Emmanuel Ugwu, in Umuahia, looks at the stance of traditional rulers in Abia State on the battle for the governorship seat
When the traditional rulers of Abia State came together on August 29 to confer a chieftaincy title on the embattled governor of the state, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, it was not expected that the ceremony would be suffused with political undercurrents. But when the chairman of the Abia State Council of Traditional Rulers, Eze Eberechi Dick, began to present his address he did not leave anybody in doubt where the royal fathers were going. The Grand Royal reception, as it was tagged, turned out to be a veritable platform for the traditional rulers representing the 732 autonomous communities in Abia State to make a political statement by taking a stand on the lingering legal tussle over the governorship seat occupied by Ikpeazu.
“We are here today to tell the whole world, the entire Abia State, that there is no vacancy in Abia State Government House in the next eight years,” said Dick.
Alluding to the Abia Charter of Equity under which power shifted to Abia South zone, the chairman of the traditional rulers’ council argued that since Ikpeazu had won the governorship election he should be allowed to do the job he was elected to do.
It was clear that the traditional rulers were fed up with the legal challenges mounted by the oil tycoon, Mr. Uche Ogah, and an Abuja-based legal practitioner, Mr. Friday Nwosu. Both politicians have refused to give Ikpeazu a breather since he was sworn in as governor on May 29 last year. They have been striving hard to unseat Ikpeazu after losing the governorship ticket during the primary election of the Peoples Democratic Party.
The pre-election matter which revolves around the tax papers of Ikpeazu has dragged on to the Supreme Court after the appeal court had ruled in his favour. The royal fathers were obviously angry with Ogah and Nwosu for taking the matter further after losing at the appeal court and they specifically asked the litigants to withdraw their respective suits even at the final level it has reached.
Their tenacity in pursuing the case at the risk of slowing down the momentum of governance in Abia was interpreted by the royal fathers as a display of their financial capacity which they have deployed to “hold the state down”. But according to Dick, “Nobody can use money to buy Abia State.”
He added that whoever had ambition to become the governor of the state should submit himself at the polls for the people to decide his fate with their votes. “This is the final word,” the royal father emphasised. He stated that the entire traditional rulers in Abia State were aware the Ikpeazu was the person that won the 2015 governorship poll, which has been confirmed by the courts.
The leader of the Abia royal fathers, who is also the chairman of South East Council of Ndieze, went a bit theatrical in a bid to prove that their resolve to call Ogah and Nwosu to order was unanimous. One by one he called out the traditional rulers under whose domains each of the two politicians fighting Ikpeazu hails from. The traditional rulers were also required to publicly declare if the actions of the political gladiators received their blessing and the support of the people of their respective autonomous communities.
First to mount the podium was Eze Ngozi Matthias Nwoko of Mgboko Oriefu autonomous community, where Nwosu hails from. The royal father said he had asked Nwosu to drop his ambition of becoming the governor of Abia State, having seen that he would not succeed. Eze Nwoko pointed out that he had not received staff of office at the time he advised Nwosu to shelve his governorship project, inferring that his advice might not have carried enough weight. He assured that now he could speak more authoritatively having received his staff of office, hence he would once again impress it on Nwosu that it was time to let go.
The traditional ruler from Uturu, Eze Silas Chukwu, said Ogah did not consult him over his governorship ambition. He said if his subject had sought his advice he would have advised him against any plan to violate the charter of equity, since Abia North and Abia Central had taken their turns to occupy Government House, Umuahia, for 16 years, each spending eight years between 1999 and 2015.
The testimonies of the two traditional rulers were assuring enough, or so it appeared.
Ikpeazu, no doubt, was pleased with the royal fathers for throwing their weights behind him. But he surprised observers by accepting the chieftaincy title of Onwa Abia (the moon that shines and brightens Abia State). It was the first chieftaincy title ikpeazu has accepted since becoming governor, having been turning down such offers. He had right from the onset made known his aversion for titles and awards. However, he confessed that he found this very chieftaincy title from the entire Abia royal fathers quite irresistible.
The governor explained that there was no way he could have turned down the Abia royal fathers when they sought his approval to honour him with a chieftaincy title. “There are titles I can’t accept but this one (Onwa) I have accepted because it came from the royal fathers,” he said.
