By Dickson Okafor
Igwe Gerald Obunadike Mbamalu, the traditional ruler of Ojoto in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State has called on the government to assign constitutional roles to traditional institutions. He is of the view that such would help fight insecurity. He spoke on other issues.
There has been a spate of protest in Ojoto ahead of your maiden Ofala festival, what actually is the situation?
My kingship is not under contention rather, the purported crisis and protests in the community are the handiwork of my traducers and enemies of the people who would do everything within their powers to stop the Ofala festival slated for January 2, 2021. I’m not perturbed by their antics because it is only the Almighty that can make one king. The election was conducted on February 20, 2018, and I was duly elected to fill the traditional stool of Ojoto, which became vacant after the transition of Igwe Augustine Obidigwe, Eze Ojoto 11 in 2017.
The kingship of Ojoto is not hereditary, so people who have an interest in the stool I come forward and the community elects elected who they want to become Igwe. That is how I became the traditional ruler of Ojoto, no amount of distractions will stop the Ofala festival.
If you emerged through a transparent process, why all the protest against you?
It is expected in every keenly contested election that bad losers, or should I say those without the spirit of sportsmanship will do everything they can to distract the winner from discharging his duty to the people. In this case, it’s just a few overzealous individuals who were hired to disturb the relative peace in Ojoto and paint the community in a bad light before the world. Immediately after my coronation, I extended an olive branch to those who lost in the contest to join hands with me to move our community forward. It is my responsibility to work and maintain peaceful co-existence among the people of the community. My election was a divine intervention to ameliorate the sufferings of indigent people in my domain. No doubt, at a time the Igweship selection resulted in a crisis, but with the intervention of Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano who set up a committee headed by the former Minister of Health, Dr. Tim Menakaya and eight others including some traditional rulers the crisis was resolved and a peaceful election was conducted on February 20, 2018, and I emerged the winner, and I was presented with the certificate of recognition as Igwe Ojoto in line with stipulated laws of Igbo land and in accordance with the Traditional Rulers’ Act of 1981.
As the Igwe and father figure to all in the community, what efforts have you made to accommodate aggrieved constituents?
Like I said earlier, after my coronation in 2018, I threw my arms open to all to join hands and take Ojoto to a greater height. But some of them decided to use mercenaries and other individuals to continue causing trouble.
You have been on the throne for two and a half years now, how has the transition from private enterprise to a royal father been?
Life is full of challenges and I follow the challenges as they come. Royalty is not new to me having been the Traditional Prime Minister of Ojoto Community. So, I have been performing the function of kingship in my domain. It is not a new thing to me even though it comes with a lot of responsibility, I’m surmounting the challenges by the grace of God.
What role can the traditional institutions play in uniting Nigerians?
I will say the traditional institutions have united Nigerians, especially among the Igbo. But the challenge we face is that the Federal Government doesn’t accord the traditional rulers from the South-East the same privileges it accords their counterparts in the other parts of the country. Maybe this is as a result of the increase in the creation of autonomous communities in Igboland with the result that the region has too many traditional rulers. I think we should look at how we create autonomous communities because it can create room for moneybags to buy the kingship.
South-East governors have been accused of short-changing traditional rulers in the zone by failing to pay them the five per cent of the local government allocation as stipulated in the constitution, what is your reaction?
It is not a mere accusation, it is a fact. I want to use this medium to appeal to the federal and state lawmakers to revisit constitution amendment and enshrine a constitutional role for traditional rulers so that as chief security officers in their domain, we can help in the fight against insurgency and other social vices confronting the nation. Like you rightly observed, five per cent of local government allocation is constitutionally reserved for traditional rulers in Nigeria. As I speak to you, this amount is paid to traditional rulers in other geopolitical zones except those of us in the South-East.
Do you mean that with a constitutional role, traditional rulers can do much in the fight against insurgency, banditry and kidnapping in most parts of the country?
A situation where traditional rulers are addressed as the chief security officer of their communities without constitutional backing makes us a toothless bulldogs and it is only when we are empowered constitutionally that we can be completely in charge of security in our domain. The only thing the Federal Government needs to do is to officially recognise the traditional institution as a tier of government whereby traditional ruler can have a direct allocation from the Federation Account because you can’t talk about security without money. There is no need for us to arrogate to ourself the chief security officer of our kingdoms while in the actual sense, there is no law backing us. So, the government should give us a constitutional role to help fight insecurity in the country.
Government has at different fora solicited to support of traditional rulers in its efforts to tame insecurity, do you think traditional institutions have strengthened development in the country?
Yes, to some extent because if you are loved and admired by your subjects, it can make sons and daughters of the community to come home and invest. The calibre of a traditional ruler can help develop the community and country.
Nigeria until the coming to power of the APC was standing on a tripod which the APC has jettisoned, aren’t you worried about this as we approach 2023?
The APC has not shared positions equitably, I still maintain that they have their reasons which I’m not in a position to know. But on Igbo Presidency, I stand with Ohaneze Ndigbo and other well-meaning Igbo that a President of Igbo extraction in 2023 is not negotiable.
So, what is the way forward for South-East to re-launch itself into the mainstream of Nigeria’s politics?
The only way the Igbo can launch itself back to the mainstream of the nation’s politics is by having a bargaining power to agitate for their rights. May be members of APC in the South-East didn’t have the bargaining power then that is why we lost out and I believe they are making an adjustment to get it right before 2023 general elections.
What is the response of your subjects within and outside the country to your reign?
I cannot set an exam for myself, of course, I score myself high, but I think you can conduct an opinion poll and find out the pulse of the people and what they think or say about me. So, let my subjects judge me.