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Chieftaincy Law: Organizing Chiefdoms in Cameroon

By Magistrate Divine Metiege

INTRODUCTION

Traditional chiefs play an important role in rural communities in Cameroon. They are leaders or heads of groups especially of a clan or a tribe. Together with local dignitaries, chiefs are involved in decision making on many aspects in the day to day affairs of villages, including such affairs like land disputes, marital and family problems. Chiefs who are appointed by the government have the same legal status in all regions; however, the extent of their authority varies enormously among different regions and ethnic groups. Traditional chiefs are cultural authorities and auxiliaries of the administration. In the remote areas where the Central government does not have a strong presence, the traditional chiefs take control over such areas and send reports to the Central government.
     Chieftaincies refer to formerly autonomous entities of varying sizes and importance, which support the ways of pre-colonial micro–states and which play a crucial role in cultural and political life. Chieftaincies are ruled by Traditional Chiefs and the name associated to them varies from village to village or region to region: The people of the grassfield region refer to chiefs as Fon and Mbe; Bafaws as Nfon; The Bakossis as Nhon and Khen; in the South, center and some areas in the eastern region of Cameroon the refer to their chiefs as Nkunkuma; Lamido for the chiefs of the Far North, North and the Adamawa regions; Sultan is appelation of chiefs in the West region etc.
     ChiefS have both political and special duties to lead their communities. Hierarchically, Traditional Chiefs are directly below the State representatives in their Electoral Districts and their means of appointment, responsibilities, financial status and disciplinary approach makes them agents of the state.
     The administration’s authority to appoint chiefs is preceded by a preliminary process that enables the local community to participate in the naming of the person they want as their chief. That naming process involves a number of steps designed to ensure the candidate’s bond to his community. Furthermore, in the appointment process of a traditional chief, the Cameroon Chieftaincy Law enacted on July 15, 1977 served with Decree No 77/245, which organizes chiefdoms states that, “in principles, traditional chiefs are chosen from families that are customarily called upon to carryout traditional leadership role”. The decree defines family as a group of people sharing the same bloodline and lineage, from the same father, mother or just the same father. This notwithstanding, the king-makers can set aside these rules and select a candidate they believe can serve the people better. And such a candidate must come from a chieftaincy lineage.
The candidate for the traditional chieftaincy must have a minimum intellectual capacity and must also, if at all possible, be able to read and write. He is also required to provide a certificate from a public doctor, attesting to his good health. The appropriate administrative authority selects the new chief from the candidates who meet those criteria. The process of appointing a traditional chief is set out in section 10 and 11 of the 1977 decree and is described as follows:
     The appropriate administrative authority undertakes the necessary consultations to appoint a new chief. The authority must consult the appropriate customary public figures. Those consultations take place during meetings called by either the Senior Divisional Officer (S.D.O) or the Sub Divisional Officer (D.O). In the consultations, the various candidates are reviewed and the new chief is chosen. The administrative authority incharge draws up the minutes and sends them along with a complete file of the candidate to the central authorities. The file contains a police clearance (Non Conviction), a copy of the candidate’s birth certificate, a medical certificate and as required, a copy of the certificate confirming the vacancy at the head of the chieftaincy (death certificate, medical report on disability, or disqualification, letter of resignation or decision to dismiss the predecessor. The appropriate administrative authority has only to ratify the selection. Although public figures are consulted, their views are not necessarily taken into account. The administrative authority may supersede the local decision and selects a candidate whom he believes could serve the interest of the administration. In principle, traditional chiefs are often chosen from families that are customarily called upon to carry traditional leadership role." And, the 1977 decree thus defines a family as a group of people sharing the same bloodline and lineage, that is, from the same father and mother, or just from the same father. This notwithstanding, the King makers can set aside these rules and select someone they believe can be an effective ruler. However, such an individual must also come from a chieftaincy lineage. Their selection decision may sometimes extend to families who were original founders of the village. For instance, in a situation where a village was founded by five different families, the King makers may concede to rotate the chieftaincy amongst the lineages of those five families in the situation where there is a chieftaincy vacancy. This type of system is commonly referred to as a rotatory hereditary chieftaincy. With the hereditary type of chieftaincy, a father could be bypassed for his son and made the chief if the King makers believe he would a better chief make. A well known example could be found in the village of Nchang in Manyu division, where Chief Tanyi Mbianyor was made the chief rather than his father.
     For easy understanding of this book, we have divided it into five sections: The general provisions; appointment of chiefs; responsibilities and benefits; guarantees and discipline; and, finally, conclusion.
 
