Role Of Traditional Authority In Local Government Administration In Nigeria (A Case Study Of Anambra North Senatorial Zone)

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Role Of Traditional Authority In Local Government Administration In Nigeria (A Case Study Of Anambra North Senatorial Zone)


The colonial administration of the pre-independence era in Nigeria used traditional authorities on large scale in governance. Ever since then, traditional authorities have found themselves confronted with providing complimentary leadership in their domain. Their relevance in the contemporary societies appear to be diminishing with the result that various tiers of government appear to perceive and use them in governance in different ways and levels. This study appraised the roles and place of traditional authorities in Nigeria with particular reference to Anambra North Senatorial Zone of Anambra State. For this purpose, a structured questionnaire was designed and administrated to 200 samples selected among traditional rulers, key local government council officials and key officials of Ananbra State Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters. Following the collection and analysis of data, some salient findings were registered. They include among others, the fact that.

  1. Traditional authorities play some essential and fundamental roles in governance in Nigeria
  2. They were not only recognized but also enjoy a significant place in governance especially at the grassroots level.
  3. They performed their roles and functions very well and satisfactorily.
  4. They engaged in the settlement and resolution of intra and inter communal feuds.
  5. Chieftaincy feuds and tussles were found to occur to a moderate extent within Igbo communities.
  6. To some extent which is considered small, government interfered in the activities and function of traditional authorities within Igbo speaking states of Nigeria.

Chapter One

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background of the Study

The early colonial administration in Nigeria and indeed English Speaking West African States used traditional authorities in large scale in their system of indirect rule. Ever since then, the relevance of traditional authorities in governance especially in Nigeria has always manifested in divers forms and degrees. This was in realization of the relevance of traditional authorities in the governance of primitive communities and kingdoms as well as the desire by the colonial authorities not to disrupt an already existing system and to reduce the volume of manpower requirement for indirect rule.

Before then, traditional authorities essentially provided leadership for the various communities and kingdoms. However, the system of traditional government varied from place to place. In Igbo land for example the system of government was quite unique and transcends the democracy of America and Europe. Virtually every group was involved in the day to day affairs of each community, Isichei (1976:38) quite acknowledged this that one thing that struck the first colonial visitors to Igbo-land was the extent to which democracy was truly practiced. Characteristically, different political institutions with varying combinations abound in Igbo-land. This system of government has been referred to severally by several authors as aristocracy; although Isichei believed that it is quite at variance with the popular aristocracy as was practiced in most other parts of the world.

Whatever is the case, the political system in the Northern and western part of the appear completely different from that of Igbo-land. In the west for example Obas were sole authorities and these have absolute power and authority over their territories.

While in the North following the Jihad, Emirates were delineated and placed under the rulership of Emirs who are only account table to the Northern Nigeria caliphate (the Sultan of Sokoto). The system of traditional government in the Northern Nigeria provided a veritable ground and an impetus for the introduction of indirect rule by the British Colonial government. The success registered in the North was to encourage the colonial administration to extend such system in Southern Nigeria. This was in the bid to universalize indirect rule in Nigeria in line with the British Government’s policy of indirect rule.

This was not quite welcomed and successful in Igbo-land. This is principally because of the fact that it was not in line with the prevailing political system and structure. In Igbo-land for example, although there were constituted authorities that provided governance to the various communities, yet power and governance was essentially a collective responsibility, except in few communities such as Aboh and Onitsha which had traditions originating from some where else. There were hardly communities that were ruled by kings (Ezes). This gave rise to the popular ibo adage “Igbo enwe Eze” (the King in every man).

However, even in such isolated communities that have Ezes (Kings) the powers of such Ezes were not absolute although they may appear sacred and often lived in ritual seclusion. Agwuna (1978:15 – 16) for example expressed that in Igbo-land Kings were not absolute and therefore do not posses absolute powers, rather they took decisions in conjunction with “Ndichie” (red cap Chiefs) and representative of other relevant groups.

