It was unfortunate for so many avoidable crises to have been allowed to fester and disturb the peace of a number of communities in Anambra state during the last (2020) Yuletide season. It is the more so when it is apparent that the state government was unable or failed to act promptly, thereby exacerbating the situation.
Almost every community experienced one form of crisis or the other. Two traditional rulers celebrated their Ofala festival in Alor community in Idemili South local government area of the state. It was even more comical as the federal minister for labour and productivity, Senator Chris Ngige, an indigene of the town, was alleged to have lost his Christmas gift to one of the factions.
In Oko, Orumba North local government area, the centre fell apart as the town union elections could not hold due to disagreements. Ogbunka in Orumba South local government area, also threw up two traditional rulers, one purportedly recognised by the Anambra state government, allegedly at the expense of the peace of the community.
The Agulu community, in Anaocha local government area, would not be left out of the melodrama as it enjoyed its own share of the debacle, showcasing two presidents general. The list is endless – Ukwulu, Ajalli, Ndiukwuenu, Ekwulobia, Awgbu, Ogboji, Umuchukwu, Ndiowu, Enugwu Ukwu and even the state’s capital city, Awka, to mention but a few.
The inexplicable decision of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Anambra state government to superintend over these crises without any significant positive resolution of the crises is not only unprecedented but points to a more serious cause for worry about the leadership of APGA and its running of the state government business.
To preside over a state where more than 50 communities are embroiled in various forms of crisis, from the election of Town Union executives to selection of traditional rulers in an election season is mind-boggling.
The situation in the state is embarrassing considering the overall quality of the Anambra man. It undermines the character of the people of the state and the respect the Anambra man has for constituted authority, whether an elected Town Union executive or a traditional ruler.
Who takes the blame? Is it the leadership of the state or the Professor Adiele Afigbo committee that recommended and advised the federal government to create autonomous communities with an officially recognised traditional ruler for each community? Based on that recommendation, the Anambra state government, under the regime of then Colonel John Atom Kpera, as military governor, enacted the Chieftaincy Edict No. 8 of September 2, 1976, published in the Official Gazette No. 31, Volume 1, of November 25, 1976.
According to the edict, a traditional ruler is defined as “a traditional head of an autonomous community, identified and selected by his people according to their tradition and usages”.
It stated that the government would have no hand in the selection of the traditional ruler, though it reserved the right to depose any of them who misbehaved. The “tradition and usages” which spells out criteria for identification and selection of a traditional ruler in the government gazette, would seem nebulous since the people never had any traditional chief or anything akin to it before the coming of the Europeans.
Membership of the “Council of Elders” that ruled Igbo societies was not hereditary; rather, it was by achievement. Were that criterion to be applied, the selection of a traditional ruler would not have posed any problem. Unfortunately, this was left vague, giving room for rancour and acrimony.
Again, in order to obtain government recognition, the traditional ruler, according to the edict, is required to prove “popular support” and be publicly presented to the governor for recognition. This has made the traditional institution political since aspirants to the chieftaincy stool would, of necessity, move round the villages to canvass for support, thus putting them in the same shoe with the politicians with their infamous crassness.
Yet, traditional rulers are supposed to be insulated from politics! This exposure to politicking in the quest for popular support ends up questioning the “naturalness” or “traditionalness” of the Igbo chieftaincy institution. In very many cases, this naturally went to the highest bidder; the one with a very fat pocket.
This same unfortunate development has also permeated the evolution of town unions which are supposed to be vibrant agents of community development. Some presidents-general of Town Unions now see themselves as demigods that would always cling on to power at all costs irrespective of the negative implications of their selfish actions on their various communities.
This, of course, results in disputes, disagreements and mayhem. Chieftaincy disputes are often critical issues that retard community development and create social disequilibrium. Usually, at the end of a prolonged and endemic dispute, the safety of lives and property are greatly jeopardised. The use of young adults in violence, has its long-term impacts in the social fabric and the distortion of people’s life patterns.
In the case of Anambra, the danger is rife and there is no better time to act but now. The state government must not allow this pervasive impunity, often abetted by its agents through acts of commission, omission or outright incompetence, to continue to fester. We call on the state executive council to urgently meet and resolve this rash of crises bedevilling the various town unions in the state, thereby defusing the obvious time bomb that they portend.