                   GENERAL PROVISIONS
 
     The Cameroon Chieftaincy Law contained in decree No 77/245 of July 15, 1977 organizes traditional communities into chiefdoms. And according to the decree, traditional chiefdoms are organized on a territorial basis and they comprise of the following:
- First class chiefdom.
- Second class chiefdom.
- Third class chiefdom.
 
     A First class chiefdom is that chiefdom whose area of jurisdiction covers at least two Second class chiefdoms and the territorial boundaries in principle do not exceed those of a division. While a Second class chiefdom is that chiefdom whose area of jurisdiction covers that of at least two third class chiefdoms. The boundaries therefore shall, in principle, not exceed those of a Sub-division. Meanwhile, a Third class chiefdom corresponds to a village or quarter in the rural areas and to a quarter in urban areas.
The competent authority has the mandate to classify a chiefdom in the first or second class by special reasons of its population and economic importance. Chiefdoms usually have the names given to them by tradition but the law empowers the competent authority, if need be, to confer upon it a new name. It is important to note also that chiefdoms are placed under the authority of a chief, who are assisted by elders in council set up in accordance with local tradition. The chief is mandated to appoint among the elders in council an elder, who shall represent him in his absence or when he is unable to carry out his duties as a chief. The Chief also has the arbitrary authority to terminate the duties of this appointee as he pleases.
     First class chiefdoms are set up by the Order of the Prime Minister whereas the Second class chiefdoms by the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization. However that of the Third class chiefdom is done by Senior Divisional Officer
 
                   APPOINTMENT OF CHIEFS
 
     As mentioned in the introduction of this expose, chiefs are in principle chosen from families called upon to exercise traditional customary authority. The candidate to mount the throne must meet the physical and moral conditions required and must as far as possible know how to read and write.
The throne of a chief becomes vacant upon the death, deposition (that is being removed from power) due to permanent physical or mental disability of its occupant duly recorded by a medical officer appointed for that purpose.When the throne is vacant, the competent administrative authority shall without delay proceed to make the necessary consultations with a view to appointing a new chief. The competent elders shall obligatorily be consulted before a chief is appointed. This notwithstanding, a chief may abdicate if he so desires. His abdication shall be accepted by the authority vested with the power of appointment.
     The consultation is made during a public meeting presided over by the Senior Divisional Officer in the case of first and second class chiefdoms and by the Sub- Divisional Officer in the case of a third class chiefdom. The final report of the selection process is signed by the chairman who presided over the meeting who then forwards it the Senior Divisional Officer. The Senior Divisional Officer after reviewing and approving the submitted documents forward the result of the selected candidate to the competent authorities in the Central government with the following items:
 
(a) Certificate of Non Conviction
 
(b) A copy of the birth certificate of the person concerned or a birth declaratory judgment in lieu thereof.
 
(c) A medical certificate determining the physical fitness of the selected candidate
 
(d) A certified letter containing one of the following applicable document (death certificate, letter of abdication or deposition, medical report) showing that the throne of chiefdom is vacant.
     In the situation of a Third class chiefdom the Sub Divisional Officer forwards the above mentioned documents to the Senior Divisional Officer. First class chiefs are appointed by the Prime Minister, Second class chiefs by the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization and the Third class chiefs by the S.D.O. It is important to note that objections or opposing views of the appointment of a chieftaincy candidate are brought before the authority mandated to oversee the Selection and Appointment process. His or her decision on this matter shall be final. However, he may reverse his decision if it is proven that he or she was misled.
     One very important aspect of the Chieftaincy Law that indigenes often hold as grounds to select or remove a chief is the residency claim. The fact that modern day chiefs want to reside away from their chiefdoms often conflict with the village and administrative objectives. Chiefs are supposed to reside in the area under their rule and their duties are incompatible with any other public duty. There are no other provisions in the constitution that mandates them to live out of their chiefdoms.
 
