Making a further case for the conferment of the chieftaincy title on Uche Nwosu, he noted that he is serving the whole Imo State of which Mbaise is a part and “is benefiting from his wholistic service.”
Chika Abanobi and George Onyejiuwa
This year’s Iriji Mbaise, the popular annual new yam cultural festival celebrated, August 15, by the entire Mbaise clan, at home and abroad, is being threatened by the decision of Mbaise Council of Traditional Rulers to confer a chieftaincy title on Mr. Uche Nwosu, Chief of Staff to Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha.
The festival said to have been introduced in 1946, as the Christianised version of the Ahianjoku, the eight-day new yam festival dedicated in honour of the yam deity, has always drawn guests and visitors from across the globe, so much as to attract corporate sponsorship.
But this year’s festival reportedly being sponsored by MTN, and for which Imo State government under Rochas, is alleged to have promised to make available extra monetary donation of N10m, has seen the sons and daughters of the populous clan that serves as the birthplace of prominent Nigerians like Prof. Fabian Osuji, Prof. Chinwe Obaji, Dr. Mrs. Ada Okwuonu, Senator Chris Anyanwu, Sir Mike Ahamba, Sir Bon Nwakamma, Lucius Nwosu, Air Commodore Luke Ochulor (Rtd.), first military governor of Delta State, Dr. Alex Obi, Kanayo Kanayo, Rita Dominic, Genevieve Nnaji, Okey Bakassi, Chidi Chikere, Chioma Ajunwa, polarised along for-and-against fault line.
The battle line
The highpoint of the cultural festival is usually the conferment of chieftaincy titles on either illustrious sons and daughters of Mbaise and distinguished businessmen and political personalities thought worthy of honour from outside the clan. While some welcome the decision to confer a chieftaincy title on Uche Nwosu during this year’s festival, others are vehemently opposed to it. On the proponents’ side are the Council of Ndi-Ezes, strongly supported by Chief Emmanuel Ojinere, Imo State Commissioner for Trade and Investment. But on the opposing side is Ezuruezu Mbaise, the clan’s elite at home and abroad.
Chief Cyril Anyanwu, the President-General of Ezurezu Mbaise the socio-cultural umbrella of the Mbaise clan said that the association, after its meeting, has decided that this year’s Iriji Mbaise should be celebrated by the people in their individual communities as against the norm.
However, Eze Leo Nwokocha, Chairman of the Mbaise Council of Traditional rulers said that it is not the responsibility of the Ezuerezu Mbaise to organise or supervise the Iriji Mbaise cultural festival but that of the Eze-jis and the traditional rulers of the Mbaise nation. He equally stated that the conferment of chieftaincy titles on deserving persons is also not the responsibility of the Ezuerezu Mbaise but that of the Mbaise monarchs during the Iriji cultural festival.
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“Even though Ezuerezu Mbaise is the socio-cultural umbrella of the Mbaise nation, they are not the Eze-Jis, neither are they traditional rulers,” he insisted. “Again the duty of conferment of chieftaincy title on any worthy individual which is part of the highlights of the Iriji festival is also not the responsibility of the Ezuerezu Mbaise but that of the traditional rulers, as long as that person is not a criminal or a fraudster.” He added: “This is not politics but a cultural festival which was passed on to us from our forefathers and this year’s Iriji festival would be held at Itu community in Ezinihitte Mbaise because the festival is usually rotated among the three councils of Mbaise.”
A press statement dated August 3, 2018 and signed by Chief Ojinere, argued as much. “Mbaise Council of Traditional Rulers is a body with bonafide right to exercise the right of conferring chieftaincy titles on anybody from Mbaise or outside Mbaise who in the opinion of the Council, they consider to have contributed directly or indirectly to the welfare of Mbaise Nation and Ugwumba Uche Nwosu eminently qualified as one of those.”
He mentioned the reasons he is supporting the decision of the Council as follows: (1) the recognition and appointment of sons and daughters of Mbaise Nation into very critical and sensitive positions, both within Imo State government and the Federal level (2) endorsement of one of their sons for Senate for Owerri Zone come 2019 (3) the infrastructural developments in Mbaise, namely a campus of the Imo State university, Ahiara Polytechnic (4) over 60 kms of ‘my people’ roads (5) construction of new secondary schools in the offing (6) renovation of primary schools in the offing (7) youth and women empowerment, entrepreneurship training programme, human capital development programmes, etc.
