His Majesty, Eze (Dr) Cletus Ilomuanya, the Obi of Obinugwu, Imo state, has condemned the spate of killings, and banditry in the country. Eze Ilomuanya, who is also the Chairman, Igbo Traditional Rulers Forum, and Chancellor, Federal University, Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State, urged the incoming governor of Imo state, Emeka Ihediohas to restore every institution, which according to him, has been destroyed by the outgoing governor, Rochas Okorocha. In this interview with Vivian Onyebukwa and George Onyejiuwa, he explained his problems with the Imo governor, though he said he has forgiven him.
Governor Rochas Okorocha has however dismissed the monarch as unworthy of his attention. In a short reaction to Ilomuanya’s allegations, the governor in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Sam Onwuemeodo said; “We cannot join issues with a man like Mr Cletus llomuanya. I don’t think that any serious Nigerian would take the opinion of such a man serious. We know who is who in lmo. Okorocha restored the dignity of the traditional institution in the state by weeding elements like llomuanya out of the system. Eze Ohiri who is now the chairman of the state council of traditional rulers in the state has both the name and the image”
What’s your view on the Boko Haram killings, herdsmen killings, and banditry going on in the country. How do you think they can be stopped?
It is something that nobody is happy about, everybody feels very bad what our country has turned out to be. It causes us a lot of economic set back and it puts lives and property in danger. Why should somebody created by God remove somebody else’s life? It is just because we have lost morals. That is because we have lost morals and we don’t know what it is that we can talk about life. If we appreciate life, it is difficult for you to go and take somebody’s life no matter what it is. The other way round, may be some people are angry, but then that anger cannot lead you to go and carry arms. There are so many ways to be able to express your feelings, it is not that you have to go and take a machete, knife, gun and all that to go and kill people. No, it is not.
Or, you have some demands, that cannot also make you to go and carry arms. Why should you? We are one Nigeria. That is why I believe in one Nigeria. I will continue to preach one Nigeria. My brothers, traditional rulers like His Eminence, Sultan of Sokoto is very much interested in one Nigeria. He condemns this act of killing people. I remember those days when we were very young, when somebody dies, you are afraid to come out, but today it is nothing to people. We have lost morals, so we need a total change. There is need for us to know that there is God and we have to change and know the values of life. All these small boys these days would go and smoke and carry gun around.
So I am not happy about it, it doesn’t do anybody any good. Again, because the government has neglected the traditional institution, that is the reason why these things are happening. Like in those days when the traditional rulers are in full charge of their communities, it is difficult for such a thing to happen when they have the necessary security. But these days a politician would tell you that he has removed a traditional ruler. So we have no security. You cannot enforce anything. Politicians are using some of these bandits, so they encourage them. As such, it is difficult until when there is a change of heart, re-orientation; there must be proper awareness for people to be able to understand this life, otherwise it is a problem.
People should be able to know that we have to live in peace. If you need my land you talk to me and I will give you. If I am a Christian and you are a Muslim, respect my own religion and I respect yours too. If I have my church here, you can’t come in front of my church and put your mosque. Respect for each other. Understand each other. Live in unity with each other.
We in the traditional institution have been doing our best to ensure peace reigns. I can from here now travel to Sokoto. As I am going I am stopping on my way to greet my brothers, traditional rulers. They would receive me and I would continue. If I am going to Sokoto now I don’t need to carry my vehicle or anything; I just call my brothers there that I am coming and they would send the vehicle to receive me and we eat, because we are extending that love. And when we are doing this we want our subjects to emulate us. This is what I am talking about. We must love ourselves, we must accept to live as one body and respect each other’s feelings.
What was your problem with the outgoing Imo governor, Rochas Okorocha?
Governor Rochas Okorocha is my brother. It is unfortunate that he had to change. What happened is that he said that I did not support him during the election. That was my sin, because, I was preaching equity. And it was not me, it was the decision of the Council that said let there be peace in the state. They said that it should be rotational so that there would be peace in the state. Like they say, if you eat alone, you die alone, but when you eat with everybody, everybody is happy. We said look, Orlu zone couldn’t have been governor if not the understanding of the other two zones that agreed to allow Orlu zone to go.
That was how Orlu zone became the governor because we were not politically aware, we are only interested in business. Achike Udenwa did not even win the primary but they asked him to go ahead. Because of that spirit of rotation, Udenwa became the governor. And when he wanted to go for a second term we the traditional rulers went to ask the people of Okigwe to support Udenwa to complete his second term, and we would also support them to go their own. Then after that, it goes to Owerri and everybody is very happy. It would be less expensive, no fighting, no quarrelling. That was why when His Excellency Udenwa finished his second term, he insisted that it must go to another zone. Otherwise, our brothers from Orlu zone would have taken it, somebody like Tony Ezenna of Orange Drugs, Festus Odumegwu, and other people, would have taken it. But what happened? We joined because we were part of this decision to make it rotational. I was the Chairman of the traditional rulers at that particular time and my senior traditional rulers both late and alive were part of it. Igwe of Orlu, Eze Osu, who was the former chairman of traditional rulers council, Eze Ugo of Okporo were all part of it, and these people are no more so I had to, as a chairman to endorse the decision of the Council. So Okorocha took it so personal on me. And then as a governor, he felt he can deal with me, but God said no. The father in heaven said no because I did nothing against him.
