There are strong indications that the recent suspension of 12 traditional rulers in Anambra State by Governor Willie Obiano, over their visit to President Mohammadu Buhari, is fueling alignments and realignments that may decide the outcome of the 2021 governorship election in the state.
The one-year suspension slammed on the monarchs, according to a statement, was for embarking on a visit to President Muhammadu Buhari without consultation or approval from the state government. However, it is widely believed that the suspended monarchs are victims of a running battle of supremacy between the governor and billionaire oil magnet, Prince Arthur Eze.
But a source claimed the state government had accused the traditional rulers of wanting to use the visit facilitated by Eze to report Governor Obiano to President Buhari. The first casualty of the governor’s sledge hammer, as widely speculated, was the traditional ruler of Ukwulu Kingdom, Igwe Peter Uyanwa, who the governor had suspended weeks earlier over alleged petitions from his community
As it stands, Prince Eze is seen as the face of a strong opposition against the governor’s plan to pick a successor from Anambra South Senatorial District in line with the zoning arrangement which his predecessor, Mr. Peter Obi, started before leaving office in 2013. Eze is not leaving any stone unturned in his resolve to ensure that zoning is jettisoned. It is, therefore, difficult for anybody fraternizing with the billionaire at this time to deny involvement in the plot.
The suspension of the 12 monarchs was announced through a circular titled “Suspension of Twelve (12) Traditional Rulers in Anambra State,” dated August 11, 2020 by Commissioner for Local Government, Chieftaincy and Community Affairs, Mr. Greg Obi.
The affected monarchs are: Igwe Alex Edozieuno of Mkpunando; Igwe Mark Anthony Okonkwo of Alor; Igwe Chukuwma Bob Vincent Orji of Ezinifite; Igwe Engr G.B.C Mbakwe of Abacha; Igwe Chijioke Nwankwo of Nawfia and Igwe Nkeli Nelly of Igbariam.
Others were: Igwe Anthony Onyekwere of Owelle; Igwe A. N Onwuneme of Ikenga; Igwe Simon Ikechukwu Chidubem of Umumbo; Igwe S. O Uche of Ezira; Igwe Dr Emeka Ilouno of Ifitedunu and Igwe Peter Ikegbunem Udoji of Eziagulu Otu.
The suspension letter was copied to Obi of Onitsha as chairman of the Council in Anambra; Commissioner of Police and the State Director, Directorate of security services DSS. Obiano warned that the affected monarchs should stop parading themselves as traditional rulers and desist from discharging their functions in their communities.
The circular also revoked their membership of Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council and cancelled any appointment they may be holding in government committees until the suspension is lifted.
“The suspension may be lifted at the end of one year, renewed or upgraded in the intervening period depending on the government’s review of the conduct of the errant royal fathers,” the circular also said.
BusinessHallmark gathered that the suspension of the monarchs followed the recommendation of their colleagues in the Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council after their meeting at Prof. Dora Akunyili Women Development Centre in Awka last Tuesday. The state traditional council led by the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe, had strongly condemned the ill-fated trip of the ‘rebellious traditional rulers’.
The circular stated: “The traditional rulers leaving their respective domains without notifying either the state or their respective local government authorities, had violated the code of conduct prescribed for their office.”
Meanwhile, BusinessHallmark has learnt in what looked like a compensation for being victimized because of their loyalty to him, Prince Eze has given each of the suspended monarchs a brand new LX570 Lexus SUV.
Where did we go wrong?
However, at a joint press conference addressed by the Igwe of Nawfia, Chioke Nwankwo, in Abuja on Thursday, the suspended traditional rulers said they did not commit any wrong to warrant their suspension by the state government. According to Nwankwo, the monarchs travelled to Abuia to thank President Buhari for the good things he had been doing for the South-East zone.
“The visit was to thank Buhari for the appointment of notable Igbo sons and daughters into important positions since he became president.
“Is this an offence? The Second Niger Bridge had been presented as an impossible task by previous administrations, but it is now becoming a reality under his watch as it is nearing completion. We appreciated him for this.
“We know that the project is very dear to our hearts because it is key to boosting business activities between the people of the South East and the entire country. Where did we go wrong here?
“The Enugu-Onitsha expressway that the Buhari administration is rehabilitating is another magnificent reason why we went to thank the President. The Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway rehabilitation that the government has also embarked on is another reason why we took the step. These projects have been pipe dreams and had been elusive during past administrations.
“They have given the entire South Eastern people concerns. As royal fathers who are custodians of our heritage, we felt that it was incumbent on us to express our appreciation to the President and to urge him to do more for the zone. Where have we committed a crime in these laudable efforts? On what ground are the Igwe and the state government angry with us?”
Nwankwo said the Anambra government had no constitution of its own and there was no known law in the country stopping traditional rulers from having free movement.
“We are not ashamed to be associated with the great Prince Arthur Eze, who has been a major succour to the poor masses of Anambra and has emancipated many of them from economic bondage. As traditional rulers, if we come together to visit the President or associate with Prince Eze, is it an offence? There is no known law against this.”
