The current leadership crisis in Awka has been long in the making, engulfing the kingship, town union and other institutions. There are ongoing court cases to settle the claims and counterclaims, and it is unclear when the legal hazard will abate. To resolve the leadership imbroglio, there need to be creative crisis-management interventions in the short term, and also imaginative solutions for institutional reform in the long run. A little-known group, True Awka People (TAP), is taking the first tentative steps towards finding viable solutions.
By Chudi Okoye
Tony Okechukwu arrived early at the peace conference venue that morning of August 23, 2019, braving a torrential rainfall that had threatened to upend the day. In spite of the dampening effect of the downpour, Engr. Okechukwu seemed to be in high spirit. He was wearing an immaculate white tunic, his face radiated confidence, and his manner was ebullient.
Little wonder that Okechukwu was in abundant mood that morning. He had come to conference clutching his dramatic “victory” in a recent appeal court ruling in Enugu which appeared to finally dispose of the long-running case concerning the leadership of Awka Development Union Nigeria (ADUN).
To Okechukwu, the ruling was dispositive and his victory conclusive. So he had come to conference determined to invoke his victory but ready for compromises, as he told Awka Times, in pursuit of peace that had long eluded the Union.
Feeling perhaps that he had strategic advantage from his legal victory, Okechukwu had endured extreme journey hardships the day before as he made his way from Abuja to Awka, to attend the conference. He told Awka Times that morning of conference about his hazardous flight from Abuja, re-routed first from Asaba to Enugu and then to Port Harcourt. But even a near crash in Port Harcourt, Okechukwu said, did not shake his determination to get to the conference.
How odd then that after all that determined peregrination, the much-vaunted conference – convened by the True Awka People (TAP), the newest peace mediation group in Awka – blew up in Tony Okechukwu’s face. Other key invitees had not bothered to attend or merely sent surrogates. And after a short tense wait, Okechukwu himself fled the forum in frustration. Yet another hopeful mediation effort had come to a hopeless end. Since that disappointing outcome, the supposed losers in the ADUN case have filed another suit challenging Okechukwu’s presumed victory. And so the squabble over who leads the ADUN, as well as the broader contention over Awka kingship stool, continue in their benumbing drama.
Origin of Awka Leadership Crises
The current leadership tussles have dragged on far longer than most political crisis in contemporary Awka history. There is not, if the measures are taken, much redeeming quality to the present conflicts. They are not, for instance, principled disagreements about the best way to develop the Awka economy. Neither are they a debate on how to maximize allocations from the state government. Or yet how to maximize revenue generation to finance municipal development in Awka. They are equally not a difference of opinion on how to engage a state government that seems somewhat inattentive (some say even hostile) to Awka welfare and strategic interests.
No, none of that. Instead, according to some involved Awka leaders, the centerpiece of the crises that have engulfed the Awka community for the better part of seven years turns on ego, religion, and what some consider pecuniary motivation.
Chief Dilim Okafor, a prominent Awka leader, put it rather starkly in a statement obtained by Awka Times. “What is happening”, according to him, “is that some people have refused to let go [of] their penchant for greediness and unwholesome ego trip… People are not sincere to themselves. The whole crisis in Awka center[s] on [control of] the revenues collect[ed] from Awka main market… Other issues are not [all that important].”
Chief Okafor told Awka Times in a follow-up telephone call that an unknown cabal controls the Eke Market revenues, and it is unlikely that successive ADUN PGs (from Engr Nzekwe Ibe to Dr Amobi Nwokafor) have been connected or even conversant with the intricate machinations involved in collecting and disbursing the stallage revenues. He offered a ready solution: “Let us arrange a meeting of all past PGs and ask them to look into who and who collect[s] the rents from the market.” Chief Okafor argued that if there is greater accountability for the market revenues, it would detoxify the politics of Awka leadership.
A Lagos-based marketing professional, Kene Nweze, agrees with Chief Okafor. “Thank God [that Chief Okafor] has bared the face of the masquerade,” he wrote in a report accessed by Awka Times. “The picture is now very clear. It’s clear that there is a lot of gain in that office of PG, [hence] the endless struggle for this post,” he argued.
