- How Igweship tussle is ravaging Igbo communities
- Olubadan's intervention fails to resolve Igbo leadership crisis
How Igweship tussle is ravaging Igbo communities
Written by Chidi Nkwopara, Nwabueze Okonkwo, Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Peter Okutu, Chinenyeh Ozor and Ugochukwu Alaribe
~Vanguard, Nigeria. Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Most communities in the five south east states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo are currently experiencing crises over selection or election of their traditional rulers known severally as Eze, Obi, Onyishi or Igwe, investigations by the South East Voice have revealed.
It was learned that although the roles of traditional rulers were not properly defined in most of the over 1000 communities in the zone, the selection of monarchs had become so contentious that it was the number one divisive problem in the five Igbo states.
Like the popular Oluwale Market in Lagos State, where all types of fake certificates are printed and sold to would be buyers, traditional ruler-ship in Igbo land has been so bastardized that known criminals now bear the certificates.
The various governments treat traditional rulers or Igwes like civil servants. Most of them are made to stay on the roads for hours with school children, waiting for visiting government functionaries under the sun. The traditional stool is not given on merit but the party you belong to or the people you know in government, hence the acrimony in most of the communities in the South East over the issue. In all, over 40 percent of the cases in various courts in the five states are related to chieftaincy disputes.
IN THE BEGINING
Apart from warrant chiefs appointed by the British colonialists mainly for the defunct Eastern House of Chiefs, only very few communities had traditional rulers in Igbo land before the late seventies as the people had various ways of governing themselves. Among such communities included Onitsha, Aro-Chukwu, Nri, Igbo Ukwu, Awka, Awka Etiti and Aguleri.
In Enugu Ezike which has a distinctive tradition in Igbo land, the oldest man in the area was the Onyishi or traditional ruler as the people practiced gerontocracy. It is only in Enugu Ezike that people do not kill themselves to become the Onyishi as people in the same age are aware of each other’s ages. In cases where ages of men were disputed, they had traditional ways of settling same instead of resorting to the courts or self-help. The eldest woman in any community also becomes the Ede Umuada.
PROLIFERATION OF KINGSHIP
However, in the late seventies when the then Federal Military Government introduced the revenue sharing formula which made provisions for the traditional institution, most elites in the zone reasoned that the only way the east could benefit from such largesse was to appoint Igwes or Ezes for the various communities, hence the contrived balkanisation of most towns into autonomous communities for appointment of traditional rulers.
The appointment of several panels including that of Justice Agbakoba to recommend deserving communities and their traditional rulers in the zone opened the floodgates for such cases.South East Voice gathered that the struggle for appointment of monarchs and creation of chiefdoms had become so contentious since the seventies that several prominent persons were killed in questionable circumstances while very many others died mysteriously over their alleged involvement in chieftaincy disputes. A lot of these disputes took the form of brothers quarrelling among themselves and fathers and sons belonging to various factions ass result of agitations over Igweship.
ANAMBRA: It was revealed that several important personalities had been brutally killed in the old Anambra State, the sensational assassinations of late Chief Godwin Chikeluba, popularly known as GMO and Justice Lawrence Anoliefo, both of Awka Etiti as well as the traditional ruler of Obosi in Idemili Local Government Area, Anambra State, Dr Walter Nnamdi Amobi marked the beginning of killings over Igweship or Ezeship stools.
Igwe Amobi IV of Ogidi was murdered in his Enugu home in 1998, while late Sir Lawrence Anoliefo; then Judge of the High Court of Nigeria, was murdered on December 23, 1986. The report is presented according to states:There are 177 communities in the new Anambra State and each of them is expected to have a traditional ruler known as Igwe Obi or Eze, overseeing their respective traditions and cultures, as enshrined in the constitution that Ndi Igwe or Ndi Eze were the custodians of their tradition and culture.
The first missionary workers, led by Mrs. Mary Bennett made their appearance in Awka-Etiti in 1904. The first C.M.S mission church was built in Iruowelle village. In 1913 the Roman Catholic mission was also introduced to the town, which built a church and a school. These two churches rapidly led to a conversion of the majority of Awka-Etiti natives to Christianity.
In 1944, the Awka-Etiti Improvement Union, A.I.U, was formed, as the governing body of the area, taking over the mantle of leadership from the traditional Council of Elders meeting (Okwu Azu-Oji). The name of the town was officially changed to Awka-Etiti by the A.I.U in 1946. In 1957 the AIU decided to elect the first Obi (King) of Awka-Etiti. The desire to have a king was based on the creation of the Eastern house of Chiefs by the then colonial Eastern Regional Government in 1956 and the intention of Awka-Etiti to secure a seat on the legislative body.
