Amidst the face-off between the Igbos and their host community in Cross River as a result of the recent visit of the CEO of Inoson Motors to the state, Calabar Monarchs have charged the Igbo community in the state not to involve in acts that will cause disunity between them and their host community. President of Ohaneze Ndigbo who is also the Senior Special Assistant to Cross River State governor on no indigene affairs, Ugoji Nwabueze revealed this to CHIEMEKA ADINDU in this interview. He said the Igbos in the state were hopeful that the internal crisis currently affecting the group will soon be laid to rest.
As the President of Ohaneze Ndigbo in Cross River State, what is your stand concerning the quit notice given to Eze Ndigbo by an aggrieved group in the state?
Well, two things; the group hinged the quit notice on the basis that they felt quite insulted by the attitude of one man who has insisted over the years that he wants to be Eze Ndigbo in Cross River state. The Monarchs here said they don’t need that title of Eze Ndigbo, Igbo’s can answer different names for their leaders but not Eze, and they don’t want another Eze who is a king within another kingdom where also a king is already presiding. So that thing had lingered on from 2005 when that idea was first muted by the then Obong of Calabar, His Royal Majesty Adam Duke was so pissed off to have heard that somebody is trying to set up a kingdom within a kingdom. He was so angry that the man who muted that idea had a chieftaincy title arising from his goodwill, from the same Obong of Calabar stripped as a way of punishment and the Obong of Calabar described that as the height of impunity and insult on the tradition of the Efiks and the entire state. So that issue had lingered and because of that the Igbo’s in Cross River had had a frosty relationship between Igbo’s and the Monarchs because already they have an Igwe perceivably so the people have not been very happy about it. So in 2018 that same issue of coronation of an Eze Igbo came up and the people also stood up and said no, our position in 2005 has not changed that we don’t accept the title of Eze Igbo in Cross River state. For instance we have Sarki Lawal Sarki here which is merely leader of the Hausa’s; if the Igbo’s have leader of Ndi Igbo or Onye Ndu Ndi Igbo or Onye Isi Ndigbo, whichever way you put it, it is still tolerable but they are adverse to that title, Eze.
But beyond that the South East Traditional Rulers Council in October 2018 issued a very stern statement abolishing the issue of Eze Igbo across the states, they said they don’t want it. They described it as being very vexatious, they described it impository, as malicious, as capable of indicting the Igbo’s against the constituted authorities within their areas against the Igbo’s.
Has the title been existing in other states of the federation before the statement by the South East Traditional Rulers Council in October 2018?
Yes, it’s been existing now, everywhere in Uganda, in Honolulu, across the globe and everywhere where it exists you find contention. People are fighting; people are killing themselves to become Eze Igbo. So the thing has become quite contentious and embarrassing to the traditional rulers in the South East that somebody who is not from a royal family who is not also a title holder in his community will just go to one community outside the Igbo land, manipulate either because of his wealth or whatever and then become Eze Igbo. When he returns back to his community he expects his own traditional ruler to come and respect him because he came from Honolulu as Eze Igbo, so it got to a point where it became quite embarrassing and contentious so they had to scrap it. In 2020 too when they had their meeting, about November 2020 last year, they reinstated the fact that the issue of Eze Igbo is scrapped, is abolished across. Now they asked that whoever that is still parading himself as Eze Igbo should stand down because it is becoming very embarrassing. Now our own situation has become very contentious that we try to ignore it even at the expense of the comfort of the Igbo’s, at the expense of the conviviality and cordiality we have had between our history communities and the Igbo’s.
But sometime one of our very prominent sons came, Innoson Motors, a nationalist, an industrialist of very high repute came to receive a PhD award in UNICAL and I was invited as president of Ohaneze to welcome the man and lead the group, we had made arrangements on how to see the governor or the deputy, we had made arrangement on how to lead him to visit the Obong of Calabar or any other available Monarch within Calabar. But beyond that, a visit of such a man should be impactful, it should rub on the state and even the host communities where comes to visit, to make a remark either when I come back to Cross River and looking at Ayade’s industrial revolution which is attracting tremendous international recognition and within the state here, let me see how we can contribute to Ayade’s vision of industrialization in the state. He may say, okay I will come and set up one of my plants here. Now beyond that you go and visit one of the Monarchs considering the status of the man, that is part of the protocols we had arranged but, somewhere along the line it was hijacked; they said the man is from Anambra so it must be an Anambra affair.
