of the year, and most of them coming from the very recurrent herdsmen-farmers clashes. But the last few years have also in themselves, provided some spine-chilling numbers. For instance, in 2016 alone, herdsmen-farmers conflicts accounted for estimated 2500 deaths, 62,000 displaced people and 13.7 billion dollars in loss of material resources. Herdsmen attacks have also been said to have caused 1,102 deaths between June 2016 and July 2017 in Benue, Kaduna, and Delta States alone. Deaths resulting from the activities of cattle rearers may have taken over as Nigeria’s biggest violent killer today but this hardly diminishes the persistent bloody enterprise of Boko Haram in parts of the country. The number of deaths from Boko Haram has gratefully dropped from 6,347 in 2014 and over 4000 in 2015 to about 500 in 2016, and perhaps even less in 2017 and 2018. But the deadly sect remains as authentic a security threat in the country as ever. There are, of course, several more causes of conflicts and violent deaths country-wide which have heightened the now unprecedented levels of insecurity. These include the activities of the Niger Delta militants, which have inflicted so much damage and loss on the oil-driven Nigerian economy. Kidnapping and armed robbery have also taken their tolls, even though to a lesser degree. We are no doubt in perilous times as long as national security challenges are concerned.
Many Nigerians have, in condemning the general state of insecurity in the country, especially the recent ugly development of killings by the herdsmen, advocated a number of heartfelt solutions to the problem, from the well reasoned to the extreme. Some have called for a total overhaul of the country’s security architecture and a repositioning to enable it deal with the worrisome state of violent lawlessness especially of the terrorist type. Others have called for greater funding of the country’s security agencies, and others have simply asked Nigerians to take matters of their own security in their own hands and ‘protect themselves.’
The concern over our national security challenges has not been helped by what appears to be a lack of faith and confidence in the country’s current security structure. This is to be expected considering the regularity of these violent attacks and the apparent helplessness and hopelessness of the people and the security agencies. Given the inability of the Police and the other security agencies to reduce the rate at which these killings happen, or even to bring the perpetrators to book, Nigeria remains at the mercy of hoodlums and insurgents, an unfortunate signal that the state has increasingly failed in its primary constitutional responsibility to the citizens, which is the security of lives and property.
As a paramount traditional ruler, I have witnessed the unfolding of these unpalatable spectacles with great concern and even palpitation. My interpretation of what is going on is that my beloved country is under the siege of criminal elements who have no respect for the values of Nigerian nationhood, and who must be stopped at all cost from plunging Nigeria into anarchy with their orgy of bloodletting. And it occurs to me that the Nigerian
traditional institution, even as presently constituted, must have something tangible to offer as a solution to this national problem. But the big question that has to be answered is whether our traditional institutions have been sufficiently empowered to contribute validly and meaningfully to the national security conversation, and in the other categories of our national life. But the one thing that is clear to me at this point is that the Nigerian traditional institutions have the capacity (and have shown the capacity) to partner with the government on projects and matters of critical relevance to the survival and progress of the Republic, especially as the supreme custodian of the values, norms and essential life-patterns of a people. The Nigerian Traditional Institutions, it has to be stated without any fear of contradiction, feels the pains of a bleeding nation, even more so, because we are conscious of all of the banal and the sublime, and the physical and spiritual implications of national insecurity.
The current security situation in the country brings into focus once again the real and perceived roles of the traditional institutions in conflict resolution, proper social and cultural orientation, the preservation of the dignity and sanctity of abiding community (or communal) ethos and the defence of whatever is noble, whatever is good in the constitutive character of the society. The traditional ruler in this vein, not only serves as the leading individual within a community of people; he functions more or less as the connecting bridge, and a mediator between the mortal and the immortal. The traditional ruler is the representative of both God and the ancestors, and in that extolled capacity alone, is bestowed with supervisory ‘authority’ over earthly activities.
What has happened overtime is that as the society became increasingly complex, traditional institutions suffered an assault of some sort and became relegated to the background in the management of national affairs. The result was that these unique rules became increasingly disregarded and eventually practically broke down. The breakdown or disregard for these rules has resulted in the multifarious security challenges that the society is faced with today.