Awka-Etiti from ancient days did not traditionally have a king, although two warrant chiefs had been appointed by the British after 1900. The first was Chief Ezenwosu on whose death Chief Oyiatuigbo was appointed in 1915 until his death in 1954. The elections for the Igwe's stool were held on July 29, 1957 with His Royal Highness, Igwe Silas Ezenwa emerging as the first Obi of Awka-Etiti. Business men and women from the town had successfully specialised in the importation of bicycles and bicycle parts by the early 1940s.
However, after the Nigerian- Biafran Civil War in 1970, Awka-Etiti entrepreneurs established a number of renowned manufacturing industries notably the G.M.O Group of Companies and the Roadmaster Industries Ltd. More recently established industries are the IKB cosmetics product line and the Interbau Construction Company Ltd.
Thousands of job opportunities in Nigeria and beyond were provided directly and indirectly by these and other industries and business ventures rooted in Awka-Etiti. All the roads in the area were tarred, mainly by private individuals. Beyond that, several important link roads were tarred by the single handed efforts of philanthropic natives.
Awka-Etiti is representative of the situation in the neighbouring towns and Igbo land, where little or no government induced infrastructural development had been felt. The Iruowelle Youths Association and the Umunocha Development Association have been most prominent in tarring the roads in their villages. But, the struggle for the Igwe ship stool in Awka-Etiti (formerly Awka Dielo), noted as one of the driving forces behind the development of industrialisation in Igbo land led to serious disputes and the untimely death of some prominent natives.
However, while certain communities in the state including Atani in Ogbaru Local Government Area, Alor in Idemili South Local Government Area, Uga in Aguata Local Government Area and most recently Oraukwu in Idemili North Local Government Area have just settled down with their new traditional rulers in the persons of Igwe Augustine Ngoddy (Atani), Igwe MacAnthony Okonkwo (Alor), Igwe Chidi Ezenwugo (Uga) and Igwe Emeka Onuora (Oraukwu), though with protests from some quarters, some other communities like Adazi-Nnukwu in Anaocha Local Government Area and Uke in Idemili North Local Government Area are still engrossed in tussles arising from the method of the selection of their own.
In the case of Adazi-Nnukwu, the community has never known peace since the alleged disqualification of Chief Emmanuel Chukwuma, one of the three Igweship candidates selected by Nnukwu clan alongside Prof. Augustine Obiekezie, a deputy vice-chancellor at University of Calabar, UNICAL and Dr. Chike Ezeude, a hotel proprietor based in Abuja and presented to the entire community for election among the three.
The President-General of the town union, Chief Benedict Enemuo had in a general meeting of Adazi-Nnukwu Town Development Union, ATDU, announced the disqualification of Chukwuma, saying that he was not academically or educationally qualified to be their Igwe because he did not possess a minimum of a Diploma certificate.
This development, obviously, split the community into two with the majority insisting that once the Nnukwu clan whose turn it was to select and present candidates to the general assembly for election had included him among the three most qualified candidates and presented him for election, it was improper to have disqualified him, more so, when Chukwuma himself presented a diploma certificate he claimed to have obtained in Cote Di'voire where is he is currently based.
Chukwuma's supporters insisted that the ATDU should have also, sent an investigative team to Cote D'ivoire to verify if actually Chukwuma read and obtained the certificate there or not, before disqualifying him.The supporters also claimed that he was disqualified because they knew he would defeat the other candidates if allowed to contest as a result of his popularity occasioned by his philanthropic activities which involved annual scholarship awards and empowerment programmes.
At the moment, the suit filed by Chukwuma against Enemuo and ATDU is still pending before an Awka High court presided over by the state Chief Judge, Justice Peter Umeadi.
Chukwuma is praying the court to include him as one of the three candidates that would contest the Igweship election, as well as an order injunction barring Governor Willie Obiano from giving Obiekezie or any other person staff of office, pending the determination of the suit.
Brothers at war for same stool
In the case of Uke community, the Igweship tussle is currently going on between two brothers of same biological parentage as the elder one, Dr Boniface Bartholomew Chukwudi Agbala (plaintiff), a medical practitioner, has already dragged his younger sibling, Charles Chukwuma Agbala, a Quantity Surveyor who is contesting the Igweship with him and six others (defendants) to an Idemili High court sitting in Ogidi, over the matter.