Who are the people that hijacked the visit?
No, they are not things we should begin to call names. But people from the Anambra community asked that this is Anambra affair and I said no, I am President of Ohaneze Ndigbo Cross River State, such a personality coming should be attended to by me but after the convocation we heard that the man was led to the Palace of Eze Ndigbo. And we had expected that instead of even him leading the man okay, let’s go and see the Obong of Calabar or the Edidem or whoever, one of the Monarchs within Calabar and say this is our son who had come we brought him for your royal blessing and recognition and all that. After that he can come back to his house or whatever but he prefers to say let’s go to my palace and after that pictures were made viral, a picture he took in his palace where he was seated and robed as a king and was being attended to as Eze, as a king. Some young boys who got to hear of it felt that that was a disrespect, that was an insult to the Obong of Calabar, not just the Obong of Calabar, but to any of the traditional rulers that you cannot come into a place like this and set up a kingdom with a king where you also have a kingdom and with another king. So they said okay, if it has reached the level where you cannot respect our kings such as the Obong of Calabar, then you should leave to your state or to your community and go and set up your own palace in that place. So that was what triggered off the quit notice but beyond that, you cannot because of anger, so one person’s sin cannot be visited on over 800, 000 Igbo’s in Cross River state with over 40 billion investments. You ask them to go where are they going to? Where is their safety, where is their investment? Beyond that, Igbo’s had enjoyed tremendous relationships over the years, in fact, a lot of people like us no longer see Cross River as a second home we see it as our home.
So what efforts have you been making to salvage this crisis?
The issue has been handled, overtures have been made to the palace of the Obong of Calabar and assurances have also been secured about the safety of Ndigbo and other non indigenes in the state and the Obong’s palace had also issued official press release asking everybody to pursue his/her legitimate businesses and assuring that lives and properties are safe but, they warned that non indigenes should not involve themselves in any act that can provoke the communities and allow the young ones to put the laws into their hands.
So what is the current state of the Palace of Eze Ndigbo? Has he removed all the royal apparels and decorations that were indicting him?
When you have been advised as an elder, the discretion is yours. What the Obong’s palace said, please don’t involve yourself in things that can lead to break down of law and allow the young ones to take laws into their hands. And what was the issue at stake? The issue at stake was that of Eze Igbo and they said, please something that will cause more problems don’t do it. They don’t need to come out and say we have abolished the position of Eze Igbo it is not their jurisdiction because that is purely Igbo affairs. And the people that are within their jurisdiction, that is, the South East Traditional Rulers Council has said the title of Eze Igbo is abolished and the position we have taken now is going to have an effect. So this issue of Eze Ndigbo has been laid to rest.
Going back to the visit of Inoson motors, you said you were also invited to the convocation to receive him. Where were you at the time he was led to the palace of Eze Ndigbo?
I was asked at the onset to coordinate with some other persons that visit; the external personal to work with me as the president of Ohaneze and the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of the state on non indigene affairs, particularly the Igbo’s.
So where were you at the point when all these were happening?
I was asked to stay off completely. I was asked to wash my hands. I was asked to discontinue by those who led him, that I should leave the story completely. That I shouldn’t be involved at any point in time; so at that point I stayed off and so all the good advice that was preferred by me was apparently set aside. Those were part of the things that triggered off the issue of quit notice and all that.
Apart from this particular crisis, the Igbo’s are alleged to have been the ones who carried out the shootings and killing of some police officers a few weeks ago in some parts of Cross River Central senatorial district. Are you aware of this?
Well, security operatives are still on the manhunt of the people so for now nobody can authoritatively confirm that the people associated one way or the other with either IPOB or with Ndigbo or Biafra or whatever. It is also possible that people who want to make us lose goodwill in the state, people who push Ndigbo to problematic circumstances or so may even create that problem and just shout IPOB and Biafra songs as a way of creating distraction. However, we heard that that happened and it’s unfortunate that such an incident happened and we extend our heartfelt condolences to the families who lost their bereaved ones.
Why were the Igbo’s associated with this incident?