Chief Abolle Okoyeagu, former deputy governor of Anambra State and one-time secretary general of the ADUN, has a similar view on what is driving the crises. He told Awka Times that in his time the ADUN focused on the search for solutions, often bringing representatives from national branches to brainstorm on how best to achieve the development of Awka town. Okoyeagu said that in contrast “the officers that came after us politicized the ADUN, only looking for what they will get from Eke Awka [market]. That brought about rivalry for position and profit.”
With material interests hugely impacting the dialectics of Awka leadership crises, it is perhaps unsurprising that the conflicts have appeared so far impenetrable. Contenders and factions are rigid in their positions, rejecting legal outcomes and peace mediation efforts that threaten their particular interests.
A materialistic conception of Awka leadership crisis is attractive: It is clear and simple. It has additional force coming from folks like Okafor and Okoyeagu who are leading lights in the arena of Awka politics. It is probably the clash of egos, the collision of ambitions, the prebendal pursuit of power and prestige, that converge to create the unyielding pathologies of Awka political crises. They are seen in the ADUN rivalries, in the accusations and counter accusations between Eze Uzu and Ndu Ọzọ, in the calculations of the factions supporting one or the other protagonist. These are the “fertilizing agents” at the root of Awka crises, as one source put it in the report secured by Awka Times.
The materialistic perspective can certainly become overstated. It can appear overly reductive, foreclosing other insights that may also explain the Awka crises. It may be that in the end it is the behaviors of men that determine the success or failure of a political system. But behaviors are not formed in a vacuum. Instead, they are shaped by the social formation and systemic architecture within which they occur.
Political theorists often conceive of the state as a system, with structures (political institutions, civic associations) created to perform specific roles. In advanced systems, these structures are created by well-defined rules to perform functionally differentiated roles. These roles become inputs into the conversion processes of the system, yielding outputs that produce effects in the society. These effects generate feedback loops which in turn trigger new inputs. In this way, the system persists in a continual, predictable order.
Awka too is a system with its own structures which include the apex governing institutions – the Ọtọchal Awka, Eze Uzu and his Council, Kingmakers, Ndu Ọzọ, Izu Awka, the ADUN and other authoritative entities performing the ‘output’ roles of rule-making, rule-implementation and rule-adjudication; and the vast variety of other political or civic institutions, formal and informal, performing ‘input’ roles such as interest articulation, interest aggregation, political mobilization, socialization and communication. The latter includes lower echichi groups (Ndu Ajaghija, for instance), village councils, age groups, women’s groups, social clubs (Pacesetters, Ambassadors, Okwanka etc.), market associations, and various other institutions like media, churches, schools and so on.
A major systemic issue in Awka concerns the fact that the constitutive rules that create many of its governing bodies, and the regulative rules that govern their behavior, are not optimized. The rules themselves are in some cases ambiguous, and the structures they establish often functionally undifferentiated. If, in the past, there was a clear differentiation of roles in Awka, the absorption of some Awka governing institutions into the administrative machineries of the modern state government and the relegation of others does create an ambiguity that Awka must deal with. What are the proper roles of Awka governing institutions in the modern democratic setting, and how can these roles be properly codified?
The absence of a Grundnorm on which the constitutive and regulative rules are based has been a source of constant disorder in Awka. And we have seen – whether in the crisis of ADUN or in the interaction of Eze Uzu and Ndu Ọzọ, or indeed in other interactions among the governing elites – persistent evidence of constitutional crises often translating into serious political crises.
Often by design error, but also due to regrettable deviancy, the constitutions of Awka have not proved capable of regulating political behaviors in a manner conducing to political order. It is indeed an irony. A polity like Awka, deeply jealous of its democratic traditions, should adopt detailed and highly regulative constitutional law to govern political behavior. But this is not the case, hence the crises we see in Awka.
