Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nigeria's emirs, kings, and chiefs

Their roles in Nigerian politics are mostly in the background. But traditional authorities maintain a lot of legitimacy and authority. Sometimes you'll read about an elected official identified with the title "Chief," but most traditional leaders refrain from direct political action.

Nigeria's emirs: Power behind the throne
In its turbulent half-century of independence, Nigeria has experienced not only a brutal civil war, but also a succession of military coups.

Only in the last decade has it enjoyed relatively stable civilian government.

Throughout this period, one institution that has played an important stabilising role has been that of the traditional rulers of kingdoms large and small across the country.

While traditional leaders hold few constitutional powers, no politician is wise to seek office without his blessing…

Today, despite attempts by successive governments to marginalise them from the political process, traditional leaders continue to exert significant influence.

"They continue to yield so much power in who gets what political appointments, although most of this influence remains behind the scenes," explains Kabiru Sufi, a political scientist…

In one of Kano's largest markets it was difficult to find shoppers who disagreed with that sentiment.

"I trust my traditional rulers because they don't loot our money," one man told us, reflecting a widely held disillusionment with the elected political class in Nigeria.

Another says: "I trust them because they choose quality politicians who will help the people, and I'm happy to vote for the candidates they advise." …

When independence came to Nigeria, Shehu Idris was a school headmaster…

For more than three decades, he has been the emir of a kingdom with its palace in the town of Zaria, and influence over a much larger region known as Zazzau.

We have been granted a special audience, and approach the royal throne…

What role does he see for traditional rulers in today's Nigeria?

"It is for us to intervene in disputes to bring peace to communities," he says.

When it comes to elections, "we don't give support to politicians. We give them blessing, that they should have respect and be ready to serve the people who have elected them."…

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