Anambra: Time to tell these traditional rulers the truth
Let me start by saying that I am from a solid Royal Home. Not the kind of Royal Homes that are two for a kobo, now, scattered all over Igbo land. The one I come from is very much over a Century old. And even though I don’t prefix my name with Princess, I understand what it is to be one.
My respect for the traditional institution is, therefore, sky high. And I feel really bad when I see any of them being humiliated. Which is the angle from which a number of people want me to look at the shame playing out in Anambra State.
I am likely to disappoint them here.
I believe very much in the Igbo adage, which says: “When adults reduce thems elves to rice, children feast on them.” In sum, that is the story of what happened in Anambra State. Some traditional rulers reduced themselves to rice, and were feasted upon from Anambra, to Abuja, and back to Anambra.
For a couple of reasons, not relevant here, I am not a fan of Willie Obiano, the Anambra State Governor. But last week, I grudgingly gave him a thumbs-up.
Obiano, in an unprecedented action, suspended 13 traditional rulers. He did well. The suspension, he ordered, would last for an initial one year, after which it could be lifted, or extended. I don’t agree.
Given Obiano’s reputation of, alleged, intolerance, I am disappointed the suspension is for one year only. He should have suspended them for as long as his tenure would last. And if his successor so desires, they could be reinstated. But I should add: after an apology to the Governor/Government of the state.Otherwise, if the new governor reinstates them to curry favour from the piper dictating their dance-steps, I wish him, the same disrespect given to the office of the Governor, which earned them the suspension.
What is the crux of the matter?
How did Anambra, again, descend to the time of former Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju and billionaire businessman, Emeka Offor? How did it descend to the time of former Governor Chris Ngige and Chief Chris Uba?
Mbadinuju’s, sour relationship with Offor cost him a second term in office, and set Anambra children back, educationally. The schools were closed for over one year. Teachers were on strike. Everything went wrong. A piper was somewhere, dictating the tune. Till date, Mbadinuju has not recovered from his tango with Offor. Who hears his name again? He has since gone into political oblivion.
Ngige had, from Chief Uba, the most humiliating experience any governor could have. He was dragged to the Okija shrine to swear to an oath that he would give up the treasury of the state to his political godfather. And when he reneged on the oath, he was dragged into a room, some say, toilet, and was forced to read a letter of resignation from office as the governor. He was, thereafter, kidnapped by police officers led by no less a top officer than Ige, an Assistant Inspector General of Police. Ngige’s political life, and office, at the time, was saved by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. The President then, Olusegun Obasanjo, was hand in glove with Chris Uba.
Yet, Ngige is luckier than Mbadinuju. For not given up the state treasury at the time, to one man, he was seen as a hero, the “destroyer” of political godfatherism in Anambra. Smartly, he decamped to the AC, later APC, and is now, a two-time Minister. But, it should be pointed out that since his tango with Uba, Ngige has neither won any election in Anambra State, nor garnered any appreciable votes for his party, during any election.
But the man, who put an authoritative stop to political godfatherism in Anambra, during his two-term tenure, was Peter Obi. He unsat Ngige by proving that Ngige won no election and, also, unsat Senator Andy Uba after the Senator’s two weeks in office as Governor. Obi, thus, changed the political landscape in Nigeria by proving that a Governor’s term begins from the date he is sworn into office.
There are reasons why Obi handled political godfatherism in Anambra state effortlessly. Obi is not loud, but he is rich, very rich. Before he became a governor, he was a billionaire in naira, and a multi-millionaire in, at least, two of the world’s strong currencies. A shrewd investor, and a shrewd trader (He introduces himself, always, as a trader), he sponsored his own campaign, and didn’t need the help of any godfather. He gave the many Anambra billionaires space.
Anambra probably has more political godfathers than any other state in Nigeria. With their many Police escorts, long siren-blaring convoy, usually, longer than that of the state governor, Obi, whose convoy, as a Governor, was as a matter of policy, between three and five, always made way for their siren- blaring convoys. He would just park, and allow them zoom past. He was never in their face. And he did not allow them to be in his face. The respect was mutual. So, he escaped their wrath, their intrigue, their power show, and their influence peddling.
It is not that those other godfathers are no longer there. They are. Chris Uba has been quiet since Senator Ifeanyi Ubah gave him an unexpected bloody nose in the race to the Senate in 2019.
