monarchs

Monarchs Without Use 

There is hardly anyone who has no idea of the word monarch, given how long it has been in the existence of man and society, and how ubiquitous it is. Irrespective of language, culture, geography, or any other consideration, people – everywhere in the world – have one thing that is common in their histories, the rule of a monarch. At the beginning of the evolution of organized society, the need for a governing authority was recognized by all to be crucial to the continued existence of the society. In order for the governing authority to also function as well as it should, there has always been the need for that governing authority – irrespective of its size – to have a leader, who acts as the driver of that governing authority’s vehicle. Historically, that driver was the Monarch. 

So, there was a purpose (use) for the monarch in the organized society. To emphasize this use, the Oxford languages dictionary defined a monarch as “a sovereign Head of State, especially a king, queen, or emperor”. However, due to the dynamic nature of people and societies, governance systems continue to change, and the monarch’s role (use), in most places in the world, has been relegated to ceremonial. In other words, today’s monarchs now have little/no direct say in the governance of their respective domains. Even in places like the United Kingdom, whose monarchy has been the most recognized for decades, and where the head of government (the Prime Minister) is made to appear as being in the office at the mercy of the monarch, all the monarch does is to move with the times. 

As long as a Prime Minister enjoys the favour of the people and his/her colleagues in the parliament, the monarch also plays along. The limited influence of the monarch was recently highlighted when the now-outgoing Prime Minister Liz Truss assumed office following the resignation of her predecessor, Boris Johnson. A major feature of the monarch is its succession process, which is largely determined by birth into the “Royal” family, an idea many people have found to be unjust and against the fundamental human rights of other members of the society who are not of the “Royal” family. One such person is Liz Truss. As a young woman on the liberal side of the political fence, Truss was vocal about her disdain for the idea of the monarchy. Calling for the abolition of same, Truss said, “But only one family can provide the head of state. We, liberal democrats, believe in opportunity for all. … We do not believe that people should be born to rule.” 

That was many years before she became Prime Minister. And between then and September 2022 when she assumed office as PM, she had moved from being a liberal democrat to the Conservative Party, and supposedly from being anti-monarchy to accepting the norm. Ironically, her reign as PM had to be confirmed by the monarch. Truss is not alone in being anti-monarchy, she’s only the one – among such anti-monarchists – who has reached the highest level of prominence. One of the main arguments of contemporary anti-monarchists is the little/no use of today’s monarchs in society, especially in its governance. According to the Oxford languages dictionary, “Use” means “the value or advantage of something”. As societies and governance are today, the little/no use of monarchs cannot be overemphasized. 

British Monarchs 1714- 1935

Now, like in other spheres of life, Africa (and especially Nigeria) continues to maintain a sorry record for monarchs. Today, the closest usefulness of the monarchy is in the supposed upholding of a people’s culture and history. That’s still quite true in advanced societies. In Africa, however, monarchs can largely be said to be upholding their people’s culture and history only on paper. This is increasingly being proven by the monarchs Africa, especially Nigeria, has today. Kings and queens are historically respected, admired, and honoured, even in Nigeria. But they were not just being gifted the honour, they largely earned it through conscious responsible efforts that positively impacted their people’s lives. Today, this is no longer true of a significant percentage of our monarchs, many of whom now carry themselves in ways that are far from royal and honourable. 

There is a stool in southwestern Nigeria, which used to command a great deal of respect. The occupier of the stool used to be held in high esteem, even among his peers. And together with his peer in Oyo, the occupier of that stool is seen as the first among his equals. Even with his own shortcomings, the immediate past occupier of that stool commanded respect in the southwest and across the length and breadth of Nigeria. Unfortunately for the stool, his successor has turned that office to, largely, that of a clown, and has become the subject of jest among observers, following his continuous display of delinquency with women. One of the ways the Oxford languages dictionary defines delinquency is “neglect of one’s duty”. 

Left with little or nothing tangible to do, monarchs these days are said to be custodians of culture. But our monarch here finds even that too much of a task. Lately, and after being dumped by a succession of wives, this monarch has embarked upon a mission to acquire as many wives as possible, and spectators are helping him to count, mockingly urging him on. If you didn’t know, you might think tending to women is this king’s sole duty and purpose for being on that stool. But he is not alone in his many acts that are the opposite of how a king should carry himself. Respected columnist Festus Adedayo, in a recent piece on the “unroyal” manners of contemporary Nigerian monarchs, lamented how the royal stool is being desecrated these days. The main subject of his concern for the royal stool is the monarch of Iwo town in Osun state of Nigeria’s southwestern region. 

