Magnus Eze, Enugu
Trditional ruler of Amurri Ancient Kingdom in Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu state recently marked his 10th anniversary on the throne. He spoke to Daily Sun on his experience these past years; the clamour for constitutional role for the traditional institutions, as well as the politicisation of the traditional stool among others.
What has it been like in the past 10 years?
We’ve had some ups and downs these past ten years, since March 27, 2009 when I ascended the throne. The youth posed the first security challenge when they confronted those manning the neighbourhood watch for daring to stop their illicit behaviours. They chased them away from the neighbourhood watch office. I tried to quell it. The second challenge was during the grand finale of Ani traditional festival when the community had to go to the market square, every village with their masquerade, traditional dance which is the normal tradition. The Ani festival is to recognise and respect the soil of Amurri ancient kingdom; we celebrate it before we go into the farming season and during that period, some youths confronted one another with their different traditional groups and dances and in the process, a life was lost. One young man from my community was stabbed to death by a traditional troupe from the neighbouring community. The one killed was from my own kindred. It was a big issue; call it murder, manslaughter or whatever. However, I had to employ the community development body and peace talk or mediation to mediate in the matter; through the directorate of public prosecution (DPP) and we were able to manage the crisis. At the end of the day, the matter was resolved. So, having ascended to the throne, I had to follow the traditional constitutional process to reconstitute the Igwe-in-council known as Ndi Ichie. The ten villages of the community have a representative each that’s nominated by their village to represent them in the Igwe-in-council and the Igwe has the virtue to appoint eight others thus making it a total of 18. I constitute them and swear them into office and follow also the constitutional procedure to constitute the elders’ council made up of the oldest man and second oldest man in each village; bringing them to a total of 20 elders. They advise the Igwe and the Igwe-in-council on the customs and tradition of our community. We seek advice from them; and we’ve been working creditably well to ensure that all the customs and tradition of Amurri ancient kingdom are observed. Traditionally, we have very important festivals- two major ones that the entire Amurri community enjoys the same period. One is the Oriri Ani festival which I earlier talked about; to thank the soil. It’s done before entering next farming season, usually within the month of October – November and during this period, villages have the shrines were the chief priests have to go, if you have committed any atrocity you don’t go before the Ani shrine; those whose hands are clean are those who go before the Ani shrine to make some traditional rites. It could be with native cow, bull; ram, or goat, depending on your wealth and how fruitful the land was to you, even cock. Families go to receive blessing and during this traditional day, a week-long traditional programme for four market days of Eke, Orie, Afor and Nkwo, then it goes round the next Afor market, every village will go out with their masquerade, traditional dance to the market square. Within these four days, we have days of wrestling for different age groups and also we have exhibition of the hunters referred to as Ndi Otu Egbe; they exhibit how they shoot and catch the animals in the bush. The second traditional festival that’s observed is the Nneche festival, generally referred in Igbo land as the New Yam festival. It’s the time that all great farmers will come to exhibit their yam and of course the king of yam, among all yams; there’s king of yam called Okunekuji, they all assemble at their different village market square and exhibit their yam. The elders will inspect to see the biggest and best yam. They also inspect yam barns in the villages. It is in the process that the Ezeji, that’s the farmer that produced the biggest yam for the season, is identified and celebrated.
How do you reconcile these traditional rites with the Christians in the community?
Fine, the Amurri ancient kingdom had existed with traditional religion before the arrival of Christianity; hence, we have many traditional religion worshippers. In recent times, we’re having Christians. The first church that came into the community was Methodist Church, followed by the Catholic Church and thereafter other Pentecostal churches- Christ Apostolic and the rest of them. The Christians believe in the New Yam festival but they don’t believe in going into the shrine; they celebrate the festival with others. The traditional worshippers go to the shrine and it’s not done by force to do so. In this community, we have Christians, traditional and Islamic religious worshippers and as the traditional ruler, all these religious groups are my subjects and of course the constitution of the Federal Republic provides for freedom of worship.
