Eziama Okwe in Onuimo Local Government Area of Imo State is suffering from stunted growth. That is mainly due to a leadership tussle over who should be the king of the community. PAULINE ONYIBE, who visited the area, reports that the battle is still raging
Before the coming of the whites to Nigeria and to the Eastern part of Nigeria by extension, there were traditional rulers whose authorities were respected and followed. That was before the British came to introduced both Christianity and modern way of life. Yet, the traditional way of leadership was still there.
In the Eastern part of the country, the traditional leaders are called the Eze, who has his subordinates known as Ndi Nze na Ozor and they are the custodians of the culture. In those days in Igbo land, like in Okwe community, their authorities were not tampered with as their orders were final.
The Kingship was oftentimes hereditary, hence it goes to the next person within the family when the King dies, most incidentally to the son. But when the British came into the Nigeria in the nineteenth century, they reportedly framed and imposed rules and laws through the traditional rulers, who only served as mediators between the people and the British officials.
The cultures and traditions of the Nigerian citizens were cherished and preserved by the British government in order to accept and welcome them by the citizens of the country. Traditional institutions played an important role in the managerial process before, during, and after colonial rules.
However, according to a King from the Niger Delta region, traditional rulers everywhere in the world were attached with some important func-tions, among which were contributing to development administration, linkage or brokering peace between grassroots and the capital. He said: “Before we got a Nigerian government, there was a traditional institution that took care of the communities and kingdoms.
They were the government and during that era, it was their responsibility. “They had their own police and soldiers. They were collecting taxes. Today, you have more or less taken away all of those from the traditional rulers.”
In Okwe, the headquarters of Onuimo Local Government Area of Imo State, Eziama Okwe to be precise, there has been this kingship tussle that has gone on as far as one can remember. It has been battle after battle of who sits on the traditional stool. Stories had it that the kingship came from a kindred called Umuola brother to Umuoma.
The kingship stool found its way to Okoroduru, where the king took all the traditional things to the kindred before he died. That was how the kingship got to the Okoroduru. A particular Chibueze family was holding the stool but the man died and the son that took over also died and that particular family became afraid but another family wanted to take it and the community refused because they saw the man as a bad man.
Since that time till now, it has been battle upon battle because a particular family was hell bent on having the stool while the community never liked them because according to story, the head of that family chew the receipt that the community used to contribute money, in addition to other wrongs he allegedly committed.
That was those years before the people agreed that instead of the man’s family to produce the king, it would rather go to another kindred and it was given to Eze Edwin Okonkwo, who held the traditional stool until 2015 when he died. It became another battle of who succeeds him since it was not his turn. But there came another man from the same Okoroduru family named Patrick Ozoemenam Emedo. But controversy has been trailing the kingship since the death of Eze Okonkwo in 2015.
The young man that came back from his maternal home but was chosen by the community to sit on the throne but it has not been easy as the same family has vowed that it will never happen or they take it to another community. That vow has actually made the community known as Ofe Nkwo to have an autonomous community while Eziama is still grappling to have a recognized king.
Of course, there is so much backwardness in that part of Imo State to the extent that there is no electricity, no pipe borne water or even good roads. In fact, there is nothing to make life easy there because of the leadership tussle. Eziama Okwe is really crying for development.
That took this South East focus to the man. Speaking at Umuchiri Okwe, the place of the leadership tussle, the man popularly called Peru narrated: “I’m Eze Patrick Ozoemenam Emedo, Eze Ohazurume I of Eziama Okwe autonomous community. I’m from Okoroduru but I grew up at Umuanumeze. “I was there but my eyes were here. In came back in 2010. When I was coming, I was not coming to talk about kingship but I have found myself here.
“My father is Emedo Chibueze. The Eze by then was Ben Chibueze. Then, when I came back, our Eze Edwin Okonkwo was still alive. After his death, I was here (in my house) one day when somebody came to tell me that all the Nze and Ozo of Okwe wanted to see me. “The Nze, about seven of them, came and told me that Eze Okonkwo is dead; that they wanted me to be their king. That they have asked about me and they told them that I can do it. “But I told them that it was not why I came back; that my kids were still small.
They said so many things and told me to go and think about it. “But what prompted me to accept it was that they told me that if I rejected it, they will pull the kingship from our family for life. So I took it as a challenge. After all, even if it is death, it is still somebody that will die for others. “I asked them about our eldest brother, Ben Chibueze that have kids and they told me that they have spoken to the kids.
That Samuel’s first son, Obinna, said that he was not going to do it. “They said they told him to make his choice if he can’t do it and he mentioned me. I now told them that I have elders that are more experienced. I mentioned Livinus and they rejected him. “They even rejected any child from Joseph Chibueze. I now told them that I will ask. I asked Obinna with Emmanuel and they agreed that I should take it but I told them that my fear is Joseph’s children that they are bigger than me. But they said there was no problem.
“I agreed. Ichiribe people gathered and asked that Eze should be brought out and our compound people gathered and said that I was the one. And they gave me to Ichiribe but Livinus, Sly and Ahijo (Joseph’s children) said that they won’t be alive to see it happen.
Instead, they will throw it away. What does a small boy like me that came back from my maternal home know? “But I told them that this is not supposed to be my making. Instead of killing me, let me not take it but the people said instead they will take it to another place.
That was in 2015. “After, all gathered at our hall but Joseph children didn’t come. They gave me to Okoroduru chairman, Anthony Onyedeke and he brought me to the people. And there was jubilation.
“After a month or there about, there was a knock and I saw court bailiffs from High Court, Okigwe. They brought paper that people took me to court; that they want to coronate me as king but that the kingship belongs to them. “That I should not parade myself as a king. Since then till now, we are still going to court but despite that, we are still pushing forward on how to actualize the kingship.
“In 2018, government called us all that applied for autonomous community and gave us certificate of recognition. When former Governor Rochas Okorocha left office, Emeka Ihedioha assumed office and suspended it. He said there were so many irregularities according to the House of Assembly.
“That some didn’t pass through the due process at the house. We are still waiting. Governor Hope Uzodimma called us and told us that we passed through the House; that we don’t have any problem.
“We are waiting for the staff of office. Our own is Eziama Okwe autonomous community.” Also speaking, the wife of the man, Dr Mrs Chinyere Emedo, a lecturer at Unizik said that they didn’t actually come to do the kingship thing but she had to accept it because it a traditional thing. She said after much pressure from the people, “we found out it was something that is traditional and being a woman, I can’t say no when the hands of the ancestors are there. If I say no, it might hurt me. So, I have to accept it.”