From Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
Kolanut, widely also known as oji is very central and significant in Igbo cosmology. The fruit is highly revered by the Igbo to a point that they have a saying that “he who brings kolanut brings life.”
However, the manner of reverencing kolanut is causing friction between the chief priest of Owerri kingdom, Reginald Ejiogu and traditional rulers in Imo State. The cold war is about whose role it is to bless kolanut in gatherings within the Owerri municipality.
The chief priest who sees the Owerri municipality as his shrine warned traditional rulers from outside Owerri to desist from blessing kolanut in functions within his domain: “The ancestors of Owerri will no longer watch as the culture of Owerri is being desecrated.
“Calamity will befall any traditional ruler from outside Owerri that attempts to henceforth bless kolanut within this territory. This custom has been severally breached in the past.”
He said the last straw that broke the camel’s back was during the flag-off of road project by the state government at Fire Service, Wetheral Road, Owerri, on July 26:
“All the traditional rulers gathered and the traditional rulers of Owerri Municipal were there. I, the chief priest of Owerri, was also there. That place is part and parcel of Owerri shrine. Ala Owerri shrine stretches from that place to Ugwu Ekwema, where we normally have our festival.
“You don’t come to somebody’s place to bless kolanut. Ordinarily after the traditional rituals of the kolanut in Igbo land, the kolanut returns to the Eze who brought it.
“Owerri has five autonomous communities today. All the Ezes were there and their chief priest was there too. Where this particular ceremony took place was part of our shrine. I don’t think anybody has the right to bless kolanut in that place.
“Ordinarily when they are performing their functions I don’t attend, but I came to that one for a reason. We know the map of our place. We know where our deities are despite the fact that government buildings have taken over. We know the spots and we know where sacrifices are being done in Owerri. That place the ceremony was held is part and parcel of Ishi Ala Owerri shrine.
“We would not tolerate anybody to come and rubbish our culture, to tell us that we are nobody in our territory. It’s an insult to the entire Owerre Nchi Ise as an ancient kingdom, despite balkanization.”
He reasoned that it would also be sacrilegious for him to go to Mbaise or Orlu to bless kolanut. He added that he had declined blessing kolanut at Amakohia, Uratta, because it was beyond his territory.
He warned that disobeying the custom of the people comes with huge consequences: “It’s a sacrilege, they have been doing that before and go scot-free. Owerri is not as it used to be. The culture of Owerri, our ancestors are alert now to watch whoever discredits our land, Christianity as side.
“Traditional rulers should know when they are crossing their boundaries. Being a traditional ruler is not just to dress flamboyantly with long caps to breach protocol. Do you know the culture of the people? That’s the paramount duty of a traditional ruler.”
However, Chairman, Imo State Traditional Rulers Council, Eze Emmanuel Okeke from Orlu zone faulted Owerri chief priest’s claims. The ‘Eze Imo’ as he is called averred that the traditional rulers were the real oracles being the custodians of the customs and traditions.
He described himself as the big deity of the state: “During the time of Saul and David, you can check the Bible. You can see 1King, 2 King but you can’t see chief priest. We are the ordained. The chief priest cannot compare himself to me.
“I’m the chairman of all the traditional rulers in the state. By virtue of that, I’m the big deity of the state. All other oracles are under me. I can only give such chances if I wish.”
Eze Okeke’s deputy, Eze Akujuobi Osuagwu who also hails from Owerri, claimed: “A chief priest is not a king. Moreover, he is the chief priest for only Owerri municipal. He can’t dictate what a monarch would do in a function anywhere.
“I can’t allow him to bless kolanut in my presence. He is not a traditional ruler. Besides what he was saying about the location, he forgot that place is Owerri zone.
“I am the deputy chairman of the royal fathers and chairman of Owerri zone. So, why should he bless kolanut before me.”