I don’t want to go too much about this because I have forgiven him, I am telling you from the bottom of my heart. It pains me what he is going through because it pains me how he is ending. But I wish he can also change. When the spirit of God leaves somebody the person is finished. I pray for him that he finishes his tenure and hand over. I will stay behind and watch. Like I said, I have forgiven him. I don’t want to talk more on this issue.
The news was that Okorocha deposed you, but according to you he did not succeed. What do we believe?
What you didn’t give, you can’t take.
But he installed another traditional ruler for your community?
He brought his brother to come and lord over my people, but my people said no. It is the people that make a community. According to him, he installed another traditional ruler, he is not from my community. For the first time in the history of Imo state he gave a person a car to entice him. I never contested my position with anybody from my community. Today, I still give a challenge that, if anybody from my community says he doesn’t want Eze Ilomuanya, that day I will leave. Not one person from my community. That is my happiness. I asked them if they want their throne back and they said no, you are our king. One million of Rochas cannot stop me. My people said no, instead let him have his government. He did not bring any development in my community but my community is developing, we are doing our things. No security; we are paying our security ourselves. My people said, “You are our king”. Nobody can come to Obinugwu and say anything. He knows because his community is very close to my community.
So the person he brought is from another community?
Yes, he is from another community in Ideato, Arondizogu to come and be a traditional ruler in my place. Have you ever heard such a thing before? He destroyed the traditional institution. That is why the incoming governor, Emeka Ihedioha, has a lot of work to do. At times I pity him, I said God will be his strength because every aspect of government is finished.
How would you access Okorocha’s government?
The state is dead. Civil service is dead. No payment for pensioners, many of them have died. Go to the local governments you just see bush everywhere. Go to the roads, they would dig one thing here and go another side and dig another thing. They are nothing to write home about. Everywhere is uncompleted project. Is it the school he said he is giving free education. Is it the abracadabra he is doing everywhere. Is it the traditional institution. We don’t have traditional institution anymore in Imo. There is nothing to talk about Rochas government. So the incoming governor has a lot of work to do. Look at the international conference centre, everyday when rain falls the whole roof would go off and they would start putting it again. If you go to the compound, it is uncompleted. You can’t see any project that has been completed by Rochas Okorocha. Like I said, I wish him well. We will continue to pray for him and ask God to guide him successfully. I wish he will realise himself but unfortunately it is too late for him.
What do you expect from the incoming government?
First of all, the incoming government should give his life to God and ask God to give him the strength because the way Imo was looted is too much; it is unbelievable. So he should ask God to give him the grace, wisdom and knowledge to be able to handle it. He has the civil service to tackle. He has to set up the local government so that we will have a functional local government. If the local government is functioning, people will be in the local government working. The local government will be able to reach the people. There is no need for people to start coming to Owerri. I remember those days when Udenwa was in government, people go to the local government in the morning and get some contracts and jobs. But these days there is nothing like going to the local government. Who are you going to see? Is it the one that he would only give N200,000 to pay salaries and have N100,000 as imprest, that is all. If the local government people tell you what they go through you would cry. Look at the pensioners, are they not supposed to be paid. You tell civil servants to take 70% while you fly in your private jet. Why?
So he has to look at the local government and bring it back. When he does that, that will reassure confidence. Now look at the civil service, change the style and bring it back because civil service is the heart of government. Look at the traditional institution and set up a new traditional institution, reform and bring them back. He should set up a proper traditional institution that can be able to stand with our colleagues in other states.
After that he would look at the state economy. He has to empower our youths. He has to find a programme that will make our youths useful. He has to do proper orientation. Look at people of Ohaji/Egbema that he has turned to something else. Now, if you talk about Ohaji Egbema you talk about bad boys. Why? Government, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has given money as oil producing to change the lives of these boys. Now you take that money to go and turn them to something else. You would eat their money, and divert their money for something else. Tomorrow when they get angry and start causing trouble you blame them, when the money you are supposed to use to take care of them has been diverted. Talk about craft centres and all that, you don’t do that. Instead you would always invite them to Owerri and give them N1000 each and tell them to go and be causing trouble. So the incoming governor has a lot and it is only by prayers and giving himself to God. We will continue to pray for him and support him. We will support him because I know him. I know he is the man who can be able to do the change we need in the state. And since God has put him there, we will, I will, support and be behind him.
People say that traditional rulers are not expected to play partisan politics. What’s your opinion on that?
Every human being is a political animal. We are not taking sides. That is why during the election whoever comes I bless the person. All the contestants that paid courtesy visit to me during the election, I blessed and prayed for them irrespective of their parties, that the will of God would happen. And when the will of God happens, I will support you and be with you. It’s only God that knows who would become the governor when they were contesting. But when the person starts behaving, we continue to fold our hands to watch and ask God for intervention.
