By Hugo ODIOGOR, Deputy Political Editor
From the exclusive world of medicine in the United States of America, Professor Joseph Chike Edozien was chosen as the 13th Asagba of Asaba, andÂ has seen the steady transformation of the once sleepy town on the West bank of the River Niger into an administrative capital of Delta State .
In this interviewÂ with Vanguard Newspaper, one of Africaâ€™s cerebral minds shares his thoughts on various contemporary local and national issues.
As the 13th Asagba of Asaba, how would you describe your experience?
I ascended the throne on the 1st of July, 1991. I will describe my experience so far,Â as being very positive. As in a new situation, when I came to office, I discovered that you must have a lot of details on the traditions and customs of the people and this is not easy, especially, when there is few written documents that you can refer to .
So most of the traditions and customs were oral. But soon after I came, I discovered that the process of learning is not as difficult and onerous as I thought because, I found that between 1885 and 1930s, There was a native court here in Asaba and the native court had made judgement of the cases that came before it in accordance with the traditions and customs of the people. So, I had the opportunity of reading those cases and the judgements.
As someone from academia, what do you think is the difference between the academia and the traditional institution?
Not a very big one. I have been the head of a department andÂ I have been the dean of a medical school, and in all these, you administer and motivate people.
Coming to Asaba to become the traditional ruler, I know that the principles are not different; the only difference is that you use a different set of rules and if you donâ€™t know the rules like I explained to you then you have to learn. I have told you how I became conversant with the rules, so once I was conversant with the rules, I have to apply them, I have to manage them.
You came into office on the 1st of July, 1991 and seven weeks after that, Asaba was made the capital of Delta state, did you have any hand in that process?
Luck is important in life, the most important things donâ€™t happen just by luck. You have to work hard and of course, let me say that the whole of Asaba made an effort and I was part of that effort. Nonetheless, it happened just a few weeks after I ascended the throne so it could be said that my coming brought us good luck.
One incident that took place almost immediately was the â€œkola nut incidentâ€ which created a lot of discomfort within the government and the traditional institution. What lessons were learnt from that experience?
Let me briefly describe what it was all about. The tradition here is that in any public gathering in Asaba that I amÂ present, IÂ break the kola nut and pray for the success of the event in our language. If I am not there, the oldest Asaba man there would perform the exercise.
So when the kola nut issue came up and the governor presented the kola nut to the Orodje of Okpe, that time he was the Chairman of the Council of Traditional Rulers, we objected because it was desecration ofÂ our tradition and customs, so that was the reason why we walked out of the arena. Government was offended and meted out its punishment, but the defence of our tradition and customs was more paramount and more important than the reaction of government.
On the lessons to be learnt, on a second thought, government saw the point we were making and a government circular was issued to the effect that in any public gatherings in any community in Delta State; it is the duty of the traditional ruler to break the kola nut and pray for the success of the event. The decision of government to respect the customs of the people is very welcomed.
Asaba has witnessed gradual transformation, under the administration of Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan. What would you say was responsible for the stagnation in the past?
I would say the stagnation of the past was lack of political will on the part of previous administrations to spend a little amount of money in developing its capital and it was probably due to the general discontent some parts of the state has on the choice of Asaba as the state capital.
So that is one of the major changes in attitude brought about by the sitting governor who is in full recognition that Asaba is the state capital of this state and should have its dues. So, this change in attitude and political will is what has propelled the recent developments in the state capital.
Recently, you helped in reforming EFCC operations, would you say the anti-corruption agencies are doing right thingÂ now and what other areas would you suggest they should look at in order to improve their operation?
Corruption in government is one of the most devastating things in this country. It is one of the major things that slow development and until the issue of corruption is dealt with seriously, development will continue to be slow.
Government has realized this and even in the early days of government, even duringÂ the military period, they fought against corruption and indiscipline, Fight Against Corruption and Indiscipline, National Orientation Agency. All these were designed for the purpose of fighting corruption. But much of these was just talk, there was hardly any activity.
The institution of the EFCC really concretized governmentâ€™s desire to bring corruption to an end in our public life. Now the fight against corruption has been greatly damaged because of the treatment that was given to the former boss of the commission; that is Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.
