For some time now, there has been recurring crises in autonomous communities in Imo State,and in some cases, precious lives were lost. Our Correspondent, Chidi Nkwopara, cornered the Chairman of Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers, Eze Cletus I. Ilomuanya, to speak on this and other crucial issues. Please read on.
What is your opinion about the balkanization of Imo State into mushroom autonomous communities?
It is trite to begin by saying immediately that the issue of creation of autonomous communities is a good development in the sense that if you create autonomous community, then it brings development to the grass root.
That was the original conception. It is just like the creation of local governments and states. But then, when you balkanize it, when you create it where it is unnecessary, it becomes a different ball game. Like in Imo State now, it is unnecessary. There is no need to create any further autonomous community because we are so many already.
When you compare Imo with other states within the South East geo-political zone ofÂ the country, you will find out that we are so much on the high side. If you take a state like Anambra, it has only 179 autonomous communities. Enugu State has a little above 140. Ebonyi State is slightly above 130 and when you come to Imo State, we are talking of something ofÂ between 500 to almost 600 autonomous communities! When you go to Abia State, it becomes crazy. Abia has almost about 1,000.
If you take a critical look at what is currently happening in the state, you will see that we have serious problems already. In my considered opinion, there is no point to create more autonomous communities in Imo State. This explains why Imo State Governor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, has refused and stood firm against the creation of more autonomous communities in the state. Governor Ohakim has equally refused to recognize any of those ones that were created by the immediate past administration.
How many were they?
About 915 autonomous communities were created by the former administration and the former House of Assembly. IfÂ you add it to about 530, which we are, you will be talking about a bizarre figure. We are not just talking about ordinary titled chiefs. We are talking about traditional institution that deserves to be treated with all due respect. The number is staggering. In short, the creation of autonomous communities in the state almost reached a nauseating level.
What can be done to stem the crises in the communities?
What can be done to stem these crises are: 1. Government must come out with a bold policy that will not create any more autonomous communities. It is clear that because people want to be traditional rulers, they go all out to start putting pressure and trouble. The next thing is that they start applying for autonomous communities.
What about the tango between royal fathers and town union executives?
People ought to realize that there should be a working relationship between the town union president and the traditional ruler. There must be proper understanding. Everybody should understand his role so that the periodic skirmishes that play out in the communities would be curtailed. If this happens, these problems or frictions that arise in these communities would not come.
You saw my own president when he came to see me. He has respect for me and I have respect for him. He knows his job.
He knows what to do as a town union president. I know my function as an royal father. The Eze and the town union should work hand in hand. And that will bring harmony and peace in such a community.
With the staggering number of royal fathers in Imo State, is there any plan to classify the existing traditional stools?
Yes. Classification is important. But it is important to say that classification had been done already. It naturally and historically classified itself.
If you are talking about Eze Emmanuel Emenyonu Njemanze of Owerri, you will know immediately that he is a first class traditional ruler. Eze Cletus Ilomuanya is a first class royal father. The same is also true about Eze G.O. Okwuaka. Do you understand the point? Classification has been done by itself already. Yes, you can put it formally. But the other way round, classification has been done.
Igbo people are fond of rubbishing themselves with ease. Why is this so?
Well, I will say that before, there was this maxim that â€œIgbo ama Ezeâ€ (Igbo people do not worship anybody, irrespective of status). That is what we used to deceive ourselves. Again, everything depends on how we carry ourselves.
How has this played out in Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers?
This is a good question and it quickly brings me to what is happening in Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers. When I became the Chairman, I looked at a lot of things that were happening.
Before, you will see a traditional ruler traveling from here (Imo) to the United States of America, stay in a hotel and be conferring chieftaincy titles on people. Of course, you know it is bad. It is a gross abuse of the Igbo traditional institution. When I came as the Chairman, I said that this must be stopped and I stopped it.
So, how can you earn respect when you do such a thing? You have to first of all respect yourself and carry yourself in dignity and patriotism. People will definitely see this and respect you for it. That is part of the problem we have in Igboland. Many of us do a lot of funny things, possibly because of poverty or other things.
