His Eminence, Eze Dr Sir Bernard Enweremadu Onyenguzo, the Eze Ukwu 1 of Ngwa Ukwu, is the 13th traditional head of Ngwa land who was born into the family of Umuele Umuebi in Okpuala Ngwa Uku in Isiala-Ngwa North of Abia state and is now celebrating his 40th coronation anniversry. The Eze Ukwu was born on 23rd November 1943 and ascended the throne on the 23 October, 1976. In this interview granted to Peoples Times, he goes down memory lane on several issues, including how life has treated him.
What is your opinion on traditional institution in Ngwa-land?
With all due respect, the institution has gone through ups and downs because of bastardisation by the politicians in Igbo land and in particular Abia state as a whole. It has come too low because of interferences. We are just trying to amend our broken walls to make it right.
The coming of civilian regime or governors in Abia and other states in Igbo land in 1999 helps in bastardising the institution by the various governments. I will blame past and present governments in Abia state on the bastardising of this reverend institution.
What are the remedies?
The moment our governor acknowledges our importance and seek my counsel, I am prepare to give lasting solutions to this problem. Don’t forgets they are the very one that destroy this institution to achieve their selfish ambitions. It is the same people that has bastardised this institution that can be repositioned for development.
Who has the responsibility of selecting a traditional ruler? Government or the people?
It is quite unfortunate that the traditional right of the people has been taken away by the government. This is the beginning of bastardising the institution. Some of the so-called traditional rulers appointed by the government do not even have any community to govern. It is after such appointment that they are given matching orders to go and look for a community to rule. This is an error.
Government has no business in choosing traditional rulers. It is the community that should select their leader and pass on to government for mere formality and recognition. In my palace, you can see my staff of office handed over to me by my predecessor. So, before I became the 13th Eze, there were other rulers. I believe that until government stops interfering in the activities of our traditional heritage, there will not be peace in the selection of rulers. My predecessor was alive before handing over the staff of office to me by a directive from our progenitor, Ugwu Onyenwe ala Ngwa land. He respected that directive from our fathers, without any problem.
The last son of my predecessor is even here with me in the palace as I am talking with you.
Was your predecessor dethroned?
Not at all. That happened from the reign of the 8th traditional ruler of the land called Chief Ojiagbo. Who the colonial masters in 1921 wanted him to collect taxes but he revolted and called it an abused by the white-man on the Eze of Ngwa land. He said it is forbidden in Ngwa land. The Whiteman came back by 1929 to apologize, but said to the Eze to bring one of his own to be appointed for the Job. He then consulted with the Eji Otugwa ala Ngwa, heads of government at that time or heads of the Ndi isi Opkara. The Ndi Isi Okpara went on a consultative meeting at Okpuala land which lasted for 21 days. Before presenting two names through namely; Eronde Iruabuchi and Azubuike Nwatu. At the end, majority went for Azubuike Nwatu to lead them and by then Ojiagbo handed over to Nwatu and went to take care of the Shrine for the deities. Nwatu was also alive to hand over to Chief M. O. Onuoha.
Ngwa Ukwu has a good system of succession. It has been there for long. So, it is not an issue of dethronement.
Traditional value of the Ngwa people
The Ngwa people have a strong traditional value that has run from time immemorial. The age grade system and the position of the Ndi isi Okpara are well respected by the people. The history of the Ngwa land started from three brothers. Ngwa Ukwu, the first son, Nwaoha, the second son and Nvosi, the third sons of Ugwu Onyenweala.
Every Ngwa man comes from this three sons and there is that respect among the people of Ngwa for the tradition. As an Ngwa man, you must respect your seniors or elders, no matter your position in life. For instance, during an occasion, if an animal or goat is presented to the people, it is the heads of the age grade or Ndi Isi Opara that will take their shares first before any person partakes. You cannot be an Opara because of your money or social stature in the society. You cannot buy the position of Okpara with money like chieftaincy title in some places.
On the issue of eating human flesh by Ngwa people
The fact remains that our forefathers ate human flesh. What really happened was that any time they go to war the only evidence that can show to their people that they defeated their enemies is to bring back home some heads with rejoicing. Some partake in eating the flesh. That is history by the way. The king David in the Bible can be liken to an Ngwa man. Because, after killing Goliath he did not allow the Philistines to go with the head of that giant.
Unity of Ngwa people
There are challenges to the unity of the Ngwa man. Naturally, the Ngwa man is a proud man. He does not care going to bed hungry than to beg for food. This is not helping many of the Ngwa people. Pride and downfall go together. It seems like after acquiring Western education, instead of it been a blessing some turn out using it wrongly by destroying our cultural heritage and morality.
I am one of those rulers in the state who goes around promoting the Ngwa dialect and Igbo language. It is only on real occasions like this that I speak English language while on the throne for the benefit of non-Igbos.
I am calling on the sons and daughters of Ngwa land to embrace love and unity without which there can never be any meaningful development in our land. The Ngwa man is hard working. However, people should not allow any person’s progress to give you sleepless night. Go out there and look. There is dignity in labour.
For instance, look at the giant strides His Excellency, Governor Rochas Okorocha is doing in Imo state. It is worthy of emulation and commendable. During my last visit to Owerri, I lost sight of locations I was used to. I had to ask my driver where we were. This is real development. We need more of this in the South-eastern states.
Gov. Okorocha is like the messiah the Igbos have in this present government. Imagine a situation whereby no state in this region belongs to the ruling party, how do you think our voice will be heard?
