Are constitutional lapses at the root of Nigeria’s insecurity crises? Tochukwu Onyiuke argues that the re-introduction of constitutional powers for traditional rulers and subsequent creation of local and state police can help halt the monster.


In a not too distant past, bombings and kidnappings were strange to our topics of conversations.

These days, however, we barely flinch when we turn on the news and hear about these tragic tales of insecurity.

It is almost as if insecurity has come to stay as no solutions have been devised to put an end to this menace and recurring tragedy.

These negatively affect Nigeria politically, religiously and culturally. There is a lack of confidence in law enforcement agencies.

At what point in our development as a nation did we begin to accept insecurity as a norm? The total lack of belief in our security agencies has further plundered hopes.

A school of thought argues that state policing is the way to go. The protagonists of the state police have set out various reasons why it will curb insecurity.

Others with contrary opinions have argued against the establishment of state police stating the fact that the country is not ripe for it and insisting that the state governors might turn them into a personal army to fight political oppositions.

Earlier in our growth as a nation, when bombings and terrorism were but spectacles from foreign movie scenes, the traditional institutions used to be more functional and very active in aspects relating to peace and order as a society.

Before the 1976 Local Government Reforms, which completely stripped traditional rulers of their powers and authority, the traditional rulers were needed by the government at the centre to consolidate governance and stabilise the affairs of the government at the grassroots as they were much closer to the people.

At the terminal phase of the Mohammed/Obasanjo military regime which ended in 1979, the Federal Military Government in consultation with state Governments attempted to institute a uniform role for traditional rulers throughout the country through the 1976 Local Government Reform.

Traditional rulers were insulated from politics and formally assigned advisory roles in local decision-making through Traditional/Emirate Councils.

The advice of the traditional rulers was not binding on the elected local government councillors.

A thorough examination of the chorology of insecurity in Nigeria will point to this era as being the solidifying foundation for these unfortunate occurrences witnessed in Nigeria as the disconnect between the government and its citizenry at the grassroots commenced in whole at this phase.

The aftermath of the local government reforms was the absolute disconnect of all levels of government from core intelligence.

During the early stages of Nigeria’s history, traditional rulers played two distinct roles which were later to serve as the foundations upon which further constitutional and political provisions would be made for their increased participation in Government.

The most important role for traditional rulers in early colonial Nigeria lay not in the area of elective politics at the national level but in local administration.

The office of the Native Authority was created, whose role was two-fold. First, he was the last link in the colonial administrative chain and it was through him that decisions made at the centre were enforced locally.

The Richards Constitution of 1946 sought to bridge the gap between the native authorities at the local level and the largely appointed and official legislative council at the national level.

The Macpherson Constitution of 1951 not only allowed traditional rulers substantial influence over the selection of the members of the regional Houses of Assembly, but it also gave them direct access to government by creating ‘Houses of Chiefs in the West and the North.

After only one year, however, the Macpherson Constitution broke down under the weight of intense political manoeuvring.

By 1957, the Lyttleton constitutional power of the traditional rulers had been greatly reduced both at the centre as well as in the regions.

By being a chief, and hence a member of another legislative house, traditional leaders were then prohibited from entering into elective politics. This was also the case under the 1960 Constitution.

However, all those chiefs who were automatically members became ex-officio members.

With the coming of independence, traditional rulers saw their positions in the federal and regional legislatures erode in favour of appointed chiefs who were still viewed as traditional rulers.

The Republican Constitution of 1963 ushered in the Republican status to Nigeria as a sovereign entity.

The 1963 Constitution altered the position of traditional rulers a little if any at all.

One of the few specific references to traditional rulers, or chiefs, effectively entrenched the power of the government to grade chiefs by forbidding any court of law from adjudicating a chieftaincy dispute.

At the time of the military coup in 1966, traditional rulers had seen their role erode from that of being the sole members of the House of Representatives, as was the case under the Richards Constitution to that of being members of a largely advisory body, as was the case under the Lyttleton Constitution, as well as the Independence and the Republican Constitution.

In early 1966, the government headed by Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa was forced from power after a military uprising.

Two days after the coup, the constitution was suspended and all executive and legislative powers became vested in the Federal Military Government and the Military Governors of the regions.

This act, the Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree, Decree #1 of 1966, extended the legislative competence of the federal government to the regional level and forbade any court of law from judging the validity of any federal decree.

Throughout the entire period of Military rule, all legislative and executive functions remained vested in the Military.

The result of all forms of military rule was the same: traditional rulers, like all other civilians, were excluded from formal participation in the state and national governments.

Also, no governmental actions including those concerning traditional rulers could be challenged in a court of law.

Before the emergence of the 1979 Constitution, the Constituent Assembly ratified the Draft Constitution, which created the second Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The role prescribed for traditional rulers under this constitution is radically different from that laid out in Nigeria’s earlier civilian constitutions.

At the Federal level, members of the National Assembly are popularly elected.

At the regional now state level, the House of Chiefs no longer exists and the entire unicameral House of Assembly was popularly and directly elected.

Where earlier civilian constitutions entrenched the presence of traditional rulers in both the executive as well as the legislative branches of the federal and state governments, the 1979 constitution includes no such provisions.

The only formal structures in which traditional rulers are included are the Council of State at the federal level and the Council of Chiefs at the state level.

The 1999 Constitution is almost a replica of its preceding ground norm. The 1999 Constitution regurgitates many of the positions of the 1979 Constitution save for a few alterations and amendments.

The 1999 Constitution emulates 1979 Constitution as well and completely left no constitutional powers or authority for the traditional rulership sphere.

The impact of these last two epochs on the structure and operational dynamics of local government in Nigeria is still felt.

The question which the Nigerian society faces today is how the powers and authority of traditional rulers can be reincorporated constitutionally bearing fully in mind that these traditional symbols are closer to the people and have an in-depth understanding of the mechanism and workings of their immediate communities as it relates to combating crime and insecurity.

It is my suggestion from the foregoing that these monarchs should be accorded constitutional recognition, having in mind that lessons learnt from the historical evolution of any given community is paramount to the upholding of values and thriving of the said community.

With the re-introduction of constitutional powers for traditional rulers, local and state police can be created to halt insecurity as several social commentators have opined, posited and postulated.

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