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Traditional Institution Bill: A Plot to break a working system

My father became a casualty of the environment as he challenged the process of appointing the Emir of Zazzau in court. Since his demise, el-Rufai…

The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictlyAbraham Lincoln

Zazzau emirate is regarded as a key traditional institution in Nigeria with embedded customs. It is an institution whose legitimacy is based on association with traditional governance methods and connected with the Fulani custom. The emirate system is designed to make policy implementation effective and efficient because it is the closest to the community. The feedback provided to the government on the social well-being of the society signals the effects of policies.

Whenever there is a break in trust between the political leaders and the constituents, the traditional leaders work tirelessly to rebuild it. One can consider them as the political fire brigades because of their credibility and the historical trust between them and the community. Their intervention is always significant because of the close relationship with ordinary people. They are the approachable elites in the society because their lives are as Spartan as any commoner. Several democratic administrations, and even the military regimes, relied on the credibility to build and rebuild trust within the public.

My father became a casualty of the environment as he challenged the process of appointing the Emir of Zazzau in court. Since his demise, el-Rufai has made several attempts to legitimise the appointment of the current Emir. There is evidence of bullying with a lawsuit, transfer of service, cancellation of traditional titles, land revocation, and house demolition to ensure silence over the Emir’s appointment. However, every attempted effort only amplifies his incompetency, short-sightedness, and lack of understanding of how to govern.

Given el-Rufai’s tenure is ending in about two years and knowing fully well his career is on a downward trajectory, he aims to go down with the soul of one of the oldest institutions in the country. He plots to remove the emirate’s identity, create discord and mistrust within the system, and eliminate the competition within the ruling houses to produce weak leaders.

The plan is wrapped around a Bill for a law for the traditional institution in Kaduna State. It has been sent to the state House of Assembly and has passed the first reading. The Bill’s rationale is to allow el-Rufai to govern effectively – for the remaining few months he has left. The Emir of Zazzau applauded the proposal but knew it could not legitimise his appointment. I do not doubt the Bill will be signed into law within a fortnight by el-Rufai, with the Emir applauding on his side. But I am confident that the next government’s first point of action is to repeal this law, and I wish them both long-life to relive that moment in shame.

If passed, the Bill will uproot the emirate’s principles as laid by its founding fathers. It will destroy the process of building credibility and trust between the traditional system and the community.

The Bill contains several damning clauses that weaken the emirate system. The Bill has inserted an unacceptable rotation clause where the Bare-bari dynasty will be the next in line for the throne. The Sullubawa dynasty will follow. The design for rotation is to remove any form of competition within the system, which takes away the Zazzau emirate’s distinctiveness.

The Bill proposes the hierarchy of kingmakers, which is out of the governor’s jurisdiction. The Bill proposes that the governor will appoint four additional kingmakers. The customary law does not allow a governor to appoint a kingmaker for whatever reason. The recent appointment of kingmakers for the vacant stool of Long Kwo after 33 years could have guided this proposal. Of course, that requires paying attention, and we are dealing with a person who knows little other than about himself.

There is a proposal to appoint the Imam of Sultan Bello Mosque as a kingmaker in the Bill. A legitimately appointed Emir would have pointed out this blunder. Imams of Sultan Bello mosque are from the Izala sect, while the Zazzau emirate is built on the Darika principles. Fundamentally, the Izala sect is meant to protest against certain principles of the institution. The Imam of Sultan Bello mosque is usually not a Zazzau indigene and knows very little about the institution’s affairs. Thus, he cannot contribute to the governance of the emirate. If there were any good intent to this, el-Rufai would be suggesting other Izala sect families within the Zazzau walls. Unlike the Imam of Emir’s Palace, appointed by the Emir of Zazzau, the Imam of Sultan Bello’s mosque is appointed by the Sultan of Sokoto.

If el-Rufai had schooled himself well on Zazzau history, he would have understood why Emir of Zazzau Kwasau decided to disconnect from Sokoto in 1897. Emir Kwasau was a unifier of the institution based on the principles of the founding fathers. Under his father’s rulership (1890-1897), Kwasau monopolised the available supplies of weapons produced by the Royal Niger Company in Niger. At his father’s death, Kwasau defied Sokoto to appoint himself as Emir in 1897 because Sokoto wanted to appoint an old, deaf and blind prince as the Emir of Zazzau. Kwasau justified his actions by pointing to the wrong decisions made by the Sultan, which goes against the founding fathers of the institution.  Such a decision unified the Fulani of Zaria behind Kwasau against Sokoto. In 1901, he invited Captain (Lord) Lugard to establish a British Garrison in Zaria to ensure Zazzau is independent of Sokoto rule. Since then, Zazzau had never been under Sokoto.

The Bill also proposes that the appointment of an Emir will then be made by the governor based on a commissioner’s guidelines, not based on the kingmakers’ selection. It proposes kingmakers should only screen and write a report on the candidates who applied to be Emir. For deposition, the Bill has made it very simple, easier than deposing an assistant. It says the governor may depose an Emir based on the ministry’s recommendation if he is satisfied that such deposition is in the public interest. That means there will be no consideration of kingmakers when deposing an Emir. I suggest they give kingmakers another name since the Bill has taken away their main responsibility.

The Bill also proposes that a district head should not be based on hereditary. The loyalty, trust and credibility of the community to the traditional system is not gained based on merit alone. The hereditary aspect counts as much. Such connections are not built in a short time. That means a chance that one day Zazzau will not have any aspiring prince as a District Head. Customarily, Emirs are selected from District Heads, having gained leadership experience. Conversely, the bill proposes Village Heads’ appointment, who work under district heads, to be hereditary – a huge gaffe.

Interfering with the traditional leadership structure will disconnect the link between the traditional system and the community. Credibility will be lost. Any Emir who cares about the traditional system would have rejected this Bill without fear of repercussions.

There is optimism in the legal community the Zazzau ruling dynasties will launch a unified challenge against the Bill once the House of Assembly passes it. The court will order el-Rufai not to sign the Bill. It is expected that he will break the law and sign the Bill into law, but that will be a strong case for the courts to prosecute him once he leaves power.

Dr Nasir Aminu works with Cardiff Metropolitan University, United Kingdom

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