RESPONSIBILITIES AND BENEFITS OF A CHIEF
 
     A chief is under the authority of the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization and their role is to assist the administration in guiding the people. They are auxiliaries of the administration. As auxiliaries of the administration, they are called upon to perform the following acts:
 
                 DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
 
1) Transmitting the directives of the administrative authorities to their people and ensuring that such directives are implemented.
 
2) Helping as directed by the competent administrative authorities in the maintenance of law and order and also ensures the economic, social and cultural development of the areas under them.
 
3) Help the taxation officials in collecting taxes and fees for the state and local authorities like councils under conditions laid down by the regulations.
 
4) In addition to the aforementioned duties, the chiefs must carry out any other mission that may be assigned to them by the local administrative authority.
 
5) In accordance with the native laws and customs the chiefs may, where the divisional or sub-divisional administrations do not operate, be mandated to settle disputes or arbitrate in matters arising between their subjects with the exclusion of criminal matters.
 
                           BENEFITS
 
     Since the existence of chiefs is promulgated by a decree from the Presidency, and since they perform some duties where the administration is unable to perform, they are therefore entitled to some financial enumerations.
 
1) The first and second class chiefs receive a monthly fixed stipend, which is calculated on the basis of the size of their population.
 
2) They also receive an allowance for performing special responsibilities assigned to them by administrative authorities. The fixed stipends and the special duties allowance are ministerial mandates (by both the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization and the Minister of Finance). The fixed allowance is taxable and it is not lower than the wage of a worker of the first incremental position of “Category One” of the public sector in the zone where the chiefdom is located.
 
3) A chief may be entitled to a rebate on the poll tax collected in accordance with the conditions laid down by the General Tax Code. However, Poll tax has been revoked making the law obsolete as well.
 
4) Chiefs are also entitled to efficiency bonuses granted by order of the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization on the suggestion of the administrative authorities on the basis of their dynamism and efficiency in the nation’s economic and social development drive. The rate of such a bonus is fixed under the same conditions as the rate of fixed allowance and the allowance of special responsibilities. Some chiefs are exempted from receiving these allowances (these are chiefs that are parliamentarians, civil servants or employees in a public office).
Chiefs that are authorized to hold cumulative functions must, prior to their appointment by the competent authority, opt either to retain their salaries or wages or receive the emolument due chiefs.
 
5) A chief who suffers from a permanent disability attributed to his duties may benefit from a periodical payment, if such incapacity leads to his removal from duty and also allowance in other cases. The amount of the allowance is determined by joint order of the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization and the Minister of Finance.
 
6) Chiefs are mandated to wear a distinctive badge and dressed in a special attire. The design of the attire is determined by order of the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization. However, the acquisition of such attire is the responsibility of the chiefs.
 
         GUARANTEES AND DISCIPLINE
 
     Chiefs have protection from the state against threats, contempt, assaults, interference, abuse or defamation to which they may be exposed by reason or on the occasion of the performance of their duties. On this premise the state accords compensation to a chief if he is injured. If the preceding injurious casualty is suffered by the chief, the state automatically enters into the rights of the victim to obtain restitution from the offender(s) of the amount paid to the chief as compensation thus far, independent of any criminal sanctions that may follow.
     Chiefs are evaluated each year by a competent administrative authority on the basis of their efficiency and output, and also in their ability to ensure economic and social development in their jurisdiction. Bear in mind that when a competent administrative authority realizes any shortcomings from a chief, in the performance of their duties (for instance, in situation of inefficiency, inertia or extortion of citizens), the following sanctions shall be meted against the chief:
a) A call to order
b) Warning
c) Ordinary reprimand
d) Reprimand with suspension of allowances for not more than three months; and,
e) Deposition.
 
