Awka kingship schism on display in Nimo town as a grand scheme for the next governor of Anambra State is orchestrated 17 miles away in Aguleri, the hometown of the present governor of the state, with neither of the Awka kingship contenders nor their acolytes present.
By Chudi Okoye, with report from Aguleri by Stella Nzekwe, Awka Times reporter
The first Friday of 2020 proved more troubling for Awka than the last Saturday of 2019.
As the new year inched its way into being, Awka town was pinched yet again and this time the score was higher on the Richter Scale of community embarrassment.
The kingship schism in Awka was on dismal display this convivial Friday, January 3rd, as the great and the good gathered for the ofala (annual rite of renewal) of HRH Igwe Maxi Ike Oliobi, Eze Oranyelu, the Owelle of Nimo, a town in Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State. All invited communities had one traditional ruler representing them. But Awka town trundled out the two contending traditional rulers to the same event. The incumbent, still affirmed by supporters as Eze Uzu II, Obi Gibson Nwosu, was there. And the insurgent, acknowledged by supporters as Eze Uzu III, Obi Austin Ndigwe, was there as well. The former is recognized and certified by the Anambra State government. The latter is not. But both have significant support in Awka, resulting in a deep rupture within Awka society.
The Nimo spectacle was merely the latest in an escalating crisis of rulership competition. Barely a week before, there had been another such spectacle.
As the year screeched towards a close in 2019, on December 28th Awka town witnessed two competitive kingship events held by the two contending factions in the Awka kingship saga. The two sides somehow confected a situation which saw them holding major events on the same day. The government-recognized monarch had scheduled his biennial Egwu Uzu (similar to ofala) festival to hold on the last Saturday of the year. On the very same day the contender also scheduled an event billed as Otochal Awka Day to celebrate the oldest man in Awka.
Despite initial apprehension on the part of the state government about the convergence of events, the day came off without the feared breakdown in law and order, though there had been a heavy presence of security personnel at the separate venues.
Barely a week after those overlapping events, there was another competitive outing. This time both contenders converged at the same event in Nimo, each presenting as the authentic traditional ruler of Awka. At a point, in fact, they were seated either side of HRH Igwe Dr Emeka Ilouno, the traditional ruler of Ifitedunu.
▲ The Awka kingship contenders sandwiched between Igwe Ifitedunu at the Igwe Nimo ofala
There are diverging accounts of how they managed to be there simultaneously, and what transpired at the event. According to a highly placed official in the incumbent camp, “Eze Uzu [Gibson Nwosu] was officially invited to the ofala of Owelle Nimo as the king of Awka by the Owelle Nimo [himself]. Austin Ndigwe was not officially invited to the event. He gate-crashed by following [Prince] Arthur Eze who was officially invited. Austin Ndigwe… is now… trying hard to market himself through Arthur Eze,” he said.
By this source’s telling in a chat with Awka Times, “Arthur [Eze] actually addressed His Majesty Obi Dr Gibson Nwosu, Eze Uzu Awka II, as Eze Awka by removing his cap to greet His Majesty, but funny enough when making [his] speech [he] referred to Austin Ndigwe as Igwe Ndigwe.”
Our source’s opposite number in the insurgent camp told Awka Times that “Gibson Nwosu was already there when His Imperial Majesty [Austin Ndigwe] arrived with [Prince Arthur] Eze. They were both hailed correctly,” he said.
The source related a minor kerfuffle whereby a loyalist in the incumbent camp tried to intervene in the public address protocol at the event, requesting that the MC address “Eze Uzu III [Austin Ndigwe] as ‘Uzu Awka’ [his Ozo title name].” The source recounted however that an operative in their own camp had insisted that the MC continue to address his principal as “Eze Uzu III”. Awka Times confirmed with the individual in question who said that his suggestion was indeed followed. This implies that the two contenders were both addressed as the traditional ruler of Awka at the same event!
Our source further related that “while Gibson [Nwosu] and other small Igwes were [seated in makeshift] canopies, His Imperial Majesty and Prince [Arthur Eze] were taken upstairs.” He claimed that “Gibson was disgraced,” further reporting that Prince Arthur Eze donated ₦10m to the Nimo community at the occasion.
The event at Nimo further illustrates the deep-seated animosity seemingly involved in the Awka kingship tussle.
Meanwhile, the next day in the Anambra town of Aguleri, located about 17 miles northwest of Nimo, an event of significant import would take place at which neither of the Awka kingship contenders, nor indeed any of their acolytes, was present. Aguleri is the hometown of the present governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano. On this day, Saturday January 4th, 2020, there was another gathering of the great and the good as the traditional ruler of the town, Eze Michael Chinemelum Idigo (Eze Udo) celebrated his first ofala. It was the 120th ofala in the ancient Igbo kingdom.