There is an inextricable nexus between Cultural values and Security. What do I mean? Cultural values are at the core of national growth and development. As Africans, we are a very unique specie of the human race. Every culture in Africa sets rules which create standards for human behaviour aimed at preserving the moral fibre of the society. Such rules emphasize probity and accountability, empathy and respect for elders, care for and upkeep of the less privileged and vulnerable members of the society as well as prescribe penalties for infringement. These rules which were managed and enforced by traditional institutions had as their main focus, security of lives and property in the communities in which they apply.
I am delighted to note that the importance of traditional institutions in the management of national security is now being recognized.
This approach which I would refer to as the “grassroots approach” is, in my opinion, the way to go. Traditional institutions hold a very special place in the African society and the role they play in shaping and preserving societal or cultural values and norms is invaluable in shaping national security. For instance, a child who is very well groomed in the cultural value system of his people is not likely to become an adult criminal and a security threat.
The importance of traditional institutions in the promotion of peace and security can never be underestimated because this institution has the unique capacity to mobilize the people and promote ethical values in the society.
The powers exhibited by the traditional institution are derived from norms and values of their domains which, to a large extent, are unquestionable.
The traditional institutions cater for the economic, social and political aspirations of their people and have proved to be resilient over time. Tradition reinforces values such as freedom, faith, integrity, good education, personal responsibility, strong work ethics and selflessness.
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE IN THE CONTRIBUTION TO PRESERVATION OF OUR CULTURE AND MANAGEMENT OF NATIONAL SECURITY
Due to temporal and spiritual powers traditional rulers wield in our societies, they have the (even though daunting) roles of fathers to their subjects. Fathers advise, rebuke, direct, instruct, admonish, and even punish within the ambit of the prescriptions of the enabling laws of the land (native and secular) and generally could prevent the development of criminal tendencies among the subjects, particularly the youth. When I ascended the throne of my forefathers, I felt my job was already cut out for me by my ancestors. I believe this was adequately captured in my coronation speech. Prior to my coronation as the 40th Oba of Benin, I had already started assuming the responsibility of supporting our State government in my capacity as the Crown Prince of Benin in security matters. I also clearly laid out a road map to the Palace administrative reforms that will help preserve the cultural values in the geographical area of Nigeria under my watch.
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATIONS
Indeed, prior to my ascension to the throne, my interest in collaborating with relevant security agencies in Edo State and other stakeholders was demonstrated on 11th July 2016, when I convoked a meeting with the heads of security agencies and traditional rulers to map out strategies to address security challenges in the State. Subsequently, this cooperation produced several other bold steps and measures which have positively impacted on stemming conflicts, criminality and general insecurity in the land. Worthy of mention in this regard was the proscription on 12th April 2017 of so-called Community Development Associations which had become nefarious institutions for reckless land-grabbing and illegal sales for the procurement of small arms and light weapons by criminals.
The Community Development Association major assault was on the traditional institution in Edo land particularly the traditional administrative structure under the Benin Traditional Council.
Culture reflects the positive trait of a people through continuous emphasis on the virtues of loyalty, tolerance, transparency, mutual respect and peaceful co-existence with other people. They remained justified and relevant for all times and peoples in early times, to achieve this trait, administrative structures and mechanisms with defined and strict channels of communication to the King were created, In the Benin culture and ancestry, we had and still have the ENOGIES (Dukes or District Heads) to whom the ODIONWERES (Community Heads), the OKAIGBES (extended family heads) who perform oversight function including neighbourhood watch, general intelligence gathering and to secure custodianship of land which is held in trust for the community and the Oba of Benin.
The role traditional institutions can play in the preservation of culture and management of national security played out recently when I first single-handedly with the support of Almighty God and our ancestors, “took the bull by the horn” by confronting the notorious Community Development Association (CDA) in my coronation speech. I followed that up by making a Public Pronouncement to my people that the CDA, because of their nefarious activities is no longer acceptable by the Palace. This stance was most welcomed by almost everyone including the political class in the State. Edo people at home and in the diaspora heaved a sigh of relief. The State Government promptly enacted a law to give it force of legal authority.