Federal presence in Abia state
Federal presence in Abia state is highly lamentable. Let the President pay a state visit and see things for himself, especially the condition of Ngwa land. He should not depend on hearsay. Like in Imo state, most of the projects executed in most South-eastern states are through hard work by the people and governments of these states. The people of Abia are selfless and industrious. They hardly wait on government before helping to develop their communities.
The government should not take Abians cool headedness for weakness. We have tried to calm our youths from taking arms like the Niger Delta boys. They should not forget that it is the Ukwa Ngwa that made Abia state one of the oil producing states in Nigeria and, therefore, deserves federal projects. I will advise Mr. President to release board’s appointments to reduce political tension around him. Let him engage these politicians to reduce distraction and intolerance, irrespective of how much they are pay.
During President Yar’Adua’s regime, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan received me when he was Vice President. During our discussion, I advised him not to allow people to use arms to get what they want because it would lead to anarchy. We do not encourage violence in Ngwa land, but our people should not be taken for a ride. We need a working system to move the country forward.
However, the past state governments did not help matters. They hardly keep their campaign promises, sometimes due to their paymasters. Most of the people that surround most governors are sycophants, who are only interested in self-enrichments and not the interest of the people. Any serious government, runs an inclusive platform. Those around them block people with good ideas from reaching their governors. This has robbed the state of tremendous royal fatherly wisdom.
There is a serious disconnect since 1999, between the political leadership and traditional rulers, when the roles of traditional rulers were removed from the constitution. The downgrading of the traditional institution is not only limited to Abia state but the whole country. The political class are only interested in this institution when they are looking for political appointments and thereafter, abandon the very people that help in their election.
Our governor, His Excellency Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, has a lot of responsibility to the Abians. He is an asset to the people of Abia and Ukwa-Ngwa. He must embrace all to succeed as a leader. He must not allow any one to remote control him. He should have more consultation within and outside the state. He must run away from distractions and concentrate on developing the state. Though, there are backstabbers around.
Your saddest moment since your enthronement
I suffered from saving one of our sons from been impeached as a deputy governor in Abia state.
I was told there was a plot to remove from office an Ukwa Ngwa man as a deputy governor. I called my first son, who happened to be the Speaker of Abia state House of Assembly, to do everything possible not to allow his brother to fall. My son told me that the governor would not like that idea because it was a party decision. He told me should he proceed with such an idea, he would lose his Speakership position in the House and that I would lose my position as the Chairman of Abia state council of Ndi Eze, traditional rulers. I told him I do not care the consequences as far as the Deputy Governor is not impeached. How would I be the Chairman of Ndi Eze and I am not able to save that man who was accuse on triviality. The Deputy Governor was saved of his position. But, the then governor directed that I should leave the Chair. My son lost his position and was chased out by hoodlumss and I was unduly removed as the Chairman of Ndi Eze respectively. That was how I lost my position because of my sacrifice.
I was with Dr Akanu Ibiam of blessed memory as his deputy from 1980 down to Abia before he passed on in 1995. He was never removed as the Chairman. After his death in 1995, I took over from him after a big struggle, as the Chairman of Abia state council of Ndi Eze. By 2000, my seat was highly threatened because of my decision to save the deputy governor from being impeached. My pain is not because I was removed and the governor gave the position to his own brother from Bende bloc. I was pained because the very man I sacrificed for never appreciated what we did for him up till now. That very son since 2003 has never step into my palace. He, rather went about sponsoring hoodlums and campaign of colony against Eze Ukwu. They were hired by the man I saved to go round Ukwa-Ngwa land with falsehood information that I went to Abuja to settle with Governor Orji Uzor Kalu and that I was given N150 and two Jeeps to sell the Ukwa Ngwa man governorship ticket to others.
The truth of the matter is that a meeting of reconciliation was arrange between me and Gov Orji Kalu at Abuja. Before, the meeting, the governor send N200,000.00 through Hon. Isaac Ogbona for my fare , which I turned down. How can I collect money from the person I was about to meet? The governor and I finally met at Abuja in the presence of former Inspector General of Police, Sir. Mike Okiro, my son, the crown Prince, Hon. Isaac Ogbona, former Chairman of Obi-ngwa local government, my Prime Minister, Chief M. D Offor, Chief. Sammek and other prominent leaders of Abia state. After the meeting, my son approached me that the governor has given me N600, 000.00, which I objected. My son said are you still angry after the reconciliation. I said no, but how will I mortgage my conscious as if that was what took me to Abuja.
As if I was been monitored, before we arrived Ngwa Ukwu news had gone round that Eze Ukwu has collected N150 million. This happened when the governor was looking for ticket for his second tenure. The former IGP told Governor Orji Kalu that Eze Ukwu is your father, come and make peace with him. Gov. Kalu got up and apologized and I embraced him. He said it was his Deputy that passed a bill for the creation of a new autonomous community out of Ngwa Ukwu during a meeting that was chaired by Abaribe. Fortunately, before, the meeting, I had told my son I was not going to Abuja for political meeting, which was agreed. So, I was surprised that someone would sit down to fabricate lies against me.
I also faced other challenges during my 40 years on the throne. By the grace of God, they came, I saw and I conquered them.
Unity is the bedrock for any meaningful development. Therefore, let us embrace love for one another. I also want to wish all those coming for my 40th coronation anniversary safe journey. God will honour everyone who honours Eze Ukwu, Ukwa- Ngwa people and Abia state. You will come in peace and return in peace.