National Security: Roles of Traditional and Religious Institutions


By Mukhtar Ya’u Madobi

Since independence, Nigeria has witnessed various political crises that escalated insecurity, destroyed lives and properties, as well as facilitated the disruption of the socio-economic life of the nation. However, the crises assumed a different dimension, becoming more sophisticated, more deadly and more militarized with a wider international terrorists’ connection.

A lot of efforts have been put in place by the government to stem the tide of pervasive insecurity, with little success recorded.
Recently, the National Security Adviser Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd), sought for a multi-stakeholders’ approach in the fight against terrorism and banditry in the country, adding that, the kinetic approach alone would not contain terrorism and other security challenges confronting the nation.

Monguno was speaking during a 3-day masterclass on “Strengthening Nigeria’s Implementation of the Policy Framework and National Action Plan (NAP) for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (PCVE), in Nigeria” organized by the ONSA in collaboration with the Government of Netherlands.

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Also, in his part, the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, who was famous for his doggedness in canvassing and mobilising grassroots support for peace efforts has restated the crucial roles of traditional and religious leaders in peacebuilding and thus call for their recognition for that particular function. He spoke during this year’s Leadership Newspaper Annual Conference and Awards ceremony held in Abuja.  

Therefore, as a result of the inability of political leaders to tackle insecurity problems in Nigeria, there is a need to turn to the traditional rulers and religious leaders for a possible solution to this hydra-headed monster. The roles of institutions in managing society can be traced back to the colonial era, when the British administrators employed an indirect rule system in the northern part of the country thereby using traditional rulers as vehicles for ruling and controlling the masses.

The traditional rulers are the heads of their ethnic group, clan or community, so their role in conflict management, resolution and prevention cannot be overlooked. They manage people in their domain and resolve conflicts in the society in order to ensure peace and stability always reign. Their words are laws to the people and their advice and opinions on issues are respected and accepted as well.

The role of Traditional institutions in security can never be overemphasized. The latest version of Nigeria’s National Security Strategy 2019, a document released by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), Babagana Monguno, stated that, their roles are critical to national cohesion and stability as they act to preserve our cultures, traditions, values, morals and beliefs. They serve as first line vanguards in handling communal conflicts and crises, thereby advancing peaceful coexistence amongst our diverse citizenry.

Since the NSA Monguno assumed his role in 2015, ONSA has been actively involved in strengthening the capacity of traditional rulers and religious leaders in order for them to play their part on issues pertaining to national security. The office has been supporting inter-, intra-faith and community-based dialogues to strengthen tolerance and resolve religious and communal conflicts.

The office has also been partnering with religious and community leaders to develop and disseminate counter-narratives, as well as design guidance materials for preventing violent extremism.
Also, at a meeting with traditional rulers and governors from the North West in Kaduna last February, Monguno, once again, emphasised the importance of traditional and religious institutions to national security. He said; “I call for the support of traditional and religious leaders in the areas of community engagement and citizens’ feedback and appreciate their peace-building efforts.”

Traditional rulers can reach the people involved in social vices, terrorism and militancy and call them for dialogue and negotiation.  In that regard, traditional rulers have continued to serve as arbitrators in quest for management of many conflicts across Nigeria.  

This is obvious when looking at how the Oni of Ife led other Yoruba Chiefs and mediated in the case of Ife and Moda-keke land crisis.  The traditional rulers have continually intervened in the Niger Delta crisis, trying to find a permanent solution to the militancy which continued to disrupt the nation’s economic activities especially the oil and gas sector.

Similarly, In the Northern part of Nigeria, the traditional rulers have been doing their best in the resolution of the Boko Haram crisis, especially now that the terrorists are calling quit to the fight.  Additionally, they are known to intervene in settling disputes among farmers and herders among others. Thus, there is the need for the government to encourage the traditional rulers in this regard to ensure continuous peace and harmony in the society.

Furthermore, the role of religious leaders as agents of peace and security for sustainable development should equally be recognized, since religion itself is one of the cultural patterns of human society which helps to shape and reshape the society. Religious clerics should always preach the gospel of peace and unity during their sermons. In that regard, electronic and print media can serve as useful tools in communicating religious messages to the people.

Therefore, for the nation to be at peace and security consciousness for a sustainable development, the religious leaders have to tell the leaders the truth. Clerics should advise leaders to lead by example without distorting the law.
Thus, Nigeria will then surely be a peaceful humanly habitable society only if our leaders strive and show the fear of God in their leadership.

The nonchalant attitudes of the government to the teaching and learning of religious moral instruction in schools led to the upsurge in violence and crime rate in the country. The large turn-out of graduates without adequate opportunities worsened the situation. A graduate without any moral injunction and fear of God does not have any regard for lives and properties as such becomes a problem both to himself and the society at large.

For traditional rulers to participate meaningfully on matters of security in the country, there is need for them to be re-positioned to their previously assigned constitutional roles so as not to just serve as agents of conflict resolution but also as security managers which they were before during colonial era. With the ever increasing security challenges facing the nation today, the integration of traditional rulers and religious leaders into a security network that will provide necessary stability is desirable.

To effectively operate, the security agencies in Nigeria often have to relate with traditional rulers who play prominent roles at the grassroots. They are very well situated to assist security agents in neutralizing threats emanating within and around their domains.

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