THe accolade given Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the deputy president of the Senate and the highest elected political office holder from Enugu State by communities in his constituency causes a stir. Why?
It was another power game in Enugu State on Saturday, April 19, 2014 when eight autonomous communities of Oduma Kingdom in Aninri local government area of the state rolled out their drums to honour the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
The communities had arranged a civic reception and conferment of chieftaincy title on Ekweremadu in appreciation of his role in facilitating the construction of the N12 billion Nenwe-Oduma-Uburu road. Work on the project which was flagged off in November 2012 has made the people of the region normally cut off during the rainy season to heave a huge sigh of relief.
However, once the plans to celebrate the breakthrough came out, political rivals of Ekweremadu, allegedly within the state government, went to work apparently to frustrate what they saw as another cap to the feathers of the highest elected political office holder from the state.
Even more embarrassing for Governor Sullivan Chime was the fact that the community appreciating Ekweremadu is geographically next to the governor’s own Mpu community.
For many associates of the governor the honour for Ekweremadu was out of context with Chime’s plans to displace the incumbent deputy president of the Senate as senator representing the Enugu West Senatorial District.
Days before the set day for the ceremony, the state government vide a letter dated April 7, 2014 with reference number MCM/CM/98/T/203 and addressed to all recognised traditional rulers in the state stopped traditional rulers in the state from conferring chieftaincy titles on individuals from that date till December, 2014.
The letter signed by Ibe Nnamani on behalf of the Commissioner, Ministry of Chieftaincy Matters, Pastor Emeka Abugu read thus: “I am directed to inform you that Enugu State Government has suspended the conferment of Chieftaincy titles on individuals with effect from Monday, 7th April 2014 and ends 31st December 2014 by Traditional rulers or group of Traditional rulers in Enugu State.
“If there is however any reason for which any Traditional ruler will confer any title on anybody, a written permission should be obtained from the Hon. Commissioner for Chieftaincy Matters.
“Please ensure strict adherence to this directive as appropriate sanctions, in line with traditional rulers law will be meted on defaulters. Please accept the assurance of our warm and best regards.” Though the letter was sent to all traditional rulers in the state, many believed that it was targeted at the honour planned for Ekweremadu and three others.
A member of the organising committee, Chief Johnson Orji had said in the midst of the controversy that the community would go ahead with its plan to honour the selected personalities, whom he said had long been notified and have mobilized their friends and well-wishers for the ceremony.
As learnt, the government had planned to dethrone any traditional ruler found at the event but unknown to the government the eight monarchs had decided to stay away but members of their cabinets (cabinet chiefs) were fully present at the ceremony which was well attended by thousands of people from Oduma communities and well-wishers from within and outside the state.
Apart from Ekweremadu, who was conferred with the traditional title of Dike Eji Eje Mba 1 of Oduma (a worthy ambassador) others honoured were the member representing Udi – Ezeagu federal constituency and Chairman House Committee on Works, Hon Ogbuefi Ozomgbachi, the Minister of Works, Arch Mike Onolememen and the group Managing Director of SETRACO Nigeria Limited, Engr. Fayez Khalaf.
The people of the community including Prof Richard Uwakwe, who served as chairman of the occasion, the National President Oduma Unity Forum, Chief Ezekiel Chukwu and Mrs. Felicia Aka, a woman leader; who spoke on behalf of the community at the event, described Senator Ekweremadu as a liberator of the people sent by God.
Speaking at the occasion, Senator Ekweremadu expressed gratitude to God for making the event possible despite efforts made by some people to frustrate it. While announcing a donation of N6.3 million for the completion of St. Anthony’s Catholic Parish Oduma, venue of the event, Ekweremadu said he would continue to collaborate with other representatives of Enugu state at the National Assembly, including Hon Ozomgbachi to attract dividends of democracy to the people.
“I have not come to receive a chieftaincy title, no; I have come to celebrate with the people of Oduma because God has eventually heard their cries. You see this road? This Egyptian you are seeing today, you’ll see them no more; your problem is over. By this time next year, there will be asphalt the whole length and breadth of Oduma,” he said.