As some of you may be aware, to cite an instance in this category of the intervention of traditional institution in the nagging issues of national and international relevance, of our current fight against illegal migration of our youths to Europe for unacceptable activities in the Benin Ancient Kingdom which climaxed in the first quarter of this year, as the custodian of the cultural norms and values of our people and as the representative of Almighty God and ancestors, I had to perform a most critical ceremony with the spiritual and temporal powers vested on me, to curb the menace of human trafficking, particularly that involving the very dangerous Benin-Italy route.
Human trafficking is now a very nagging national and international problem and I became aware of the embarrassment it causes everyone, especially Nigerians, while I was Ambassador to Italy. As at then, while still the Crown Prince of Benin Kingdom, I knew that majority of these individuals were from my own part of Nigeria, and I also knew that a big part of solving the problem was to excavate it from the root, from the Benin homeland. When the time was ripe, shortly after ascension to the throne, National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) cried to me for my intervention. The Director General of NAPTIP, visited me in my Palace and requested that I intervene in stopping the activities of the ones they call “native doctors” in order for them (NAPTIP) to make any progress in their fight against human traffickers. I accepted and acceded to their strong plea. Then I consulted with my ancestors who showed me what and how to do it which culminated in the pronouncement against those encouraging human trafficking in our land. We demonstrated by this singular act that there is a lot more spiritual power in the Palace of the Oba of Benin far above all the power of the so-called native doctors on Edo land put together and further demonstrated that such spiritual powers are meant to be used for the greater good of the people and not to entrap innocent citizens in the course of promoting evil acts of human trafficking. It was gratifying to note that an agency of the Federal Government recognized the role that the Traditional Institution can play in solving human trafficking problem that hitherto seemed insolvable by national and even international community. Commendations galore poured in from individuals, organizations, state, national and foreign governments for the role the Traditional Institution played in assisting NAPTIP in curbing the menace of human trafficking.
The British High Commission on May 24, 2018 wrote on behalf of the British Government the following commendation:
“I am writing with regard to your recent
intervention with traditional doctors in
your kingdom ordering them to revoke the oaths
taken by victims of trafficking.
I wanted to take the opportunity to commend this
important step in the fight against human
trafficking and to let you know that this action
has been welcomed widely both by Her Majesty’s
Government and by the wider International
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), in Thisday Newspaper of March 19, 2018 also added its voice of commendation when its President commented as follows:
“The Christian body condemned the act of selling
of anointing oil and hankerchiefs to those who
volunteered to be trafficked…..Any pastor involved
in the act, either through prayers or directly, is an
enemy of the Church. The Bible is the spiritual force
that binds us all as Christians. Anyone involved in
human trafficking while claiming to be a pastor is
lying and God is against it, our culture is against it,
our religion is against it and CAN condemns it in
In view of the foregoing, it needs no emphasis that Traditional Institutions in the country if properly positioned and empowered and protected by the Federal and State Governments have the capacity to solve anti-social problems in our society. Traditional rulers need to be protected from the political class who has the executive powers as provided in the constitution to remove a traditional ruler from his traditional stool or to be more precise “dethrone” an allegedly erring Traditional Ruler with a flick of a finger – an executive fiat. I think this power is neither fair nor appropriate treatment of traditional institutions that people and Governments – State, National and local rely on to help maintain peace and security in their communities and nation at large.
The lesson here is very significant: it all begins from home, where our traditional institutions hold sway! In addition, my organisation – The Oba EWUARE II Foundation has followed up on this measure by assisting victims of human trafficking through empowerment and rehabilitation, to take them off the streets and reduce unemployment amongst them and by logical extension reduce potential crime and other security challenges from this sector.
