Public Commentary

International Youth Day: Bridging the Gap of Suspicions Between Persons with Disabilities and Persons without Disabilities for an Inclusive Global Action Plan

By Bizibrains Okpeh

Several years ago, I was deathly afraid of posting my pictures on social media. I was photophobic (I still am) and suffered greatly from picture-phobia (a trait that I am still struggling with). In fact, I hated a reflection of myself and couldn’t bear to see me in a mirror. Then, sometime in 2010, after several struggles, I posted a picture of my big eyes on Facebook for the first time. But I deleted it even faster than I posted it because the very first comment the picture received was a great exclamation that thundered several miles into my very existence and exponentially multiplied my fears of the wider world.

I became even more afraid of the world that was afraid of me. So much so that it took me almost ten years later to post a similar picture on my Facebook wall. But this time, I found my voice, no my fingers. I was ready to defend myself. In fact, I did block this guy who threatened to block me, if I don’t pull down the picture. I couldn’t believe what gave him the temerity. Can you? I mean, what the hell!

But why was I afraid of myself? Why was/is the world afraid of me? There is only one answer. We tend to be suspicious and afraid of what we don’t understand. And it is in this context that most people without disabilities see people with disabilities. In my case, some even see my condition as contagious. This lack of understanding of one another and the unwillingness to engage and communicate with one another in order to understand is perhaps the single most important contributor to an increasingly unequal and non-inclusive world.

Therefore, let me take this time to briefly engage you on proptosis or exophthalmos or big eyes. Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defines exophthalmos as an “abnormal protrusion of the eyeballs; also labeled as proptosis.” It can be unilateral, that is affecting only one eye, or bilateral, that is affecting both eyes, as is the case with me. In adults, the most common cause of both unilateral and bilateral proptosis is thyroid ophthalmopathy related to Graves’ disease, whereas the most common cause of unilateral proptosis in children is orbital cellulitis.

The symptoms include red eye, ocular pain or discomfort, foreign body sensation, excessive tearing, binocular diplopia, dyschromatopsia, and decreased visual acuity (Blake Fortes). It is a medical condition that may be congenital (as in my case) with a lot of negative side effects.

However, it is NOT contagious or infectious (you do not contract it by associating with someone who has it). In fact, in my family, including my extended family, ancestors, and generations as far back as my mother could remember, I am the only one that has big eyes. It is treatable, especially in infancy, with decompression and/or complex decompression surgery (in adults).

As we mark the International Youth Day today, we are yet reminded that persons with disabilities can be understood and engaged in the scheme of global affairs. I, therefore, call on you to take positive action today. Reach out to persons with disabilities, understand their disabilities, then you would realise that they have so much more to offer for a more progressive world. We are one and the earth belongs to us. Let’s make it equal. Let’s make it inclusive. My name is Bizibrains. And I have big eyes.

Public Commentary

Persons with Disabilities and Health Emergencies: Lessons from the Ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic

By Bizibrains Okpeh


According to Etieyibo and Omiegbe, Nigeria has an estimated population of about 185 million out of which about 27 million (15%) are persons with disabilities. It cannot be overemphasised that one of the most vulnerable demographics in many emergencies, including health emergency, are persons living with disabilities.

This is because, quite apart from the fact that this group of people, especially those who find it difficult to move by themselves without care givers, ordinarily bear much collateral costs relating to their disabilities, their relative poverty makes it all the more difficult to access proper health care during periods of panics which usually accompany any emergencies, like the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.

What is a Public Health Emergency or Pandemic?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) a public health emergency, particularly a pandemic, is “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.”

This is more so, where the event or disease is “serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected,” and “carries implications for public health beyond the affected state’s national border.” In this light, therefore, Covid-19 which began in Wuhan, China, was declared a pandemic by WHO on the 30th day of January 2020. And since then, nations of the world, including Nigeria, have never remained the same.

The Nigerian Situation

In the case of Nigeria, the Covid-19 pandemic has defiled the swift response witnessed by the country in the wake of the Ebola outbreak, where only one life was lost as the spread of the disease was quickly nipped in the bud. This is largely due to the fact that Covid-19 is a novel virus. Thus, according to the NCDC, as of 25 June 2020, 542 Nigerians have been lost to the disease and an aggregate of 22,020 cases have been confirmed with 13,865 Nigerians still habouring the virus.

