The Role Of Traditional Leaders In Community Development


There has been change in the role of traditional rulers in Nigeria as it applies to community development, since the introduction of local government reforms of 1976 in the said reforms, leadership roles were clearly expressed, which states that it is not the intention of government to destroy the organic unity of the traditional institutions. The traditional emirate and chiefdom will remain, although their functions will be changed to accord with the present day circumstances.
Although the paramount of chiefs was undone by colonial rule, traditional rulers have served as important adjuncts in the administration of post-colonial government in both Nigeria and Africa (William F.S. Miles, 2007).
This in effect streamlined the procedure for the selection, recognition and roles of traditional rulers, therefore, formed the constitutional framework for traditional democracy, by a community selection of an acceptable ruler.
There were the warrant chiefs during the indirect rule system, and the then colonial government recognized local chiefs, who performed as native court judges. The first class chiefs were recognized in the middle belt of Nigeria during the colonial era. All these sets of traditional rulers contributed in no small measure, to the upliftment of community development (ojo, 1976).
The role of traditional rulers has been undergoing change as the democratic dispensation within the country develops. It has therefore become necessary that they redefine their role as heads of their polities within the framework of developmental efforts by the central government and its adjuncts; as well as, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (Wilhelmina. J. Donkoh, 2002: 105-114).
Traditional rulers in Guma remain for a variety of reasons, important to the design and implementation of development projects within his area of jurisdiction. Their core functions include mobilization of their communities for developmental purposes. This includes the provision of infrastructure for enhanced standard of living within the community. Sometimes, traditional rulers initiate development projects and secure the support of both internal and external development agents for the execution of these projects (Wilhelmina. J. Donkoh, 2002:105-114).
Traditional rulers work in conjunction with their subjects and therefore carry the whole community along to accomplish development projects that will be of benefit to the entire community. Thus, this study is aimed at finding out the role of traditional rulers in Guma local government area of Benue State.