Ikpeazu really demonstrated that he was at home with his new title. Before making his acceptance speech after he was decorated with the title, the governor called out to the capacity crowd at the Michael Okpara auditorium to hail him with the new title. He was instantly greeted with thunderous ovation of “Onwa” several times to which he acknowledged, waving and beaming with a broad smile.
Though the Abia State governor is not likely going to prefix the title “Chief” to his name, he felt very pleased at the political message that came with it. He said, “It is with the deep sense of equity and justice that the traditional rulers have come together and took a stand (on the governorship tussle)”. Ikpeazu, who made history as the first person from Ukwa/Ngwa part of Abia to ascend to the height of state governor, noted that the remarkable thing about the conspiracy to unseat him was, “It is fuelled and supported by people who are not from this state.”
The corollary was that the unseen hands from outside would not be supporting the plot to unseat him if they were aware of the political dynamics of God’s Own State and what the charter of equity really represents for the people. Ikpeazu asked that those fighting him should bear in mind that the founding fathers of Abia had in their wisdom come up with the charter of equity to serve as “pillar of peace and unity in Abia”.
The Commissioner for Local Government, Chief Charles Ogbonna, said Abia State was already reaping the dividends of power shift, as peace prevails in over 90 per cent of Abia’s 732 autonomous communities while efforts were in top gear to resolve the problems in few areas where there were disagreements over chieftaincy stools. He lauded the traditional rulers for honouring the state governor, saying, “it is good to recognise and honour somebody who is doing well.”
The grand royal reception in honour of Ikpeazu was in part a celebration of the triumph of equity and justice in Abia politics, which effectively put an end to the cries of marginalisation from the Ukwa/Ngwa section of Abia.
Expectedly, the royal fathers did not forget the man who rode out the storm of power shift to Abia South. They were grateful to Senator Theodore Orji and recognised him as the special guest of honour at the event for leaving behind a legacy of equity in Abia politics, which sustainability is now under threat as the battle to unseat Ikpeazu continues. Orji, who has come to be known as man of equity, restated his belief that power rotation remained indispensable for rancour-free politics in Abia.
Represented by the former Commissioner for Works, Mr. Longman Nwachukwu, the senator for Abia Central noted that the Abia Charter of Equity “is the ground rule for power sharing” as fashioned out by the founding fathers of Abia, hence it should remain sacrosanct. “It is unfortunate that some people are trying to thwart the ground rules laid by the founding fathers,” he said, warning that in any game where there are no rules chaos would take over. But with the strenuous effort mounted by those opposed to the charter of equity to eject Ikpeazu from Government House, it has become a big challenge to prevent the equity foundation laid by Orji from being destroyed.
That was why the chairman of the occasion, Elder Emma Adaelu, urged the Abia royal fathers to approach those who feel aggrieved and are still fighting Ikpeazu to end the war because “we don’t want anybody to continue to make Abia a laughing stock”. The elder statesman and industrialist emphasised the desirability of allowing equity to reign in Abia politics, noting that the state stands to reap huge dividends of peace and development when every component of society is given a sense of belonging.
The co-chairman of the event, Chief Tony Enukeme, the chief executive of Tonimas Group of Companies, advised Abia people to allow the prevailing spirit of equity to reign. The Aba-based industrialist, who is an indigene of Anambra State, said since Ikpeazu emerged victorious in the struggle for power, his opponents should accept the outcome and stop the battle to unseat the governor.
The firm stand taken by the royal fathers of Abia in the governorship tussle may not raise eye brows. Royal fathers have often dropped their supposed neural garb and let their private political interests to burst in the open. But in some instances public display of partisanship had in the past resulted in suspension or outright withdrawal of the staff of office from the offending traditional ruler by state government. Such sanctions were usually applied if the political activities of the partisan royal father were at variance with the interest of the ruling party.
In situations where neither suspension nor deposition could be meted out to the erring traditional ruler, especially the powerful ones, government usually resorted to whittling down the influence and powers of the targeted royal father by splitting his domain into several autonomous communities. Nonetheless, some royal fathers had in the past dammed the consequences and openly expressing their political interests.