“…. Tunde Odesola had interviewed respected former Vice Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Prof. Wande Abimbola who is also the Awise Awo Agbaye. Abimbola was installed in 1981 by the late Ooni of Ife, on the recommendation of a conclave of Babalawos of Yorubaland. The Awise had no kind words for the Oluwo [the Iwo town monarch] and traditional rulers who he felt were desecrating their stools with their Stone-like vituperations against the culture and tradition of their people. ‘Oluwo and his co-travelers had no business being on the stool, the Awise thundered'”, Adedayo wrote in his explanation of his concern over Nigeria’s royal stools and their unroyal occupiers. He was referencing the comments of another culture enthusiast who had nothing but disdain for the Iwo monarch and others like him. 

The Iwo monarch was said to have attracted that missile because of negative comments he’s said to have made about Yoruba gods and deities. Deities and gods are significant parts of a people’s culture, especially in this part of the world. Even the Iwo monarch, during his coronation, must have sworn to uphold Iwo town’s culture, a significant part of which are its gods and deities. Now, he is said to have realized he is Muslim and no longer sees the relevance of Iwo town’s gods and deities. For this display of disregard for those gods, the professor quoted in Festus Adedayo’s piece, and other culture enthusiasts like him were enraged. “[Professor] Abimbola was not done. Flotsam and jetsam, as well as riffraff, were now occupying the exalted stool of royal fathers in Yorubaland and this is because climbing those stools has become ten a dime”, Adedayo’s piece read. A reference to how cheap becoming a king has become.

 The reason for writing this piece was the horrible sight of the immediate environment of the Olubadan of Ibadan, the capital of Oyo state. When the Olubadan, Senator Lekan Balogun, was crowned in March 2022, one can only imagine the thoughts of the residents of the “Alarere” area of Ibadan, where the king’s abode is. It would not be too much if they imagined that something good would come to their neighborhood after the coronation, especially basic infrastructure like motorable roads. If they had any thoughts like that, one can only imagine how disappointed they must be now, seven months after having the Olubadan in their midst. There are simply no words to describe the disgraceful state of the roads that lead in and out of the Alarere area, no words. Literally, and shamefully, the Olubadan’s abode in that part of the city has brought no good to the residents of that area. 

If a king cannot attract something as basic as a road to his immediate environment, what good can come from such a king’s Nazareth? The residents of Alarere have certainly moved past their disappointment, like Nigerians normally do, in the hands of rulers who have no idea of what it means to be leaders. Olubadan’s case again highlights the many failures of the state governor, whose primary interest is in cheap, deceitful propaganda aimed at creating a beautiful image for himself, even when his administration has been less than impressive. It was just difficult to comprehend how a government would neglect such a critical part of its domain like that. Despite their little/no use, these monarchs are still critical parts of society, at least on paper. So it is shameful that governor Seyi Makinde’s government would leave Olubadan’s street (and its surroundings) in the horrible state it currently is. 

This also highlights the need for actual local government autonomy in Nigeria. The Olubadan’s street and surroundings are under the local government’s jurisdiction of projects, but what can local governments do when abusive state governors treat them as recipients of their benevolence? Nigerians talk about restructuring and how it is unhealthy that the federal government controls the major part of resource allocation in the country. Governors have been vocal about this too. But a critical look at issues would show that these little tyrants are as guilty as the federal government they like to blame for the ills in the country. While watching as violent non-state actors kill and commit all sorts of crimes in their states, governors excuse their irresponsibility by claiming that security agencies are under the control of the federal government. But they never talk about the hundreds of millions (even billions, like the case of Oyo’s Seyi Makinde) naira they receive monthly as a security vote. 

To these governors, the idea of restructuring is simply about cutting from the national cake the federal government enjoys and giving the cut portion to state governors. To them, the local governments have no need for the potential benefits of restructuring. But that’s not the reason for this piece, so we’d leave that for another day. Our monarchs, like our politicians, have redefined the meaning and essence of being leaders – from serving the people and advancing society to enriching themselves. They are literally in it for their pockets, and they no longer hide their indifference to the plight of the people they are supposed to be serving. “Many of the traditional rulers in Yorubaland today are on the stools for the material things they are able to extract from them – selling traditional lands, using the office to attract personal favours to themselves”, Festus Adedayo wrote. 

On how these monarchs have abandoned their duty, and the people’s reaction, Adedayo said, “Today, Yoruba traditional rulers are almost irrelevant in the lives of their people. It is said that they know the number of pending contracts in Government Houses than the aspirations and vision of their people. The people too have abandoned them, conscripting them into remembrance only as antiquated pieces”. But while antiquated pieces are admired and cherished, especially in advanced societies, Nigerians have nothing to admire in their nonchalant leaders and unroyal monarchs. To reverse this continuous loss of honour and respect, Adedayo admonished Nigeria’s monarchs to wake up to their duty and stop making their stools circuses. Dr. Festus Adedayo wrote, “For traditional rulers to retain the respect and adoration of their people like natural rulers of old, they have to be abreast of the people’s culture and tradition. They should not be rulers who will scamper after material things and make confetti public show of changing wives like a chameleon changes colour”.

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