Many of the political eruptions in Awka actually involve some kind of constitutional question:
- The three traditional rulers Awka has installed since 1959 all faced challenges to their legal status
- The contest between the incumbent Eze Uzu II and Ndu Ọzọ is at its core a constitutional question
- Same with the stand-off between Eze Uzu II and the Awka Council of Kingmakers
- The ambiguity surrounding the roles of Izu Awka and even Ọtọchal Awka is a constitutional matter
- The relationship of Eze Uzu and the ADUN, often crisis-bound, certainly raises legal questions
- And, of course, the crisis within the ADUN itself is by and large a constitutional crisis
- Not least, the role of the state government in Awka affairs frequently raises a legal conundrum
Clearly, the major issues in Awka politics often arise from legal and constitutional ambiguity.
Awka political crises require imaginative interventions. New ideas and new approaches are needed. These must include short-term solutions to deal with the exigent situation in the town, as well as longer-term solutions to promote institutional reform. The search for such solutions is the focus of the True Awka People (TAP), a peace mediation group working to resolve Awka political crises.
The immediate focus of the TAP group is to reconcile the warring factions. It considers this a necessary pre-condition for longer term reforms. The TAP approach is to disaggregate the interlinked issues of Awka kingship, the ADUN and Ọzọ Awka Society crises, tackling each separately.
ADUN Crisis: Short-Term Solutions
TAP members have deep familiarity with the ADUN crisis. Some have been involved in ADUN leadership or in pre-TAP conciliation efforts. As such, they have significant insights on the crisis. For the short term, the group is adopting the following conflict resolution methods:
- Withdrawal of Court Cases: TAP considers that the suits and countersuits filed by different camps will not produce a viable result, so it is actively lobbying all sides to withdraw the court case.
- Meeting of Past PGs: TAP conducted extensive stakeholders interviews as precursor to face-to-face stakeholder conferences. Two conferences held so far, though with uncertain results.
- Concert of Stakeholders: With mixed results from the two conferences so far convened, and in light of the recent resumption of litigation, TAP is attempting to use a concert of highly respected Awka statesmen and stakeholders to persuade the combatants to withdraw the suits and agree to a joint ADUN election.
- Caretaker Committee: The proposed joint election is to be conducted by a caretaker committee to set up which a prior approval should be sought from government. It is important for Anambra State Government to show greater impartiality in the matter.
Kingship Crisis: Short-Term Solutions
TAP has not yet begun to focus on the kingship issue, although Awka Times is aware that the issue is within scope. There are many short-term options for an inroad into the kingship issue.
- Peace Conference: TAP has mooted the idea of a Truth Commission to tackle the deeply entrenched kingship crisis. TAP has not initiated any specific actions on this front. It will require great diplomatic skills to persuade the two kingship claimants, along with their factions within the Ọzọ Awka Society, Council of Kingmakers and other structures, to commit to such a conference. TAP strategy here must be pursuit of peace through strength. That is, while seeking a diplomatic resolution, Awka must apply some pressure on the rivals by raising the threat of a demand for mutual surrender.
- Mutual Surrender (Nuclear Option): In the event that a peace conference is impossible to organize, or if organized, fails to end the kingship rivalry, TAP should ask both kingship contenders, Eze Uzu II, Gibson Nwosu, and Ọzọ Augustine Ndigwe, to stand down, in a kind of mutual surrender. Awka could devise a combination of inducements and pressures force the option of a simultaneous surrender, if it becomes necessary.
- Building Pressure: To build pressure, TAP should consider a Third Force strategy. This means building a coalition of non-aligned elites and mobilizing the masses around a Third Force. Planning for the Third Force should be done secretly. But once announced, the group should do the following:
- Kingmakers, Ndu Ọzọ and Other Title Holders: Try to peel off support for either crown among these elite groups.
- Silent Notables: Reach out to silent and uncommitted Awka notables. Most of them are probably disgusted with the deterministic choice currently on display and are choosing to stay out of it. TAP should draw up a list of such notables.
- Socialization and Mobilization: Mount a campaign to educate the populace, using the public media and other grassroots-level tactics
- Plebiscite: Conduct a plebiscite at home to record public support for the Third Way
- Awka in Diaspora: Reach out to Awka people in the Nigerian and global diaspora
- Potential Legal Action: As a last resort, threaten legal action. Both contender do suffer some legal jeopardy.
