A time was in defunct Benue-Plateau State, in the Middle Belt of Nigeria, now North Central geopolitical zone, many years ago, when the refrain: “If you Tarka me, I go Daboh you” reverberated. It was a time when two top politicians in the state, Senator Joseph Sarwuan (JS) Tarka and Chief Godwin Adzuana Daboh, washed their dirty linens in public, in a smear political battle of “tit for tat.”
Tarka, a flamboyant politician and minister in the Yakubu Gowon military government, had a face-off with Daboh, a socialite and politician, who accused him of corruption. The two politicians squared up, in a scandalous fight, accusing each other of corruption, blackmail and betrayal. Daboh, determined to bring Tarka down, had declared: “If you Tarka me, I go Daboh you.” Their fight made headlines and eventually cost Tarka his job, as he resigned his appointment as minister of the federal republic.
Today, a political fight between top businessman and oil magnet, Prince Arthur Eze and Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, is raging. The way Anambra State government is taking the fight makes germane the headline: “If you Arthur Eze me, I will Obiano you.” There is an epic tit-for-tat battle in the state and the protagonists are not taking hostages.
Since Prince Eze took Governor Obiano up, accusing him of bad governance and raising issues about non-conduct of local government election in Anambra State, much has happened. Some traditional rulers from Anambra State were at the Presidential Villa yesterday where they had audience with President Muhammadu Buhari, who was represented by his Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari. They thanked him for his good deeds in the South East in the last five years. Their meeting with the President was at the instance of Prince Eze who was with them.
The Anambra State government had accused the traditional rulers of wanting to use the visit to report Governor Obiano to President Buhari and therefore applied the big stick, suspending for one year 12 of them involved. It was supposed to be a coup preempting yesterday’s meeting. The fact that the meeting held is an indication that the Anambra State government’s coup failed, eventhough the traditional rulers had been suspended. The state government had pronounced the monarchs guilty of travelling outside the state without approval and therefore withdrew their certificates of recognition, which is a revocation of their powers. The state government said the punishment could be lifted, renewed or upgraded depending on outcome of review of their conduct during the period. This came a few weeks after the state government also suspended Igwe Peter Uyanwa of Ukwulu community for one year.
It is said that when two elephants fight, the trees and grasses suffer. The Prince Arthur Eze-Governor Obiano fight has claimed the royal stools of 12 traditional rulers: Igwe Alex Edozieuno (Mkponando), Igwe Anthony Okonkwo (Alor), Igwe Chukwuma Bob Vincent Orji (Ezenifite), Igwe GBC Mbakwe (Abacha), Igwe Chijioka Nwankwo (Nawfia), Igwe Nkeli Nelly (Igbariam), Igwe Anthony Onyekwere (Owelle), Igwe AN Onwueme (Ikenga), Igwe Simon Ikechukwu Chidubem (Umumbo), Igwe SO Uche (Ezira), Igwe Emeka Ilouno (Ifiteduno) and Igwe Udoji (Eziagulu-Otu). The traditional rulers have been suspended and banned from parading themselves as monarchs and to desist from discharging the official functions pertaining to the office or throne. Also, the governor, according to a statement by Greg Obi, commissioner for local governments, chieftaincy and community affairs, revoked the membership of the affected traditional rulers in state’s Traditional Rulers Council and other government committees.
Nobody would say that the suspension of the traditional rulers came as a surprise. The Anambra State government has left nobody in doubt that it was ready for war. The traditional rulers are the soft targets. Since the government issued certificates of recognition to the traditional rulers, it is no surprise that it withdrew them. He who grants recognition has the power to revoke it. What this means is that traditional rulers, though chosen by their communities’ kingmakers and finally endorsed by the government with certificates of recognition, are actually appointees of government. This is why Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State could dethrone Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as Emir of Kano this year. This is why the defunct military government of General Sani Abacha dethroned the Sultan of Sokoto, Ibrahim Dasuki, in 1996.
One may not know the terms of recognition of traditional rulers in Anambra State, but the fact is that government could actually use any excuse whatsoever to dethrone or suspend any of them. The excuse that the 12 Anambra traditional rulers travelled without approval may be seen as funny, but the government can do anything with its appointees. The traditional rulers are officially being punished for travelling without approval, but the underlining reason is glaring. The state government is unhappy that the traditional rulers sought audience with President Buhari, at the instance of a perceived enemy.
No matter what Anambra Stare government says about the traditional rulers, no government should be intolerant of criticism or opposition. It is not possible that everybody would be at home with a government. Those not happy with the government should be allowed to have their say, while the majority have their way. The suspension of 12 traditional rulers in one fell swoop sends a wrong signal in Anambra State. If the suspended traditional rulers are the darlings of their subjects, this could caused an unnecessary uproar.
The fight between Prince Eze and Governor Obiano should be explained. Why are they fighting? Is it because the police Zone 13 command was sited in Ukpo, Prince Eze’s community, instead of Governor Obiano’s preferred Awka, the state capital, as some people are insinuating? Is it because Prince Eze said there is government failure? Is it because Prince Eze demanded that local government election should be held? Is it about the coming Anambra State governorship election in 2021?
If the fight has to do with the siting of police command, it shouldn’t be, since this is police problem. The police decide were to locate a command, just as the army would decide where a division should be sited. If it is about the way government is run, this is not the first time Prince Eze is taking up a governor in South East on this. One remembers when he pointedly told former Governor Theodore Orji of Abia State that his state “stank.” He was worried about the state of affairs in Abia and told the governor then that he had, more or less, failed, while urging him to invite then President Goodluck Jonathan if he did not know what to do to change the narrative. So talking about Obiano’s government is not misplaced if he chose to be a social crusader.
If the issue is about local government election, the complaint is founded. The constitution made provision for local government election. The non-conduct of local government election and the use of caretaker or transition committee chairmen to run local government administration is an aberration. This problem is not peculiar to Anambra State. Many states in the country are guilty of it. This is not something that should continue. The use of caretaker committee chairmen, when elections could be conducted and the leaders picked by the people, is like not conducting a governorship election and then a sole administrator is appointed, as in emergency rule. However, if the reason for non-conduct of local government election in Anambra is caused by litigation, as being touted, it should be explained, as this is a valid excuse.
Whatever the reason, however, the Prince Arthur Eze/Governor Obiano fight should not be allowed to fester. Anambra State, in particular and Igboland in general would be the loser eventually. Therefore, like there was intervention when Prince Eze and former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, had altercations in the media, Igbo leaders should wade into it. At a time when a major political battle is coming regarding the 2023 presidential election, it would pay the South East to have one goal of producing a president of Igbo extraction, irrespective of political affiliations. Little fights aimed at showing off individual power and political clout should not be encouraged.