Nature of Covid-19

Although many symptoms have been identified to accompany the virus, fever and shortness of breath seem to be the most serious symptoms. And it is contracted primarily by having contact with droplets of infected persons or objects. What more, symptomatic persons can definitely pass the virus to others and asymptomatic persons may also do so.

While everyone is at risk of contracting the virus, those with underlying chronic conditions, such as heart diseases, diabetes, etc. are much more predisposed to the harmful effects of the virus, especially death. Nevertheless, Covid-19 is preventable through proper hygiene, such as regular washing of hands with soap and running water or alcoholic-based hand sanitizer, use of medical masks, and social distancing.

The Government’s Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government at both the federal and state level has been trying very hard to curtail the spread of the virus while also ensuring minimal hardship to Nigerians, especially persons with disabilities, who are not only at greater risk of contracting the virus but are also at risk of greater suffering due to certain measures introduced by government such as total or partial lockdown as the case may be.

Thus, over time, the federal government has accumulated millions of Naira in humanitarian aids from spirited individuals and institutions, which would serve as palliatives to alleviate the sufferings of vulnerable Nigerians, such as persons with disabilities while the pandemic lasts. However, it is both in achieving the balance between curtailing the spread of the virus and ameliorating the pains of persons with disabilities that government efforts seem to have neglected the rights of persons with disabilities.

Lessons from Government’s Response to the Ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic

There is no gainsaying that Covid-19 is a public health emergency and Section 25 of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018 (DAPDA) provides for the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities during emergency situations. The section provides that “In all situations of risk, violence, emergencies or occurrences of natural disaster, government shall take the necessary steps to ensure the safety and protection of persons with disabilities taking cognizance of their peculiar vulnerability.”

So far, how true has government response complied with this provision and other provisions of the DAPDA? The following lessons may be deduced from governments actions or inaction in respect of persons with disabilities since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, to wit;

As part of their strategy to combat the spread of Covid-19, many state governments, especially in the Northern part of the country have resorted to deporting the almajiris, who are deemed as a veritable source for the spread of the disease, and some of whom are persons with disabilities, to their so-called state of origins.

This is an outright violation of their constitutional rights to dignity, personal liberty, freedom of movement, and freedom from discrimination in accordance with sections 34, 35, 41, and 42 of the Constitution respectively. What more, the deportation of persons with disabilities on account only that they are almajiris is a violation of Section 1(1) of the DAPDA which is to the effect that no person with a disability should be discriminated against on any ground or circumstances whatsoever.

Instead of deportation, what the state governments should do is to “ensure the safety and protection of persons with disabilities [who are almajiris] taking cognizance of their peculiar vulnerability.”

Double Discrimination
Closely related to the above is that persons with disabilities now suffer double discrimination from the public and government whose selective and discriminatory response to the pandemic is, and should be, a source of great concern to all lovers of humanity.

This is because such discriminatory response is akin to government double-speaking and may lead to wide community spread of the virus in the hinterland where most of these almajiris are deported to, especially considering that some of them might already be harbouring the virus. In fact, it could amount to a situation of reducing risk to increase risk.

Inherent Biases of Healthcare Providers
It is true that the Hippocratic oath serves to ensure that health care providers prioritise life over personal prejudices by ensuring that (potential) patients are given maximum and equal attention. Nevertheless, sometimes, the inherent prejudices of healthcare providers towards persons with disabilities seem to overwhelm them, especially during emergency situations, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, whereby they become selective and concentrate on patients that they feel have greater chances of survival other than the patients with very serious and chronic underlying conditions.

Hence, Elizabeth Pendo reported that studies have consistently demonstrated that health care providers hold negative views of people with disabilities and fail to “fully appreciate the value and quality of life with a disability.” This unfortunate inequality in healthcare provision is more so when we consider the inadequacy of equipment such as ventilators at the various isolation centres, being that in some centres, the numbers of patients exceed the official capacity of the centres.

This prompted Pendo to further conclude thus; “Governmental and private responses to the COVID-19 pandemic can compound these longstanding health inequalities. In particular, because the COVID-19 pandemic places tremendous strain on our health care system, states, health care facilities, [may begin to develop] protocols to determine how to allocate critical health care resources, especially ventilators, when there is not enough capacity to treat all patients.” If this is not already happening, the possibility is indeed real.