Offor is also there. He is not bothering the state government. For now, he is more concerned with using his foundation to develop parts of the North – building and equipping hospitals and schools there, and giving them scholarships.
The most prominent, now, is Chief Arthur Eze, the man who goes by the title, Ozo Igbo Ndu – saviour of the Igbo. My people love titles, all sorts.
His influence goes beyond Anambra. It cuts across all the South-east States and, as he confirms, Africa. The other day, he reportedly said he sponsored three African Presidents, and that one of them, in appreciation, gave him oil wells!
See? The man has three African Presidents in his pocket. No wonder he called Obiano a small fry. In Nigeria, he gives money to many of those contesting for one political position or the other – especially, presidency, governorship. It doesn’t matter which party, but they have to be from the two main political parties – APC and PDP. He does that, in case.
Eze is a close friend, and ally, of every occupant of Aso Rock. It has been so since Abacha. Considering how close he was to Goodluck Jonathan, not a few people thought he was going to be heartbroken when he lost the Presidential election to President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. But perish the thought. It is commonplace now to hear him run Jonathan down, and praise Buhari to high heavens. He surely gave money to both candidates in 2015. He is not alone. At that level, most of them do that. If there is life, by God’s grace, in 2023, the loyalty will shift, and so would the songs of praise.
Eze is the master of all political godfathers in the South-east because of his closeness to the Villa. During the Jonathan administration, he chided former Governor of Abia State, Senator Theodore Orji, publicly on, at least, two occasions, for alleged non-performance.
About two years ago in Abakiliki, Ebonyi State, he felt it was his right to choose for the Igbo which of their sons should be the President after Buhari. So, he told Buhari, who was in the state, to look the way of Governor Dave Umahi, for a President of Igbo extraction if, and when. I cannot confirm, but I understand he is no longer looking the way of the Igbo for the Presidency.
In the past couple of months, he has been picking his fight from the Igbo area. He recently had an almost dirty spat with former Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim. The worst SGF, ever, he dubbed Anyim. Before then, it was with one of Nigeria’s literary pride, Chimamanda Adichie who protested the treatment given her Abba Community by Eze, who she accused of annexing the Community’s land and market. There are a few such complaints of land annexation by other neighbouring communities against Eze.
Now, he it is, who is behind the shame that brought about the suspension of the 13 Traditional Rulers in Anambra.
What is the problem?
From what I gather, the problem is rooted in politics. It has something to do with who becomes the next Governor of Anambra State in 2021 after Obiano. Eze has an interest, as he does every four years. The youthful Chief Tony Nwoye used to be his favourite candidate. I don’t know whether he still is. The governor wants it in a particular zone, in the spirit of rotation. Eze disagrees. He, allegedly, wants the zoning arrangement discarded.
The governor felt Eze was interfering more than he was comfortable with. Eze had given him a bloody nose with the siting of the Zonal Police Command in his Community, (another reason neighbouring communities should be more afraid), instead of at the State Capital, Awka which is an unwritten norm.
One speculation is that Obiano wanted it in his Aguleri community. But he underrated Eze and his influence in the Villa and the Force Headquarters. Or, hasn’t the governor seen Eze’s siren-blaring, long convoy, and the number of police personnel attached to him. The Governor was not very happy, and made moves to see if the Zonal Headquarters could be relocated to Awka. It didn’t work.
Eze decided to hit Obiano on his soft belly. He remembered Local Government Areas. He rightly accused the Governor of not holding Local Government elections; of, for years, using Caretaker Committees; of dipping his hands in the till of Local Government funds.
Now, these are illegal. But Obiano has not done anything most governors in the country are not doing. They are the same. So, why pick on him? Convenient, to put the governor in his place.
Most people think this ugly power-show has everything to do with the governorship election of 2021, and flowing from that, the Presidential election in 2023.
Eze, they say, wants to be in charge, and in good stead to deliver the state to whomever President Buhari would back – South-east or not.
What to do?
He plotted a coup with the 13 Traditional Rulers. With money, he got them cheap. He got them to rebel against the Governor. He told them he would take them to Abuja to see the President, much like the children’s rhyme of pussycat going to London to see the Queen.
