Obinna Odogwu, Awka
Traditional ruler of Nteje community in Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State, Igwe Rowland Odegbo, has described the relationship between traditionalists and Christians in his community as very cordial. He said the traditional institution and the church did things together in his domain, and have never witnessed any conflict whatsoever. He also spoke on other issues concerning the community.
How has it been since you came on board as the traditional ruler of your people?
Being traditional ruler of Nteje has not been easy. From the outside, traditional leadership and rulership looks very glamorous; and it is indeed glamorous to a certain extent. But when you come into it, it comes with lots and lots of responsibility. You have to learn conflict resolution; you have to learn patience. You have to learn tolerance. Quite a lot of things you didn’t know before must come in to play. So, being a traditional ruler is a mixed bag; you have to endure. You have to stoop oftentimes to conquer. The Igwe in Igboland is not what it used to be in the past where Igwe made all the decisions. You have to rule with your cabinet; men of integrity. Oftentimes, they tell you what to do and how to do it. And you have to consult widely before you take decisions concerning the community. That is how we rule. So, it’s been a beautiful experience and I am enjoying it. I am happy that after 32 years of living in the United States of America that I am home, serving my people as their traditional ruler; doing the best I can.
Clashes between herdsmen and farmers have been on the rise. What is the situation in Nteje community?
Nteje is no different from other communities in Anambra State. The governor, in his wisdom, set up a committee on herdsmen that comprises a lot of traditional rulers, the police, DSS and others. Some people seem to misunderstand it, but what we do is, when they spoil crops, they pay, when you kill their cow, you pay. In some instance, the Fulani people have damaged and ravaged our farmlands. In some instance also, our youths have gone beyond the call of duty to kill their cows. So, we are managing both. I wonder what is happening in Nigeria because, as old as I am, we have always been involved with cows and cow meat and herdsmen. It has never been this bad. The relationships are getting sour and it seems that we are not getting along. But my prayer is that the Fulani people who are herdsmen would realise that our people are predominantly farmers and they cannot just take their cows and run over our farms. And we are also going to be tolerant because most of these cows you see in Igboland today, oftentimes, are owned by Igbo people. They are owned by these slaughter houses everywhere and we hire the Fulani to graze them. To be honest with you, it is something we have to handle carefully. The Anambra State government, with the committee on herdsmen, has been doing a great job and I applaud the governor for having the wisdom to do that.
What does it cost to marry a wife from Nteje or does one need to sell his land and other property to raise funds for it?
You don’t have to sell your land to marry. Ours in Nteje is quite reasonable. If you are marrying within Nteje, it is N4,000. That’s what it will cost a man. And then N2,000 for the mother of the bride. It is a total of N6,000 with white wine, a bottle of hot drink and a few other things. So, it doesn’t require so much expense. However, when somebody from outside comes to marry from Nteje, it is a different case. They usually get their pound of flesh. They try to charge more but we are regulating it. It isn’t too much. There is always a list. And we are harmonising those lists village by village; making sure that Ndi O Ji Ana temper justice with mercy because the person that is going for marriage is our daughter and we are not selling her off. We are simply giving her hand out in marriage. She is going there to bear children who are going to be our nwadiana. So, we want that relationship. We wouldn’t want to bankrupt our in-laws. That’s the way it is. So, the price is reasonable in Nteje.
What is the relationship between the traditional institution and the church in your community?
In Nteje, we have a good relationship with the church. I am a Christian. I am a Catholic. I go to church every Sunday. There was something that came up during my early time as Igwe where, when people die, church people would come in and do their own ceremony and then the villagers would do their own. We have also harmonised that where the church would spend a few hours doing their own and then the villagers would do their own and everything is done in one day in Nteje. When people die here, we bury them that same day; the church and the community work together to see that the person gets a befitting burial. So, we do not have any conflict with the church. And I mean all churches. We are a very welcoming community.
By saying that burials are conducted the day of someone’s demise in Nteje, are you saying that there is no room for preservation in the morgues?
Arrangement for mortuary is there. There is what we call izobe ozu ezobe (postponing funeral rites). It costs so much money izobe ozu and later organise a funeral. So, when people die, we ask them to bury them immediately, if they can and then fix a date for the funeral. However, if people can afford it, they can as well put the corpse in the mortuary. The church allows you, I think, three months or so to keep a corpse in the mortuary before burial. On the funeral day, both the church and the community and Ome na ana (tradition) take place the same day. Church comes, conducts service, prays for the person, does the burial and the community continues with the funeral ceremonies.