His Majesty, Eze (Dr) Cletus Ilomuanya, the embattled Obi of Obinugwu, who doubles as chairman, Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers, says he remains the monarch of his community because the people are solidly behind him, and so he can’t be dethroned as claimed by the Imo State government.
He says Governor Rochas Okorocha is simply envious of him, adding that he has gone to court to enforce his rights over the unconstitutional removal as chairman of the Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers before the expiration of his five-year tenure. He spoke to George Onyejiuwa in Owerri.
Congratulations on the successful celebration of the New Yam festival of your community. It witnessed a large turnout. What was the secret?
There is no magic about it; I am the traditional ruler of this community, the chairman of the Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers and the South-East council of Ndieze. The people of Obinugwu know who their king is and as a traditional ruler, I don’t need to spend money to hire people as politicians do to attend any function. All I need to do is to announce that there would be a particular event and the people will come in their number, and that is why we are royal fathers. Again, when people choose their king themselves, they will believe in him and when you rule them very well, they will be happy. The Iriji is our annual festival that is held on August 14 of every year and for the people, it marks the beginning of the year, when the king of the community will break the yam and eat first before anybody. And once I perform this traditional rite, there will be jubilation by the entire community. So, there is no magic; it is just being honest. And again, with the people recognizing you as their Eze, they will always support you; that is why you saw so much crowd on that day. The truth is that the people of Obingwu love their king.
Why do you think the state government tried to stop that Iriji festival?
I don’t really know their reason for trying to stop a traditional festival. But when the government has lost focus in what it is supposed to do, that is, to provide good governance and to look after the welfare of its citizens, instead it is chasing shadows. You are in Imo State and you know what is happening, because it is obvious that there is no government in Imo State. The government has derailed from its initial purpose, because what we have today is a vindictive government that is busy chasing people perceived to be its enemies. Any government that is making life unsafe for its people is not a government. Look at how people are migrating to Lagos because of what (Governor Babatunde) Fashola is doing in that state. Have you ever seen Governor Fashola advertising what he has been doing on the television? But here, when the governor re-paints different parts of the same house, it will be shown on television. What we have in Imo is a government of deceit and a lot of people are disenchanted. So, I don’t know the reason the state government would want to stop an annual Iriji festival of Obinugwu that has nothing to do with the government or any individual but a community affair. So, I don’t know my brother!
Don’t you think it may have something to do with your removal as the chairman of the Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers and your dethronement by the state government as traditional ruler of Obinugwu?
You mentioned two things. First, that I have been removed as the chairman of the state council of traditional rulers. The governor announced on June 16, 2011 that it had dissolved the council of traditional rulers and that he had removed me as chairman and we went to court, because the law establishing the council of traditional rulers is very clear. This is a lawless government and that is why, when they sing about the rule of law in the so-called Imo anthem, I just laugh because this government does not have respect for the rule of law. There is no rule of law in Imo and everybody who lives in this state knows that, because the governor has become an emperor.
This is the worst government anybody has seen so far in Imo State. Now, the council of traditional rulers was set up by law and the governor, who had sworn to uphold the constitution, has refused to obey the law. The governor ought to know that the traditional council was established by law enacted by the state Assembly. But, of course, he was ignorant of that and this shows how qualified he is to be governor of the state. He said he dissolved the council and the traditional rulers said, no, because the law does not give him the power to dissolve the council; it only gives the power to inaugurate after it has been constituted. The law also stipulates how the chairman and executive members of the council would be removed. But the governor simply woke up one morning and announced that he had dissolved the council and I, as the chairman, went to court on behalf of the traditional rulers and court, in its judgment, ruled that the governor does not have the power to dissolve the council and that I remain the chairman and the 54 members of the council are still there. Section 17A of the law establishing the council of traditional rulers, says the tenure of every executive member is five years and that the only way an executive member of the council can be replaced before the end of his tenure is through death or resignation. At the court, the judge had asked the government if Eze Ilomuanya was dead or resigned and the answer was, no. But instead of the governor to obey the judgment of the court, he filed an appeal and still lost.