Do you mean poverty in royalty?
Well, I think today it is a different thing, a different ball game. The traditional institution in Igboland today has respect. Honestly, I can say with all humility that it is now a different thing from it used to be before. I am sure that you know this much. It is no longer the customary greetings to royal fathers but traditional rulers now have respect.
What has it been like for you as Chairman of Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers?
This was one of the challenges which I faced. I said I must change it. I believe that if you want to do anything, you have to do it well. That I accepted to be the Chairman of the Council means that I have to change the institution for the better and which I am happy that I have done just that. People are already testifying that my coming into the office has really changed the traditional institution. I am happy that people are giving honour and respect to the traditional institution. That is what gladdens my heart.
If this is true, why did the Council experience the recent schism?
Well, you know that like every Igboman, once one starts a trade, we donâ€™t like developing trades or issues. If somebody starts a business and once the business is booming, the next thing is that you will see everybody wanting to go into the same business. It does not matter if all of them know what it takes to go into such a business or not.
When you come to the issue of the schism in the Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers, it simply followed the same ugly pattern. When I came in as Chairman of the Council, nobody was actually hearing of the Council. It is right to say that I inherited a non-functional and comatose Council. I worked very hard to bring back the lost glory of the traditional Council.
What is this vexed issue of tenure for the Traditional Council Chairman?
Yes, I have heard people talking about tenure. I have also heard people calling for my head on the pretext that I want to elongate my tenure in office. Some went to the extent of saying all manner of unprintable things about my person. In fact, you should be asking about what people, including royal fathers, did not say about me.
The truth is that you donâ€™t have tenure in an institution. If you go by history, late Eze akanu Ibiam was the first chairman of Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers, when the state was created in 1996. He was the chairman while late Eze Onu Egwunwoke was the deputy. But from 1996 to 1991, the Federal Government carved out Abia State from Imo State. Eze Akanu Ibiam now went to Abia State and became the chairman of Abia Council while Eze Onu Egwunwoke took over the reigns of the Council in Imo State.
Eze Onu Egwunwoke was there until his death in 2000. I am sure that if not because of death, he would have remained there till now because he was moving the institution.
After his death, Eze Osondu Osu became the chairman. Eze Osu was there for only three years. So, when the traditional rulers started petitioning and talking because he was not feeling very well. There was the complaint that every time he was abroad and the normal meetings were no longer held. That was why his tenure was not renewed. Royal fathers wanted a change and they got it. That was why Eze Osuâ€™s tenure was not renewed. If he was feeling fine and moving the institution, his tenure would have been renewed.
Now, when I came in as the Chairman and started working hard; started changing the face and started alleviating the poverty situation of Imo royal fathers. I had to call a meeting of traditional rulers at the Multi Purpose Hall, Government House, Owerri. I advised that we should look at the issues. Let us look at what is happening. I then gave them a rundown of what I have been able to do. I told them I chose to address them in view of recent activities and utterances of some of us, who ordinarily should have known better. These people should have known better but chose to hide facts. That is what it is.
What ignited the internal conflict?
The answer is simple. It was greed and over ambition. So, because of their over ambition and greed, the politicians decided to come into them to cause problem within our ranks. They know the truth. Conscience is an open wound, which only truth can heal. Even a serving commissioner was there to advise that we shouldÂ have sat quietly and discussed among ourselves without anybody getting to know what we were discussing.
What is the position now?
I am happy that the issue has been put to rest. The issue became clear to all after my address. A vote of confidence was passed on me. I thanked God that everybody had seen the facts.
Is there anything in Igbo systems that promote pull-him-down syndrome?
(Laughs) I donâ€™t think there is anything in our system that promotes this evil. It is just envy, jealousy and greed. That is why I have been preaching that we should trust one another. We should be able to be happy with our brotherâ€™s progress. Until when we start this, I tell you, we will still remain where we are.
Now, we are talking of an Igboman being the President of Nigeria in 2015.