It appears that government’s actions in the area of palliatives are encased in secrecy. This is because there is no account as to the exact measures or conditions upon which these humanitarian aides are made. Even so, most persons with disabilities cannot claim to have benefited from government actions in this regard. Also, even where calls are made for palliatives, the venues are not, sometimes, accessible by persons with disabilities.

Information Dissemination
The dissemination of information in respect of Covid-19 largely ignores the peculiar needs of persons with disabilities. This is more so as most information from government or NCDC is in social media, ignoring the needs of persons who are blind. Also, in most press conferences, persons with difficult hearing are ignored as the conferences do not incorporate sign language.

This means that persons with disabilities largely do not know the current situation of things. Thus, increasing the risk of the spread of the virus, and even fatalities among those with serious underlying conditions.

Access to healthcare
Although the DAPDA has enjoined all public parastatals to make their buildings accessible to persons with disabilities within five years of the Act coming into effect (Section 6 thereof), it is very true that, as of today, most public buildings that are being used as testing and/or isolation centres are not disability friendly.

This presents peculiar difficulties for persons with disabilities, especially persons using wheelchairs or such other devices in their quest to access medical facilities at this uncertain pandemic time.

Mental Health
The ultimate effect of the non-inclusive response of the government to the Covid-19 pandemic as seen above is that it may serve to worsen or lead to the poor mental health of persons with disabilities who already are at the margin of society now being entrenched by the pandemic.

According to the American Psychological Association(APA), “the pandemic might particularly harm the mental health of marginalized populations [such as persons with disabilities] who have less access to socioeconomic resources and supportive social networks.”

The factors raised above are indeed “unique stressors and challenges that could worsen mental health for people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Conclusion and the Way Forward

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the face of the world as we know it. And has left nations battling to overcome its humanitarian, environmental, and socio-economic effects. As the Nigerian government continues to struggle to curb the spread of the virus, there is even equal, if not greater, need to ensure that all measures taken by government recognise the peculiar needs of persons with disabilities who are among the most vulnerable and susceptible group at this uncertain pandemic time.

Therefore, the government’s response must be inclusive and the right balance must be achieved. Hence, the government should take necessary and reasonable steps to address the shortfalls in its response to the pandemic so far. For even if the government may fail in all other things, it must not fail to learn from the lessons of its response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Public Commentary


By Bizibrains Festus Okpeh


In similitude to the great epiphany of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in his much-publicised “personal” letter to the former Emir of Kano, many Nigerians woke up on the morning of March 9, 2020, to be greeted with the sordid news that Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (Muhammadu Sanusi II), the 14th Emir of Kano in the order of the Fulani dynasty has been deposed/dethroned as a result of what the government of Kano State, under the governorship of Ganduje described as “total disrespect to lawful instructions from the office of the governor and other lawful authorities, including persistent refusal to attend official meetings and programmes organised by the government without any lawful justification which amount to total insubordination.” This was the Governor’s final act in the over three years of continual confrontation between the number one citizen of and the most powerful man in Kano State on one hand, and the most ceremonious traditional ruler on the other hand that has also ensured the banishment of the latter from the state.

Since the news of Emir Sanusi’s dethronement, many have taken to various platforms to express divergent opinions. While to some, and these include official echoes from the Presidency, Emir Sanusi’s dethronement was (is) in order as every Governor is empowered by law to literally appoint and remove traditional rulers, to others, it was undeserved and illegal and a disrespect to the person of the former Emir, and a fortiori, the traditional institution. Thus, many have described as mere cosmetics and eye-service the purported kind gestures Nigerian Governors make to traditional rulers in the name of homage and courtesy. This sanctimonious relationship between Government (Governors) and traditional rulers, which pre-dates the birth of Nigeria and has been continually oxygenated with the instrumentality of law has become the proverbial colonial gunboat in the hands of fourth republican politicians with which they cajole and shoot out of the throne any traditional ruler who patently refuses to come under their self-acclaimed good books and “protection.” The question may be asked; how did we get here?

This write-up generally presents an historico-legal view of the state of the relationship between Government and the traditional institution in Nigeria. It further argues that the formal politicisation of the traditional institution, the legal consolidation of colonial-traditional politics post-independence, and the consequent proliferation of traditional rulers constitute the three most important factors that undermined (and continue to undermine) the sanctity of the institution of kings and chiefs in Nigeria.