Also, the colonial government in order to harmonise indirect rule selected and installed warrant Chiefs many of whom were of questionable character and doubtful background. This resulted in wide range unacceptability of warrant Chiefs.

The attainment of independence in 1960 and the introduction of constitutional government saw a gradual decline in the political powers and influences of traditional authorities across the country. Overtime, traditional authorities became, gradually irrelevant in the political scheme of things. The period following the emergence of the government of Murtala Mohammed (around 1976) witnessed a boost in the political influence and powers of traditional authorities. In 1976, for example, the Federal Government articulated a national policy which aimed to restore the influence and respects of traditional authorities. This was to incorporate them in both rural administration and development, as well as restore and sustain the country’s rich cultural heritage.

The need for this study emerged in response to these development. This is as a result of the renewed desire for an effective medium and instrument for mass mobilization at the grass root level for rural and national development. This study specially seek the role of traditional authorities in governance in Nigeria with particular reference to Anambra North Senatorial zone of Anambra State.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The problem of this study emerged in response to the desire to identify veritable medium and instrument for rural administration and grass root mobilization for economic development, social justice and social order. It must be realized that the establishment of the three tiers of government is in pursuance of this desire. Yet much more is still desirable. The appraisal of traditional authorities and their roles in governance in Nigeria became very necessary and appropriate as part of the efforts in searching for a viable alternative.

Evidence are mounting to show that there three tiers of government have been failing in reaching out to same rural communities for effective mobilization for economic and social order. Thus clashes and inter community fends appear to be on the increase. The cases of Warri clash, Tiv-Jukun clash, and the Aguleri-Umuleri clash just to mention a few are still fresh. In most of the cases traditional authorities were used by the government in settling such fends. Thus pointing to a veritable role which traditional authorities can be used to perform.

It is argued however that traditional authorities are often closer to the people since they are constituted from amount the people, the tendency for the people to respect and listen to them is higher.

Also, since they are part of the communities they are completely in tune with their needs, aspirations and culture and traditions, yet evidence exists to show that constitutional government appear to show less interest in delegating authorities. This appear to make them redundant and irrelevant in the political scheme of things. The result is that their wisdom and resourcefulness which could have been taped for mere effective governance and economic development at the rural level are allowed to waste.

Worst still, the generality of Nigerian societies are fast losing their culture which is enshrined in their way of life. Their value systems, aspirations, attitudes, norms etc are fast fading. This is as a result of over acculturation which manifested in their preference for foreign goods and ways of life. This made the search for an instrument for cultural sustenance especially through government imperative.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

The fundamental objective of this study was to specifically identify and appraise the roles of traditional authorities in governance in Nigeria. To achieve this attempt was made to

  1. Identify the roles of traditional authorities in governance in Nigeria.
  2. Identify the place of traditional authorities in governance in Nigeria.
  3. Assess the performance of traditional authorities in governance mobilization for economic and social order.
  4. Identify the roles of traditional authorities in settling inter and intra community fends.
  5. Determine the extent of Chieftaincy fends and tussles in Igbo land.

1.4 Theoretical Foundation of the Study

For several centuries traditional authorities existed in form of Chieftaincy institution in many parts of Igbo land. The term, Chief, is taken in most case to refer to “Ndi-Iche” or “Ndi-Ochie” (old people). They are generally associated with the ancestors. The underlying meaning of Chieftaincy can be derived from the names given to titled men. In many parts of Igbo land it is based on a complex partially separable symbolic component which collectively relate to a variety of different structures of different traditions. According to Nzimiro (1972:83) the three major terms referring to the kings or Chiefs are “Eze” concerned fundamentally with his relationship to the sacred “Nze” complex, “Obi” which alludes to his providing a secure forum for public meetings and court proceedings and “Igwe” (the sky) that signifies his weight in the society. The various roles aspects of traditional authorities identified are suggested by these and other titles.