So, I am still the bonafide chairman of the Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers until the expiration of my tenure in 2015. So, anybody who claims to be chairman is an impostor. Already, there is a case of impersonation against Eze Ohiri; the case is on and if not for the slow nature of our judicial system, Eze Ohiri would have been in prison by now for impersonation, because he has been signing documents as the chairman of Imo Council of Traditional Rulers. Now the same judgment restrained the state government and its agents from any act that will truncate my tenure till its expiration in 2015. The judgment is very clear. So, where did he get the power to remove me as traditional ruler? Moreover, he is not from my community; except, of course, Governor Okorocha also wants to be the Eze of Obinugwu, and if that is what he wants, he should ask the people. Governor Okorocha is very jealous of Obinugwu because we are the most peaceful community in the country. Have you ever heard of crisis in Obinugwu?
When Governor Okorocha made the so-called announcement on radio, that he had dethroned me, I came back home and my people insisted that I remain their Eze and they wrote to the governor that he should leave Obinugwu alone and that they are happy with their Eze. To tell you how desperate the governor was, he was begging some of our prominent sons to become the Eze, including Professor Unegbu, who he promised that he would build a mansion and palace for and that he would also give him cars and security that would protect if him accepts. But he simply told the governor, like the others, that they already have an Eze and they are happy with him. Is he not ashamed of himself?
Obinugwu community has a constitution, which is registered with the government how to select an Eze and how to remove him. Again, Imo State’s law of 2006 as amended, stipulates how a traditional ruler could be removed. My only offence was that I obeyed the last Court of Appeal judgment that I should take over my office and when I took over my office, the governor announced the same day that he had dethroned me.
So, what process did he use to dethrone me? What law? I am an institution and if I have committed any offence, he would set up a panel according to the law and there is a process; after investigation and if I am found guilty, that is when you can exercise that power and also I should be communicated. But up till today, I have not been written to by the government that I have been dethroned; I only heard it from radio announcement, that he has dethroned himself, not Eze Ilomuanya. It was only on radio. My staff of office is here; my certificate of recognition is here. So, which one has he withdrawn? It is sheer lawlessness.
It is alleged that you are still the Eze because you are being protected by FG, which has given you over 100 armed policemen. How do you react to that?
It is my people who resisted the so-called dethronement and insisted that I remain their Eze because they said that they had looked into the allegations by the state government and discovered that I am not guilty and that they are solidly behind me. So, it has nothing to do with Mr. President or the presidency. I read in the papers that I move around with about 100 policemen; even Mr. President, does he move around with 100 policeman? As the governor of the state, does he move about with up to 100 policeman? Then why should I, as traditional ruler, move about with 100 policemen? But as traditional ruler, my people are my security because if I raise the alarm now, this place will be full with people and you cannot even escape from this community. So, I don’t need police protection and that is to tell you that this government has lost focus – to be alleging that a traditional ruler goes about with 100 policemen.
What has endeared your people to you so much that they insisted that you remain their Eze, regardless of the governor’s insistence that you have been dethroned?
My people know whom I am; that I am very honest and that I love them and care about their welfare. If you go around this community, you will not find any government project; the secondary and primary schools are the self-effort of the people. They have trust in me; that with me, they will see the light of day. The road you passed through while coming here was constructed and asphalted, by the grace of God, through my effort. Before this road was constructed, you could not enter Obinugwu because, as you are coming this morning, we would have sent able-bodied young men that will come and pull you through the muddy road. That was how this road was; it was impassable. But by the special grace of God, through my effort, it was constructed and asphalted. Before, anybody coming to Obinugwu would be stopped on the hill, because car could not access the place. So, the people would have to trek to the community carrying their loads on their heads. Today, people can close their eyes and drive on this road. Ask the people who brought the electricity that they are enjoying today. By the special grace of God, it was through my effort. I have given numerous scholarships to students, this is regardless of various empowerments to youths and women in the community.
My interest has always been how to better the lives of the people of my community; that is what leadership is all about, and everybody here in the community is peaceful, irrespective of whether I am around. The community is functioning and there has been any trouble.
Let me tell you, I have spent 18 years on the throne as the Obi of Obinugwu because I was made Eze in 1996. You may also wish to know that I was the only Eze in the whole of Orlu Senatorial zone, who was given a staff of office at Orlu township stadium; it has never happened in the history of Imo State. Col. Tanko Zubairu, then Military Administrator of the state, presented certificate and staff of office to me at the stadium. This is to show how worthy the state has found me to be.