The plaintiff is seeking among other reliefs, a declaration that under the Uke Development Union, UDU Constitution of 2007, two candidates can not emerge from the same ward (Uruezeani/Uruabor) to contest for the throne of the community, not to talk of two brothers from same parentage.
He therefore prayed the court to declare also that going by the UDU constitution of 2007 that his younger brother was not qualified to contest the throne with him when he (elder) had already declared interest to contest and was duly nominated by the ward winning the selection exercise.
Agbala also pleaded that the selection committee acted in breach of the UDU constitution 2007 by submitting the name of his younger brother to the Uruezeani/Uruabor Patriotic Union and Central Executive Committee of UDU when he (plaintiff) was already in the race before him.
He also asked for N20 million damages against all the defendants as well as for an order of perpetual injunction restraining his younger brother, agents, privies, servants and all the defendants or successors from parading him or other defendants or any other person other than himself as the Igwe-elect of Uke.
Blame govt -Ex-commissioner
A former Commissioner for Youth Development in Abia State, Mr Ekele Nwaohanmuo, who bemoaned the divisive tendencies in the Igbo land as a result of Ezeship crises placed the problems at the doorsteps of the various state governments.
Nwaohanmuo told South East Voice in Aba, that the traditional stool was now used to settle political loyalists and sympathizers, leading to crises with opposing parties. According to him, granting of certificate of recognition to traditional rulers has become a money spinner as well as toll for political loyalty for those in power.
To become a traditional ruler, it is now a matter of who you know? Which political party? This should not be so, because the traditional stool is meant to be apolitical. Today, you see many traditional rulers campaigning for their choice candidates during elections. It is as bad as that. This is the major cause of crisis."
According to him, in Abia state, the issue of Ezeship disputes became more pronounced since the return of democracy in 1999. What caused it? It is the attempt to impose traditional rulers on the people. A traditional ruler must be a fit and proper person to preside over the people. He must be somebody who can command respect from his people. But today, all kinds of shady characters have been made traditional rulers in many communities.
So, with such a situation why won't there be crisis? I remind you that people in this part of the world are inclined to stand against injustices such as imposition."As a lawyer, I have a party I am representing in court. The community lost their Eze. After the mourning period, a wealthy man living overseas just appeared on the scene and declared interest on the vacant stool.
But the people already had their choice, but the man with the support of a cabal in the community started using security agents to harass those opposing him, leading to crisis. Some of them were arrested and remanded in prisons. This caused serious crisis, and as I am talking with you; over five persons have died as a result of the crisis," he said.He then asked the state governments to refrain from imposing traditional rulers and let the people choose their kings themselves.
EBONYI: There have been pockets of disputes and intrigues surrounding chieftaincy matters in some local government areas like Ivo, Ishielu, Ohaozara which sharply divided the natives of the affected communities.
In the state, chieftaincy matters are not only divisive but rancorous, hence the current administration of Governor Dave Umahi has set up the Ebonyi State Traditional Rulers Council to settle such disputes. Umahi had in September 2015, resolved the contentious issue of who was the authentic traditional ruler of Ishiagu autonomous community, in Ivo Local Government Area of the state. On the occasion which took place at the International Conference Centre, Abakaliki, the traditional ruler, Agu III of Ishiagu kingdom, His Royal Majesty, Eze Moses Okafor Ngele was issued a Certificate of Recognition and Staff of Office by Umahi.
The kingship tussle that rocked Ishiagu community lasted over seven years following the demise of the Agu II of Ishiagu kingdom, HRM Basil Onu died in 2008. Also, the emergence and coronation of Eze Laz Nweze Umahi as the king of Uburu Autonomous Community in Ohaozara Local Government Area after 10 years of dispute, was reflective of Governor Umahi's agenda for peace to reign in the state.
ENUGU: During the military administration of Col. Robert Akonobi in the old Anambra State, some communities including Enugu Ezike were split into various autonomous communities. Enugu Ezike which used to be one large autonomous community was split into four before they were further increased to over 36 following agitations for more.
Today, there are more autonomous communities than secondary schools in the area following the balkanisation of the state by the former administration of Dr Chimaroke Nnamani and his successor, Sullivan Chime. The Imufu Community, is currently in court with the government appointed traditional ruler, Remigius Attah as the people claimed that Attah forged the constitution with which he used in getting recognition over nine years ago.
