Constitutional role: Revisiting Speaker Abbas’ pledges to traditional rulers

Some weeks back, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Tajudeen Abbas at separate outings made pledges to Nigeria’s traditional rulers that their age-long agitation for a constitutional role would be addressed. JOSHUA EGBODO writes

A perennial agitation

Over the years, especially with the sustained democratic governance in Nigeria since 1999, there have been the undying agitation for a constitutional role for traditional rulers in the country. Conferences, one after another have been held with memoranda drafted and passed to successive constitution review committees of the National Assembly. But during tenures of each of the assemblies, the suggested role for the traditional institution of the country have consistently failed to scale the huddles.

But Speaker Abbas’ fresh assurances

In what many saw as his first official visit to his home town of Zaria, with over 50 colleagues in company after his election as Speaker of the 10th House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas in mid July gave assurance that the current National Assembly will give traditional rulers constitutional roles, stating specifically that the House of Representatives under his leadership will work to seeing that becoming a reality.

Speaking at the palace of the Emir of Zazzau, His Royal Highness, Amb. Ahmed Nuhu Bamalli, during the visit, Abbas who holds the traditional title of Iyan Zazza, and represents the Zaria Federal Constituency of Kaduna state, a position he had been elected to hold for the fourth time running, said this (a constitutional role for the traditional rulers) has become necessary due to the critical roles they play in the society.

What he told the people

Speaker Abbas thanked his colleagues in the House for the “massive support” they gave him, while equally appreciating the entire people of Zaria for the opportunity to represent them in the House. “One of the reasons for this visit is to seek your support and prayers for a successful tenure. Pray for us to lead well and deliver on our mandate.

“I want to make a promise to you today, I remember about three years ago when we held zonal hearings on constitutional amendment, you made submissions regarding the need for traditional rulers to have constitutional roles.

“I would like to assure you that we now have the opportunity. With me as your son being the Speaker, we will look at that proposal once again so that our traditional rulers will have recognised constitutional roles.

“We are also here to seek the cooperation of the entire traditional institutions in the North and the country. We also want you to give us advice on how to succeed in our leadership. Where we err, you should tell us the truth. I seek the support of the Zazzau Emir and the people of the Emirate”.

Zazzau Emir laments

Emir Bamalli his remarks among other things, recalled the several sons and daughters of Zaria who had held national positions before Abbas as Speaker of the House. “The entire people of Zazzau are appreciative. The people of Zazzau have held high positions in this country. We had a President in the person of Yakubu Gowon. We also had a Vice-President in the person of Namadi Sambo. We now have a Speaker. We also had ambassadors, ministers and different positions”, he said, adding that the people of Zaria have engaged in politics since 1999, while the Emirate had also made laudable contributions to political stability.

“I recall during the reign of late Emir Jaafaru; he created the platform for politics to thrive in our land. The traditional institutions have made meaningful contributions to the political growth and development of our country.

“All of you seated here – the members – have a link to the traditional institution in one way or the other. Unfortunately, most politicians, once they win election, the traditional institutions don’t see them again. The good thing is that wherever you go, you must come back to the traditional institutions.

“The fear of politicians is that we want to have another tier of government. But that is not the case. We have made our case and presented at different levels. We met with the then Chief of Staff to the President; we met with the Senate President and the then Speaker; yet, nothing happened on the bill,” Emir Bamalli added.

He therefore appealed to the members of the National Assembly to “dust the bill and work on it once again,” noting that, “all we want is for the bill to be passed unopposed. We hope that the Legislature will look at this quickly”, as he thanked the Speaker and his entourage for visiting him, while expressing his hope that they would perform. “Your years at the National Assembly have proved useful, which is why your colleagues elected you,” he said.

Renewed assurance

In less than a forthright later, the Speaker was to reemphasize his earlier pledge on the subject matter. This time, a delegation of eminent traditional rulers across the country under the aegis of the National Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria (NCTRN), paid him a courtesy visit in the National Assembly, during which he said Nigeria can’t be a better place without contributions of the traditional rulers, who he said should be encouraged to have clearly defined roles in the constitution. 

Abbas assured the traditional rulers that the 10th House would work towards keeping its promise of granting a constitutional role for traditional institutions, describing them as “fountain of knowledge and wisdom”, expressing gratitude to the royal fathers for finding time to visit him, adding that what they sought to promote and preserve is an institution that gave birth to many of the members in the House, including himself.

“Thank you our royal fathers, we are very proud of you, we appreciate your support. We will not forget this gesture of reaching out to us – your children.

“Your royal highnesses, I’m sure all of you are aware that I’m a product of this institution, and very many of our members in the 10th Assembly are also from this background. If I begin to list the names of members from various traditional houses, I’m sure you will be more at ease with us.

“This is your house; this is where you have utmost respect. And I can assure you that what happened to the constitution amendment regarding your roles in the past will not repeat itself.

“That I can assure you because Nigeria cannot be a better place if traditional rulers are not made to take their rightful place.

“I can tell you that this is one institution where you have the best brains with knowledgeable people. I was at an event the other day in Kaduna and about 10 traditional rulers who were introduced were people who had served in various professional capacities before leaving to take up the traditional titles”, he stated.

The Speaker then assured the delegation that previous recommendations would be looked into in the course of altering the constitution. “We are going to look at the Emir of Lafia’s committee that made some far-reaching recommendations. I assure you that we will look into it and do what’s right and best for this institution and for the country”, he said.

Renewed demand

Leader of the delegation and Chairman of the coordinating committee of National Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria, His Royal Highness, the Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Dr. Yahaya Abubakar, had congratulated the Speaker for his landslide victory during the inauguration of the 10th House on June 13, 2023.

According to hm, the delegation’s visit to the National Assembly was anchored on three objectives, which were to congratulate the Speaker on his emergence, and members on their electoral victories; to urge them on the need to pursue people oriented legislations; as well as the importance of granting constitutional roles to traditional institutions in the country.

“We are hoping that in Sha Allah, this coming constitution amendments process, we would have our roles enshrined in the constitution. We are not dragging space; ours is to compliment your roles as political leaders. We are the custodians of customs and traditions at the grassroots and ensure that our subjects adhere to them to engender peace, security and progress.

“These are roles that we play very well and we urge you to facilitate the documentation of this role in the constitution for proper recognition,” the Etsu Nupe who is also the Chairman, Niger State Council of Traditional Rulers stated.

The feasibility case

Several efforts in this direction, in the consideration of many analysts have been made without success. The case in question is therefore the practicability of the new assurances. Will these be backed with the needed zeal for a successive delivery? 

Answers to the above and many more remain what Nigerians highly expect as the new constitution review committee of the House of Representatives, under Deputy Speaker Benjamin Kalu begins work in the face of attempting to harmonizing the diverse cultural differences of the country into a uniform platform to help build the unity of Nigeria.

UNI Agric Markurdi
Blueprint Whatsapp