From George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
A royal father, Eze Goddy Adikwu, Ezechinyere 1 of Ogbor/Umuachalu Uvuru autonomous community in Aboh Mbaise in this interview speaks on various issues and urges various tiers of government and politicians to respect the traditional institutions.
Your Highness, can you tell us what you were doing before you became the traditional ruler of your community?
I worked for Michelle company Nigeria limited. I was the first black man and a Nigerian to head the Electrical and electronic department of the company. I held that position for 12 years before I became the technical training manager. Later, I was moved to the front office which handles not only corporate affairs but as well as governmental affairs. Thereafter, I was promoted to the position of Executive Director which was the position I held till my retirement from the company at the end of 1999. After my retirement, the company retained me as a consultant. I was also the Vice president of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria for 8 Years. I was also the chairman of the Shippers Council, Rivers State. I was also a member of several federal boards. and member of the 2004 constitutional conference during the administration of President Obasanjo.
So, how did you became the Traditional Ruler of the community? Was it through contest or adoption?
I believe that God plays a role in the destiny of men. Now in 1982, I came back from Rivers State to see my mother. My father had died on February 17 in 1982 and as a senior manager then in Michelle, I had made it a point of duty to always come to the village to be with my mother who was feeling lonely following the death of my father. So, every sunday morning, I will drive myself from Port Harcourt to the village. So, on one of those occasions, I was told that the Ogbor people wanted to see me. I had asked why because I was not too active in the affairs of the Community.
So, I waited and about 2 pm and it was already getting late for me to return to Port Harcourt. I summoned my kinsmen and asked them that if Ogbor people wanted to kill me, are you people going to betray me just like that? Why don’t you people tell me what it was all about? They said that I have to go to St. Theresa’s Catholic school and so I went there. And, I was very nervous because not even my kinsmen could tell me why I was being summoned by the Ogbor people.
Eventually, they brought Theo Nwalo, the post master and said that Ogbor people are searching for a traditional ruler. I told them that I have just started my career in Michelle having resigned from my previous job, and that I didn’t want to be a traditional ruler because I didn’t have what it takes to be a traditional ruler.
In fact, when I returned back to the house, my mother was already crying and appealed to me not to accept the offer because they are planning to kill me and that they know that my father had died. That day I returned to Port Harcourt late. And from then onwards, the Ogbor people will not let me be. I was forced into joining the Mbari West cabinet in 1993 or so.
After the creation of autonomous communities, they called on me to be the traditional ruler and I told them that I don’t have the flair for it. And with my little curriculum vitae, I had thought I would go and play in the private sector and do the needful in Nigeria and earn money. But they insisted, it was here that I built this Ovu( outter House), now converted to palace that they threatened me that if I don’t accept that, they will invoke the gods of the land to strike me dead and I was very frightened. So, I told my mother and children and they said that if it is going to be a contest, I should not accept. And now to tell the Ogbor people that my condition for acceptance was that if there is any dissenting voice that I would step down and when I got to the hall, I stood there and nobody came out. But I heard that there was a chap but that was not my cup of tea.
Eventually, I went for presentation at the Local government council that was how I became the traditional ruler and no Ogbor person opposed me or filed a suit against me. I got the staff of office in December 2003 during the tenure of Governor Achike Udenwa.
Now, what has been your experience so far as a traditional ruler?
It is another kettle of fish all together. I served as the chairman of Aboh Mbaise council of traditional rulers for eight years which was another battle field, and went to Imo State council of traditional rulers where I served for six years and I later told governor Rochas Okorocha that I was not willing to continue. It has been a chequered experience in terms of challenges. As a traditional ruler, you must have a large heart to face the challenges and it is not a bed of roses but a learning curve. You have the good, the bad and the ugly people in every community and must learn to work with every body. Nevertheless, it has been a very good experience I must say.
Have you had any ugly experience that makes you regret being a traditional ruler?
I would rather not say it because you can’t please everybody because even not being a traditional ruler, you can’t please everybody. There are people who must always find faults in whatever thing you do. One of the difficult times was when one Barrister Onwuama sued me as the sixth defendant because he also sued the state government after my coronation in 2006. I was in London when I was informed that there was a substitute service at my gate in the village and I told them to wait until when I am back and that if the people say that I should not be the Eze again, I will simply go back to the things I have been doing before.
When I came back, Nick Onwuama was bent on giving me hell but you know in the industry, we learn the hard way. When I approached Bon Nwakama (SAN), he told me to relax and so we went to court because he wanted to stop the coronation and the court pushed him aside and asked us to go ahead with our coronation. But he continued contesting but Bon Nwakama had already told him that he can’t win the case. So, you have hostile people like that in every community who are cogs in the wheel. If God has said that it is you, he will help you to surmount all the obstacles on your way.