However, it is remarkable that although, there are currently two parallel levels of traditional governance in Enugu Ezike – the Onyishis are still more respected and superior to the government appointed Igwes. Igwes are usually summoned to attend meetings at the Onyishi's palace whenever needed. It is an abomination for the oldest man to attend village meetings in a younger person's house, hence there are parallel lines of authorities. The Onyishi is the de facto leader while the Igwe is de jure leader in each of the new communities in the area.
In Nkanu area, several communities are experiencing serious disputes arising from selection of their traditional rulers. There was heightened tension in Mgbanaoha Nkerefi and Umuode communities following the brutal murder of the traditional rulers of the communities, Igwe P.A. Onuoha and Moses Ugwu respectively, by yet to be identified gunmen.It was gathered that the hoodlums killed the traditional ruler of Nkerefi alongside Ejike Udeme Uzor, Evelyn Udeme Uzor, and Daniel Ogbu.
Meanwhile, despite a pending court case in Ihe / Owerre autonomous community in Nsukka Local Government Area, over the occupation of the vacant traditional stool of the community, following the death of Igwe John Attama, the community has declared and installed Ozioko George Asadu as the traditional ruler of the community. Three candidates including Chief Mike Omeje, Ozioko George Asadu and Chief Sylanus Ezea applied for the position before Sylvanus withdrew from the race.
Asadu was reportedly foisted on the people by the former Commissioner for Chieftaincy Matters in the state, Pastor Emeka Abugu. The battle for the throne had been raging since 2011.
IMO: Like other parts of Igbo land, there is unbridled quest for autonomous communities which had been generating friction and indeed, bloodletting over the years. Virtually, every hamlet in the state wants to be granted autonomous status. Successive governments have not helped in this situation, as they kept on dethroning, appointing and recognizing new monarchs, even against the communities' preferred candidates.
Events have shown that some individuals exploit their wealth, connections to officials of a sitting government and sometimes, use brute force, to acquire traditional stools.In one of the communities in Ngor Okpala Local Council Area of the state, the struggle became so intense that one of the contenders, whose family was believed to be a settler in the land, was eventually recognised by the government.
One of the stories weaved around this particular incident was that government, at the promptings of a powerful and well-positioned official of the administration, silenced the legitimate choice of the people and went ahead to appoint and recognize a fellow, based on other considerations alien to the community's customs and traditions.
South East Voice was told that with this government action, the development took the back seat in the Ngor Okpala Community, as the people's resentment grew in leaps and bounds. While government kept dealing with the man of their choice, the people remained resolute in their supplication to God for intervention.
South East Voice also gathered that some governments, past and present, balkanized existing autonomous communities, in a bid to allegedly get even with a perceived royal foe. In one such instance in Owerri Senatorial Zone, four new autonomous communities were carved out of an existing autonomous community that dated back to pre-colonial times.
Currently, the royal father of Obinugwu Community, Eze Cletus Ilomuanya is in court to reclaim his stool from Stanley Nwangwu who was foisted on the community by Governor Rochas Okorocha in 2014.Justice P. C. Ikpeama, while dismissing the preliminary objections filed by Okorocha and Nwangwu in opposition to the N10 billion suit, HOW/609/2014, brought against them, and directed the defendants to file their defence.
During the military era, Izombe Community in Oguta Local Government Area of the state, was torn apart over the bitter struggle for the royal stool. Houses were burnt. Young girls and mothers were raped. Life and property were also destroyed with ease, as vicious cult groups emerged in the town, with each of the groups trying to out-class the other. The situation was so bad at the time that people fled from the town and took refuge in adjoining communities. The security agencies were eventually drafted to the area.
An indigene of the community who spoke on grounds of anonymity, told South East Voice that "Those reading your piece now, may not fully appreciate what the community passed through. The community was in turmoil. Nobody was safe in the place and we had to scamper into Owerri and other communities, to escape from the onslaught of the rampaging cult groups."
The octogenarian traditional ruler of Ofeahia Eziudo in Aboh Mbaise Local Government Area of the state, Eze Desmond Oguguo, once lamented that the traditional institution in Igbo land was gradually but steadily being bastardized.
"At the rate new autonomous communities are being created, every hamlet and family may end up getting a traditional ruler. What is more disturbing is that anybody and everybody is now being made a royal father," Eze Oguguo once said.
Olubadan's intervention fails to resolve Igbo leadership crisis
Written by OLUSEYE OJo, Ibadan
~The SUN, Nigeria. Thursday, May 19, 2016.