By Vincent Ujumadu – Awka
The events that led to the suspension of 13 traditional rulers in Anambra State by Governor Willie Obiano began several months ago when some of the monarchs in the state, particularly those from Anambra Central Senatorial zone, started hobnobbing with the notable billionaire oil magnate, Prince Arthur Eze. Eze, it should be noted, was allegedly at the time, having a more or less frosty relationship with the governor over an issue bordering on the sitting of the newly created Zone 13 of the Police headquarters in the state.
Vanguard gathered that the governor and the oil magnate allegedly dragged the issue of where the zonal headquarters would be located. While the governor was said to have suggested Aguleri, his home town, the billionaire was working hard to convince the Police hierarchy to site it at his home town, Ukpo in Dunukofia Local Government Area. Eventually, the police hierarchy chose Ukpo and the zone had since commenced operation.
During the inauguration of the zone, the 13 traditional rulers featured prominently.
Shortly after the inauguration, one of them, Igwe Peter Uyanwa of Ukwulu, who is the chairman of the Traditional Rulers Council for Anambra Central, was suspended by the state government for one year, while the suspension of the 12 others followed few days later.
The state Commissioner for Local Government, Chieftaincy and Community Affairs, Mr. Greg Obi named the affected 12 traditional rulers as Igwe Alex Edozieuno of Mkpunando, Igwe Mark Anthony Okonkwo of Alor, Igwe Chukuwma Bob Vincent Orji of Ezinifite, Igwe (Engr.) G.B.C Mbakwe of Abacha, Igwe Chijioke Nwankwo of Nawfia, Igwe Nkeli Nelly of Igbariam and Igwe Anthony Onyekwere of Owelle.
Others are Igwe A. N Onwuneme of Ikenga, Igwe Simon Ikechukwu Chidubem of Umumbo, Igwe S. O Uche of Ezira, Igwe (Dr) Emeka Ilouno of Ifitedunu and Igwe Peter Ikegbunem Udoji of Eziagulu Otu.
Their suspension took effect from August 11, 2020 and the affected monarchs were warned not to parade themselves as traditional rulers or discharge functions as such in their communities or anywhere within the state and beyond.
Government also revoked their membership of Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council and cancelled any appointment they were holding in government committees until the suspension is lifted.
The state government, however, said the suspension might be lifted at the end of one year, renewed or upgraded in the intervening period depending on government’s review of the conduct of the errant royal fathers.
In fact, their suspension followed the recommendation of their colleagues in the Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council headed by the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Achebe after a meeting in Awka.
At the meeting, the council frowned at the public conduct of the royal fathers, which, it noted, generated negative comments in the media.
It strongly condemned the ill-fated Abuja trip embarked upon by the traditional rulers, adding that by leaving their respective domains without notifying either the state or their respective local governments, the traditional rulers had violated the code of conduct prescribed for their office.
In what appeared to be a show of power, the suspended traditional ruler of Ukwulu, Igwe Uyanwa gathered his colleagues at his palace with Prince Arthur Eze in attendance, during which he dared the state government to sack him from his community.
He insisted that the certificate of recognition issued by government was not as important as the process of selection of a traditional ruler done by the people.
He said as long as the people were behind him, he did not care about the government certificate.
“When I was made the traditional ruler, I did not campaign for it. The people said they wanted me to be traditional ruler because of my contributions to the development of Ukwulu.
“It is the people that install their traditional ruler and if the community does not select one as the traditional ruler, government will not give him certificate of recognition.
“So, if government feels it wants to take back its certificate, it can do so, while the people retain their monarch.
“I am not a traditional ruler for another community, but that of Ukwulu. The only thing that can stop one from being the traditional ruler is death.
“As a traditional ruler, I give honour to whom it is due, but I cannot keep quiet when I see something going wrong,” he told the cheering crowd at his palace.”
Going down memory lane, Uyanwa said the bone of contention in Anambra State was because the traditional rulers pointed out certain anomalies, among which is the 5% budgetary allocation for traditional rulers which is not implemented in the state.
He added: “Another offence we allegedly committed was that our brother, Prince Arthur Eze attracted the Zone 13 Police headquarters to Anambra State and he invited us to his palace to celebrate the development.
“We were 79 traditional rulers present and because we have nothing to offer, we prayed for him and President Muhammadu Buhari for the good work they are doing in the South- East. At the end of our interaction, Prince Eze promised to take us to President Buhari to thank him face to face.”
There and then, Arthur Eze promised to take the royal fathers to Abuja to enable them lay their complaints to the Presidency. A week later, they were in Abuja, but unfortunately, they could not see the president as promised.
Two days later, they were able to interact with the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Gambari.
Apparently because of the controversy the Abuja trip generated, some of the items earlier listed to be presented to the president, including the issue of non-implementation of 5% budgetary allocation to traditional rulers in Anambra State and complaint about non-conduct of local government election in the state were not mentioned during the visit.
Rather, they commended the president for the work he had so far done in the South East.
In a surprise development barely 24 hours after their Abuja trip, one of the suspended traditional rulers and Igwe of Alor in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State, MacAnthony Elibe Okonkwo, apologized to the state governor, Chief Willie Obiano and the state’s Traditional Rulers’ Council and admitted violating certain rules guiding the operation of traditional institution in the state.
Speaking at his palace, the Alor monarch tendered an “unreserved apology” to the state government, the Traditional Rulers’ Council, members of his cabinet and his subjects.
“It was a serious slip on my part not to have informed the government about the trip to Abuja before embarking on it. I, therefore, tender an unreserved apology”, the monarch said.
On the trending video where he was seen alongside some of his embattled colleagues counting some money, Igwe Okonkwo debunked the insinuation that he was induced with money and gifts before agreeing to accompany Prince Eze to see President Buhari.
According to him, the money he was seen counting was meant for his driver and other aides for their upkeep and wondered how somebody of his status who had made money before becoming a king would be accused of taking bribe.
The monarch said: “How can they call it bribe? What kind of bribe is that? That is total fallacy? I was counting out money for my driver and other aides for fuel and their welfare.
“I have never taken any bribes in my life from anybody. But if I wish to do, you have to pack Ghana-Must-Go bags of dollars up to 10 or 20, if I receive them, then you will be talking about bribe.
“Secondly, Ndi Igwe do not have constitutional right to remove the governor or do anything to him. We are not lawmakers who have such constitutional rights.
“Are you talking about a man who has shared up to 150 Keke NAPEP in his community of taking bribe? Are you talking about a man who gives out up to five SUV Jeeps to his subjects every year?”
He appealed to the state government and his colleagues to pardon his wrongdoing even as he called on the Traditional Rulers’ Council to wade into the feud between Governor Obiano and Prince Arthur Eze with a view to brokering peace between them.
There were unconfirmed reports that some of the affected traditional rulers were already making moves to join Igwe Okonkwo in apologizing to Governor Obiano in the coming days.