The proliferation of autonomous communities only makes nonsense of the whole thing …. With the proliferation of autonomous communities, allegiance is divided.
Professor of Chemistry, HRH Digbo 1 of Umuaku Isuochi, Abia State Dr. Sunday I. Nwankwo bemoans the effects of the proliferation of autonomous communities in the South East. Speaking with Our Reporter PHEBBY KOSISOCHUKWU ANICHE, he also called on royal fathers to earn their place in their communities through their services. Excerpts:
WITH the gradual erosion of the powers of traditional rulers, do you really think that the traditional institutions have become ceremonial?
It is ceremonial in a way; it is ceremonial in every way. It is because the Eze or traditional ruler is supposed to be the glory of the community that is the ceremony. So in a way it’s a ceremonial position but also a position of authority in the other way. That authority is derived from the ability of particular persons to do things. Someone who is the head of a community should be able when there is serious issue to proffer a workable solution. But if he repeatedly offers unworkable solutions, how does he expect anybody to take him serious. It depends on the ability of the individual to meet the expectations of the people. It is not about money. Some misconceive the whole thing to be about money. People who have money now buy the position but in the end, they found out that it is not what the people are asking. In my own case, I have been on this seat since 1988 and it is what I say people accept. Why? Because I understand the whole thing. But if you don’t want me, then I go.
Do you think it is important in how an Eze emerges?
It does. If it’s by inheritance, any idiot can emerge to become the Eze. But if it’s by election, the fittest, the best should emerge. This should be the case except where it is corrupted by politics or by money. The Igwe need not be a rich man, but someone who knows what he is doing.
Do you think traditional rulers wield much power in present day Igbo land?
I think there is a misconception here. In the North, a traditional ruler is someone who by virtue of his ancestry is ruling a place because they conquered that area. It is a totally different thing in Igbo land.
Our people tend to think of the traditional ruler as it is in the North or West. In the North the Emir rules over a conquered people, treating them as slaves, in Yoruba land, the traditional kingship is hereditary. The sense of leadership in Igboland is totally different. This is why there are problems associated with traditional leadership in Igbo land. Some of those assuming this position like to see themselves as those in the North or West.
For you to be a leader in Igboland it is based on your achievement. So for people here, the issue is of hereditary is viewed as a master servant relationship. This implies that somebody can take care of other peoples’ problems. This is the way an Igbo man sees leadership. He is looking for somebody who will take care of his problems. Unless someone understands it that way, it will never function with him.
I didn’t want to be Eze. My family also didn’t want me to be Eze. But I became Eze because of my contributions to the development of my community. In 1982 I built a major road that passes through the market. The story is that, I was returning from Benin and there was a terrible accident in Igboukwu market. Two trailers collided. We were stuck there. When I managed to get home, I said that, this our market, which was on the main road then will be removed. I went round to consult with the opinion moulders and other stakeholders telling them about the market. We agreed to present the matter at a larger meeting so that we can move it. That was how I did it. It took us four years before we could move that market. Of course there were objections from people who didn’t want it to be moved. In the same way, other things were done. And when people see these things, they quickly say that “this person can lead us.” So when the Ezeship came up, those who had seen all those things like the scholarships, easily linked me to the idea. This is very important but most people don’t understand it. People see the position and start struggling for it. If they eventually get it, everywhere will be filled with problems because their understanding is not what the people expect. The people expect someone they can trust, who will listen to them and is approachable. They want the person to be accessible to them and not for them to make pre-appointments before they can see their Eze. They want someone who can solve their problems and when you understand this, you won’t have problems with them.
Some Ezes say that they don’t have enough power, what do they need power for?
If I were at a meeting, and I left to attend to visitors, but when I left the meeting, the discussions stopped and they had to wait for one and a half hour for me, which other power do I need? If I was not there, then what they were doing will just end up in chaos. That is the power. What other power do I need? But if you are not in a right frame of mind and you take up the job, you won’t be able to do it.
Do you think that the saying, ‘Igbo Enwe Eze’ (the Igbo do not have kings) is still relevant?
That’s the point am trying to make. Leadership is not something that you impose on them. The man in the family earns his respect based on what he can do for the family. He is expected to have the ability and strength to do what they can see and respect. If he is just there, there won’t be any special respect for him.
The Igbo will never accept imposed leadership. They will rebel if need be. But in party politics, we hear about imposition of leaders. And we know and have seen the impact.
But there is no community of animals, beasts, or ants that can go without leadership. But then how does a leader emerge is based on what he can do to show that he is equal to the task and everybody will respect you. Because if they don’t respect or recognize you, they will suffer for it.
Has the traditional institution suffered in anyway with the proliferation of autonomous communities in the South East and the emergence of more traditional stools?
The proliferation of autonomous communities only makes nonsense of the whole thing when compared to the centralized style in North and South. With the proliferation of autonomous communities, allegiance is divided. This proliferation is as a result of discords between the incumbent governor and the incumbent Igwe or individuals who would want to get their own selfish interest. Of course they are obsessed with what they will gain and not what they can do.
Should traditional rulers be involved in partisan politics?
Theoretically, traditional rulers are not meant to be seen in partisan politics. They should be neutral in party politics; but because most seek favour, they go about identifying in one party or the other which is wrong.
Of course, they can bless any aspirant or candidates because they are all his subjects
Comment on the relevance of the traditional institution in Igbo land?
The traditional institution would be relevant to those who want it relevant because there’s no group without a leader. The greatest challenge they are facing is understanding the role they are called to play.