A world without kings and princes
WITH the contemporary world racked by a phalanx of challenges that require urgent solutions, it makes a huge sense to dispense with any cultural practice that does not redound to the development of the human race. Humanity is faced with natural disasters, intractable diseases such as cancer and economic crises like those that have hobbled the Greeks as well as Nigerians. One cultural formation that has become a burden to the Nigerian people that should urgently be consigned to the past is contained in the traditional institution of kings with the nomenclatorial variegation of oba, obi, eze , ovie, olu, emir , among others.
True, despite the pull of globalisation, we must maintain our cultural practices that mark us out as a distinct people. We must not pander to the socio-cultural aberrations of the West that now threaten civilisation. An argument in support of the traditional institution is always that it has been with us; it is a reminder of our past . But the ultimate question that should determine its relevance today is what direct benefit does it confer on the people? Or do we go back to living in caves because our forbears once did? We cannot keep on maintaining this institution because our ancestors once revered it. Just as we the living do not have the right to determine how our ancestors live, so they do not have the right to control us the living. A culture is only relevant to us today to that extent it helps us to solve our problems. Frantz Fanon’s warning in this regard is as relevant now as during the anti-colonial struggle . According to Fanon, the culture of a people fighting for freedom, in our case economic and political development, must be dynamic; instead of being enamoured of fossilised cultural practices, “… it is to the zone of occult instability where the people dwell that we must come..”
This traditional institution has survived not because it is relevant to our individual or national development. And this is a fact that the nation’s constitution well acknowledges by not granting it any roles. Its survival is not due to the often- bandied about assumption that traditional rulers are catalysts of communal cohesion. We have the elected local government council and community leaders to do this . Its survival has been due to the protection given to it by a few people who benefit from it. These are the kings and their families, politicians who need the endorsement of kings to win elections and those who run to the kings for protection from the wrath of the law after unconscionably depleting the common treasury .
As Thomas Paine reminds us , the injustice of the institution of kings is even seen from birth within the family. In a family of six children , once a king emerges among them, the other five are destined to become second-class citizens within that hierarchical structure. They cannot claim the same rights as the king; they must be subject to him. And if his siblings are subject to him, it means that every other person where the king has his jurisdiction is subject to him. The hereditary system by which kings emerge has ended up afflicting humanity with monsters of all manner . The heir apparent might even be a moron or a misanthrope , but as long as he becomes the one who sits on the throne , his whims become the rules. It was this system that produced in Russia Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great who broke his enemies on the rack and hanged them in Red Square.
The perpetuation of the traditional institution of kings is a tribute to indolence . The members of the institutions are not known to being the most hardworking class of any society. Yet , they live a luxurious life. Who pays for their expensive lifestyles? It is the people who cannot feed themselves whose funds are used to sustain them .They live in luxurious mansions , they ride the most expensive vehicles and they send their children to the best schools in the world while those outside the royal family eke out a hard living . So here we nurture a parasitic culture whose ultimate beneficiaries feed fat on others , yet we hector others about the imperative of industry. The message would not resonate with the people, no wonder we are lazy in this part of the world.
For those who are fixated on the institution, there is often the ludicrous recourse to the bromide that those who now occupy the traditional institution are educated, some are even professors. Such people are wittingly or unwittingly oblivious of the fact that education does not necessarily purge one of the tendencies to be selfish; to pander to what is far from being altruistic. And this is why the more people are educated, the more universities we build, the more our values are reduced and civilisation is threatened. Even Joseph Goebbels’ doctor of philosophy did not stop him from being selfish, defending Adolf Hitler’s atrocious crimes. Despite their high level of educational attainment, scientists in Hitler’s Germany after Albert Einstein and other great teachers were hounded out of their jobs , became conduits for the solidification of Nazi aberrations. Instead of science being an area of human knowledge with a universal application, these Nazi scientists formulated a notion of German physics, German chemistry, German mathematics .
Writing in the 18th century, Arthur Schopenhauer identifies three kinds of aristocracies : of birth and rank; of wealth ; and of intellect . For him, the last is really the most distinguished of the three, as so eminent a king as Frederick the Great even acknowledged this fact to his chamberlain , when the latter expressed his surprise that Voltaire should have a seat at the table reserved for kings and princes , while ministers and generals were relegated to the chamberlain’s . At the time that Schopenhauer wrote, it was acceptable to identify the above as the markers of aristocracy . But in contemporary times, these markers have collapsed . Now everybody should be treated as a king not on account of hereditary privileges but because they are human beings with inherent dignity . And even the British monarchy can no longer provide a magical bulwark for the institution of kings as citizens have for a long time been interrogating its relevance to them now.
Nigeria is a republic , so anybody could identify with any cultural practice they choose. If anybody is so enamoured of the traditional institution of kings, they are free to have it. But let only them fund their kings’ harems and other egregious appetites. Those who do not want kings, princes and princesses should not be made to bear their financial burden. And when they die, the people who do not owe allegiance to them should not be harassed with their burial rites that curtail the freedom of movement.
• Dr. Onomuakpokpo is a member of The Guardian Editorial Board