Amid the grave global economic crisis arising out of the coronavirus, which has made some other state governments unable to pay government employees and retirees for several months, Governor Willie Obiano presented at Alex Ekwueme Square in Awka, Anamnbra State, 151 Innoson sport utility vehicles (SUVs) on Friday, September 4, to all recognised traditional rulers in the state, principally to make them deepen their commitment to community policing. Anambra is Nigeria’s safest state and also the most peaceful. For instance, it is the only state that has not experienced armed robbery in six years, despite having some of the biggest open markets in West Africa where people trade in high volumes with cash. Community policing is at the heart of Anambra’s inspiring security story. But this article about Governor Obiano rescuing traditional rulers is not about the vehicles presented to them last Friday. It is rather about another kind of rescue.
On August 28, the 12 traditional rulers in Anambra State suspended on August 10 for acts incompatible with their status as royal fathers finally apologised to the people and government of Anambra State for their incomprehensible conduct of allowing themselves to be used by a controversial businessman to embarrass the people for no just cause. It took the monarchs a whole 18 days to publicly apologise when they visited the Speaker of the Anambra State House of Assembly, Right Honorable Uche Okafor, whom they asked to put in a word for them before Chief Obiano.
The traditional rulers should have known that they were being used. After all, Dr. Robert Eze, the traditional ruler of Ukpo, in Dunukofia Local Government Area, half-brother of the controversial businessman, refused to join them to travel to Abuja to see President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday, August 7, with a view to saying false and misleading things about their own state. After one week in Abuja without the President personally meeting them, Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, a 75-year-old diplomat, met with them. Even so, their speech was vetted well in advance to ensure that there was not a line critical of the Anambra administration, which everyone acknowledges is doing a very impressive job. Consequently, they ended up only singing Buhari’s praise for, among other things, making Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu attain new heights.
Chief Obiano deserves our commendation for swiftly acting on the recommendation of the Anambra State Traditional Rulers’ Council, headed by the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe. The governor deserves praise for suspending the monarchs not so much for disciplining them as for bringing respect and dignity to traditional leadership in Anambra State. The one-year suspension, in the first instance, will go a long way to cleanse the land, which they desecrated. Their offence is not just travelling out of the state without informing the state authorities, as every monarch in Nigeria is required to do, nor is it just attempting to spread lies against the state before the President nor is it just attempting to meet the President on behalf of the state without the mandate of the state government or even the Anambra State Traditional Rulers’ Council.
Every person from Anambra State and beyond was shocked to see in video cash allowance from the controversial businessman being shared. The first round of cash sharing took place in the businessman’s residence in Anambra State and the second in his home in Abuja. Worse, two members of the entourage collected N250,000 from the businessman to give to each member of the team but secretly pocketed N150,000 from each; as they received a mere N100,000 per person. No wonder, members of the communities of these traditional rulers have been demonstrating against them, calling for their outright and immediate dethronement. Whether it is Abba or Ukwulu or Alor or any other community, the story has been the same. It was touching to see the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, a former Anambra State governor as well as a senator of the Federal Republic, lead thousands of his Alor people last Sunday, August 30, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church to press for the removal of his monarch.
Dr. Ngige, recipient of the national honour of the Order of the Niger (OON), has even called for the removal of the 12 monarchs from their communities because their presence can cause problems in these places. The call has turned out to be prescient. Several shots were fired in Alor on Saturday, September 5, when some people reported to be thugs went to demonstrate in support of the suspended Igwe.
Prince Arthur Eze, who craves to be known as Anambra’s godfather, has been with all manner of people in the state. One of them is Chief Austine Ndigwe, who claims to be the traditional ruler of Awka and not only goes about with the paraphernalia of the office but also addresses himself as “His Majesty.” He is unknown to the state government as a traditional ruler. The traditional ruler of this ancient and respected town, Igwe Gibson Nwosu, is alive, strong, and law-abiding. Igwe Nwosu was a Nigerian Air Force fighter pilot and a graduate of Usman Dan Fodio University when it was known as the University of Sokoto. It reveals a lot about Arthur Eze’s man that he is also known as Ozo Gidigbam Gidigbam, a meaningless but mouthful title.
There are reports that Chief Ndigwe and Arthur Eze have fallen out. Once President Buhari did not personally receive the 12 monarchs, Ozo Gidigbam Gidigbam knew it was the end of the road. He flew back the next day to Anambra State and issued a statement extolling Governor Obiano for exemplary leadership with particular reference to the transformation of Awka from a mere township to a modern state capital.
No matter what Arthur Eze and his supporters do now, it is self-evident that they have lost out. Governor Obiano’s suspension of the 12 traditional rulers should be seen as one action in a series of steps to restore the dignity of the institution. The governor also deserves our commendation for the manner he responded to the issue of the 12 monarchs. Neither he nor any of his government officials joined issues in public with Arthur Eze and his supporter igwes. They rather conducted themselves with utmost panache. They displayed maturity and sophistication. The Obiano administration at every moment shows why Anambra State will remain the Light of the Nation.
•Chief Ifenatuora is an accountant in Onitsha, Anambra State