Fundamentally, the status of every Chief in Igbo land is grounded in a given residential area either in a village or community. Within that residential area, a Chief welds a commendable degree of social and political influence. They are the policy makers and take serious decisions on issues concerning wars, divorce, crimes such as murder and robbery, inter community relations, marriage negotiations etc. They are according to Anderson (1972:25 – 26) known for purity and truth fullness.

During meetings and discussions, the Chiefs speak first. In most cases they are the symbols of their village jurisdictional boundaries. Their movements outside these boundaries must therefore be ceremonial and well escorted actions. Thus Anderson (1972: 28) observed that they symbolize the boundaries of the societal communities as they rarely step beyond them. It is their responsibility therefore to ensure the security of domain lives and properties within their domain.

Always and everywhere Chiefs were referred to as “our father” (Nna anyi) and their identity is closely bound up with a sort of patrillineage and clan symbol. In some parts of Igbo land early Chiefs were also Chief Priest. This explained why in most cases, especially in the traditional setting, Chiefs appear to have very close relationship with powerful spirits which they tend to be identified with. In ramification of the above, it became self evident that the functions of Chiefs as traditional authorities in the traditional societies are vast. Nzimiro (1972 : 65 – 68) summarized the functions of traditional authorities in typical traditional societies to include: Political (policy making and political decision) judicial (the administration of justice executive (the enforcement of law and order) and military (the protection of territorial intergrity).

1.5 Research Questions

The following research question guided this study.

  1. What are the roles of traditional authorities in governance in Nigeria?
  2. What is the place of traditional authorities in governance in Nigeria?
  3. What is the level of performance of traditional authorities in grassroots mobilization for economic and social order?
  4. What are the roles of traditional authorities in settling inter and intra community fends?
  5. To what extents are Chieftaincy fends and tussles in Igbo land?
  6. What is the extent of government interference in the activities and functions of traditional authorities?

1.6 Significance of the Study

The significance of this study lie to a great extent in sensitizing the government to embark on a more Urgent and more sincere appraisal of traditional authorities especially in respect of their roles in governance. This is with a view to identifying their relevance and usefulness so as to provide a rationale for their incorporation in the political scheme of things in Nigeria.

This study therefore aimed essentially to set a stage for a more urgent and more comprehensive appraisal of traditional authorities in governance especially within the Nigeria contest by desirable and relevant research persons and agencies. This will help in placing traditional authorities in the right perspective.

It is therefore hoped that this study will be of immense value to the government, research follows and agencies as well as Students of Business Administration and management especially those of Institutes of Management and Technology Enugu.

This is because it will not only provide them with adequate insight but will also provide an enabling rationale for further studies.

1.7 Scope of the Study

This study specifically focused on the roles of traditional authorities in governance in Nigeria. However, due to the limited time and resources available for this study, it was absolutely difficult to undertake a study that will comprehensively cover the whole country or even a full state. For this reason, this study was limited to Anambra North Senatorial zone of Anambra state.

1.9 Definition of Terms and Acronyms

The following terms were defined as they were used in this study.

Traditional Authorities

These are constituted authorities in the traditional setting that provide leadership in the traditional societies.


This refers to the act of or system of political leadership.

Chapter Five

Summary of Findings, Recommendation and Conclusion

5.1 Findings

Following the collection and analysis of data, some pertinent findings were registered. First, it was found out that traditional authorities played some good roles in governance in Nigeria. They were found to play roles within their domain. Such roles essentially included maintenance of law and order, consultative and advisory roles, grassroots mobilization and legislative roles. Such roles necessarily complimented the roles of constituted authorities. And indeed helped to make governance easier and more purposeful at the rural level.

Also, it was found out that traditional authorities were not only recognized but had a place in governance in Nigeria. It was for instance found that: they were recognized and treated as true representative of their people, and true repositories of authorities among their people. For these reasons, they were integrated into the political scheme of things within the country. They were therefore very relevant in governance, and found to have been used on large scale in grassroots mobilization for social, political and economic development and order. However, the extent these had happened were not quite clear. Much depended on the prevailing government and the constituted authorities in power.

