‘We’ll Drive Development, Cultural Revival in Ibeku’

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Chief Emeka Enyeazu was recently elected President-General of Ibeku Egwu Asa Development Association (IEADA), a revered socio-cultural organisation of Ibeku clan in Abia State. In this interview with Emmanuel Ugwu, he speaks on issues affecting the sophisticated people of Ibeku, his agenda for renaissance, among other issues

You’ve been elected the President-General of Ibeku Egwu Asa Development Association. What does the association stand for?

Ibeku Egwu Asa Development Association is an umbrella organisation that binds every Ibeku person residing at home. There is something peculiar to Ibeku people: Ibeku is a clan, a large clan. It is among the clans that cut across every local government in Abia State and all the states in the South-east and South-south and even goes beyond the South-south. The clan can be equated with a clan like Arochukwu. We are just everywhere. But this Ibeku Egwu Asa Development Association is the organisation that concerns us, Ibeku people here in Umuahia Ibeku and our sons and daughters who are outside Umuahia. I was elected President General on 26th December 2016. You know this is jet age, the age of computer technology and the Ibeku Egwu Asa is moving with the time. We used to be one autonomous community but now we have 16 autonomous communities.

So what are your plans for the Ibeku clan?

My first goal is to find a way to formalise the association, give it a base here and then reach out to our brothers and sisters outside Ibeku land. And here in Ibeku we have Ogurube, the sole traditional stool we have in Ibeku clan and we are passionate about that stool. And before the creation of autonomous communities there was an understanding that the Ogurube stool will continue and rotate among the Ezes. Another issue is that we need a central palace for Ogurube and we are consulting an architect about it. What that would mean is that anybody that wants to see the Ogurube will come to the palace and see him and the Eze-in-council there. The Ogurube is chosen from among the Ezes and so he is first of all an Eze of a particular autonomous community. So if you want to see him as Ogurube you have to come to the palace and if you want to see him as the Eze then you go to that particular autonomous community where he is the traditional ruler. So that is one of our plans. We also have a plan to institute a scholarship programme because this is a developmental, socio-political association. So we will give scholarship to our children who are bright and we have set up a committee to work out the modus operandi. We know we can do it perfectly well because we have people who are passionate about the academic advancement of our children.

Is IEADA in any way political in nature and activities?

We are going to formalise the association and we will make it clear that Ibeku Egwu Asa Development Association is not a political platform.  For that reason, I, as the President-General, if I want to speak on political issue I will speak in my personal capacity as Emeka Enyeazu, not as the President-General of the association. The same thing applies to the Ogurube of Ibeku and the traditional Prime Minister of Ibeku. These positions encompass the whole of Ibeku clan and for you to speak on these platforms you need to consult and make sure that you get the consent of the people. Ibeku Egwu Asa Development Association is an association that should be apolitical so that if we call a meeting everybody must be there whether you belong to XYZ party and the other person belongs to ABC party.  We might not have seen for years but when we come for the meeting it would be an opportunity for us to come together and discuss about the development of our land. We could have diverse political interests but when we come together on the platform of IEADA, we contribute our quotas for the development of our land and then you can go out there and pursue your political ambition.

But clash of political interests is sure to play out in the election of who to lead the association?

When you talk of politics some people will say it is everywhere. But when we talk about politics it is in the context of the activities of government, who gets what, how and when, the authoritative allocation. It is the struggle for power in governmental agencies – that’s the politics we are talking about which we don’t want the association to get involved in. But as a socio-cultural association the choice of who becomes the President-General of Ibeku Egwu Asa Development Association, we look at the antecedents of people. Right from my teens I have been active in the affairs of Ibeku which culminated in my becoming the President of Ibeku Youth Association in 1999. I ran the association for seven years and handed over in 2007. So I know Ibeku and its activities very well. People were there watching when I was engaged in those activities so they know me and my pedigree. They knew that I can effectively pilot the affairs of Ibeku Egwu Asa Development Association; they knew that if I took the reins of leadership that I would initiate programmes and policies that would enhance the welfare of Ibeku people. So when you see that a particular person has the capacity to turn the place around for better you are to support such person.

Before the creation of autonomous communities Ibeku clan used to enjoy administrative homogeneity but with the splitting of the clan into 16 autonomous communities, would it not be unwieldy for you to lead the clan harmoniously?

The creation of autonomous communities is not peculiar to Ibeku. For instance, Arochukwu used to be monolithic but they now have a number of autonomous communities, the same thing for Abriba. So, to lead a clan made up of several autonomous communities depends on the mechanism you put in place to harmonise things. For several years nothing has been done and that’s why we want to harmonise things. The organogram is already there, it’s just to give it flesh and have that common palace for the Ogurube. The autonomous community creation did not affect only Ibeku and it won’t constitute a stumbling block to the peace, unity and development of Ibeku clan.

This idea of a common palace for the Ogurube, does it entail that any Eze that ascends the throne at any point in time would consequently leave his autonomous community and dwell in the common palace?

When the steering committee in charge of the common palace project comes out with their report we will know what it would entail. It could be a place where the Ogurube would live permanently or it could be administrative office where you have staff and if the Ogurube needs to receive dignitaries or his people he would come to the common palace for such activities. But it would be well organised with the Prime Minister, Secretary of palace and other officials having their offices. So the committee would tell us if the Ogurube would leave his local palace to stay permanently at the common palace or to only use it for official functions.