Finally, while this writer is inclined to the notion that the existing legal mechanism supports the dethronement of traditional rulers by Governors, if and only if proper procedures as laid down by law are followed, the consequential banishment of the dethroned ruler more or less presents real constitutional crisis.

Pre-colonial Traditional Institution

In its most traditional and strictest sense, and according to a pre-colonial definition as offered by Bello-Imam, “a traditional ruler is defined as a person who by virtue of his ancestral position occupies the throne or stool of an area and who has been appointed to it in accordance with the customs and traditions of the area and whose throne has been in existence before the advent of the British in Nigeria.” This definition presupposes that a traditional ruler emerges out of the national consciousness, rooted in the customs and traditions of the area and/or people over whom he exercises authority, such authority being complete, total and conclusive and free from any external influence. Hence, the traditional stool must have been in existence before colonialism. This was traditional institution in its purest unadulterated form.

Before the British colonisation of the area now referred to as Nigeria, many autonomous rulers existed in various clans, chiefdoms, emirates and kingdoms. Although many of these rulers had considerable influence in their spheres of operation, some had complete and total control of the areas they administered. They were too powerful so much so that they could afford to embark on military expeditions, conquering smaller kingdoms and dethroning weaker kings and forming great alliances, caliphates and empires. And in the process, many established long-ruling dynasties (e.g the Dunama ruling dynasty, the Fulani ruling dynasty, etc) which survived them. Some of these 18th Century empires included the Kanem-Borno Empire, the Old/New Oyo Empire, the Benin Empire and the Sokoto Caliphate of Uthman Dan Fodio which became the forerunner and firmly established the ruling Fulani dynasty in the northern part of Nigeria till date.

It is important to note that these centralised “states,” kingdoms, emirates and empires operated generally in the northern part of Nigeria, except the case of the Oyo Empire which also comprised areas of the south west. They had well-defined structures and administrative strata with the “Mai,” “Emir,” “Alaafin” or “Caliph,” as the case may be, at the centre. It was this set-up, more than anything, that endeared the northern emirs to and gave them seats at the table of colonial administration; a bromance which also became the undoing of northern emirateship. The communities of the southern and central Nigeria were generally “stateless.” They operated a decentralised system that may be likened to a modern-day democracy. There was no one ultimate ruler or ruling dynasty as the people collectively chose their leaders as times and occasions demanded.

In the final analysis, the point being made here is that pre-colonial traditional institution was largely autonomous with its own judiciary, executive and legislature. It controlled its own finances and dealt with its property how it pleased. It commanded reverence and respect from its followers, including the kingmakers irrespective of the age, status and overall personality of the ruler. In fact, in some climes, the rulers were seen as gods, celestial and immortal, so that if deposed, they were required to voluntarily offer themselves to death (or exile/banishment) to perpetuate their immortality. Although this was abolished by the colonial Lords for being against human conscience, and rightly so, colonialism further robbed the traditional institution of its much cherished independence and reverential flavour, subjecting it to the facades and “goodwill” of the colonial State; a phenomenon which became the Coronavirus (Covid-19) of the traditional institution to which no cure has been found till date.

And as the traditional institution continues to shiver from the cold of this “colonial virus,” a new definition has been found, one that evolved from the exigencies of political gluttons who continue to meat from whatever that is left of the traditional institution. Cookey succinctly captured who a traditional ruler is today thus; “a traditional ruler is the traditional head of an ethnic unit or clan who for the time being the holder of the highest traditional authority whose title is recognized as a traditional ruler’s title by the government of the state.” (underline mine for emphasis). This sums up the nature and character of a contemporary traditional ruler; a ruler chosen, recognised and installed by Government (Governors)   as opposed to the convictions of the people. Several factors are responsible for this state of affairs and they include but not limited to:


  1. Colonial-Traditional Politics and the Subjugation of Traditional Institution to the Powers of the Colonial State

Following the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 at the behest of Otto Bismarck, the plan was perfected by the Europeans for the partition of Africa. Every European colonial power was to take effective control of the areas of Africa where she held the greatest trade influence. It was to implement the outcome of this conference that Britain took effective control of Nigeria (or the area now so called), the Royal Niger company having prepared the ground with its numerous trade treaties and treaties of “protection” with influential traditional rulers in the coastal cities and the hinterland. Consequently, from 1879 up to 1900 when it handed over to the British Government, a vast area of the territory now referred to as Nigeria had been conquered. And so Nigeria became a colony of Britain under the “protection” of the Queen with Lord Frederick Lugard as the first High Commissioner of the Northern Protectorate. And in other to effectively administer the vast area of the North, he introduced the indirect rule system, whereby northern Emirs were brought into colonial administration as Paramount rulers under the Lordship of Lugard, as the representative of the Queen, the Head of Government. In the decentralised communities of the Southren Protectorate, Lugard appointed Warrant Chiefs who acted as Paramount rulers, thus distorting the original traditional structures in those communities.