But today, what they do now is to call about 100 traditional rulers and give them staff of office in Government House. I am the only one whose staff of office was given at the stadium, in fact, the Emir of Lafia was the special guest of honour on that day; Admiral Porbeni was here to represent the Federal Government. If I was a man of questionable character, would that have happened? I would not have even been crowned as traditional ruler. This is because, before you are made a traditional ruler, there must be a security clearance and even our community has a constitution and if you are a person of questionable character, you cannot be selected to be an Eze. So, nobody can claim to know you better than your people.
The government has also accused you of not attending meetings of Ndi Eze, and that you live in Abuja instead of your community, as required by the law.
First and foremost, I attend meetings of traditional rulers duly called. You know what they do? If they have a meeting tomorrow, they will start sending text messages around 8 O’clock in the night. Is that how they call meeting? May be before then, I have another meeting, because I am the chairman of South-East Council of Ndi Eze. I am co-chairman of the South-South traditional rulers; in the national council, I am the coordinator for South-East. I am the vice-chairman of Traditional Rulers Association of Nigeria and the governor is aware and every time I’m always out of the community to attend meetings. Moreover, my community has never complained. When I was nominated as a member of the just-concluded National Conference, I duly notified the governor and that I would be attending the conference and that if there was an urgent matter he would want me to attend to, that I would come back immediately. So, nobody has come to my community and complained that he did not see me. Has the governor visited my community and he was not received by me? Nobody has come to the palace and was told that the Eze is not around. I think that the governor sees me as a threat, because they have sinned against the gods of the land. That is why they are derailing. How would they say that I don’t attend meetings? I have attended functions with the governor, though I was not properly seated because I sat at the back. As the chairman of Imo Council of Traditional Rulers, I thought the governor would say ‘Eze come and take your seat.’ He did not say that and I kept quite. So, why would the governor want me to attend meetings when he has refused to obey the law. So, any meeting of traditional rulers that is presided over by some one else except me is illegal and any decision taken at the meeting of Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers that is not convened by me, is illegal and the governor knows that.
You have also been accused by the state government of working for a party, instead of being a monarch.
If I were a politician and I go to the polls with Governor Okorocha, I will defeat him and he knows that. But he knows that I have been traditional ruler while he was still in school over 18-19 years ago. Who is he then to say that I am not a traditional ruler and that I am a politician? He also knows that I am a businessman; I have a house which I built before I became a traditional ruler. I have children, I have a house in Abuja, which I had before I became a traditional ruler. So, should I abandon my business, my house, because I am a traditional ruler? Has Okorocha seen me in any political rally? He is afraid of my influence, because he knows that all the traditional rulers are with me.
According to him, he said that if he kills Ilomuanya that he would conquer Imo because the traditional rulers are with me. He called all the traditional rulers and warned them not to attend my Iriji festival. Can you imagine a governor of a state warning traditional rulers not to attend the Iriji festival of a fellow traditional ruler? That shows you that he is afraid of me. When he told me that he wished to contest for office of the president, I wished him well and that may God help him.
But 2011 was a different case because we had already agreed on the rotation of the office governor of the state among the three senatorial zones. I was the youngest traditional ruler when the decision of zoning was taken in 1999. The late Igwe of Orlu was part of it; Eze Onuegbu Nwoke was part of it; Eze Orsu was part of it. I never knew that I would be chairman of the Traditional Rulers Council and in 2003 it was resolved that, in the interest of peace, Achike Udenwa should complete his eight years and that after, it would be the turn of Okigwe before going to Owerri, so that there won’t be too much fighting and that was why Udenwa ensured that an Okigwe man became the governor. Otherwise, Festus Odimegwu or Tony Ezenna (of Orange Drugs) would have been the governor after him. But we said no, that the arrangement must be kept and that it must be zone-by-zone. Because in 1999 Udenwa was not supposed to be the governor because he did not even win the Primaries, but the late Senator Echeruo and I.D. Nwoga insisted that it must go to Orlu because the zone had never produced the governor of state before. That was how Udenwa became the governor, and as a traditional ruler who respects agreement and my duty is to ensure that there is peace, justice and equity and in 2011 the matter came up again and the council of traditional rulers advised that since there was an understanding, that the Okigwe zone should complete its tenure before it goes to Owerri. That was my sin against Okorocha. When he won the election, I congratulated him and that we cannot question God, that ‘Your Excellency, you are now the governor and you have my loyalty’ and he embraced me. But he has no truth in his mouth; he does not keep promises. All those who contributed to his electoral victory, like Emeka Offor, Ifeanyi Uba, Capt. Iheanacho, Udenwa, Senator Chris Anyanwu and the rest of others, where are they today? Tell me whom he has not disappointed. You are in the state, have you seen him with any past leader? He is an Island.
