Chief Udo Chuma Chukwu is the president general of Agbani Town Union, Lagos and the Protem chairman of Agbani Town Union Worldwide.
Chukwu, a trained historian and community leader, in this interview spoke on the developmental initiatives of the town union under his watch and the recent herdsmen attack on his community. Excerpts:
Agbani was in the news lately when herdsmen struck and kidnapped some market women, what is your reaction to this ugly development?
Yes, the ugly incident happened along Ugbawka road, an adjoining community to Ogbeke/Ukuruta autonomous community, Agbani. Interestingly, that is the only community in Agbani that has large expanse of lush green vegetation and the Fulani herdsmen know that, hence the quest to settle and occupy arose. We in Agbani are hospitable and accommodating, so having them dwell in our ancestral land should not have been an issue after all as over 80 per cent of people living in Agbani are not indigenes, but the herdsmen have over time constituted themselves a big menace to the community to the point that our people can no longer go to their farms and streams to avert attack. We now live in fear and this fear is well founded especially when you recall the advent of the Fulani expansionist conquest starting with the birth in Marata in Gobir in December 1754 of Usman dan Fodio and his ruthless conquest. Like other well-meaning Nigerians, we view with skeptism the recent suspension of Ruga Settlement; to us, it is not acceptable rather we advocate for a total cancellation of this obnoxious exercise. How can a people be happy when you kill and maim them for God’s sake where is the sanctity of life, has humans turned to goats that you catch and slaughter. But I am of the strong view that the peaceful overtures of HRH Igwe Okechukwu Egbune and the executive governor of our state, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi which culminated in the inauguration recently of a security committee, a re-occurrence will be effectively forestalled to ensure that Agbani nay Enugu State which has always been peaceful will enjoy same again.
You described the area of the herdsmen attack in Agbani as a place with large expanse of lush green vegetation, do you think that the herdsmen would have found a space if your people where actively using the land for agriculture?
Our people are actively involved in agriculture, for the records, Agbani as a clan is notable for farmers. We grow rice, palm, yam and vegetable, among other cash crops. However, we can do much more with the provision of basic infrastructure like road so that farm produce can be evacuated to the market. Let me use this opportunity to call on the executive governor of Enugu State, Rt. Hon Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to come to our aid, especially with the provision of access road and water to encourage investment in agriculture. We also have several incidents where herdsmen invade farmlands and eat up crops with impunity, we cannot take that any longer, in fact, we have on several occasions restrained our youths from taking laws into their hands, but of course, there is a limit to how much we can restrain them, that’s why we applaud the recent inauguration of a security committee by the Enugu State government, as a welcome development.
For the first time in over 10 years, Agbani has produced a LG chairman and a Senator, how do you plan to leverage on this to improve the socio-political consciousness and wellbeing of the town?
The golden era of Agbani nay Nkanu Land is here again the man with a medas touch, the go-getter the finest almighty God gave to us, the venerated Senator Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani is back, Agbani/Nkanu Land will once more stand to be counted, we intend to not only stand by him, but work with him to groom upcoming leaders and bring development to our zone in the areas of education, infrastructure and sports. You can feel how personate we are over his second coming and I assure you that with him and our amiable governor the socio-cultural and political affair of the people will receive the much needed attention. I stand to be counted.
What will you describe as the major challenge you have encountered so far?
Agbani has been exposed to civilization for over 100 years. Our community had encounter with the colonial masters as far back as 1910 with Rev Brewer building the first Methodist Mission and school. Agbani had a railway station and a major road to the city commissioned in 1916, subsequently it became the Nkanu native authority headquarters and the administrative treasury and later the Nkanu Divisional headquarters in April 1934. Having come this far, you can see that its rather unfortunate that we still have to grapple with primitive thoughts of reclassifying men who are hitherto born equal, it is a major drawback. The popular saying “man is born free but everywhere in chain” cannot but be more apt here. The major challenge had been to persuade some of my people, a few though to rise above this primitive thought of classifying some of us as first settlers and others as second settlers. Such thoughts must be expunged in our minds and consciousness if we are to make meaningful and inclusive progress as a people. I am happy that the majority of our people have risen above this.