On this literature review I focuses on discussing the role of traditional rulers in community development. The my research intends to examine views and opinions of people and writers based on the role of traditional rulers in community development which will be used for sociological analysis.
Attention would be focused on the role of traditional institution from the pre-colonial era up to the present democratic political system of government.
Before the advent of the Europeans, societies in Africa had evolved various system of political administrations based on the peculiarities of these ethnic nationalities. These institutions had full executive, legislative and judicial powers in their different domains and exerted sovereign control over their people.
According to Oloko (1976), the traditional ruler under the Benin kingdom was at the head of a well organized system of government. As the sole authority he was the legislature, executive and the judiciary. Traditional institution during the pre-colonial era was quite clear, since law and order were maintained through a normative system that was part of the general social structure though the system was not sophisticated, the machinery of government was organized enough to manage affairs, resolve tension and administered justice in the society. Also, the institution was controlled by certain unwritten laws which ensure the security of the institution. This implies that, traditional rulers had positive impact on the evolution of political, economic and social institutions in which they had dominant control.
According to Igwe Stephen Ngene Ede-Njoku , the political institutions of the pre-colonial societies included the paramount chiefs, the council of elders, age grade and religious organizations. The Ibos at the pre-colonial period did not have a single political authority; even though they were a contingent. Since the Ibos shunned the idea of having a single leader at that time, they operated a lineage system as a basis for political organization.
This political system was fashioned in such a way that a man could only lead members of his lineage hence, there were many influential and powerful men, their influence was limited to hamlet, clan and village and at most the area in which they lived.
In every village, hamlet or clan, there was always a village head who emerged by virtue of age and who in collaboration of other elders settled disputes in that particular village. If the disputes involved another village the elders, led by the eldest from both village came together and resolved the disputes, especially those bothering on elopement and land, which was common at that time.
In the colonial era, the British system of colonial administration employed the system of indirect rule. Indirect rule was a British system of ruling her colonies with the use of local chiefs or other approved intermediaries and traditional laws and customs with British officials merely supervising the administration. Indirect rule used the existing traditional system of administration and it recognized the status of traditional rulers who served as the priest of indirect rule (Barr. Abdullahi,2007).
The advent of colonial rule ushered in a transformation in the role of traditional rulers. This change was necessitated by the desire to realize the objectives of colonialism, which where to exploit the natural resources of Nigeria to meet the industrial needs of the capitalist metro poles. Traditional rulers were therefore used to serve these objectives.
According to Aidelokhai (2008), traditional rulers before the advent of colonial rule in Nigeria were the political, cultural, economic and social administrators and lords of their various domains. The status of traditional rulers changed with the advent of colonial rule as the colonialist who imposed their power on traditional rulers usurped their sovereign authority. This development was meant to enable the colonialist perfect their exploitation through the use of traditional rulers.
Crowder (1978) asserts that chieftaincy institution were maintained and used by the colonialist for colonial interest. The indirect rule in Northern Nigeria attests to this phenomenon. Arguing further, Crowder believes that whether they had fulfilled the entire traditional pre-requisite for assumption of office, which would have allowed them rule in pre-colonial days, their right to rule depended on the colonial authorities.
Afigbo (1972) asserts that the British instituted Native Courts and installed chiefs by warrant that controlled them. This was because the British believed that African people had to be governed by chiefs, therefore maintaining the organic unity of the Nigerian society. In effect many warrant chiefs solely constituted colonially backed usurpers of power and had little legitimacy beyond the fact of being installed by colonial state. Nevertheless, they had power and used it for their own gain. Their main source of power was the control of Native Courts and labors for example; for colonial road and water way construction (Ofonrgoro, 1982). Enugu warrant chief Onyeama was described as an “African god” by his grandson (Onyeama, 1982). He controlled the flows of labor to the emerging coal mining industry and established himself as a powerful ruler combining wealth, terror and magical power over his people.
In spite of the subordination to the British overloads, it could be argued that, the powers of traditional rulers were not eroded. Rather, the positions of rulers were strengthened. The Emir for example exercised stronger participatory roles in administration. This was because more powers of coercion were accorded to the Native Courts and the British treated Emirs with caution. The rulers also exercised executive powers as sole Native Authorities which determined the pace and direction of local administration subject to British guidance and needs.
The above description of the role of traditional rulers in Nigeria during the colonial period shows that, change occurred and traditional rulers assumed a new status. They were co-opted to perform roles that were completely opposed to the wishes and aspiration of the colonized societies.
The role and status of traditional rulers in post independent Nigeria varied though with different administrations, they could be said to have remained agents for the perpetuation of our neo-colonial status, thereby upsetting the ongoing process of development in the country.
Nwankwo (1992) stated that chiefs are custodians of the land and they held the land in trust for the people. They served as a link between that rural people and the government. They assist the government in political education and socialization of the rural people. They acted as the custodians of the traditional religion, arts and culture of the people. The explained the customs and tried to preserve. it.
In view of the political administration, traditional rulers have been given limited authority to settle minor disputes. In this regard also Axel (1998) asserts that traditional rulers try to make peace within the community and with neighboring communities. To Axel traditional rulers act as instrument of state control at the local level.
Oloko (1976) maintained that the traditional rulers were responsible for nation building task such as the maintenance of the main road linking their areas, the supply of man-power for the kingdom’s army, the up keep of the royal capital and collection of taxes and tributes due at various times. In the socio-cultural aspect he continued that in their role as the patrons of the creative and expressive arts of their people, traditional rulers took active steps to encourage the work of talented African carvers, sculptors, potters and so on.
Nwankwo (1992) identifies some relevant roles played by traditional rulers in Nigeria during pre-colonial, colonial and even modern times. He states that traditional rulers perform amongst others the role of making or contributing to law making and judgment, adjudication in disputes in their communities. They also maintain peace, order and security.