The transformation of the Nigeria traditional institution, especially in terms of its increasing ‘secularization’ – in that many royal fathers in the country now are impeccably educated and sophisticated men who have shown extraordinary ability and class, and dominated important areas of life endeavour before coming to the throne – has evoked calls for the ‘upgrading’ of its relevance and significance in our national socio-political existence. Many have lamented the lack of a formal, constitutional role for traditional rulers in our democracy, and cited the many problems emanating from what they consider an incongruity. The strongest practical arguments have come from the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who proposed a constitutional review that would create a constitutional role for traditional rulers under the aegis of a National Council of Traditional Rulers (NCTR). Yar’Adua and other proponents of the view are able to cite areas of intervention in the national socio-political narrative where a more empowered traditional institution would be most effective, and security would be one of these.
But there have also been opponents of the stance of granting greater state/executive powers to the traditional rulers, and their reasons are no less authentic. Some have cited the need to protect the sacredness and sanctity of the Nigerian traditional institution from the explosive national political scene, and others have contended that greater participation of the royal fathers in partisan politics is capable of creating deep frictions between them and their subjects of opposing political orientations and affiliations. Some have put forward highly tantalizing intellectual arguments:
Under the present democratic dispensation, it appears clear that the Constitution has not provided for traditional rulers, perhaps in appreciation of the possible conflicts of interests that might be generated through that act in principle, it is not that the traditional rulers have been totally removed from the system; in fact the State Councils of Chiefs is still in existence and indeed very operational. There is also in place, a Ministry for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in the States of the Federation. In other domains of national life, traditional rulers are very active ceremonial heads of many governmental and non-governmental institutions, including primary functioning as Pro-Chancellors of our leading institutions of learning. At the state and local government levels, given that the State Councils of Chiefs are operational, they still occupy some advisory positions.
While I personally do not particularly advocate for a greater constitutional authorization of the traditional leadership class, the above contention brings me to other major germane questions. To what extent would constitutional empowerment increase the effectiveness of the intervention of our royal fathers and traditional institutions in ameliorating the problem of national security? To what extent are our secular leaders and ‘democrats’ prepared to accommodate the contribution of our revered traditional rulers?
One thing however, that cannot be taken away from the Nigerian traditional ruler at these interesting times, is that of his status as a major stakeholder in national affairs, also is his capacity to weigh in with invaluable advise at each point in our country’s journey to credible nationhood, and this includes in the challenging arena of contemporary national security. A forum like this gratefully provides another platform for such an advisory function, especially as it concerns the protection of lives and property. In this, vein, I hereby make the following submissions:
- The security of our country – the only country we have – is a sacred collective duty of every Nigerian irrespective of tribe, religion, language, social status, etc., and it is a mortal sin to play politics with it, and with the lives of Nigerians. The almighty God, the gods of our land, and our ancestors would make a demand of the blood of our people who die needless, avoidable deaths because of our negligence, or our connivance.
- Our government, under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, should reprioritize security, because it seems we are losing the battle against insurgents and hoodlums of different categories across the country. The security of our dear country may be, as we have consistently reiterated, the collective responsibility of all of us, but it remains the primary responsibility of the government. Government has to lead the way for us to follow – in terms of strategic planning; in terms of adequately funding of security agencies; in terms of forging effective and rewarding partnerships and collaborations with stakeholders. The government also has to show the political will in dealing with proven cases of criminal activities.
- By now, we are all acquainted with the fact that the Nigerian war against insecurity cannot be won by the barrel of the gun alone. The unemployment rate in Nigeria is alarming, and we are producing a generation of young people at the height of their physical, mental and intellectual energies and are not providing the proportionate platform of gainful employment for the expending of these energies. These explosive abilities would sooner or later find avenues of release in negative dimensions. We graduate hundreds of thousands of youths from our tertiary institutions and from across the disciplines every year, while we only possess the capacity to absorb and engage only about 10% of them meaningfully. While we brainstorm on avenues of job creation for the large population of the unemployed, we should also emphasize vocational training and entrepreneurship orientation. Self-employment should be encouraged.
