There have been many contributions to the discourse on the raging controversy between the government of Imo State, or being more specific, Governor Rochas Okorocha and Eze Cletus Ilomuanya, the Obi of Obinugwu kingdom, who also holds the dual responsibility of chairing both the Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers and the South East Council of Traditional Rulers. However, none has been able to discourse the real extent of damage which this unnecessary fight has done or can do to the collective interest of Imo people in particular and Ndigbo in general. I think this is the area we should hamper more on, because Eze Ilomuanya is not just the traditional ruler of Obinugwu kingdom, but he is also the traditional ruler of the entire Igboland. By virtue of his position as the Chairman of the Southeast Council of traditional rulers, he occupies the same prime position as the Sultan of Sokoto occupies in the consciousness of every Hausa or Muslim Nigerian. He deserves the same level of respect the Oonis, Alakes and the Opolopolos get from their people. Governor Okorocha should have understood that inasmuch as it was the Imo State government that gave Ilomuanya his staff of office, Imo State government has practically lost the power to strip him of that staff, because he is not just holding the ofo of Obinugwu, but he is also holding the ofo of Ndigbo.
It should not be lost to us, that the Igbo traditional institution did not come any close to receiving the same respect accorded to its counterpart from across the nation, because we seem to have sold the Igbo enwe eze idea to the entire nation, as no Eze is seen as the paramount eze of Ndigbo, but with the formation of the Southeast Council of Traditional Rulers and the subsequent appointment of Eze Cletus Ilomuanya as its pioneer Chairman, Ndigbo began to enjoy those things that seemed to be the exclusive preserve of Northern Emirs and their Yoruba counterparts. For instance, the Federal government and other international governments now identify a reliable channel through which they could interact with the Igbo traditional institution, and Eze Ilomuanya gave the Igbo traditional institution a strong voice in Abuja and in every other place that matters. Anyone who is trying to destroy this great achievement is without doubt the Igbo man’s greatest enemy.
It is important to point it out here, that Governor Rochas Okorocha is not waging any war with Eze Cletus Ilomuanya because of any crime, the ebullient traditional ruler committed, but due to the faulty assumption that Ilomuanya is someone else’s political ally. Ilomuanya may have become the chairman of these councils during the tenure of Chief Ikedi Godson Ohakim’s as Governor of Imo State, but his loyalty is certainly not to any man or Party, but to his kingdom, Imo State and the Southeast in general. There is absolutely no reason why the Governor of Imo State should see an intervention in the affairs of the traditional institution as his first assignment as the Governor of Imo State, if he was not on some kind of misdirected vendetta. You may remember that the announcement removing Ilomuanya as the chairman of the Imo State Council of Ndi Eze was made few days into this administration’s life. This lends credence to the suspicion that the suspension was planned even before Rochas became Governor. Whoever may have given the Governor this idea, is certainly not an Igbo man and does not cherish the survival of the Igbo ethnic nationality.
Being politically aware and savvy, instead of serving as a discredit to Eze Ilomuanya should have served as a credit to him. It is said in our own part of Nigeria, that when a bride marries two different men, she will have the opportunity to make a clearer choice. Imo people have had the opportunity of having two chairmen of the traditional rulers’ council within the past seven years, and we should be able to say who is better of the two. While Ilomuanya remains the legally recognized number one traditional ruler in the State, Eze Ohiri is the illegal but State government recognized number one traditional ruler in the State. during the days of Ikedi Ohakim as Governor of Imo State, when Ilomuanya’s legality was recognized by the government, we saw the dignity with which he carried about his job, but today, we have a ‘number one’ traditional ruler in the State who has not been able to distinguish between being a traditional ruler and being the Governor’s image maker and praise singer. Ilomuanya’s acceptability goes beyond the borders of the Southeast, but the man who is struggling to replace him is dwarfed by other Ezes who would naturally bow before Eze Ilomuanya in any gathering of Ndi Eze outside Imo State.
One of the things that have been held against Ilomuanya by those opposed to himis his alleged partisanship during and after the tenure of Chief Ikedi Ohakim. As much as this is not very true, we must also not fail to understand that traditional rulers like every human cannot be completely shut out of politics. The traditional ruler is duty bound to give his subjects direction on everything, this includes politics. While the traditional ruler must avoid being hostile to any political leader, he has a right to make and pursue political choices that he is convinced is best for him and his people. A traditional ruler must think for his people and take legitimate steps towards ensuring that his people are not misled into taking decisions or actions that may be detrimental to the developmental prospects of the kingdom.
Ilomuanya harnessed his position as the chairman of Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers to work for his people of Obinugwu, and this goes to explain why his people have remained strongly behind him, in the face of these unwarranted persecutions from the State government. I can confirm to you that at least eight out of every ten Obinugwu indigene is fully in support of Eze Ilomuanya and most of them are ready to stake their lives to ensure that the Governor and his agents do not succeed in their illegal push to install a stooge as the traditional ruler of Obinugwu. There have actually been reports that Okorocha’s choice for the Obinugwu stool is not a full born of Obinugwu kingdom, with strong allegations that the said Mr. Nwangwu Mathew hails from Arondizuogu. Imposing a foreigner as king over the people is the worst form of imperialistic disdain against a people.