Making a further case for the conferment of the chieftaincy title on Uche Nwosu, he noted that he is serving the whole Imo State of which Mbaise is a part and “is benefiting from his wholistic service.” He argued that Nwosu has had many chieftaincy titles already bestowed on him from within and outside Imo State “and even outside Nigeria” and wondered why Mbaise should be left out. “Therefore, I as an illustrious and bonafide son of Mbaise, and all well-meaning sons and daughters of Mbaise Nation, do hereby, strongly and unequivocally lend our support to the Mbaise Council of Traditional Rulers in their bid to confer the Chieftaincy title on Ugwumba Uche Nwosu as planned and already communicated to him.”
Objections by Ezuruezu Mbaise Global
But in a letter dated August 7, 2018 and entitled, “Re: Conferment Of Chieftaincy Title On Uche Nwosu: Not In Our Name!,” and addressed to Eze Nwokocha and Ndi Eze Mbaise, the Mbaise elite operating under the auspices of Ezuruezu Mbaise Global, deplored the decision and move. “The attention of Umu Mbaise, at home and in the Diaspora, has been shockingly and embarrassingly drawn to a circulating press release, purportedly issued from the Office of Mr. Uche Nwosu, Chief of Staff to Governor Rochas Okorocha, Imo State, and signed by one Mrs. Vivien Onwuka, with the title, “Mbaise Nation To Confer Chieftaincy Title On Ugwumba Uche Nwosu,” part of the letter read.
“Excerpts from the statement state that: “the entire traditional rulers in the three local government areas and ninety-one autonomous communities that make up the Mbaise Nation, have concluded arrangements to confer a reserved chieftaincy title on the Chief of Staff, Imo State Government House, Ugwumba Uche Nwosu, during their new yam festival (Iriji Mbaise) which comes up on the 15th of August, 2018…This decision was communicated to the Chief of staff by the executive of the traditional rulers led by its Chairman, HRH Eze Leo Nwokocha…They solicted for his financial assistance to enable them achieve a well-packaged event…”
“While we want to believe that this statement may be fake, with the intent to smear our traditional rulers and indeed the Mbaise Nation as opportunistic and greedy, we have nevertheless resolved to be premptive in strongly condemning it for its apparent connotation to ridicule.
“It did not help matters, when it was presented as if the solicited “financial assistance” may have secured Mr. Uche Nwosu the “reserved chieftaincy title” to be conferred – and of all days, on our most sacred day – Iriji Mbaise day! This is shameful, ridiculous, embarrassing, and unacceptable!
“While our people are not averse to recognizing worthy persons in our society, we wish to state clearly that the proposed candidate has neither been associated with any growth or development project anywhere in Mbaise, nor has made any investment or supported any foundation situated anywhere in Mbaise. Therefore, he cannot be said to deserve Mbaise Community collective recognition or endorsement.
“For the records, Ezuruezu Mbaise Global, is a coalition of Mbaise associations across the world, coordinated through the parent body, headquartered at Mbaise. This aforementioned centralized body was recently birthed, as a result of an urgent need to check inconsistencies and to standardize acceptable norms in our community public life, deter systemic wastage and avert the redundancy of our youthful generations. These standards are established to ensure that the cultural and socio-political potentials of our people, are properly harnessed and boosted, for the steady and unhindered growth and development of the Mbaise Nation.
“We, the aforementioned parent body, and the representing citizens with appendaged signatures, therefore, call on Your Royal Highnesses of the Mbaise Council of Traditional Rulers, to immediately adopt a collective statement, disassociating yourselves from that press release, credited to Mr. Uche Nwosu’s office, which, without pretensions, is intended to humiliate the Mbaise Nation. We are mindful of the risk of sanctions and/or blackmail you might face from the Imo State government, which, at worst, could last only for the next eight months, but would be more than cushioned by the jubilation in our community – a lifetime of respect to you and the Traditional Rulers institution, which Mbaise Nation so revere.
“We trust that Your Royal Highnesses are magnanimous enough, to realize that your leadership powers and responsibilities as custodians of our customs and traditions are not merely sacred, but also a trust, which Providence has placed at your disposal, to be wielded for the utmost benefit of your people – represented here by the overwhelming signatories to this petition. Therefore, your failure to comply with our collective demands herein, will portray insensitivity to the wishes of your people and will showcase an anti-Mbaise stance – a situation which will leave us with no option, but to explore multi-frontal global actions, to safeguard our homeland and dignity. This chieftaincy conferment event must not hold – Not during Iriji Mbaise. Not ever, without a consensus! Not in our name! Not in Mbaise!”
The final word?
“The Mbaise Council of Traditional Rulers has considered Uche Nwosu properly qualified and deserves such conferment, and having done so, nobody – individuals, groups or organizations of whichever name it may be called will stop this arrangement,” Ojinere vowed in his press statement.