14 November 2012

Nigeria: Traditional Rulers Against Tradition


There is growing conflict between culture and religion in the southwestern part of the country. In the Yoruba traditional society, the Oba is the focus of both religious and political life. He participates in an incredible number of elaborate rituals. But, in modern times, the role has become transient.

For most traditional rulers, it is one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immovable. Traditional beliefs and practices exist side by side Islam and Christianity. Some people in Yoruba-land combine Islam or Christianity with their traditional beliefs and practices. This explains the conundrum of whether a traditional ruler could combine his religious belief with his expected role as the custodian of his people's culture and tradition.

This conflict of the idea and the ideal came tellingly last Monday when youths in Ogbagi, a town in Akoko North-West local government area, came under intense fire for shunning traditional practices, including the worship of some traditional gods or appeasing their spirits as divined by "forebears". As the story goes, rather than declaring and participating in the annual Ogun festival, the Oba built a church and convened, every Sunday, the Holy Ghost service. "Our king has not been respecting our traditions. He has refused to join the Awo cult. He has refused to marry another wife after he became the king; and he has consistently refused to approve the celebration of some traditional festivities," said his subject.

Such a contradictory posture poses danger to the survival of the traditional institution. On the other hand, one should not be compelled to jettison his freedom of religion and worship in the name of tradition or the office one holds. It is more so because of the rising number of Pentecostal pastors in royal palaces across the geopolitical zones and the tension created by traditional practices considered fetish.

While royal fathers are custodians of culture and tradition, the beliefs they profess may negate some of the requirements of their exalted office. There is therefore a need to resolve this conundrum. But for the prompt intervention of other traditional rulers in the state and the respect the people who had vandalised the residence and property of the Ogbagi monarch said they had for Oba Okunade Sijuade, the Ooni of Ife, regarded as the symbol of the progenitor of the Yoruba race, a needless war of attrition between traditional believers and Christians would have broken out in the area once respected for its religious tolerance and high level of education.

While we believe that freedom of religion is sacrosanct and deplore the youths' resort to violence, we would appreciate a situation where those who abhor some of the traditional practices harmful to their religion refuse to seek traditional titles where rites are an inextricable doctrine. It would be preposterous to seek an abrogation of the traditional institutions, but the rules of engagement must be articulated. He who cannot withstand smoke does not enter the kitchen.

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