However, all through the litigation, I didn’t involve the community financially. So I bore the cost of the litigation against me and the community. This is because sometimes, it very difficult for the community to contribute money. You know engaging a Senior Advocate of Nigeria is not a chicken feed because Onwuama was getting some persons to niddle me. But l left vengeance to God.That has been my principle; I don’t have enemies because for me it’s a waste of time thinking about anybody who has hurt me. Let the person who says that I am his enemy to worry because it is his business if he says that I am his enemy. I have never sued somebody to court over a piece of land except in Port Harcourt where I bought a property and some people wanted to take it away from me.
Is the matter over now?
Yes, through the hard effort of the Uvuru Federated Union. But there is a mistake we often make in life. If we sit at the round table as we are doing today and air our grievances, we will be able to resolve problems faster. When I was in charge of Owerri zone alternative dispute and conflict resolution committee for Imo state which governor Okorocha made me, I found out that arbitration heals wounds. In this part of the world, when you drag somebody to court, he finds it difficult to forget and forgive because you waste money and time and that embitters an average person.
Even if you have the money to spend but what of the time you have wasted and often times, justice is perverted. For instance in land dispute and if you bring it to the Eze’s palace and the Eze and members of his cabinet are transparent and they are God fearing, they must arbitrate truthfully and besides, they know the history of everyone in that community. They can find out where they don’t know and make sure that justice is served. But in court, it is probably the highest bidder; I have experienced it. We had a case I won’t mention the names; the chairman of the Customary court and his members were trying to pervert justice but I laughed at them. So, when I found that they were coming to a critical point, I told my Lawyer that we are not coming back to this court again. So, we went to Customary Court of Appeal, the late Mrs Anwuka, who the president ruled that the matter should start De Novo and the chairman and his corrupt members were transferred. So, sometime later, I saw one of them in a church programme and I walked up to him and say do you know me?
Recently, the state government set up a community policing committee and then asked traditional rulers to send names of persons that would be trained for that purpose. Now, some traditional rulers have alleged that those who eventually trained were not the ones they had nominated. Do you have a similar experience?
The answer is yes.There are many things that politicians toy with and then they don’t and then shove it down the throat of the community and the Traditional ruler. And because most traditional rulers don’t want to lose their staff of office, they simply swallow it. The names we submitted to the local government from community was done based on the antecedents of the young men because we know them. But till date, we don’t know what has happened to it. I think what has happened is that those politicians replaced the names with their political thugs who help them to win elections. They may not be acceptable in the community .
The government said that I am the chief Security officer of the people of my community yet in the community policing project, I had no input and I was not even consulted; even the list I submitted in consultations with my people was not used. I heard one name which was submitted and everyone in the community knows that he is proper thief. How did his name get there? The day they were being trained, the DPO called me and I told him I don’t want to get involved because the governor of the state knows how best to run the state. I can only play the role he wants me to play. When we had vigilante, it was strong.
The communities played a counterpart role with the government and our sons and daughters in the diaspora were assisting in funding the vigilante because they want the community to be safe. If the Uvuru federated Union president has a good house and put properties inside it, he would like to meet it the same way whenever he comes to the village. There was a case in Umuohie community where a man’s house was burgled by one young man who stole everything from the house because the owner of the house lives in Abuja. So, one of the things I tell the government is to draw a line on the things you want to play politics with and what is sustainable; that is my opinion.
We wrote a petition to the government where we highlighted the implications of what they have done regarding the community policing but till today, we have not heard anything from them.
You can’t fight the governor of the state, he knows what he wants to achieve. We only play the role the government wants us to play as traditional rulers. During the ENDSARS protest, the President General called me from Abuja and said that our Police Station must not be burnt and I called my fellow traditional rulers in Aboh Mbaise that our people said that our police station must not be burnt and nobody got close to it. The DPO was calling me at the heat of that protest and I assured him that nobody will enter there because the Uvuru police station is our asset; it was built by one of our sons and we made sure that the Uvuru police station was not burnt like the others in the state. We deployed our youths to guard it day and night. One of the chaps who went there to molest the police, we told him in clear terms that if he doesn’t get out of the place that we will burn him alive and he took to his heels because he knew we meant business. The police station was built by the community and you don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. Even if we don’t agree with what the police is doing, we have to protect our asset because the leadership of the community said so.
Our government and politicians should respect Traditional rulers and this is where you have some of the problems. I give you example; I have a councillor who is in charge of ward2; he has never come to me to say he is a councillor. He has been engaging in nefarious acts in the autonomous community. He doesn’t even have the basic qualification to be a councillor but he was imposed on the community. I have complained to his associates and say listen, the truth is constant but what changes is lies. I told the chairman of the council that most of the palliatives they sent through him never got to the people and asked him does councillors have precedence over traditional rulers? But through the help of the President General, our people in the Diaspora sent over one million Naria to each autonomous community for Covid -19 palliatives. Peter Clever, the President General organised one in which I also contributed money. We did all these things to help our people but the one brought by the government never got to the people it was meant for. I also told Iyke Njoku the state commissioner for Environment that not everything should be used for politics. Now, that same councillor is operating a brothel in this community and that is unacceptable.