How can you describe the recently concluded general elections?
First, we are progressing in democracy. It is a big development. One person must win. And if you don’t feel satisfied, you can go to court and seek redress. So we are growing. The umpire declares the result. Everybody should accept the result and if you are not satisfied you go to court.
What about ballot snatching and those that demanded to be declared winner at gunpoint?
If you watch this past election, ballot snatching was not as it used to be. There was improvement. That’s why I said we are developing. How can somebody go and put a gun on somebody and force him to declare him winner? INEC should be able to charge that person to court and face the law so that such a thing would not happen again. Things are changing. I am sure by 2023 it becomes better. I commend Mr. President, INEC and every player that participated in that election.
What has life taught you?
Life has thought me that you should be able to give your life to God, because if you give your life to God and humble yourself, you succeed in life.
What is the main objective of the Igbo Traditional Rulers’ Forum which you chair the board of trustees?
The Igbo Traditional Rulers’ Forum was established primarily to promote our culture and tradition in Igbo land. Recently, our culture and tradition have been neglected and we cannot allow that to continue. It is also to promote unity among the traditional rulers. This forum is the body that oversees traditional rulers in all the Igbo speaking states not just in the South East but across Delta and Rivers states of Igbo extraction. The main essence is to bring ourselves together as a united voice in matters that affect the traditional institution in Alaigbo and to improve the welfare of traditional rulers, protect our people and our culture which is our identity. As traditional rulers, we have a lot of work to do in our communities and when we come together, we can ensure peace and unity amongst our people.
What kind of support do the traditional rulers actually need?
It is not necessarily financial support but they should be backed up legally. They should be allowed to exercise the power and the authority they have. This is because we have witnessed many times when a traditional ruler takes actions in a community against a politician but because the politician in question is an ally of the governor, he would ask the governor to dethrone the traditional ruler of that community. This is part of what I am saying because there is no security for the traditional ruler. So, they must be given that support because it has happened severally when a state governor will just wake up one morning and remove a traditional ruler not because the traditional ruler committed any crime but because he is standing for the truth.
(Cuts in) But you survived your own ordeal in the hands of Governor Rochas Okorocha?
Yes, because I said to God; this is your fight because my hands are clean. I did nothing but because I stood firmly on the side of truth. So, that is what we are saying about the traditional ruler not having any kind of security and they put the traditional rulers into fear and as a result, they cannot do what they are supposed to do. This is because once they say this is wrong, it would be trouble for them as the people concerned will now see them as an opposition. But if they have that support from government, they can stand and say that this man or woman is a criminal. But when I know that if I say that and that person is working for a politician as a thug and causing trouble and you don’t have the necessary support, you have to keep quiet. I am sure you must have heard that some traditional rulers have been kidnapped or even killed. So, to avoid trouble you just keep quiet.
In the light of what you stated above, would you like the reintroduction of the Federal House of Chiefs?
Of course, so that we go there to speak and to offer our advice to the government on how things should be done.
People are saying that the activities of the outgoing government should be audited by the incoming government. What’s your take?
He must probe Governor Rochas Okorocha, he must probe the government. Okorocha destroyed the state through his greed and actions. Okorocha has destroyed the master plan of the state especially the state capital and whenever it rains; you cannot pass anywhere in the state. He closed the drainages in the state capital in the guise of road expansion. He destroyed the water schemes and in the eight years of his administration there is nowhere that water is running. The state is littered with uncompleted projects and questions must be asked about what he used the state resources for. Pensioners are not paid and he pays civil servants whatever he wants whenever he decides to pay them their salaries. I honestly pity Emeka Ihedioha as the incoming governor because he has a lot of work to do.
We’ve heard that Imo has huge debt dangling on its head. Don’t you think this would affect the activities of the incoming administration?
I cannot talk about the debt of Imo state because I don’t know how much is being owed. But I think that it is left to Ihedioha to tell the people what he was handed over to by the outgoing governor. Like in 2011, Ikedi Ohakim had handed over to Rochas Okorocha about N26billion including the N13 billion being the balance of the N18 billion raised from the capital market for the Oguta Wonder Lake projects. So, it is only when Ihedioha gets to office and tells us what he found there. So, let’s keep our fingers crossed until Ihedioha formally assumes the office of the Governor of the state.
You said earlier that Okorocha destroyed the traditional institution; how?
Let me ask you, have you felt the effect of the traditional institution in the state in the last eight years? The traditional rulers are all living in fears. Today, traditional rulers are compelled to do a march past for the governor at Heroes Square. When he calls traditional rulers for a meeting, he keeps them waiting from morning to night and whenever he decides to come, he will say my people, my people. Does that show respect? It does not show respect to the traditional institution.
Don’t you think that may be why he did not want you to remain as the Eze?
Of course, I cannot denigrate my person to the level of doing a match pass for governor Okorocha. I can’t do that at my level, so the traditional institution was utterly destroyed and the incoming governor has to look into it; how to bring back our traditional institution and it is a matter of priority so that the traditional rulers can regain their respect and dignity which was taken away from them by Okorocha.