Many states in Nigeria pride themselves on their respect for traditional ruling institutions in the country. Traditional ruling institutions are an important part of our national history and an intricate part of life in 21st century West Africa. Governments, far and wide, have conceded to the influence poised by the countries’ traditional rulers, and traditional ruling institutions are protected by their constituent state governments.
For the last few months, Lagos State high society has been eagerly following the news of the tussle to be the new Oba (King) of the Oniru kingship. The death of His Royal Highness, the late Oba Idowu Abiodun Oniru, who was the last Oba of the Oniru Iruland kingship, created a large vacancy that needed swift filling.
The Iru kingdom, like many other Yoruba monarchies, is controlled by 3 ruling houses, as proclaimed by the Chieftaincy Committee in the Declaration made under the Customary Law Regulation Selection to the Oniru Chieftaincy of Lagos, on the 14th September 1993 and approved by the then Executive Governor of Lagos State, Sir Michael Agbolade Otedola.
On the 7th June 2020 the current governor of Lagos State, His Excellency Babajide Sanwo-Olu, confirmed and presented the Staff of Office to Oba Abdul-Wasiu Omogbolahan Lawal, Abisogun II, thus crowning him the 15th Oniru of Iru Kingdom and marking a new era of Lagos State traditional rulership. If you are conversant with the location of the Iru Kingdom to the Lagos State Central Business District, you will understand the attraction of this monumental title.
As a Benin woman raised under the British monarchy, where succession is based on direct lineage, the idea of ruling houses is completely foreign to me and so I decided to shed more light on the Obas and Chiefs Laws of Lagos State, 1981.
What are the Obas and Chiefs’ Laws of Lagos State?
As the title implies, the Obas and Chiefs Laws of Lagos State, enacted in 1981, is a law that regulates the selection, appointment, and recognition of Obas and Chiefs in Lagos State, as well as governing other issues connected to same.
The Chieftaincy Committee
The Obas and Chiefs Laws of Lagos State provides that there will be a Chieftaincy Committee in every competent council area. Each Chieftaincy Committee shall be a sub-committee of the Lagos State Council of Obas and Chiefs and shall be composed of a Chairman, as well as other recognized chiefs within each indigenous community.
The Chieftaincy Committee, constituted by the Commissioner of the Lagos State Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, must consist of no less than 3 persons and will usually make a declaration confirming the applicable customary laws that regulate the selection of a person to be an Oba or the holder of a recognized chieftaincy title within their council area.
As seen with the Iru Kingdom, where there are several ruling houses, the declaration proclaimed by the Chieftaincy Committee will specifically identify the number and the identities of each of the ruling houses, as well as the order of rotation in which the respective ruling houses are entitled to provide candidates to fill successive vacancies. The deceleration will further identify the number and identity of potential ‘kingmakers’, as well as the method of nomination by each ruling house.
Any ambiguities in previous declarations, with regard to the nomination and final selection, will be referred to the Chieftaincy Committee for final settlement.
Upon a declaration being made by the Chieftaincy Committee, such deceleration must be transmitted to the Lagos State council of Oba’s and Chiefs, who may also make additional comments before presenting the declaration for consideration by the Commissioner.
The Lagos State Council of Obas and Chiefs
The primary function of the Lagos State Council of Obas and Chiefs is to communicate to the Commissioner any declaration made by the constituent Chieftaincy Committees, as well as further comments from other council members.
Said declaration must be compliant with voting quota requirements and must sufficiently state the customary laws relating to the matter to which the declaration has been made.
Where this is not satisfied, the Commissioner may direct that an amendment be made to a declaration or a new declaration lodged by the Chieftaincy Committee.
The Governor’s Involvement
Once the Commissioner of the Lagos State Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs has successfully approved any declaration, said declaration shall be passed to the governor of Lagos State for confirmation.
The governor may either approve or refuse to approve any declaration made by the Chieftaincy Committee. The governor may also direct that an inquiry be made in any manner he deems fit as to the validity of such declaration. Furthermore, the governor may direct that the Chieftaincy Committee amend the declaration in any aspect that the governor may specify.
Where the Chieftaincy Committee fails or refuses to make a required declaration within a 6-month period, or if a directed amendment is not effected within a 1-month period, the governor may make a declaration in respect of the matter that ought to have been settled by the Chieftaincy Committee. Suffice to say, where the governor of the state has made a declaration, said the declaration will be final and will void all other declarations that might have been previously made.
Can the courts of law set aside a declaration?
By virtue of several Supreme Court cases, the following points were established:
- The Obas and Chiefs Law of Lagos State is a validly enacted Lagos state law and is not in contravention with the Nigerian Constitution.
- The Chieftaincy Committee declarations were introduced to avoid uncertainty and are an embodiment of a legally binding statement, specifying the customary laws of a particular area and setting out the method of nomination and selection of a candidate to fill any vacancy.
- Where a law is validly enacted, but wrongly executed, the validity of the law will not cure the wrongful execution. Thus any decision coming from the wrongful execution will be declared null and void.
- Where all legal requirements for the creation of a declaration under the Obas and Chiefs of Lagos State have been met and there has not been any wrongful execution of a rightfully enacted law, decisions premised on that law will be binding and upheld by the courts.
I must stress, as with all matters where the governor may veto a decision or direct for an amendment of same, the governor’s intervention will be only used where the matter is urgent or where it is clearly evident that some kind of illegality is being conducted. In most instances, Chieftaincy Committees will be left to personally determine their own matters.
However, if aggressive tactics are played at the Chieftaincy Committee level to mould the outcome of the Chieftaincy Committee decision, this would be a topic for a completely different article.
I hope you have a better understanding of the selection process for Obas and Chiefs in Lagos state. I can’t help but wonder where the notion of ruling houses came from and why it is not applicable across the whole country.