It was a tumultuous event which had a remarkable highlight: the conferment of a traditional chieftancy title on Prof. Charles Chukwuma Soludo, a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Soludo was conferred the title of ‘Odenjiji Aguleri’. There were other conferees at the event as well, including the MD/CEO of M-P Infrastructure, Mr Clem Nwogbo (invested with ‘Oku Luo Uno Aguleri’), and Chief Austin Oguejiofor, Executive Chairman Rotech Energy Services Ltd. (conferred the title of ‘Okutalukwe Aguleri’).
Though laden with heavy cultural symbolism, the Aguleri event felt for all the world like a political outing for Prof. Soludo. The highly-credentialed policy whiz seems to be at the centre of high-octane political maneuverings for the control of Anambra State, arguably the leading state in Igboland in the south east of Nigeria. Anambra is a strategic battleground, hotly contested by the leading political parties in Nigeria. In the 20 years since the establishment of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic in 1999, two political parties – the current ruling party in the state, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), and the previous ruling party in the state, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – have competed fiercely for control of the state. Of the state’s four fourth-republic governors so far, two (Chinwoke Mbadinuju and Chris Ngige) were members of PDP and two (Peter Obi and the incumbent Willie Obiano) have been members of APGA.
Anambra is the only state currently controlled by APGA at governorship level, and the party desperately wants to retain control. PDP, for its part, is looking to regain control of this important Igbo state – the only one that it does not control in the south east of Nigeria – as it battles for federal dominance against the All Progressive Congress (APC) which currently controls the Nigerian presidency. APC controls 19 of Nigeria’s 36 states, PDP 16, and APGA just the one, Anambra State. APC does not itself have much of a foothold in Anambra State, but for strategic reasons it seeks to forestall PDP recapture of the state by enabling APGA retention of control.
Prof. Chukwuma Soludo appears to be at the focal point of maneuvers for the control of Anambra State. APGA and APC seem to be wooing him, and PDP, to which he once belonged, seems to be looking to regain his membership.
The Nigerian presidency, under APC control, recently (in September 2019) made Prof. Soludo a member of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Economic Advisory Council (EAC). The Anambra State government, under the control of APGA, also recently made him chairman of the Anambra State Vision 2070 Committee set up, apparently, to formulate a 50-year development plan for Anambra State.
The chieftaincy title conferred on Prof. Soludo by the traditional ruler of the hometown of the APGA governor, Willie Obiano, probably like the professor’s other recent appointment, acquires political significance in light of the competitive quest for control of Anambra State.
▲ Prof. Chukwuma Soludo being conferred with a chieftaincy title in Aguleri, Jan 4th 2020
The event of Saturday 4th January had all the trappings of the political. Officials of the state government were in heavy attendance, including Hon. Primus Odili, Chief of Staff to the Anambra State governor; Hon. Uche Okafor, Speaker Anambra State House of Assembly; Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu, Secretary to the State Government; Chief Engr. Marcel Ifejiofor Anaekwe, Commissioner for Works; Mr Afam Mbanefo, Commissioner for Agriculture, Mechanisation, Processing and Export; Engr. Emeka Ezenwanne, Commissioner for Public Utilities; Hon. Chief Chukwuma Umeorji, member House of Reps., Aguata federal constituency, Oba Aguata; Hon. Eche Ezeibe, Chairman Aguata Local Government Area; and several senior advisors to the state governor. The governor himself might well have attended the event but he was out of the country. He was represented by his chief of staff who told Awka Times that the governor sent his felicitations.
There was no question that the event had the imprimatur of the APGA state government.
Additionally, members of some political action groups mobilizing for Prof. Soludo’s potential candidacy – including Soludo Support Group (SSG), Great Soludo Patriots (GSP) and Youths Earnestly Seek Soludo (YESS) – were out in force at the event, virtually dominating the day and confirming the political significance of the ceremony.
▲ Members of the Soludo Support Group (SSG) at the ofala event
Igwe (Col.) C.A.O. Muoghalu (Retd.), the traditional ruler of Isuofia, in an interview with Awka Times, expressed his joy for the recognition of his area’s local luminary, Prof. Soludo, and prayed for a long reign by Eze Udo, the Aguleri traditional ruler.
It was notable at the Soludo investiture that there was no formal representation from the factions involved in the Awka kingship contest, nor from their affiliated fractions in Awka Development Union Nigeria (ADUN) or Ozo Awka society, both of which institutions are currently embroiled in their own internal crisis. It was not clear if they had not been invited, or whether they were but chose not to attend. Either way, the preoccupations of Awka kingship and other leadership contenders might appear to be currently removed from the ongoing political maneuverings to install the next chief executive of Anambra State.