In fact, in some communities in central Nigeria, which were also decentralised communities and hitherto had never had any form of effective central traditional institution, the colonial master created for and imposed one on them. One of such instances is the Tiv nation where the colonial State created the traditional stool of the Tor Tiv in 1947 and installed Makere Dzakpe as the first Tor Tiv (Dudly:1968). Needless to say that this traditional stool had little or no ancestral bearing to the Tiv nation before its creation. At the time independence was attained in 1960, following the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates, traditional rulers absolutely lost their power to the Government which became even more influential in traditional and chieftaincy affairs.

A traditional institution is supposed to be sacred and originate from the common national consciousness and convictions of the people and not an arbitrary creation of Government or the State. This would help strengthen the “national spirit” and the willingness to respect and subject to the authority of the traditional institution. This is what Carl Von Savigny referred to as the “Volkgeist.”  According to the erudite historical jurist in his essay “Of the Vocation of Our Age for Legislation and Jurisprudence,” every community or nation has a common “spirit” or “folk-spirit” rooted in its customs and traditions, from where comes its strength and which is formed internally and instinctively. Hence, any institution, including a traditional institution, “grows with the growth and strengthens with the strength of the people.” While colonial politics co-opted traditional rulers in its administration, it ensured that they remained stooges to the colonial Lords. And those traditional rulers who refused to yield their communities and powers were deposed in favour of the rulers who were ready to do the bidding of the colonialists. Many traditional rulers were dethroned and exiled in this fashion.

As colonial politics reigned supreme at the fall of the 19th Century, one of the traditional rulers who was vehemently opposed to British rule was King Jaja of Opobo, Jubo Jubogha. However, using “gunboat diplomacy” he was dethroned in 1887 and exiled to St. Vincent, West Indies. Another of such traditional ruler was King Dosunmu of Lagos who was also dethroned but later became the Oba of Lagos. Nigerian politicians have since followed in the footsteps of their colonial mentor to dethrone traditional rulers who they perceive are opposed to them. According to the Nation Newspaper(, the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Adeniran Adeyemi, was deposed by the old Western Regional Government headed by Chief Awolowo in 1953 following a dispute between him and  Bode Thomas. Upon the death of the latter, he was banished to Oshogbo and ended up in Ijora, Lagos. Also, the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi I (the grandfather of Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi) was dethroned in 1963, and banished to Azare in the present day Bauchi State.

Again, Alhaji Ibrahim Attah, the Attah of Ebiraland, was deposed in the sixties and banished, never to regain his throne. Also, Oba Olateru Olagbegi, the Olowo of Owo, was suspended, and later, deposed by the military government of Western State. Oba Raji Adebowale, the Aseyin of Iseyin, was deposed by the Akintola government because of his sympathy for Action Group. Likewise, For travelling out of the country to Israel without permission, the late Ooni of Ife Oba Okunade Sijuwade and the late Emir of Kano Alhaji Ado Bayero were restricted to their respective palaces for six months by the Buhari/Idiagbon military regime, without recourse their right to freedom of movement and such other associated rights. In the same vein, The Emir of Gwandu, Major Mustafa Jokolo, was deposed by the Kebbi State government in 2005 and banished to Loko, a Fulani town in Nasarawa State. Oba Adepoju Adesina, the Deji of Akure was dethroned by the Ondo State government following his alleged unruly behaviour which ridiculed the throne. Records also show that the Sarkin of Suleja, Awwal Ibrahim was deposed by the late military ruler, General Sanni Abacha.   And the latest of it all, the dethronement of Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (Muhammadu Sanusi II), the Emir of Kano by the Kano State government.

Still, the dethronement virus continues to spread, as it was reported on March 12, 2020, by Rasaq Ibrahim of the Nation that Oba Rufus Adejugbe, the Ewi of Ado-Ekiti alongside ten other traditional rulers might be dethroned by Fayemi, the Governor of Ekiti State.

