The last few days have featured the South-east zone of the country in the news as a result of the launch of a fresh military operation, code-named: Python Dance 11, aimed at checkmating the rising wave of kidnapping and armed robbery as well as the activities of separatist groups in the region. But speaking with Christopher Isiguzo, the paramount ruler of Egede Kingdom in Enugu State, His Royal Highness, Igwe Polycarp Oyigbo, insisted that the military operation could divide the nation more than achieve positive results. Excerpts:
How do you see the deployment of more soldiers to the South-east by the federal government?
Why should the military launch an operation in just a particular section of the country? I don’t really know what that means. In my opinion, it is a complete siege. I have always said that the south is doomed, because what is happening here is what has not happened elsewhere. It appears our own constitution is different. The military operation is absolutely unnecessary. They should tell us the real reason they would deploy military troops to our region.
Troops are deployed when there is war even in developed climes. If they claimed the deployment of military operatives to the South-east is intended to curb the issue of kidnapping and widespread agitations, similar to what they did last year, how many kidnappers were caught and prosecuted previously. Moving troops to the streets will not go a long way in checking how such operations are carried out. There is a way it should be done. Using secret police and CIDs without uniforms are the best way to tackle the issue of kidnapping and other social vices instead of deploying military men.
Look at the quantum loss we are witnessing under the Python Dance regime. People are now living in fear. Tension has enveloped the entire zone especially in Abia State. Hapless men and women are losing their lives on a daily basis on the basis on confrontation with the soldiers. Before Python dance, the entire zone was calm and peaceful but today, all that has taken flight. We are talking about peace and tranquility, do we have that now?
From all indications, this operation is obviously going to divide the nation the more. Some people are telling you that they want to opt out of the country and the best you could do is to clampdown on them instead of dialogue? This is not the best way to go. I still think that the best approach to the entire issue is dialogue, definitely not clampdown or confrontation. In my mind, the federal government should immediately withdraw soldiers from our streets and rather use their intelligence arms to tackle the increasing spate of kidnappings, armed robbery and other forms of armed banditry.
What roles is the traditional institution playing in peacekeeping?
The fact that definite roles were not given to the Igwes constitutionally is hampering a lot of development and security matters in different communities, because when somebody is working without definite roles spelt out, he might not live up to expectation or he might do otherwise. In my own opinion, Igwes are supposed to have constitutional rights properly entrenched in the constitution that will provide them with the opportunity to work better.
If you come into a community, we are the chief security officers of the community. But with what do we perform that function as a traditional ruler? We should have determined line of functions which will help us better perform our roles. If an Igwe knows what he is supposed to do, there would be no problem in the community. He knows when to assign what responsibility to who. When you come to a town, there are town unions, the Igwe-in-council and the Isiani, who are the immediate elders that represent various villages and have determined functions they should do. Once the Igwe is there to direct these people there will not be problems.
Even some of the challenges we have today across the country, if the Igwes are properly carried along in the scheme of things, the difference will be clear, because all those who perpetrate various forms of crimes come from communities and we as the custodians of cultures and traditions have our own ways of handling such issues. We can solve most problems that a million python dance operations cannot solve. Take us into confidence, get us fully integrated in the constitution with definite roles and you will see us perform wonders.
What is your view on restructuring?
Well, restructuring is the most ideal way to go now. Virtually everybody has come to accept the fact that we need political and economic restructuring if we must make any headway. Today, the South-east wants restructuring, South-south is in support, South-west is there and the Middle Belt which is North Central wants restructuring. What is then holding the government from doing the needful? We must restructure, we must address the obvious imbalance in our polity.
A situation where one zone feels so comfortable and the other zones feel abandoned and alienated is totally unacceptable but by the time we restructure, we would have solved the problems. Even those agitating today have equally said once restructuring takes place, agitations will be reduced. There is no doubt that restructuring will bring sanity to the Nigerian system. Everything will turn to normal, I believe. It is the whole system that needs to be restructured. If each state can go and produce what they can, it will go a long way in tackling the present situation we face.
What is yo-ur assessment of the present government in the past two years?
I must say that I agree with the government of Buhari in the general platform of things. When he was elected, I said we shall achieve what we want as a country, because he has done it before. When he was a military president, he was the first to combat corruption. What he started doing is proper. The major problem we have in this country is corruption and he has started well but with regards to the South-east, there is a lot of neglect. But I prefer to believe that he has good intentions but the people around him do not want him to achieve them. For sure, there’s no way all our problems will end in two years.
Governance is like a relay race, you keep handing over baton till you win the race. An individual alone does not engage in a relay race. Buhari is doing his part and when his time is up, someone else will come on board. We are looking forward to an improved government presence in the zone. Our roads are gone, ecological problems are everywhere here, the power problem is there, unemployment is also another issue. Yes, Buhari may not solve all the problems, but we are looking forward to what will equally convince us the more that we are part and parcel of this polity.
How has it been since you took charge of your community?
Well, it has been smooth in the sense that my people are happy because Egede has two blocs: Ibite and Ikeye. From time immemorial, all the traditional rulers have been coming from Ibite and this is the first time an Igwe is emerging from Ikeye, which is my bloc and because of that, my people are very happy for seeing what they have not seen though there have been some grudges from the other side but for now everything has been settled and people are happy.
How is your community treated in the scheme of things by successive governments?
The government of Sullivan Chime for instance treated the people of Egede well because that was the first time the road that leads to Egede was put in good shape. The other one was done in the outskirts of Egede. We also saw for the first time, government presence in our place and because of that, our people held him in high esteem. Under his administration, an illustrious son of Egede became a member of the state House of Assembly. We were happy with him. The present administration is also making efforts. Recently, the governor promised us road network which will begin from October, among so many other good things of life
How do you feel about the development in your celebration of new yam festival?
It is a welcome development that an autonomous community was carved out of Egede, albeit coming late. It would have been created for a long time if not for some inconsistencies on the part of some Ibite people. When I mounted the throne, some people from Ibite were not happy with me. They did not support my government, because of reasons best known to them.
The problem lingered for about ten years. They were agitating for an autonomous community. They wrote several applications and we countered them all. It was after the governor made some consultations with the people that we agreed that such should be done. Now, people are happy and that was why the last new yam festival was peculiar. The two Igwes were in the church.
How was the traditional right managed?
We did not break kolanut in the church. What we did together was the church ceremony. After that, each Igwe went to his palace and continued the other rights, because it is now two different communities. Even if it happens that there should be the breaking of kolanut, the Igwe from my own throne could have taken presence, because I am the first one. The other one is carved out from it. So, immediately a community is carved out from another, the other one becomes an ancient kingdom while the other becomes an autonomous community.