If you go to Enugu, whenever Governor Chime is doing something, you will see people like Senator Ken Nnamani and others by his side. In Anambra, you see people like Dr. Ikedife, Dr. Ezeife and Peter Obi with their Governor Obiano. It is the same in Abia, Ebonyi; but in Imo, who do you see with Okorocha? What does that tell you? That brings me to the sponsored publication in the paper. You can see that APC, a political party, is making a false accusation on a traditional ruler. A party, what is their problem with Eze Ilomuanya?
If they think that with me they will win, then they should come to me. The objective of Governor Okorocha is to tarnish my image, and for goodness sake, we have grown beyond this level. Look at the fake judgment that was attached in the advertorial. My lawyers have already taken action on it. One, I have written to the IGP, to investigate that publication and the APC chairman. Hilary Eke will tell the public where he got the judgment. I have never been convicted in any court in the whole world, let alone in Nigeria. I have never lived in Calabar; I have only visited Calabar to attend ceremonies and left. So, I have no address in Calabar. If somebody was convicted, what was the sentence? And before you are charged to court, the police will arrest you first and you appear before the court and will be docked and the trial will go on, after the trial you will be convicted, since it is a criminal matter. I have never, in my life, stood trial before Justice Udofia in Calabar. So, my lawyers will bring an action against the APC chairman. The chairman of that party signed such a forged document, I am sure he didn’t know what he was signing; he signed because the governor asked him to sign the advertorial.
And now he is going to bear the brunt. My purported conviction was in 1990 and I became a Traditional Ruler in 1996. How possible? How could I have been cleared by the security agencies to became a traditional ruler and my people would have known too. Another publication in the same Sun where somebody claimed to be chairman of Imo State Council of Elders, there is no such council and I don’t think Njemanze signed that advertorial. He may have signed something else, because as a former Deputy Director General of SSS, he knows the implication and again he is from a royal family and he knows the procedure of selection and removal of a traditional ruler. Can Eze Njemanze be removed through the word of mouth? And for Njamanze from a royal family to make such a comment is regrettable. So, the two publications are rubbish, just to tarnish my image.
Everybody who knows Eze Ilomuanya, knows that it was Rochas who forged the Calabar judgment and gave to the State Assembly, asking them to pass a resolution to remove me as traditional ruler. His Chief of Staff was in the Speaker’s office, insisting that I must be removed. I went to court because I knew it was the handiwork of Okorocha; because he had planned it since he became governor. Recently, he had gone to Mgbidi Court in his desperate bid to ensure that the Iriji of the community did not hold. They did not go the Orlu or Owerri but to Mgbidi High Court. But because the people of Imo State know who I am and the traditional rulers love me, one of them called and told me what was going on. And my Lawyer went to the court because the government had wanted to obtain a kangaroo injunction to stop my ceremony. But the same government that does not respect the rule of law, went to court to stop a traditional ceremony that has nothing to do with the government. Can it work? And they were disgraced in court – the case was thrown out. He knows that he is not my match in anyway because we are all from Orlu zone and he is simply envious of my status and influence in the country. Otherwise, why should a governor of the state be chasing a traditional ruler about?
Now, Justice Nnadi had earlier declared the forged document null and void in 2012 and government did not appeal the judgment. Even one of the principal officers of the State Assembly came to apologize to me, that their hands were tried, and that he was forced to do what they did and begged me to forgive him. Is that a government?
Okorocha has chased me enough, but he has not succeeded because my hands are clean. Since he became governor, he has not paid me any allowance as a traditional ruler. His only agenda is to destroy Eze Ilomuanya; that was why he even broke into my house in Owerri and took away three of my cars, which I bought with my personal. The cars are still in Government House and I went to court and was awarded N10 million damages against the state government. But he has forgotten that one day, he will leave the Government House; the maximum he will spend in government is eight years, that is, if he wins a re-election and after that he will become an ex-governor and an ordinary citizen while I will remain a traditional ruler, because my position is for life.