So what ever he might have done, the fact is that he did well in fighting corruption and the treatment he got all leads to the indication that government is not serious about fighting corruption.
After him, there was a long lull, we didnâ€™t hear much. I think recently, that the spate of activity going on and the hope that the agency will continue with the work has started to make the world believe that we are seriously fighting corruption.
One of the major developments in thinking and approach is what I mentioned earlier and the agency realized that corruption was not only in government and in high places. It was endemic throughout the country and in order to fight corruption, you have to change our attitude, you have to involve the entire population. So we developed the slogan â€œeverybody is a watchdog see something, say somethingâ€.
What specific things were you and other eminent Nigerians asked to do in the fight against corruption.
Most of what we did was device means to involve the public in fighting corruption. Corruption is not to be left to the anti-graft agency alone. Every body must be involved.
Now the state creation is what is in the mind of the people from Anioma area. Are you looking at this as a fallout of the constitutional review?
We are looking forward to the creation of Anioma state. I have heard so much that why do we want Anioma state created? After all Asaba is the capital of Delta state, so what more do we expect? State creation is not just because we are a minority or we are being discriminated against but for positive development.
I believe states should be created not based on ethnic or linguistic lines so that people will have good opportunity to develop faster and in keeping with their own traditions and customs, modify them where necessary, preserve them so this ethnic cultural aspect of state creation is important to us.
You have been active in the politics of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo to the extent that people from Anioma are not comfortable given the fact that the Igbos of the mainland are not sympathetic to the Igbos in the diaspora. Some of their leaders still believe in the philosophy of the Igbo union of excluding their kiths and kinÂ outside the Igbo heartland.
Is it because you are the monarch as represented in term Ohanaeze or that Ohanaeze represents the aspiration of the Igbo speaking people of Delta state?
I think this perception doesnâ€™t have any real foundation. I know that there are some people across the Niger who believe that even though we speak Igbo, we are different kinds of persons. That our attitudes and our beliefs are different.
There are many on our side too that disagree with attitudes of the Igbos in the East . But these are not in keeping with our own beliefs and attributes and therefore, we are not one. But we are the Igbo speaking, have our history that we migrated from that side, our language, we understand it, but we are a broader people because after the igbos here, you have the Urhobos, the Ijaws and so on and to the North, we have the Igala people and the Hausa people.
So in that sense, we are a border people and so we have been subjected to more influences than those in the heartland. So there are bound to be differences in the course of our history. Nonetheless, I can say that the whole thing you are seeing is a wrong perception of a few.
If it was a correct attitude or perception, I donâ€™t think the Igbos will accept an Anioma person to be the head of Ohanaeze, if you know, the present head of Ohanaeze is Ambassador Ralph Uwachue, an Anioma person. Before that, the secretary-general of Ohanaeze was Chief Achuzia, an Asaba man. So that perception that you say, although it exists, does not portray the true feelings and attitude of the Igbo leadership.
Your speech on AprilÂ 10th 2010 was a kind of endorsement to Gen. Ibrahim Babangida to run for the presidency just as he was about to declareÂ his interest. Is it your own personal view or the view of the Anioma or Asaba people?Â Â Â Let me say first of all that the conferment of the title on Babangida was not politically motivated.
Now in my speech, I think we recognized that the title had been offered to him long before conferment and it was offered to him and his wife on the basis of the role that they played in making Asaba the capital of Delta State. So we feel he has contributed greatly to our development. That was the basis for giving them the title.
They were to take the titles a year or two ago in the time of anniversary but they did not come to take it because the wife who was sick was undergoing treatment in Paris. So we could not perform the ceremony. So this occasion had to be wiped out when he came to pay condolences to the family and the government of Delta State wanted to immortalize our daughter. We took advantage of his coming to confer the title on him and the title on his wife, posthumously.
So that is the truth of the matter. Now of course, this is a man who has ruled Nigeria, we believe successfully, he is a man of ideas and if he is willing and interested to come forward and continue the unfinished job, then there is every need to encourage him. And I think that is the general attitude of the people of Asaba and Anioma.