The chairman of the occasion, Prof. Uwakwe said the people of Oduma were limited by human language in expression of their gratitude to Senator Ekweremadu for attracting the road project currently being handled by SETRACO Nig Ltd, through the assistance of Hon Ozongbachi and the Federal Ministry of Works. Prof Uwakwe said the ceremony was divine as it came at the time the entire world was celebrating the death of Jesus Christ.
Uwakwe, a university don, said Ekweremadu has resurrected Oduma community from the dearth of infrastructure especially roads which had constituted great impediment to the development of the area. He said he was aware of the challenges the DSP encountered in attracting the road project, stressing that “even the dead will be shaking in their graves because of what is happening here today just like the living are celebrating this great and historic achievement.”
The event was attended by Sen Hope Uzodimma, Sen Gilbert Nnaji, the Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State, Engr Dave Umahi, members of House of Representatives Linus Okorie, Toby Okechukwu, and Offor Chukwuegbo among others.
Prior to the conferment of the chieftaincy titles on the personalities, tension actually heightened among the people of the community as the natives feared that the state government might deploy security operatives to disrupt the event having given an order suspending conferment of chieftaincy titles in the state.
Sources said that the state police command had in compliance with the government’s order deployed its operatives in the morning of April 19 to stop the event but a superior order reportedly came from the Force Headquarters directing the command to provide adequate security and ensure that there was no breakdown of law and order during the event at Oduma. This led to the flooding of the venue with several policemen while the event progressed peacefully.
The controversy that preceded the reception only succeeded in attracting more people to the venue as supporters of Ekweremadu and Ozomgbachi in the divided political camps of Peoples Democratic Party in the state trooped to the venue in solidarity. However, supporters of Governor Chime and officials of the party stayed away.
Defending the award, Orji said:“The entire Oduma community made up of several villages has been planning this reception for Senator Ekweremadu since last year for making it possible in our lifetime what we never imagined could be possible. Many administrations in the state from military to the present democratic regime had come with promises during campaign, but always reneged on the promises after election.
This is due majorly to the very difficult topography of the Nenwe and Oduma once described by Governor Sullivan Chime as an impossible terrain, but this has been made possible by our son, Chief Ekweremadu,” Chief Orji had told reporters in Enugu before the event.
Apparently to avoid being sanctioned as threatened by the government, the traditional rulers from the eight autonomous communities in Oduma were absent but the entire community agreed to honour the personalities.
Hence, leaders of the eight chiefdoms in Oduma came together under the aegis of Oduma Unity Forum and conferred the titles on them using the traditional Igbo regalia which were procured by the royal fathers.
But as Ekweremadu and his large entourage were driving from his Mpu base through the road which has been asphalted from Mpu up to Ohafia Ndumeze Kingdom, Oduma, the traditional ruler of the community, Igwe Onyioha Nwanjoku came out with some members of his cabinet to the gate of his palace to welcome the Deputy Senate President. The royal father blessed Ekweremadu, whispered to him and shortly after the convoy continued to the reception venue near Oduma market square.
But while the community and the chieftaincy awardees were still celebrating the honour bestowed on them, the Enugu State Government came up with another statement last Friday, a week after the event, declaring that “none of the traditional rulers from the eight communities that constitute Oduma or from any other part of Enugu State conferred any chieftaincy title on either Senator Ekweremadu and/or others on the said April 19, 2014,” a statement issued by the state commissioner for Chieftaincy Matters, Pastor Abugu deposed.
The government frowned at the chieftaincy titles conferred on Ekweremadu by those other than traditional rulers in Oduma, saying Section 19 of the Traditional Rulers Law, Cap 151 of the Revised Laws of Enugu State, 2004, prescribed two years jail for anybody who falsely ‘’holds himself out, portrays or allows himself to be portrayed or addresses other persons; or himself as a recognized chief of any town or community.”