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A quick glance at my dictionary showed that “traditional” meant something done or respected according to custom from generation to generation. While “ruler” meant a person or something with power or influence over others or over certain things. It also meant a person with power to govern or with over other people or things. This definition would cover a very wide spectrum of things and situations but the subject coming at the time of the Constitution making exercise, I guessed it would be prudent to approach it from the political , social, and cultural angle.
My subject focuses on modern time traditional rulers which is now a few years away, beginning a new millennium. I am also required to address myself almost entirely on the Uganda situation. When we talk about the modern time traditional rulers which is not yet with us, and to propound ideas and views on the future performance of existing institutions, we are inevitably compelled to review the performances and relevance, or lack of it, of such institutions in the present century, for, as we have seen, tradition moves from generation to generation. I therefore believe that for the role of traditional rulers in the modern time traditional rulers to be portrayed
In view of the above, the modernization helps the traditional rulers to introduce new ideas for community development such as being democratic in their decision making giving room for the people to participate in the community affairs.
Traditional rulers of modern times perform vital roles in their domain like embarking on awareness campaign or the sensitization of their community populace on HIV/AIDS epidemic, the construction of classroom blocks and providing learning materials in school to help develop education system, provision of medical facilities and the building of the community health centre.
The strength of modernization theory is argued on the basis that, the sociological imagination is more important than controlling the risk found in contemporary societies; and fulfills the potential for improving people lives. Despite its strength the modernization theory has its weakness. It lacks a theory of culture. In reality there are difference in culture between a varieties of groups in modern societies, significantly, it also affect how people experience social life and behavior.
According to Parson (1964) for any social system which the community is part to survive, there are three basic functional pre-requisites: Adaptation, Goal attainment, Integration. These can be seen as problems that communities must solve if they are to survive and progress.
Adaptation: This refers to the relationship between the traditional rulers and their communities. In order to survive, traditional institution must have some degree of control over the community.
Goal Attainment: This refers to the need for all communities to set goals towards which socio-economic activities are directed procedures for establishing goals and deciding on priorities between goals are institutionalized.
Integration: This has to do with primary adjustment of conflict in the community. It is concerned with the co-ordination and mutual adjustment of the community members. Legal norms define and standardize relations between individual and institutions and so reduce the potential for conflict. But when conflict does arise, it is settled by the traditional rulers and does not lead to the disintegration of the community and its development in general.
Using the three functional perspective, traditional rulers are part of the society who have some functions to perform and contribute to the maintenance of the society (i.e their communities) such function include the contribution of their quota in the maintenance of the internal peace and security in their domain which is the only way development can take place in the community. They help in revenue generation and community tax assessment, determination of religious matters and settlement of conflict arising there of; they also contribute in community development efforts of their respective communities like building of health centre, town halls, market shop, post office, electricity, construction of road networks, bridges and culverts e.t.c
The functionalist perspective has to be subjected to considerable criticism. Critics argued that the type of explanation states that the parts of the system exist because of their beneficial consequences for the system as a whole. The main objection to this type of reasoning is that it treats an effect as a cause. Therefore the assertion that traditional rulers embark on development projects in their domain is an attestation of consensus value and institution is a misplace one.
Finally, despite the widespread criticism, it should not be rejected out of hand, the assumption that society should be seen as an integral whole, that its part are interdependent, that social institution exist and the social structure directs human behavior.
However, these approach to community development are considered relevant in evaluating the role of traditional rulers in Guma local government area. In other word, it present traditional rulers as a structure within a given system which has functions to perform in the transformation and development process within local government environment as well as in a large society.
In conclusion, for the purpose of this research work, one has taken side with the functionalist perspective. This is because it throws more light in understanding the function perform by traditional rulers, not only in performing their core functions of maintaining peace and order, settling of land dispute e.t.c but also initiating and executing projects that will develop or transform their communities to be like the develop western societies.


The word “Traditional Ruler” entails the reign of a monarchy or a titled ruler vested with the authority to rule over a people in their affairs of life. Therefore, traditional institutions are headed by traditional rulers and these institutions are very vital in bring development closer to the rural people as well as Guma. This section basically examines the nature of project(s) executed in Guma local government.
From the study, it is found that traditional rulers have succeeded in boosting community development through the provision of boreholes, rural roads, formation of co-operative societies, setting up of markets, construction of culverts, construction of earth dams, mobilizing people for health programmes and resolving disputes within their domains.
It was discovered that poor road network, illiteracy and financial constraints were obstacles to community development. This scenario presented lack of access to long distance communities with non-passable roads, lack of understanding of projects initiated due to illiteracy as a result of low participation of community members in most projects initiated by traditional rulers.
This study is aimed at finding out the role and prospects of traditional rulers in community development with specific emphasis on my village wish my grand father is the Traditional in Ogbeke Abgani, Nkanu-West Local Government Area in Enugu state. This study revealed precisely that traditional rulers are the major agents in transforming the attitude of the rural people provided they are answerable to a titled ruler vested with the authority of governing the affairs of the people.
Based on the findings, the researcher has come to conclusion that traditional rulers have made a positive impact in community development to a degree.
The following recommendations are hereby offered for better performance of traditional rulers in community development in future.
a) Traditional rulers have to adopt the spirit of yearly dialogue amongst the subjects. The outcome of the yearly dialogue will create necessary relationship towards community development programmes.
b) Wealthy individuals from in the community can support the traditional institution to enable traditional rulers embark on huge projects.
c) The entire population or community should be sensitized to respond to self-help development projects of the community.
d) The resources realized for community development projects both money and materials should be utilized in such a way that the people will gain from them.
e) The spirit of honesty, transparency and accountability should be the watch word of any traditional ruler.

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