As the President-General of IEADA, does it give you any concern that so many youths are out there doing nothing because they don’t have skills. If so, what is the way out of the bad situation?

It is a national malaise. It is a problem not peculiar to Ibeku; it is a problem of Nigeria, a problem of our educational system which they have changed over and over. What baffles me and pains me most times is that we theorise and say that the colonialists taught us the three Rs – read, write and arithmetic. Sometimes when I look back, I laugh because we are worse than the three Rs we were taught because somebody who passed primary six in those days could read and write efficiently but now somebody with a degree certificate might not even be able to write not to talk of having skills. Politicians in those days built trade centres, workshops and people go there to learn skills but Nigeria’s policy makers saw all those things and decided to change our educational system to 6-3-3-4. In the first three (junior secondary) you learn skills but how many schools have workshops. So you see people coming out from secondary school without any skill. We therefore have to look at our educational policy. In the past too, people used to go and learn skills or trade through apprenticeship but nobody does it now. The world has become a global village and skilled people can come from other countries. So our artisans can’t fix certain things and you have the Ghanaians, Togolese, Beninese doing all these works and because in their home countries they have formal institutions that teach them skills both practical and theoretical. So they can function everywhere and they do better jobs. So our leaders should look into our educational system and bring back technical education and vocational education. But at own level it worries us because it is also a problem of the communities. So we have started doing something to make our youths acquire skills. We have selected 80 persons from among the 48 villages that make up Ibeku Egwu Asa and in a month’s time we will disburse cheques to enable the beneficiaries start their training in various skills. Then the traditional education system where children are trained in moral values would be revived and families encouraged to imbibe it.

What you’ve listed as your programmes is good enough. Are your people buying into it?

We are consulting, we are talking to people about our plans and we have set up committees for the implementation of our programmes. In the last meeting we had virtually everybody was talking about constitution review. We need to review our constitution; it was last reviewed in 1996 when Ibeku was still a single autonomous community. When we presented the idea of skills acquisition for our youths, people applauded it and when we talk of the things that hold us together like our iri ji (new yam festival), age grade system and other traditional festivals that have been relegated to the background people have accepted that we should revive our culture and traditions. We have set up committees to look into these things and find ways we can revive them. The creation of autonomous communities has made people to operate at their respective miniature levels but now the time has come for us to revive and strengthen the things that hold us together as Ibeku people. People are happy and enthusiastic about this move we are making. I have to point out that these things are not top-bottom policies; these are the things that people want and they tell you and you feel it. So it is through their inputs that we are formulating these programmes.

Your emergence as the new President-General of IEADA appear to have stoked up controversy and the group opposed to your leadership even set up a parallel executives of the association. What is the situation now following the recent peace parley?

There is no opposition in Ibeku leadership. What you are seeing is just a storm in a tea cup. We are all brothers and sisters. We talk, we banter, and we meet. The beauty of democracy, which is rooted in Igbo tradition, is that the minority will have their say and the majority must have their way. That is the way it is. Like I said earlier, Ibeku Egwu Asa Development Association is a socio-cultural organisation but when people start using their offices in Ibeku to start making political statements people take positions and it becomes bad. But those things have been resolved.  The Ogurube, who is the paramount ruler and the first among equals among the Ezes, has resolved the issues because everything centred on him. Let me make it clear: matters of Ibeku are just like matters that concern husband and wife which is settled without a third party. Ibeku matter has been settled. We are brothers and we talk. So if there is any thing remaining we will sort them out. My priority is to ensure that peace and unity prevail in Ibeku because without peace there will be no development. Those that opposed me are men of timber and calibre, men of well and means, men of high intellectual calibre. We respect their views and we need their ideas and contributions to make Ibeku better. It is not about Emeka Enyeazu; it is about Ibeku and all of us must come together and join hands to achieve our goals for the good of our people.

Ibeku is the primary host of the seat of government in Abia State, what’s the relationship between the government and IEADA?

Yes, we are the host community to the seat of power because Umuahia-ibeku is the capital city. It used to be Ibeku in the past but they started calling it Umuahia in the colonial era and there was an agreement that the city would revert to the former name but that has not happened. Our relationship with government is cordial. The new leadership of IEADA has paid a courtesy visit to the governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu and we will continue to interface with his administration.

As a leader of a socio-cultural organisation what is your take on the alarm expressed by UNESCO that Igbo language is under threat of extinction as new generation parents tend to prefer raising their children to speak English Language?

I’m really concerned but I have to point out that the problem is not peculiar to Igbo language. The preference of foreign languages to native languages is one of the effects of globalisation. It is affecting everything, even American politics. The resistance of the Middle East to globalisation is also crumbling. So the threat to Igbo language is a problem of globalisation because people want to learn and use languages that have international usage. But come to think of it, the situation is not as bad as people may want to paint it. For instance, I have kids who are in school and I know that my children are taught Igbo language right from kindergarten to at least JS 3 and in Abia State it is compulsory for a child to pass Igbo language before he/she is promoted to senior secondary level of education. So any Igbo speaking state that has not adopted this policy should do so. I believe that among the middle class Igbo families children are encouraged to speak, read and write in their native language. It is rather the illiterates or half literate parents, who out of inferiority complex and ignorance force their children not to speak their native language. Most of their children end up speaking broken (pidgin) English because the parents don’t even speak correct English to them. Part of our cultural revival initiative is to encourage our children to cherish Igbo language and culture. It is on record that Ndigbo had developed a system of writing called Nsibidi before the colonial masters came and imposed their language on our people.