Being the Lecture Delivered by His Excellency Seyi Makinde, the Executive Governor of Oyo State, at the Coronation and Birthday Anniversary Celebration of the Osemawe and Paramount Ruler of Ondo Kingdom, His Imperial Majesty, Oba (Dr) Adesimbo Kiladejo, CFR, titled ‘The Role of Traditional Institutions in Socioeconomic Development in Nigeria’ on Friday, 10 November 2023.
Let me start by wishing His Imperial Majesty, Oba (Dr) Adesimbo Kiladejo, CFR, a very happy birthday and a happy seventeenth anniversary as the Osemawe and Paramount Ruler of the Ondo Kingdom. May your days be long and blessed, and may your rule bring even more blessings upon the people of Ondo Kingdom. Let me also, at the same time, convey the greetings and goodwill of the good people of Oyo State to you and your people.
It gives me immense pleasure to be here today. Were my mother to be alive today, she would also have been very proud. I thank you for the honour that you have accorded me to come here today to speak. And the topic for today touches on a fundamental part of who we are as a people. We cannot exist without a past, and we cannot move forward without development. I will speak on the Role of Traditional Institutions in Socioeconomic Development in Nigeria.
I am an advocate for strong traditional institutions. I believe that when traditional institutions are strong, they promote a value-driven society. And it is in the entrenching of these values that we achieve socioeconomic development. This is why when I assumed office as the Governor of Oyo State, one of the first issues I set out to resolve was regarding the installation of Obas. Before I came in, this was one of the thorny issues in the State. But I insisted that I would not interfere with the traditional system in place. I also stated that whatever consensus the traditional rulers come up with to modernise the system, my role is to endorse it.
So, sometimes you may read in the papers: Seyi Makinde appoints the new Soun of Ogbomosoland, or Makinde refuses to install the new Alaafin. Well, the press will always craft headlines in a way that will make their papers sell. The reality is that whatever the constituting authorities agree on is what they convey to us, and then all we do is to endorse it as long as due process has been followed. As I said, this is because I believe these institutions, their systems and mores should not be interfered with. We can benefit as a people by building on the structures that are already put in place as part of these systems.
In this speech, I will be highlighting three ways that traditional institutions contribute to socioeconomic development. These are:
- Contributing to security through community policing
- Maintaining peaceful trade relations
- Keying into the development architecture of the State.
Of course, this is only possible when the traditional system is integrated into the State structure. So, I am also making a case for this integration. If these systems work well, why do we need additional bureaucracy for a federal-operated local government architecture? Each State can now determine what local authorities they want to run and how they should run. I know this is not a very popular stand I am taking. And I will not be surprised if the press goes out tomorrow to say that Seyi Makinde said traditional rulers should replace local government chairmen. We must discuss these reforms and chart a new course for our nation.
Let’s start with point number 1.
In 2019, the southwest States created the Western Nigeria Security Network, code-named Amotekun. The plan from the very start was to have the Amotekun Corps play a significant role in community policing. This plan would not be possible without the input of the traditional systems running in these communities. That is why in Oyo State, one of the layers of intelligence gathering we created, tagged the Expanded Security Council, includes the traditional rulers.
This decision was premised on the fact that the first people who would spot strangers are members of the community. You may not even be able to rent a house in the rural areas without the blessings of the chiefs. In working with them, we are able to quickly identify when strangers come into a community and use that network to inform security agencies.
And, of course, we can see the clear link between security and socioeconomic development. We need a secure environment to carry out economic activities. Farmers cannot go to the farm; market activities cannot be held when there is chaos. In Oyo State, we say, “If you see something, say something, and the authorities will do something.” This works well in our rural communities, where we have seen a drop in crime rates in areas where farms have been abandoned for years. Even in the more recent attacks in the Oke-Ogun Zone, the traditional institutions played a key role in ensuring proper intelligence gathering.