Having been on the traditional stool for a decade, which of your roles do you like most?
It is using my position as a traditional ruler to encourage community development and full participation of our people in community development. Secondly, it’s encouraging different religions in my community to have respect for one another and never to confront themselves.
Are you not bothered about so much government influence on the traditional institutions
Government influence on the traditional institutions is a serious issue for concern and it’s the influence on traditional institutions especially in most parts of the South East, that’s given birth to autonomous communities and each autonomous community has a traditional ruler. It has become highly politicised in the sense that community members now fight over traditional stools but traditionally, that’s not how it ought to be because traditional rulers are of a well consecrated and constituted institution like the throne of Amurri ancient kingdom that by God’s Grace, I found myself on for a decade now. Nobody selects a traditional ruler; they are chosen by the ancestors and the elders and the Ezeani (the priest of the land). Nobody comes to do politics, say voting for traditional ruler here. In fact, it’s done before the serving traditional ruler may join the ancestors. In Amurri, once the arrow points to a particular person within the royal family, nobody says no, and if you dare argue, the person gets the repercussions and the worst scenario is that the repercussion doesn’t fall on only that person, it’s to all his descendants. It’s a very critical issue for concern especially in the southeast. Sometimes in 2004, Amurri Asato, that’s our full name; made up of eight communities, so, some communities combined and requested for autonomous communities when Governor Chimaroke Nnamani set up a committee headed by then Barrister Paul Egbogu who later became a traditional ruler. Then three of these communities filled a form and requested to be autonomous within Amurri, hence, now, we have three communities that are autonomous. We have Eziokwu Amurri autonomous community, Umuigbo Amurri autonomous community, and Amankanu Amurri autonomous community. Any others that are left are those that make up the Amurri ancient kingdom. That was when my predecessor, Igwe D. O. Onwe had not joined the ancestors. For those who do not understand, they try to cause some controversy. Some will say why must it be Amurri community instead of giving it autonomous community? But some of these became political, they tried to politicise it. It’s like you create Enugu State out of old Anambra State, Ebonyi out of Enugu State and you come back and tell Enugu or Anambra states to change their names. So, some of my autonomous communities, you have to change your name, or we may not have history. However, those are the political side, the hiccup the creation of autonomous communities is causing in the communities but we believe that with public enlightenment and education, many that are not literate enough to understand the constitutional process of establishing autonomous community, will understand and stop putting up some argument that’s capable of causing communal crises.
What is your view about the clamour for constitutional role for the traditional institution?
I had said several things on this issue at national discourse when we meet at the national traditional council summit yearly. If you look at the government formation, we have the federal, state and local government areas then you have the community. The community head is the traditional ruler; the traditional institution has roles to play; these roles are not enshrined in the Nigerian constitution but the roles are unwritten yet they’re known. The government says the traditional ruler for example; you’re the chief security officer of your community. As chief security officer of the community, there’s no empowerment to ensure that the traditional ruler carries out this assignment and when there is crisis, take for instance, the Fulani herdsmen-farmers’ clashes, the first reaction of the government or the security agents in where that crisis is going on would be, go and get the traditional ruler; the traditional ruler must be able to give account of what is happening in his kingdom and yet the traditional ruler doesn’t even have one police officer assigned to him in the palace. And you call him chief security officer of the community; no constitutional roles. These, we had advanced, and written to the National Assembly, it’s been in public discourse and seriously discussed at the national level. The National Assembly before this one brought it to the floor of the House and the politicians, most of them didn’t hesitate to throw the quest for the role of traditional rulers to be added in Nigerian constitution overboard because they come into their different communities to use their political muscle to antagonise, rubbish the traditional institution and those traditional rulers especially in the autonomous communities who probably don’t have the ingredients of the tradition, they dance to the tunes of the political class. This leads to a lot of communal crises; I am sorry to say this, some traditional rulers are card carrying members of political parties and during elections, any of their subjects that don’t dance to their party, they tend to sanction or banish them from the community. To me as a custodian of core tradition, it’s totally unacceptable to me.