In addition, traditional authorities were found to be performing their roles and functions very well and satisfactorily especially in the area of grassroots mobilization in Nigeria. Such mobilizations were found to ensure political, social and economic development which in inturn enhance national growth and development.

Moreso, traditional authorities were found to play some fundamental roles in the settlement of intra and inter-community feuds. Together with their cabinet members, they settled disputes among villagers and imposed sanctions on erring and unrepentant offenders. They also engaged in the settlement of intercommunity feuds.

Other roles included receiving of complaints and invitation of parties concerned for settlement.

It was however found out that chieftaincy feuds and tussles existed in Igbo-land. They results show such occurred at a moderate extent.

For one reason or the other, government interfered in the activities and functions of traditional authorities. But such interferences were found to occur to a small extent. Such interference were found to have varied from time to time and from place to place, and often depended on the practices and policies of the government in power.

5.2 Recommendation

Based on the above findings, the following recommendations became necessary and relevant. First, in view of the salient roles traditional authorities have played on the governance of the people in the past especially during the pre-independence colonial era, it may become essential to argue that traditional authorities have some fine contributions to make in the governance of the people. They are in most cases the true representative of their people and true repositories of authorities within their locality. These roles have been acknowledged directly and indirectly by various governments of the past. During crisis and political impasses, they were not only consulted but were always called upon to prevail on their people. This manifested most during the Babangida administration. If we therefore acknowledge this fact and if the government should always exhibit the wisdom of consulting and making use of traditional authorities in times of crisis, they should also exhibit the wisdom of making them integral part of government especially at the local government level. This in the researchers opinion, will help usher in a new era and bring their wealth of experience and knowledge of the people to bear on governance.

Also experiences and the findings in this study have collectively demonstrated that except in very few and isolated cases, traditional authorities have performed their roles and functions very well and satisfactorily. Why they should still be excluded in the political scheme of things in some states of the federation is surprising.

The 1999 Nigeria constitutions was unwittingly silent on the traditional authorities and what should constitute their roles, duties and functions in the present democratic dispensation, worse still, the local government system was not even explicit and specific on the system to be adopted and whether the local government councils can do anything about traditional authorities and their roles. The consequences are wide variations in the polities and practices of many local government councils. This is quite an unfortunate situation. What this means is that in most cases and to a greater extent traditional authorities were rendered redundant and their wealth of experience left to lie fallow. This situation in the researchers opinion should be reversed. The constitution should as a matter of urgency be reviewed to include the roles and duties of traditional authorities. These should be made very specific. In the researchers opinion the constitutional review will help ensure political and social order in the rural communities.

The current wave of pronouncement by the various state governments and some federal officials on the security of installations (especially NEPA installations) appear quite surprising and embarrassing. In all cases, they indicated that traditional rulers were to be held responsible for any vandalized installations within their domain. By these utterances, they were unwittingly giving traditional authorities some security responsibilities. If this must be so, they should be provided with the logisties. Infact they should be integrated more into the political scheme of things. In so doing the government can then make their duties and responsibilities explicit. It is only then that any genuine effort or move to hold traditional authorities responsible for any vandalized installations within their domain becomes reasonable.

More importantly, government should ensure strict control and proper scrutiny of any person or persons desiring to become traditional rulers to ensure that only people of proven integrity would become traditional rulers. The idea of fraudsters hitherto called “419s” aspiring to become traditional rulers should be over-ruled by the government. This way chieftaincy feuds and tussles will be reduced to the barest minimum.

5.3 Conclusion

The relevance of traditional authorities in the government the world over have been acclaimed. Even in the most civilized societies and most developed civilization such as England, traditional authorities have a place in governance. In Nigeria, they formed the nucleus of government in the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial era. Today the relevance and importance of traditional authorities in governance appear to have diminished. This calls for an urgent rethinking. This study is in response to this. Yet much more is still desirable. The researcher wishes to call on researchers especially in the area of Business Administration and Management to collectively engage in further studies that will aim at appraising the status quo.

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