  • Legal Consolidation of Colonial-Traditional Politics Post-independence

We have made the case that questions of traditional institutions are essentially questions of customary law. This is because traditional rulers derive their powers from customs and traditions, in which lies the consciousness and convictions of the people, their behaviour and habits from time immemorial. Thus, the import of the case of Lewis v Bankole (1908)1 NLR 81 is that one of  the fundamental characteristics of customary law is its unwritten nature. This is because it is flexible and dynamic and continues to grow. It comprises the actual behaviour and tenets of the people as against statutes or Legislation. Eugene Ehrlich described it as the living law.” In his book “Fundamental Principles of the Sociology of Law” Ehrlich buttressed the importance of custom found in actual societal behaviour thus, “The centre of gravity of legal (or indeed institutional) development lies not in legislation nor in juristic science, nor in judicial decision, but in society itself.” The colonial Judges, including native Judges trained in colonial Britain, in undertaking their judicial and interpretative functions, subjected the validity and enforceability of customary law (which is the bedrock or superstructure of the traditional institution) to the English law, rightly or wrongly.

This means that for any rule of customary law to be valid and enforceable “it must not be repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience, nor incompatible either directly or by implication with any (written) law for the time being in force, nor contrary to public policy.” (see Laoye v Oyetunde (1944) AC 170; Esbughagi Eleko v Officer Administering the Government of Nigeria; Re Adadevoh (1951)13 WACA 304). Again, by virtue of section 36(8) of the Constitution, no act or omission is a crime except, prior to the commission of the act, it was written down to constitute such a crime and punishment provided therefor. Also, in the case of Tofi v Uba (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt. 62) 707 the court held that adultery was not a crime in Benue State because at the time it was not so find in the customary statute (the Tiv Declaration of Native Law and Custom) of the state. The above, coupled with the difficulty in proving oral evidence and the tendency of confusion that may arise from multiplication of rules of custom, means that customary law has largely lost its unwritten nature and is now (largely) subject of legislation. Hence, he who alleges any rule of custom must prove that the custom actually exists, sometimes not in the regular habits of the people, however prevalent or far back in time, but also in a statute, except the court has taken judicial notice of the existence of such custom (see sections 16, 17, 18 and 122(2)(L) of the Evidence Act, 2011).

 Therefore, all the states of the federation now have there customary laws legislated upon and enacted into the declaration of native law and custom of the various states. In the same vein rules of custom relating to kingship, emirship and chieftaincy are enacted into laws by the various states. The real danger here is the tendency of state Governors, who usually control the State Houses of Assembly to introduce articles into the customary statutes that make it easier for them to manipulate traditional institutions. For instance, this was exactly the case in Kano State, where the Kano Emirates Council Law 2019was quickly amended by the Kano State House of Assembly at the behest of Governor Ganduje to make for the creation of four new emirates just to settle scores with Emir Sanusi (since dethroned).

In the final analysis, the British colonialist, having weakened the traditional institution, imported their laws and justice system to Nigeria and subjected our customary law to them. This further consolidated the deterioration of the traditional institution. And this colonial sentiment against the traditional institution, and customary law upon which it stands and finds meaning has been sustained even after independence. It has become more or less our national sentiment.

  • The Proliferation of Traditional Rulers

God forbid that one day we would wake up to the reality of a more traditional Nigeria; the one where there would be a traditional ruler to every family. Of course, this might sound outrageously hyperbolic. But unlike Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” it is the road already taken by our Governors, where they are sprinting in full and outright overdo vis-à-vis their colonial counterparts. At the height of colonial rule in the 19th century and in a bid to tighten their hold on power and exercise much more control on their new found tenants (albeit tenants in their own land), the colonial Landlord, apart from using Emirs already in power in the North, created traditional rulers as it pleased them. The traditional stool of the Tor Tiv was (is) one of such stool created out of colonial administrative necessity and/or expediency in 1947. Likewise, Paramount rulers were appointed in the South in the form of Warrant Chiefs.