- ANSG: TAP should lead effort to persuade Anambra State Government to withdraw support for Nwosu and help to prosecute the Third Way, in the interest of peace in the capital city.
- Inducements: Whilst building up pressure as outlined above, the Third Force should also seek ways to incentivize the two contenders. This might include financial rewards, honorary acclaim, positions within the Anambra State Government, etc. to afford them a dignified and face-saving exit.
- Regency Period: TAP should recommend that Awka should ask Eze Uzu II – consulting with Ndu Ọzọ, Council of Kingmakers, and Anambra State Government – to select someone from his village, Amikwo, to serve as regent for six months – in accordance with the Traditional Ruler Amended Constitution of 1986 – until the selection of a new Eze Uzu.
- Selection of New Eze Uzu: With a regent in place, Nkwelle Village, which is next in the succession line, should be invited to nominate a homegrown candidate for the next Eze Uzu, and not transfer the mandate to some other village.
A major contradiction of contemporary community leadership in Awka is that the institutions of kingship (Eze Uzu) and Awka Development Union Nigeria (ADUN) – both of which are relatively new in the annals of Awka leadership history – do enjoy statutory recognition, whereas their older counterparts – which have served Awka for millennia – do not. The relegation of the primordial leadership institutions in Awka is particularly vivid in the case of Izu Awka and Ozo Awka Society.
But even the “new” leadership institutions are not without their own handicap. Whilst ostensibly imbued with statutory authority, these bodies are nonetheless unfounded in the Nigerian constitution. They are entirely dependent on the state government for the legal validity and funding. Thus, not constitutionally founded and yet without cultural provenance, these entities have tended to defer to a state government which regulates and remunerates them.
The foregoing sets up the background for TAP’s long-term solutions for leadership reform in Awka. Much of TAP’s long-term ideas centre around constitutional reform, institutional revitalization, and behavioral reorientation. TAP has come out with a blueprint with the following strategic thrusts:
- To develop a unified constitution that will regulate Awka governance institutions. Such a constitution will originate from the peculiar cultural precepts of Awka people, recalling their rich history and heritage. The constitution will of course incorporate the appropriate federal and state laws, recognizing their respective authority, but it will be anchored on the fundamental precepts and cultural norms that give Awka its unique identity as an ancient civilization.
- To reposition Izu Awka as the apex authority in Awka which harnesses other Awka institutions to ensure the emergence of a Great Awka Society that is peaceful and progressive.
- To develop a governance structure that will empower Izu Awka to handle all matters concerning Awka people, without infringing the Nigerian Constitution or any other extant Federal or State Government rules and regulations.
- To register Izu Awka with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) as a corporate entity; create an Awka Single Account and develop a fiscal system through which all funds for Awka should be received; and empower Izu Awka to administer such account and seek legal assistance on behalf of Awka people.
- To strengthen the Eze Uzu institution so that it can effectively play its role as the embodiment of Awka custom, tradition, culture and way of life.
- To glorify the Eze Uzu institution and accord utmost respect to any incumbent Eze Uzu, enabling him to discharge his duties in a manner that reflects the prestige of the institution.
- To revive Awka traditional Judicial System in a way that supports statutory institutions, allowing local disputes to be resolved through communal conflict resolution mechanisms; this may also help to unburden the Government’s judicial and law enforcement
- To reposition the Awka Development Union Nigeria (ADUN) so that it can carry out its developmental and administrative functions to the greatest benefit of Awka Town.
TAP recognizes that its proposals for institutional reform will flounder if not founded on moral revival. As such, it is advocating the reorientation of Awka leadership towards service and personal integrity. A TAP report obtained by Awka Times bemoans the excessive “greed” that seems to drive leadership aspirants in Awka, and urges “anyone wishing to serve [Awka to] forget every form of personal quest but see it as a call to service.”
The road ahead for leadership settlement and peace in Awka will be long and arduous. It will not be easy to solve the deep-rooted crisis. Nor will it be easy to reform and streamline Awka leadership institutions. However, a creative and determined approach could help Awka resolve the immediate challenges, to clear the Augean Stable and then begin the long journey to institutional development.
- Dr Chudi Okoye is the Secretary of the True Awka People (TAP)