     These sanctions are inflicted after the chief in question has been called upon to provide some explanations of such lapse in his behavior. A call to order, warning and ordinary reprimand is afflicted on the third class chiefs by the Sub Divisional Officer under whose territorial jurisdiction they fall. The Second class chief is sanctioned by the Senior Divisional Officer, on his own initiative or on the Sub- Divisional Officer’s recommendation. First Class Chiefs by the Governor, who is in-charge of the whole jurisdiction, where the chief carries out his duties on his own initiative or on the recommendation of the Senior Divisional Officer.
A reprimand with suspension of all allowances for a maximum period of three months is afflicted only by the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization.
     Dismissal of third class chiefs is done by the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization; however, the First and Second class chiefs by the Prime Minister.
     For the purpose of effective administration, certain urban areas may be divided into zones, quarters and wards by order of the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization following the report of the local administrative authorities. Zones, quarters and wards have a hierarchical structure under the authority of officials known as Zonal heads, Quarter heads and Ward heads. These officials perform their duties in addition to any other wage – earning activity on condition that they effectively reside in the area under their jurisdiction.
     Zones and quarters can be equated as Second class and Third class chiefdoms when taking into consideration their sizes, functioning, and administrative importance. Zonal and Quarter heads may be entitled to an output bonus under the same conditions as the chiefs. They are not entitled to fixed allowances or to allowances for special responsibilities.
 
                     CONCLUSION
 
     The greatest dream in the hearts of all chiefs and elites normally, should be, to transform their villages and jurisdictions into modern day society. And a chief’s greatest desire is the ability to achieve this dream of transforming his village. Chiefs have the power, ability and capacity to control circumstances and destiny in as much as he stays within the confines of the law set by the Ministry of Territorial Administration and supervised by the Senior Divisional Officer or the Divisional Officer of their jurisdictions.
    Chiefs should have the ability and the mindset to provide a master plan( master plans are guide to the development strategies of a community) for their respective villages and ensure the strict application of items in the master plan. They should also have human development instincts in them, to help enhance human understanding, consciousness and awareness to life’s challenges and responsibilities. They should equally be involved in the promotion of capacity building in order to enhance the full potentials of the indigenes. And one of the ways to achieve this initiative is by forming a solidarity union between the chief’s council and the community leadership, which will serve as a source of their power structure, to effectively dispatch their duties in their various locales. Likewise, such a structure will empower them to operate as coordinators and directors of efforts towards any village initiative or project. In addition to this, it helps bring the indigenes who shall become agents of development, thereby enhancing the growth of the chief’s village as the indigenes who have been given artificial powers would do everything to use it hopefully, to the advantage of the chief’s community. In a nutshell, chiefs must serve as agents of development. An enlightened or a forward-thinking chief is a huge advantage to his village because, as a leader of a village everyone depends on you to propel the indigenes to do extra-ordinary things to enhance the village. The process of village evolution must be equal to the human development, which the chiefs must apply with perfection.
     As we mentioned earlier, village development is not only the responsibility of the chiefs; it should be the concern for every indigene. Because, corporation by all in village development does not only bring unity; the village becomes the envy of other villages.
 
REFERENCES
~DECREE No 77/245 Of JULY 15, 1977.
~AFRICA DEVELOPMENT. 2000 VOL.XXV No 3 & 4 CHARLES NACH MBACK “La chefferie traditionnel au Cameroun”
~DYNAMICS OF NATION BUILDING BY BERNARD ETTA
***Divine Metiege is an Examining and Presiding Magistrate at the Mbengwi court of First Instance in Momo division in the North west region of the Republic of Cameroon. He dedicates this work to his late father, Chief Metiege Jonas Metuge of Ngusi village, who joined his ancestors on February 6, 1982 and to his late brother, Major Metiege Ebong Samuel, who met his untimely death while carrying out official duties in Bakassi on November 12, 2007, for his country, the Republic of Cameroon.***

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