How did the Igbo’s get involved? The issue of insecurity has been nationwide, shooting of police and all that but how we got involved was that the allegation was that the people came and sang IPOB or whatever which we have not confirmed because there is no security report as at now which said we have either apprehended some of the criminals, they were all allegations and of course, when something happens like this it’s an allegation. But beyond that we had scheduled a meeting at Ugep on 20th of March but because of what happened around that area, Ugep and Obubra so security report said that it will be unwise with what had happened to begin to bring large crowd of Igbo’s in a state meeting that it won’t be wise that we should stand it down for now. So that was what the leadership of Ohaneze under my own directive, that what we did so we stood down that. So it’s still speculatory at this point because there’s no security report that has affirmed that it is this or otherwise but I’m sure that sooner or later the security people will be able to give us a proper brief of what happened.
Now, regarding leadership of Ndigbo in the state, there is another group parading themselves as interim leadership of Ohaneze. They said your tenure has ended as the President of Ohaneze in the state. How true is this?
Alright, first of all, I have not had any tenure. I am only completing the tenure of the former president who died suddenly and as the first vice president I had to take over as the substantive president of Ohaneze because the constitution says if the president can no longer perform his functions either by incapacitation of even by death, the vice president takes over as president. So I don’t know the issue of acting president or so. At a point when the president dies you will become an acting president but when a motion is been moved in consonant with relevant sections of the constitution with which you’re operating with, you’ll become a substantive president, so I became the substantive president and at a point they said the tenure has finished and I said if tenure has finished you provide evidence that tenure has ended, documents of when we had election. They’ve not been able to attend to that, but even at that, because I didn’t want to contest it. I said fix election because the tenure was to end April 2020; so we said okay let us have another meeting where we can be able to talk about elections in June, then we entered into this event where there was lockdown and international events were crashed because of the pandemic and here in the state there was no movement. Then I said since the processes to conduct elections couldn’t be held in June of 2020, let us look at October 2020 and see whether it is still possible we would have come out of the lockdown. Now in October we entered EndSARS where Cross River state was the worst heat and that meeting was to be held in Calabar. So it wasn’t possible, out of natural consequences, it wasn’t possible to hold any election. Then when we came out of the EndSARS, I said okay, let us take the meeting since Ohaneze meetings is usually first quarter of every year; I now scheduled a meeting again on 20th of March 2021 and two weeks before that day was when this issue of shooting and all that and the allegation was that those people were singing IPOB songs and all that so because of the tension in that place it would be unwise to take large crowd of Ndigbo to that place and we said let us wait. But some people who have malicious intentions, who do not mean well for Ndigbo, were only interested in power instead of the general interest of Ndigbo insisted that that meeting should hold and those were part of the things that triggered off some of the issues we are even discussing now. Beyond that, the constitution of Ndigbo does not have provision for interim or caretaker. So I shouldn’t have a headache because you can’t put something on nothing and expect it to hold. They have put something on nothing and don’t expect it to hold. What is illegal ab-initio is illegal. And it does not in any way impede my functionality as the current president of Ohaneze Ndigbo.
With all these, it’s obvious that Ohaneze in Cross River is tilting towards factionalism. How do you plan to manage this?
Well everybody needs to shelve his greed, the quest for unnecessary power or whatever. People should try to look at the collective interest of Ndigbo. It is only God that gives power. If you want to be president of Ohaneze, you wait for the appropriate time, nobody is being paid a salary. It is community service, it is voluntary service. Nobody is gaining from that title but some people feel that once you’re there, you automatically acquire recognition. However, to avoid the situation where we begin to factionalize Ohaneze, our elders, the patrons in the state are working together as I speak now to see how they can convoke a stakeholders meeting where all aggrieved parties will come to a round table and say, what is the problem and people can state their problems and people can also listen and those who are aggrieved can be placated and say okay, everybody shelve your grievances; this is the way we want to go to find permanent solution and that permanent solution will come. There is nothing wrong with quarrelling in a house where one family leaves, quarrel will come because it is a natural sequence but the point is, how do you manage the problem after the quarrel which is our major concern. That’s what we are doing and as the president of Ohaneze I have also called others who appreciate the need for peace and unity, let us come together and rally round to save our organization so that is the point. We are very hopeful that the small internal crisis will be handled by our elders.