The real battle
There is a running battle between Obiano and Eze which started during the inauguration of the Zonal Police Headquarters, when Eze revealed that Obiano was in Abuja in attempt to influence police authorities to move the establishment to his local community in Aguleri, Anambra East Local government.
Eze had said, “Governor Obiano wanted it to be sited in Aguleri, his hometown. Aguleri and Umueri are fighting war for many years, killing themselves. They are not in good terms. He has never reconciled them. He was talking about where to site zone 13. The most important thing is for him to reconcile Aguleri and Umueri communities. They are still fighting up till today.
Though Obiano did not directly reply Eze’s accusations, his media aides were said to have taken to the social media to deride Eze, with some saying his wealth was useless to the state as he neither has meaningful investment in the state, nor can he claim to be employer of anyone in the state, despite his wealth.
As if that was not enough, Eze launched another attack, claiming that Obiano was misusing local government funds, threatening to sue him (Obiano) for that. At a later meeting with traditional rulers Eze said, “During the Abacha era, there was a law for all state governors to reserve five per cent of the state’s revenue for the traditional institution. Go to the north, they are paying, even in Enugu, the governor is paying, but here, Obiano is not paying. I will drag him to court for that.”
Eze’s attack on the governor allegedly claimed its first casualty when Obiano suspended Igwe Uyanwa, who hosted Eze and other monarchs at the meeting where Eze threatened to sue Obiano.
The traditional rulers of all communities in Anambra Central Senatorial District had at the end of their meeting held at the palace of Igwe Peter Uyanwa declared that they did not support the zoning arrangement being canvassed by few politicians for the 2021 governorship poll, saying it was undemocratic to bar other aspirants on the basis of zoning.
The meeting, which had major political stakeholders from the zone in attendance, was convened to review and respond to the debate and calls for zoning by some politicians. Aside the politicians who had argued for zoning, traditional rulers of Anambra South led by the monarch of Nnewi, Igwe Nwafor Orizu, had risen from a meeting with calls on politicians in the state from other zones to pave way for their Southern senatorial zone to produce Governor Willie Obiano’s successor.
A statement issued after the meeting and signed by Igwe Uyanwa read: “At the meeting of the Anambra Central Traditional Rulers Forum held on 2nd July 2020, it was unanimously resolved that we dissociate ourselves from any zoning arrangement in Anambra State gubernatorial election.
“That we in the Central Forum will only accept and encourage any credible governorship candidate that is ready, willing and capable of delivering the dividend of democracy to Ndi Anambra.”
However, a release signed by the commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. C. Don Adinuba had said, “Following a series of petitions against the Traditional Ruler of Ukwulu in Njikoka Local Government Area from many people in Ukwulu and elsewhere, who want to forestall an impending huge crisis in the community, the Anambra State Government has decided to suspend Chief Peter Uyanwa as the Igwe of Ukwulu for one year with effect from Friday, July 24, 2020, in the first instance.
“His Certificate of Recognition as Igwe is also withdrawn with immediate effect. Consequently, Chief Uyanwa can no longer function as Chairman of the Traditional Rulers Council, Anambra Central Zone. These actions have been taken in the public interest. The appropriate security agencies have been notified.”
The rift, however, took a dramatic turn when on hearing of the suspension Eze led a delegation of monarchs from all parts of the state to visit the embattled traditional ruler in his palace. Eze said the suspension was an indication that Obiano had declared war on him (Eze).
“Go and tell him (Obiano) that we are the people that make governors. He is fighting a lost battle. The people of Ukwulu installed the monarch and not government, so he cannot remove someone he did not make a king,” Eze declared.
Eze went further: “I have been in and around government since 1970, and within that period I have made many governors in Nigeria. Since Obiano is not ready to pay you people (traditional rulers), I shall be giving N200,000 each to all monarchs in the state every month. I shall also give N10m to former LGA chairmen to pursue their matter in court, against the governor for removing them before the expiration of their tenure.”
But, not unaware of the influence Eze wields, Governor Obiano handled him with care, trying not to launch any direct attack on him. The state government through the chief press secretary to the governor, Mr. James Eze, in a press release insisted that the suspension of the monarch by Obiano was the right thing to do, because of the many petitions against the monarch, which could lead to unrest in the community.
Speaking on the issue, an indigene of the state, Mr. Igboeli Arinze said: “Yes, it may be about the 2021 race, where both parties are much likely to be interested in who takes over the helm of affairs of the state and are now entrenched in a war using proxies and the media to undo each other.
“As I speak this thirteen traditional rulers from the state have been suspended, while the deputy governor of the State, Dr. Nkem Okeke has the sword of impeachment dangling over his head and this seems to be just the beginning of the macabre dance.”
Linus Mbonu, a lawyer, said: “There is need to mediate between the governor and Arthur Eze before this show of power snowballs into something else. I understand Eze’s position, he is someone who does not like to see the people suffer, and he believes that Obiano’s style of governance, especially with the non-conduct of election was making the people suffer. The bone of contention between both men is primarily the non-conduct of local government election.”