The second point is closely related to the first. Traditional rulers play a key role in ensuring peaceful trade relations between communities. When there is conflict over land or disputes over where a border should be, it affects trade relations. In an ideal situation, our traditional rulers, who serve as the custodians of culture, often have the history of their people, and they can usually tell who is telling the truth in such disputes.
In our traditional Yoruba system, we even have a market for kings. Each town has an Oja Oba, the central market where merchants from far and wide bring their goods to sell. This market serves as the centre for commerce, which indicates that the economy is directly linked to the traditional system. Our scholars can learn a lot about organisation and development from these systems.
These days, politicians remember the markets when elections are around the corner, they use the Iyaolojas and Babaolojas to gain political power and then forget them until the next cycle of elections. But, when the State works closely with these traditional institutions, they are able to gain key data and insights that would help with developing the informal economy and getting more people into the tax net. As revenue from oil continues to diminish, the States should be able to work with these systems to increase Internally Generated Revenue.
One thing that they will easily find is that taxing systems already exist in these settings. So, the question would be how will the State key into these systems. Of course, there will be pushback from those gaming and gaining from these systems, but there is nothing that real dialogue will not accomplish. Another thing that dialogues like this reveal is what types of development truly benefit these people and the economy. For example, in Oyo State, we are now focusing on building internal roads that link the wider economy and developing primary healthcare facilities to support the local economy.
And this brings me to the final point that I will be making in this speech. Traditional institutions are an integral part of development within the State. Let us talk about two aspects of development that we are pursuing in Oyo State: tourism and solid minerals development. When visitors come to a place, they naturally want to feel welcome. If the values in that environment does not promote a welcoming spirit, then there is no way that tourism can thrive there. Here in the southwest, we are very welcoming, and we can see why it is easy for people from all over the world to come and settle among us and call our place home.
The traditional institutions, as I mentioned earlier, are the custodians of our culture. Working with the State apparatus, it is possible to make our intangible and tangible cultural heritage a source of revenue. The custodians of culture are the ones who can speak to how these heritage sites can be used. For example, in Oyo State, we have one of the two accepted hanging lakes in the world. The local custom states that one cannot bathe in that lake, and those who do, sink, and are never seen again. So, you can understand why if we are developing anything around the Iyake Lake, the traditional institutions need to be carried along. That is just one example. Several others can be cited.
Speaking about solid mineral development, community leaders are best able to identify the location of these solid minerals. This is why it is possible to carry out illegal operations in these areas. They are also the ones who will let in and harbour these strangers. This is why it is important to carry these traditional rulers along on any decisions about the natural resources in their areas. Also, one of the people suffering the most from solid mineral exploitation is the communities where these solid minerals are deposited. This is evident in the rural communities where oil is being exploited.
So, one of the things we have done in Oyo State to promote this inclusion is an executive order I signed recently, that is, Executive Order No 1 of 2023, which protects mining communities. It is a first-of-its-kind regulation in Nigeria, but we are using it to demonstrate what is possible when the State and the communities partner on developing the solid minerals sector.
These are just three examples of how traditional institutions can play a role in the socioeconomic development of the State and the nation. As a nation, we have a lot to learn from going back to these traditional systems and looking at how they work. Our future is tied to looking back to our past to see what worked and why. So, while embracing new systems and civilisations, we should keep sight of what worked in the past. For example, if our society did not breed corrupt individuals in the past, we need to go back to see what made that possible and how to incorporate it into the new systems we are creating. When we speak of homegrown democracy, this is my understanding. Homegrown democracy is a system of governance by the people that takes into consideration our traditional institutions and the role they play in socioeconomic development.
Before I end this lecture, let me once again thank His Imperial Majesty Oba (Dr) Adesimbo Kiladejo, CFR, for this privilege. We pray that with the tribunal and supreme court hearings behind us, we can set our sights on rebuilding our nation and paying attention to the importance of restructuring systems. In the shortest possible time, we want to say that because of our traditional institutions, we have become a nation bound in freedom, peace and unity.
Thank you, and God bless you.
10 November 2023