- Internal terrorism has risen to an unacceptable apogee in the country, even though the successes scored in the containment of the Boko Haram insurgency is heartwarming. The so-called herdsmen have now revolutionized terrorist activities in the country, unleashing mayhem with devastating regularity, whereby no part of the country appears completely safe from their rampage. As many Nigerians agree, this is one area where our government should be firm and decisive, resourceful and ingenious. This siege also demands a high level collaboration among all stakeholders – the Police, other security agencies, traditional rulers, among others. We should not give the impression that anyone or any group of persons is/are above the law or enjoy a certain special kind of immunity.
- The porosity of our borders has remained a big concern especially against the background of the infiltration of our national ranks by individuals of suspicious intentions. As recent developments have also shown, arms of different types used to unleash terror and perpetrate criminal activities within our borders filter in through our loose borders. Border-security should therefore be ascribed the strategic importance it demands. In this connection, because undue advantage seems to have been taken of the so-called ECOWAS protocol on free movement of persons and goods by the influx of herdsmen and other criminal gangs into Nigeria from other ECOWAS countries, it may be necessary to establish an ECOWAS Council of Traditional Rulers so as to curb the dangers implicit from these activities, leveraging on our cultural African heritage, closer cultural ties and shared values. Such a mechanism would strengthen the role of Heads of States through the sharing of intelligence and provision of grassroots support.
- Adequate funding of our security systems at these difficult times is non-negotiable. I have recently read with great delight three most commendable instances of sensitivity to the imperative of sufficient grants to our security networks. The first is the May 2018 decision by the Nigerian Senate to approve a ‘special funding’ package for our security agencies for which service chiefs were given two weeks to come up with a budget. Another is the highly effective funding relationship which the Lagos State Government has cultivated with corporate organisations operating in the state. This admirable government-private sector partnership under the umbrella of the Lagos State Security Trust Fund (LSSTF) accounts for the drastic reduction of criminal activities in the state in recent times. The third is the magnanimous donation of hundreds of operational vehicles by Billionaire businessman and African richest person, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, to the Police just a few months ago. All of these represent levels of practical support to the Nigerian security project which should be consolidated and encouraged.
- In the job of securing the lives and properties of Nigerians in these challenging times, there should be no substitute for high level intelligence and training in new perspectives of policing. It is clear that we need to improve on our conventional methods and approaches to security. We should create the environment and provide the resources whereby our security personnel would be exposed to the best standards obtainable in more advanced cultures of the world. To tackle the situation we have on our hands today, there has to be no limits to intellectual and professional empowerment.
- We should patronize the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods and approaches now available in nipping in the bud potentially dangerous security situations. This of course applies more in the handling of ideology-based crimes such as the bloody oil war in the Niger Delta. Late President Yar’Adua scored a monumental victory in that troublesome aspect of national life with his Amnesty Programme which virtually brought to a halt years of armed volatility in the area. Nigerian leaders at different levels should explore ways of utilizing this strategy of addressing conflicts.
- There is a functionalist school of thought led by Talcott Parsons, an American Sociologist who proposed that order and stability in society are necessarily by-product of certain values in society rather than the structure of that society. In this case, for our national security to function optimally, all aspects of our national life, including politics, economy and social orientation must align with our cultural values. Accordingly therefore, no one aspect of our national life can be treated in isolation or ignored at the expense of the other. A holistic, comprehensive solution is therefore the wisest option in the pursuit of the common good, namely in the development of a sound and effective national security architecture and the management of our cultural values.
Our royal fathers and traditional institutions as a whole have important roles to play in all of the above-mentioned points. Their mandates as the bastions of the core values and original essences of the people’s root and lives mean that it is imperative that they have constitutional endorsement for their highly revered status in the society.
I would want to re-echo what was once suggested by my Father, that for the traditional institution to have more effective contribution to national security as well as other areas of national development, an Advisory Council, like an Upper House akin to the House of Lords of England which may be called National Advisory Council of Traditional Rulers that will be empowered with the constitutional authority to advise the Senate and the President should be established by law. No doubt with this development, all traditional institutions would rise up even much more to the responsibility of providing the much needed ‘traditional’ and ‘fatherly’ support to their compatriots saddled with the burden of ‘constitutional’ leadership.
Thank you for your attention.