Their mission, according to them, was to go and thank the president for the good work he is doing in the state. They point at the slow, but on-going River Niger Bridge. They point at the completion of Zik’s mausoleum after many years. They point at a couple of roads. They talk of the appointments given to Anambra sons and daughters. And, can you imagine, in this era of COVID-19, and the efforts to protect the Villa, they set forth.
The questions to ask are: when has it become the job of a billionaire businessman to lead traditional rulers on a thank you visit to the president? Whatever happened to the Governor, National Assembly members, the Minister, and other top presidential appointees from the state? Where was the Chairman of the State’s Traditional Council? And, excuse this cliché, to add insult to injury, they left the state without as much as informing the Governor.
Aliko Dangote is the richest man in Africa. He is from Kano. He is, without doubt, one of the most influential men in the world, Africa and Nigeria. I doubt if Eze is as close to the Villa as Dangote. The question to ask Eze is: Has Dangote ever tried to intervene in the politics of Kano, or lead traditional rulers on a thank you visit to the President? When he intervenes in Kano, or anywhere, it is to make peace , and to provide for the people.
The same question goes to the other money men in Igboland, who are not politicians per se. There are the Femi Otedolas, the Mike Adenugas, the Jim Ovias, the Tony Elumelus, the Dantatas, the Abdul Samad Ishaku Rabius, and many more. None of them harasses their Governors. And none would, even in their worst nightmares, not to think of leading a delegation of Traditional Rulers to the Villa. They are busy empowering their people, improving their states, and playing at the international level.
In Imo, my state, there is a very quiet billionaire, who has no time for such things. He just empowers the youths, widows, the less privileged, and generally lifts his state. His name is Leo Stan Eke. There are a few others like him in Imo, as there are a few like some of those Anambra billionaires, but they are not as brazen.
I cannot imagine any traditional ruler in the North, for example, who would allow himself to be dragged by the nose by a billionaire businessman, or be enmeshed in politics. He would be deposed. Ask the former Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. He was deposed on a mere suspicion of dabbling into politics.
I watched, both, at once, in shame, and embarrassment, a video of the 13 traditional rulers, sharing money in Eze’s House. I saw, at least, one of them counting his share, and stuffing in his pocket. And, when I compare them to the Traditional Rulers I see in other parts of Nigeria, I shake my head. That is the level some of our traditional rulers have descended to.
I, however, blame state governors in the South-east, past and present, for this shameful situation. For political reasons, they create autonomous communities as if they are going out of existence. Every village, every hamlet, is given an autonomy, and a traditional ruler appointed. Our people like titles, so, every Tom, Dick and Harry, becomes a traditional ruler.
The Southeast has more number of traditional rulers than any zone that I know of. Everybody is a traditional ruler.
In Imo State alone, there are about 700 autonomous communities, and, many more are angling for it.This is why, unlike other Zones, we don’t actually have many traditional rulers whose names we can flaunt outside. I can only think of the Obi of Onitsha, and just a few others one can count on one’s fingers.
Yet, it is the same Obi of Onitsha that one of the suspended Anambra Traditional Rulers says has over-stayed as the Chairman of the Anambra Council of Traditional Rulers. He says Obi Nnaemeka Achebe’s tenure has since expired. Perhaps, he wishes for one of them who went to disgrace the Igbo in Abuja.
I know meeting the Chief of Staff to the President is a big deal, but it speaks of the seriousness with which these traditional rulers were taken, that after being herded to Abuja to meet with the President, they ended up not meeting with him. A delegation endorsed by Obiano, Anambra NASS members, Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, other presidential appointees, and led by the Obi of Onitsha, would have seen the president. The appointment would have been at a better time, not during the period of COVID-19 when not many people are allowed a meeting with the President.
The trip to Abuja, arranged for the traditional rulers, by billionaire Arthur Eze is an aberration. It has belittled the Igbo. It was in bad faith. It was meant to cause crisis and division in the state. It was disrespectful to the Anambra Government and Anambra people. It was, also, disrespectful to the Traditional Institution of the state, and Igbo land. Traditional Rulers should carry themselves with more dignity than has been exhibited in the instant case. And what they did should be dismissed in one word: Disgraceful!
*Obi is the Editor-in-Chief/CEO of The Source (Magazine), Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com