As you conclude your term in office, what can you describe as the highpoint of your stewardship and what is expected in the remaining days of your term?
Two years is but a short period to meaningfully do something impactful, but with tenacity, purpose and doggedness you can achieve much, for us in Agbani Town Union Lagos we had made impact, the ability to bring to world standard a town union that was on the fringe for many years is a big plus. Credit must go to the youths of Agbani who took the gauntlet and gave me the enablement to function. The highpoint of our stewardship is our ability to resuscitate and host our general meetings every other month. The happy and enthusiastic faces of our brothers that we interact with at our meetings, the inauguration of the women wing and her successful take off, our ability to meet our social responsibilities that cost hundreds of thousands of naira and finally the “gold medal” Agbani Day Lagos which maiden edition was held in November 2018, bringing together our sons, daughter, in-laws and friends from far and near.
Do you have plans to run for another term?
Power belongs to God, if my people feel I have impacted on them enough to deserve a second term, who am I to say no, but I am of the firm view that if a more competent person is thrown up why not, I will give him all the support.
What is the cause of apathy towards town union and how are you tackling this?
Euro-centric mentality with the twin concept of religion and materialism are amongst the major cause of apathy towards not only town union, but amongst the dwindling efforts mitigating the nationalist inclination of our society. Remember that the original concept of Igbo diffused democratic treats has been totally eroded, these days the place of the elderly, the age grades and the roles of the maidens and mothers are no longer as sacred. What we have now is the nouveau riche class men and women who have no regard to our rich culture.
I know you don’t work in isolation, so what is your relationship with other Agbani town union executives and traditional rulers?
A very good question indeed as we all know that no individual is an island my idea of leadership is a collective one, personally I am a receptive person with a good interpersonal relationship with a huge organizational ability. My executive in Agbani Town Union Lagos branch is more or less a big family hence we accepted from day one the onerous task of reshaping Agbani, but let me be frank it’s been a daunting task, but God has been with us, the result has been more task and responsibility.
What are your future political aspirations after your tenure?
As a political animal I am of the opinion that all power belongs to God. John F. Kennedy’s rise to the American presidency still remains a mirage to most people all over the world. First an Irish American, second a Catholic and lastly a political neophyte. But it was to his credit that the question: “Ask not what America can do for you, but ask what collectively we can do for America” arose. Like J.F. Kennedy I have a burning desire to serve, but the current joy is that Enugu State is in a safe hand with Rt Hon Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi as state chief executive and the colossus Senator Dr Chimaroke Nnamani as my leader and senator, so I am very much available to serve in whatever capacity these gentlemen think I can support. I belong to the school of thought that Enugu must “excel,” so I am ever ready to “walk the talk”
How where you able to successfully host the Agbani Day Lagos in 2018 and do you have plans to make it an annual event?
Agbani Day Lagos was a humongous success that was divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit. In fact, the conceptualization and execution came to me as a surprise. The original idea was to serve as a bridge between all Agbani people both at home and in the Diaspora, a soothing balm to calm the frayed nerves of the disenchanted and others who feel left out, to serve as a thank you to unsung heroes of Agbani and above all a veritable avenue to foster interaction and kinship. Overall, it was for networking and reconnection. In fact, when Chief Anthony Njoku as chairman and Barr David Ogbodo, secretary general handed over to us after a successful 34 years in the mantle, the question in our lips is where do we go from here bearing in mind the enormous task ahead. But with God’s guidance and support of our patrons, a successful Agbani day brought to an end the strife bedeviling Agbani clan and put to an end issues that divide us whilst bringing to the fore, the issues that unite us. Yes, God’s support we will do it again.