I will continue to argue that if Governor Okorocha has the slightest interest of Ndigbo at heart, he would have forgotten whatever personal issues he has with Eze Ilomuanya and support him to continue using his contacts and creativity to work for the general good of Imo people and Ndigbo in general. It takes a King with Eze Ilomuanya’s rare exposures, connections and courage to stand up and work for the good of Ndigbo. There is no arguing the fact that Eze Ilomuanya has lived up to his bidding as the number one Eze in Igboland. He has partnered with and also put governments at every level in check and made it possible for them to appreciate the importance of an Igbo man, no matter where he is found. He has never relented from speaking up against the violence killings and destructions of properties meted out against Ndigbo in the Northern part of Nigeria and elsewhere. He has also been able to create a good working relationship between the Igbo traditional institution and the traditional institutions of other parts of the country. From the Sultan of Sokoto to the Ooni of Ife and other respected traditional institutions across the nation and beyond, respect is reciprocated and correspondences are shared for the greater good of the people. Ilomuanya’s reach and acceptability has made it possible that for the very first time in recent history of the caliphate, the Sultan of Sokoto visited South East Nigeria, when he honoured Eze Ilomuanya with his royal presence in his palace at his palace in Obinugwu.
Beyond his primary responsibilities of administering his domain and ensuring that traditional or natural values of Ndigbo are upheld, the chairman of the Southeast Council of traditional rulers is also a non-partisan politician, a negotiator, a mediator and an intermediary between political office holders and the people. This position makes it possible for him to interface with the Federal government on issues that Governors or the legislators and other political office holders may not be able to discuss with the Federal government due to political differences or other interests. The traditional ruler’s position as a non Party politician makes it possible for him to take up any issue of interest to Ndigbo, no matter how delicate, and present it to the Federal government and there will be greater chances of such proposal succeeding. Traditional institutions are respected and traditional rulers obeyed by governments as a result of their known closeness to the people. Among all administrative authorities, the traditional institution is far more in touch with the people than any other; the religious institution comes next before the political class.
As an alternative non State structure of government, the South East Council of Traditional Rulers is a veritable development partner to government at all levels as it can be and have been severally leveraged upon to promote and protect the interests of Ndigbo. In a situation where Governors and other political office holders are divided and or distracted by politics and partisan differences from pursuing ideals and programs that are beneficial to the people, the traditional institution has the capacity to stand in and pursue those struggles and negotiations that are of interest to our people. This council is an indispensable institution in our collective pursuit for the general Igbo interest, and all believers in the Igbo struggle for equity and fairness must not only work but must be seen as working for the growth and sustenance of this noble institution. The present attempt by the Imo State government and its agents to dilute the virility and frustrate the viability of this council through the unrelenting persecution of its chairman is an affront on the Igbo nation, and should be resisted by all genuinely concerned Igbos.
It is also worrisome that the Governor could go to the desperate extent of sponsoring online writers to write and publish damaging articles against this respected traditional ruler. This is as embarrassing as it is traitorous to the Igbo man’s shared identity and dignity. This is a deliberate and ill-advised attempt at painting all Igbo traditional rulers as ex-convicts and or criminals. Because it follows, that a thief, leads a thief. As the primus interperes among traditional rulers in the South East, labelling him an ex-convict or any such demeaning label, is a clear insinuation that all traditional rulers in Igbo land are ex-convicts, fugitives or moral derelicts. Our governor and his handlers should be careful not prove those who have insistently doubted Governor Okorocha’s Igboliness, right.
It will be right for the Governor to toe the path of former Governor, Ikedi Godson Ohakim who was visionary enough to lend his full weight to the formation of that apex traditional council for Igbo traditional rulers, and never relented in his support for the sustenance and stability of that council. His thoughts were certainly for the best interest of the Igbo nation. Governor Ohakim did not give staff of office to Eze Ilomuanya, it was Chief Achike Udenwa who did, therefore, the argument that Ohakim spearheaded everything for Ilomuanya is wrong. It is truer to say that Governor Ohakim identified salient qualities in Ilomuanya which he felt could be harnessed for the good of not just Imo State, but for the entire Southeast Nigeria. Governor had the option of pursuing vendetta or running Eze Ilomuanya down, like the present governor is doing, but he looked into the future and was convinced that Eze Ilomuanya had the capacity to serve the Igbo interest in that capacity.
Governor Okorocha is obviously being helplessly egocentric about this issue. He seemed not to be bothered that the gains of a South East Council of Traditional Rulers to Ndigbo will be lost due to his unjustified onslaught against its chairman. It is also unfortunate that the Governor is intentionally or unintentionally serving the interests of those opposed to the political, social and economic survival of the Igbo race, by frontally sabotaging one of the most viable institutions that is at the forefront of the fight for Igbo survival. It is my prayer that the Governor and his agents will see a serious reason to immediately cease fire on this battle against the Igbo nation and allow peace to rein.
Editor’s note: This article is purely the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the opinion of IMO STATE BLOG.com