Why government has no respect for traditional rulers


His Royal Majesty (HRM) Igwe (Dr.) A. C. Onuh, Orie Ihitte of Ihitte, Ezinihitte, is the traditional ruler of Ezinihitte, Mbaise. He has been on the throne since January 26, 1994. He studied Business Administration in the United States of America and is very well loved by his people. In this interview he frowns at the manner the government has rubbished the traditional institution which he described as prestigious. He also took a swipe on the South East governors who he described as not living up to expectation on security matters among other issues.
In the light of the alarm raised by some people over the alleged invasion of the South East by the northern youths taking advantage of COVID-19, are there any threats to security experienced in your own community?
Yes, there are threats and insecurity in the Mbaise nation.
Where are they coming from?
They are arising from the herdsmen. A couple of weeks ago they invaded our domain with their cattle. I believe they were coming to survey in order to camp and attack here but as God would have it we have able youths who stood by the authority given to them by their forefathers and challenged them and they made themselves away although their cattle were mishandled and later on the governor stated that the cost of the cattle should be paid back to them. But we are now asking what about the damages done by the cattle to the farmers’ crops which were destroyed in the course of the intervention. We have not received any answer yet. It was not only because of COVID-19, the attackers have entered Igbo land. They have been here, they have been coming in day in day out and putting in their strategies and laying surveillance on the good people of Igbo land in order to get a chance to strike but I believe that the Igbos are now waking from sleep.
What are the responses from the governors of the region?
We are having challenges from the governors who are not saying anything and doing anything pertaining to these ugly incidents. You can count the number of places that they have visited, the places they have camped, what the results are. They kill with knives, they slaughter women, they slaughter children, they rape our women, they destroy properties and nobody has anything to say. I think this is the time the Igbos should rise up and take the bull by the horn but whereby they are still sleeping well their dreams shall be fully achieved but we have some personalities who have understood the strategies and their plans. As a security matter I cannot come out to disclose the strategies that we are putting in place to curb the menace. But we have been working hand in gloves with the state police and recently the community policing so we can reduce the crime rate in Igbo land. I believe there is no reasons to panic yet as things are under control. That is my advice to our people.
Recently the Imo governor constituted a Committee for Community Policing all over the state using traditional rulers as the anchor. What is the status of that effort in your area, is it operational now?
Yes but you know that our people are good, not just our governor to say that we have inaugurated this, we have set up our inquiry, etc but all of that just on air. But no practical action follows. We are not waiting for the government to come and help us in order to get ourselves prepared. Yes, the governor has said that but we are still expecting that he would comply with what he directed that would be done. When the logistics are released and then order is given to be carried on, the whole thing would be formalized and we will go from there. But right from now every community is making their own effort to put security in their various places.
The issue of non-payment of workers in the state as at present is something that affects the subjects of traditional rulers. Due to its negative impacts on the citizens, people expect that intervention from stakeholders like traditional institution would push the government to action but there is nothing of such. Why is it so?
When I hear of traditional rulers I laugh. In Imo and Abia State there are only few traditional rulers. What we have in the majority are political kings or rulers.
What actually do you mean by that?
Political traditional rulers are those traditional rulers that their appointments come from the state. They emerge without being appointed by their communities. The governor gives them staff of recognition which they call staff of office. Governor has no business or authority to issue staff of office. Staff of office is given by the mandate of the communities. The king makers give staff of office. The government gives staff of recognition. When they are given recognition by government they come back and start parading themselves as kings and start getting salaries.
In other words this sounds like an imposition by the government on the people?
Yes. It is because of this that you hardly can speak against the government that gave you staff of recognition. When you say anything contrary or against the government that gave you such power then they will call you back and remove that recognition or certificate they gave you and you will become like a bee that has lost its sting, to become ordinary fly. They get scared to raise a voice when the government is not fulfilling what they have said. This is the reason traditional rulers have no mouth to talk against the government. But it is only people like us that have been on the throne since 1994 and beyond who can come out and say that what the governor has done is wrong or plead with him to release their payment. We are just few but but there are many political traditional rulers. Government has politicised a very prestigious institution for their selfish political gains which has rubbished the institution. It has made it worthless and weightless. Here in Imo State you have over 600 traditional rulers. Is it not mockery? But it is not so in Anambra where the natural rulers command so much respect. When any Igwe comes out there to say something you know that someone has spoken. Here in Imo State the governor will not listen to them because he takes them as his boys.
You discover that there is so much influence of religion and western orientation on our culture to the extent that we have lost so much of our values. What is the traditional institution doing to ensure that whatever is left is not completely eroded?
That would be too difficult to bring back.
Why do you say so?
Yea, it is difficult to bring back actually. You don’t expect the so called political traditional rulers that are called traditional rulers to bring back the culture. This is because it is not the direction that they are looking upon. It could have been a very good idea to do so but since the institution have become politicised they have turned them to politicians leaving what we are chosen to do. Hence it is like that it is only few people especially those with background in Igbo Studies that can now come up with modalities. Many times we have discussed this at Ohanaeze Ndigbo but nobody takes it serious. It is a shameful thing for us in Igbo land. But we will not relent because our people in Diaspora are working towards restoring the culture and tradition that we are losing. When you move to the Yoruba or Hausa land and gets into any office, the people exchange greetings in their own language. But even if you identify your fellow Igbo man by his name tag and speak Igbo to him, he pretends that he has not heard you till you speak English. That is not the way to go. On this matter all hands must be on deck in order to achieve this.
What do you think is the greatest challenge of the traditional institution in the state?
The challenge we are having in that prestigious institution is if the government will remove their hands from politicising the institution. They should cease from bringing them to the government house to do one thing or the other for them. They should stop using them to capture votes and leave that institution to become autonomous, an independent body. The government should reduce the number of the political traditional rulers; merge some communities as it was before. They are not able to pay yet they are creating everyday new communities by extorting money from them, collecting over N6m, giving them staff of recognition which they call staff of office. All of these are for the selfish interest of politicians and not for the interest of the communities or the people the king ought to represent. By rubbishing the institution through proliferating and splitting the communities, the person who is given the kingship title is also rubbished because he has no value. You can see the so many troubles caused by these communities created in order to have a king.


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