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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Chieftaincy Declarations In Edo State: Need For Commission Of Inquiry

Yes, when it comes to chieftaincy matters, some of us are indifferent and non-commital. This is not good enough.

By O. M. Candy

Institution of Kinship or Monarchy, has been with us for a very long time or from time immemorial in Edo state. In support of this, we have names like Obamogie, Ojieaga, Ailoje, Obasogie etc. In short, our names and songs show the honour and respect we attach to our chieftaincy institutions.

The Obas or Kings of the past were fountains of power in their various communities and their power extended over life and death. Their words were laws and their orders were carried out without question.

The idea of social contract and collective responsibility were reflected in their ‘primitive’ administration before the advent of colonial administration. Accordingly, the colonial government gave them a role to play by the creation of the regional house of chiefs.

The Chiefs’ law were promulgated by way of ordinances and subsequently by regional laws. Hence, we had: Chiefs law of Western region, Chiefs law of Eastern region and Chiefs law of Nothern region.

With the creation of more states (out of the regions) each of those states had their chiefs law though most, if not all of them, replicated the old regional laws with little or no modifications.

The chiefs law ( Cap 19) laws of Western Region was applicable in the Mid-West before its creation in 1963 and through out the LOBOO states ie. Lagos, Ogun, Bendel, Ondo and Oyo states.

All these states including Osun and Ekiti subsequently adapted that same law in their respective states.

It should be noted, however, that all the states chiefs law are similar in their provisions.

Bendel State, now Edo and Delta States, had its chiefs law that is still applicable to Edo State today. Under the law, a chieftaincy committee of a competent council may, and shall if so required, make a Declaration in writing stating the customary law regulating the selection of a person to be the holder of a recognized chieftaincy. Simply put, a chieftaincy Declaration is a subsidiary legislation made by a competent council containing or consisting of the customary law or rules regulating the appointment of a person or persons to a recognized chieftaincy.

The main advantage is to minimize or prevent incessant and endless litigations in chieftaincy matters.

Now, how far have these Declarations in the state minimized or prevented incessant litigations in our courts? It is a matter of common knowledge that many disputes arising from chieftaincy matters are not only pending in our courts but have led to fracas and even death in some communities.

Presently, some traditional rulers’ councils particularly in Edo North and Central cannot form quorum in their various councils because of pending court cases.

Clearly, some of these Declarations do not represent the true customary law of the people. The reason for this inadequacy is simply because the basis or foundation of these Declarations is the Marshall Report of 1936.

Hugo Marshall, the British born administrative officer who was the Sole Commissioner in the chieftaincy committee that was set up by the Old Western Region, created more problems with his Report for our people than he met- from Owan to Ishan, to Etsako, to Akoko-Edo and beyond.

Time and time again, Marshall Report has given lawyers and judges toil, tears and sweat on how to reconcile his Report with the traditions of the people.

In some communities, according to his Report, inheritance is matrilineal thus, disinheriting the male child which is clearly against the custom of the people and in some, royalty is restricted to influential and wealthy families to the exclusion of those who are genuinely qualified to be royal families.

The Ebomoyi Commission of Inquiry of 1974 frowned at this and made far reaching recommendations that were never implemented. Even after then, one time military Governor Commodore Husseni Abdullahi, lamented the poor state of our laws in chieftaincy matters when he inaugurated the Ighodalo Commission of Inquiry.

According to him “lack of proper procedure in the selection of candidates for chieftaincy institutions had created bitterness and rivalry among some communities….” yet nothing positive came out of it.

We, therefore, request and demand that this injustice should be addressed by the Edo state government by setting up a Commission of inquiry.

This inquiry will enable the people to accept, reject and/or qualify their Declarations. Even more than that, those communities without Declarations should be encouraged to document their customary law.

Yes, when it comes to chieftaincy matters, some of us are indifferent and non-commital. This is not good enough.

We can learn from the love of the average British citizen for the monarchy as a traditional institution.

The British monarchy has remained relevant through its ability to adapt to the changing times while still retaining its historical significance. Unfortunately, after 63 years of independence Nigerians have not discovered that unifying binding force that the monarchy impacts to the British people.

It will, therefore, not be out of place since we still retain our traditional institutions to have a role for our traditional rulers in our constitution. They (traditional rulers) should be deeply involved in grassroot administration since they are the fathers of the nation.

Ohiogwehei Momodu Candy is a Lawyer based in Benin, Edo State, South-South Nigeria.

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