Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Anambra state and Chairman, Board of Trustees, Association of Town Unions in Anambra state, Damian Okeke Ogene has warned that the bill recently passed by the State House of Assembly specifying burial expenditure was not implementable. Ogene said that the House failed to hold public hearing as well as carry traditional rulers and town union leaders along before passing the bill. He also spoke on how to boost the economy of the southeast.
How are you tackling the power tussle between the Presidents General of town unions and traditional rulers?
The Association of town unions in Anambra state which I’m one of the pioneer members came into being 1996 and was led by late Chimezie Ikeazu, former president general of Obosi community. I think the association is one of the best things that have happened to this state that is why we are the light of the nation. Anambra state was the first state in the Southeast that have association of presidents general of town union and it has helped to stabilize the security and other issues in the state both in the governance and the culture. You can see that every government that comes works with the association. So, I’m glad that the association is growing from strength to strength daily.
On the issue of problem between town union presidents and traditional rulers, recently, Anambra state traditional rulers had their annual conference, I was invited; the president general of town unions, Mr. Alex Onukwue was there, as well as the Obi of Onitsha. It is all about communication gap that brings about issues and there is no room for bickering between the traditional rulers and town union leaders. The town union leaders have two to three years tenure to stay while the traditional rulers’ tenure is for life. Traditional rulers are the number one citizens of the communities, so, the towns elect the traditional rulers but they are the number one citizens. It is in some communities that the traditional rulers and town Union leaders have skirmishes because sometimes both of them are not well informed. We agreed in that summit that there should be a synergy where the town unions, traditional rulers and Ohanaeze would be involved in a committee to resolve the issues that come up in some communities which have not posed any major breach of peace in the state.
What about farmers/herdsmen’s clashes in some communities in the state?
We are mobilizing our people, something unusual is happening. I think the situation we are in this country; not finding a place for herdsmen should not be the priority of the government when so many graduates are unemployed, there’s youth restiveness, agitation here and there. I think this government is putting fuel in the fire that is already burning. I think the suspension of the Ruga settlement programme by the federal government meant that it has realized that Nigerians do not look at it as their priority. If he (the president) didn’t stop the agenda, it there means that he wanted to set the country ablaze. So, we are against it and we remain against it.
With the suspension of Ruga settlement, what then then is the solution to the herders/farmers’ clashes?
Let me tell you that you can’t charge to build your own business and destroy another person’s business for you to grow. The problem is, we are not against herdsmen rearing their cattle but they should not take it to the farms, they shouldn’t take it to the schools. The schools are not meant for cows but for human beings. Why should they take their cows sometimes to the churches? It’s unacceptable. There are many places to rear cattle. Boko Haram took over Sambisa Forest which is almost one third of Nigeria’s land mass, why can’t they go there to establish their colony? Some people said they should pipe Benue River to the desert and water the grass to graze their cows there, if you need the cow you can place order, they will bring it to you. It is also to save the Fulani herdsmen’s lives; how can the people continue to be wandering in the bush?
Recently, the state House of Assembly passed a law to curtail the burial expenditure in the state. What are doing about the implement of the law?
The law is not implementable because the Assembly members did not take the traditional rulers and town unions into consideration before passing the bill. And let me tell you, at times people said there is high bride price for marriages, there is no high bride price; it depends on the choice. Many of the parents don’t take more than N1000 from suitors as bride price, but if you decide to call the whole Nigeria that you are doing marriage and party, do we stop you from doing your celebration? I know that no parent places a high bride price on their daughters. How much do they use to train a child from primary school to university level?
So, on the burial matter, no dead person has woken up because they used for instance N10 billion to bury him or her. Some people have money and they want to express themselves that they have money, and they put it in burial. Some churches have tried to do the best they can and it is voluntarily. If I’m going to a friend’s father’s burial and I decide to give him one or two cows; it is my choice and you cannot ask me why, because nobody tasked me or tasked anybody to do that.
So what is your view about the requirements or the basis of the law?
The assembly streamlined so many things; both cost and other things. The assembly must come home. The people who implement the law are the traditional rulers and the town union leaders, they should have taken them into consideration before taking such decision; they would have considered the workability. It is not just to make law but the implementation is the problem; that law is not implementable for now and no way to enforce it. What they were supposed to have done was to call public hearing, people would air their views, traditional rulers and town union leaders would make their input and other individuals and they will put them together and know exactly what people wanted.
But what do you think should be done for the law to work?
Definitely, after the public hearings and after the correction of some laws existing in some communities, you marry them and blend them together. If everybody is involved, it is easy to implement because different communities have different laws, even churches should’ve been involved when they were making the law so that it will be workable. We must go back to the drawing board for us to have a workable law on burial that should be implementable.
Some people complain that Southeast governors take certain decisions without recourse to Ohanaeze or traditional rulers. What do you think?
There is a great difference between government power and community power, some of the governors have not come to terms with that but after governance; they will come to the community. So, gradually we are blending, Yoruba and Hausa are ahead of us; that is the Arewa and Afenifere in terms of blending with the government. So, we are blending and we are trying to blend and there is no friction between Ohanaeze and the governors. Even if there is some communication gap between the governors and the community leaders, they are bound to be respected; they’re the constituted governmental authority. Ohanaeze is bound to respect the constituted authority in every state and at the same time; the governors are Igbo people and outside the government, we are their masters and within government, they are our masters.
What would you tell southeast governors regarding governance and development?
There are plans for the governors and Ohanaeze to collaborate; if they eventually implement the economic and strategic plans designed by the Prof Charles Soludo committee, we will get somewhere. It is in the process, if we have railway that connects the entire Southeast and link roads that link the Southeast states, the movement would be smooth within the region where one can attend many functions in a day due to good roads and railway available. Businesses would grow; so, we need regional economic cooperation.