Fast-forward to post-independence and many traditional rulers have been created by successive Governors in Nigeria. According to Wikipedia ( retrieved 11 March, 2020), Yobe State was created with just four emirates, but in early 2000 it was increased to 13 at the behest of Bukar Abba Ibrahim, who was then the governor. Also, in August 2010, Bukola Saraki, the then governor of Kwara state appointed three new monarchs. It has also been reported that by June 2010, Akwa Ibom State had 116 traditional rulers with official certificates from the state. And fairly recently, in a move that literally dismantled one of the oldest and strongest traditional stool in Nigeria, the government of Kano State created four new Emirs in the state in addition to the Emir of Kano, an act that quaked the Kano emirateship to its founding ancestors.

As the saying goes, too many cooks spoil the broth. While this saying may have become a cliché, it has never lost its truism. It is axiomatic that the obsession of Government (Governors) with creation of titular kings, chiefs and traditional ministers, sometimes as sheer political settlements and at other times as arbitrary manifestations of their grip on power, has somewhat crippled the effectiveness of the traditional institution as the bearer of the collective conscience of the people. There are now so many traditional rulers all over the federation that one may be forced to lament that the essence, beauty and importance of many of them lie only in their colourful regalia (with utmost respect to them). Yet, this is not entirely their making. Is it then the making of their creators? Permit me to kindly adopt your guess as mine.

The Emir Sanusi Question

The Emir Sanusi question is a million Naira question not because his deposition as the Emir of Kano was too difficulty an algorithm to draw, given his frosty relationship with Governor Ganduje, but because any attempt at enquiring into why the widely celebrated bank expert and economist would venture into traditional politics sends one into infinite imagination. Lost in such ocean of wonder and imagination, Olusegun Adeniyi, writing for Thisday on March 12, 2020 could not help but reveal his helplessness; “This is somebody that has all the attributes of a president. He has the clout and capacity to reinvent Nigeria if he had jumped into the political fray. It is very difficult for me to discern how blue bloods think.” Mallam Sanusi did jump into the political fray; the traditional political fray.

The rift between Governor Ganduje and the former Emir of Kano, HRH Sanusi Lamido Sanusi survived over three years amidst irregular manifest and public intervention by some prominent Nigerians, not including President Buhary. The happenstances between the two from 2017 was well chronicled by Raymond Mordi, the Deputy Editor of the Nation ( Why the public is still absorbing the shock of Emir Sanusi’s dethronement, it is his detention and banishment firstly to Loko and now Awe towns of Nassarawa State that presents real constitutional conflicts. Now, I take great care not to overreach or preempt the possible decision of the court as this matter is currently pending before a Federal High Court  in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

However, apart from the fact that this practice was hallowed in pre-colonial and colonial States, as our Constitution stands, it is unconstitutional to detain, confine, restrain or forcibly eject or otherwise exile or banish a citizen of Nigeria from any part of the country. This is because by virtue of Sections 35, 40, and 41 of the Constitution, every citizen of Nigeria has the right to personal liberty, peaceful assembly and association and freedom of movement respectively. And except as provided under the Constitution, these rights cannot be derogated from. This are the purports of Sections 35(1), 40(2) and 45 of the Constitution. The above position of the law was given judicial enforcement by the Court of Appeal in the case of AG Kebbi State v HRH Alhaji Al Mustapha Jakolo (2013) LPELR 22349

Thus, notwithstanding that Emir Muhammadu Sanusi I, the grandfather of the deposed Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II, was exiled to Azare (in present day Bauchi State) where he remained for some time before returning to Kano where he died in 2002, it is highly unlikely, given the circumstances already stated above, that the banishment of the latter by the Kano State Government would legally stand.


To draw the curtain to a close, the insincere relationship between Government and traditional rulers and the incessant meddlesome interloping of Governors in traditional affairs are rooted in history,  backed and perpetuated by law and the Constitution, which inter alia, vests in the Governor of a State the sole/chief executive power (see Section 176(2) of the Constitution). Perhaps the Constitutional framers did not envisage the intractable politics of the fourth republican politicians. Perhaps they should have known that there is something called the “Nigerian factor.” Whether we know or claim not to know, wanton dethronement of and disregard to traditional rulers in Nigeria are positive symptoms of “colonial (dethronement) virus.” It has permeated our politics; it is part of our laws; in fact, it may survive for generations to come. We can only hope for saner politicians or genuinely retrace our very existence as a political unit.


Bizibrains, also known as Festus Ikechukwu Okpeh is a public commentator, a disability rights advocate and a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria who specialises on general legal practice, especially in the area of energy law. You can reach him on 07061096037 or