Chijioke Agwu, Abakaliki
Ezeogo Charles Azuenya, the Owu XII of Ebunwana Edda community, Afikpo South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, is secretary of Ebonyi State Traditional Rulers’ Council, and chairman of Afikpo South Traditional Rulers’ Council. In this interview, he advocates constitutional roles and funds for the traditional institution in Nigeria among other topical issues
Herdsmen’s menace has been a recurring decimal in many parts of Ebonyi today; how is the situation in Edda?
For now, we don’t have any conflict with herdsmen, but I know that there are some places they rear their cattle here. The last incident we had with them was in 2011 when they killed somebody from Okpoma. They attacked a farmer in his farm and killed him. We notified the government through radio announcement to bring the perpetrator Fulani to book. And some policemen were drafted from Amasiri to the area to calm the situation. Since then, we have not had any issue with them. I know that they operate around Amangwu, the border between Abia and Ebonyi. But, sincerely speaking, we have not had any issue with them, apart from some reports of destruction of crops from farmers; nothing has happened in terms of combat.
How do you people relate with herders to achieve the peace you have enjoyed all along, unlike many other communities in the state where they have been clashing with locals?
We’ve been engaging them in regular dialogue, especially at the local government level. Their leaders always meet with us to discuss ways of peaceful coexistence and that has been very useful in terms of achieving peace and harmony between them and our people.
In this era that people like to use police and courts to settle conflicts and misunderstanding, is the traditional ruler’s job still demanding?
The work or traditional rulership is still as tasking as it were from the beginning. Like now, I have not taken my bath since morning because I have been meeting people and resolving issues, not necessarily conflict resolution. A lot of other issues, especially as it concerns peace and security of my community, have always been a matter of frequent concern. Currently, what is bothering me is that of the National Population Commission, they have come to demarcate the community. They went on recess, they will soon come back. So, we are making arrangements for their accommodation and others. We have challenges on a daily basis and because of my commitment to my duties, I can confirm to you that the state is relatively calm.
What has been the greatest challenge of traditional rulers in the country in the course of doing your jobs?
It is lack of constitutional roles for the traditional rulers in the country. And we have been agitating for a role in the constitution but the government has not come out to approve that, once that is done we shall have a national union of traditional rulers where we can come together and meet. As it stands now, we don’t have a national body or union, the one we have is just for some persons, it is not known by law. But at the zonal level, in the Souh East, we meet regularly and our governors are aware of that. So, it is only at the zonal level and the state level that we have a truly functional union of traditional rulers not at the national level because of the lack of constitutional role for the traditional rulers. Here we depend on the governors to sponsor most of the things we do. Even the 5 per cent allocation from local government areas to traditional rulers agreed for during the time of Abacha is not being given to us here in the South East but I know that traditional rulers in the North still receive the fund. I know for sure that, during the time of Abacha, all the traditional rulers in the country, even in the South East, received the money, but as soon as Abacha left, it was stopped because it was not in the constitution. So, we need that very much, I don’t know what our legislators are doing to ensure that it’s discussed in the House. We want them to discuss it and pass it as a law. It will help to make traditional rulers more functional and more contended to do their works without bias.
Looking at Ebonyi State 23 years after its creation, what can you say about the level of development in the state?
Development in Ebonyi has been wonderful, especially in the last four years under Governor Umahi. It is fantastic; Ebonyi can’t be compared with any state now. The governor is doing wonderfully well. If you look around, looking back from where we are coming from, you will agree with me that Ebonyi State has got a wonderful facelift under Umahi. Look at us, traditional rulers, every one of us has brand new jeep. And he partners with us very well, every time he invites us and discusses vital issues with us concerning the state. He is doing well and needs to be encouraged and, after his tenure as governor, he needs to be pushed forward to the national level, where I think he can make great impact.
The year 2023 is yet another opportunity for the Igbo to emerge President of Nigeria. What’s your advice to Igbo politicians concerning the actualisation of Igbo presidency in 2023?
I strongly advocate for our Igbo leaders to come together, especially the governors of the South East, meet with the traditional rulers and the Ohanaeze Ndigbo so that we can form a formidable force to fight our cause. At this point in our history, we really need to be united so as to achieve the ultimate aim that will benefit the Igbo race.
There has been heavy presence of military personnel at Ekoli Edda, the border community where your people and Cross River people have been having problems. What’s the current situation of things there?
The presence of army people there is to checkmate the border and the misunderstanding a part of Edda, that is, Ekoli, had with the Cross River people leading to the burning of houses and killing of some of our men. So, the people were feeling that there might be a reprisal attack from our people. That was why the military were drafted to stay there. There is no conflict now there, it is just a stalemate; quietness exists there. I salute the current chairman of Edda, Eni Uduma Chima; he has made every effort to ensure there is peace there. There is no ripple between the two communities at the moment. We have always played our own role to ensure peace there. I headed a committee on that to ensure lasting peace and we have handed our report to the government for implementation.
Who is Ezeogo Charles Azuenya that many people don’t know?
I was born and bred in a royal family. Our own traditional rulership is hereditary. So, it came to my turn. I am the 12th on the throne from my lineage after 11 persons had taken it. I was sent to primary school, did secondary school and entered the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where I obtained a bachelor’s degree in statistics. We were the first set of Jambites in 1978. So, after that, I took to teaching and rose to the rank of principal and director. I was teaching mathematics all through my career. Towards the end of my career, I was made supervisor of schools. I retired in 2009, then took over the mantle of leadership.
Any regrets being a traditional ruler?
Not at all! I am just doing what my father left for me. So, I will have to carry on and leave when my time comes for another person to take over. That is our history.