Traditional rulers and local government in Nigeria: Traditional rulers are those who possess traditional authorities in their respective communities. They are referred to as traditional heads of their communities. They are the custodian of the custom and traditions of the people. Traditional rulers have the highest authorities in their communities.
Traditional rulers in Nigeria are known with different names and titles. In the Northern Nigeria you have the Emirs, Sarki, Shehu and Lamido in Hausa-Fulani communities. In Yoruba traditional society the rulers are known as the Alafins, Ooni, Oluwo, Alake, in Benin kingdom they call their traditional rulers Odionwere or Enogie.
In Igbo traditional society, the traditional ruler is called Eze or Obi, in Kalabari, Igala, Tiv traditional communities, their rulers is called Amanyanabo, Atta, Tor and Obong respectively.
Traditional rulers can exercise political, judicial and religious authority over the people of his community depending, however, on prevailing prescription for the office as provided by custom and tradition. Before the colonialism, the traditional rulers exercise significant authority in local administration.
However, with the coming of the British, and the introduction of modern form of local governance, the traditional ruler’s roles significantly changed. The role of traditional rulers in local administration has been undergoing changes or reforms that sometimes reduces or increases the roles.
The 1950 local government ordinance of eastern Nigeria, for instance, excluded even entirely the traditional rulers from local government. The ordinance, in the place of the traditional rulers in the local government, introduced councilors and chairman that were democratically elected to administer the local government.
The local government law of 1952 in the Western Region of Nigeria also provided a democratically elected local government system which removed the place of the traditional rulers and their role in local government system drastically.
However, in the Northern region of Nigeria, the traditional rulers, within the same period, still played prominent roles in the local government administration as the region still built its local government system around the traditional rulers.
In 1976 local government reform, there was an increase in the roles played by traditional rulers in the local government. Specifically, the 1976 guidelines for local government reform prescribed that every state must establish traditional council for each local government areas.
The traditional councils were to be composed of appointed traditional rulers. The key functions of the council included formulation of policies proposed however, as advice to local government; planning of local government activities by joint discussion and advice, assistance in tax assessment and collection, support for art and culture, advising on chieftaincy matters, control of traditional titles and offices, determination of traditional laws and practices et cetera.
Presently, the traditional rulers do not have any formal or constitutional executive and legislative roles in the local government system. However, the traditional rulers still plays roles that enhance the effective performance of certain functions by the local government even though those roles are in advisory capacity.
In conclusion, traditional rulers are the people custodian and are closer to the people than the local administrators. In order to ensure effective local government administration the traditional rulers need to be consulted in matters affecting their respective communities.