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The desecration of the traditional institution in Igbo land

By Okechukwu Nwanguma

The Anti-Kidnapping Team of the Imo State Police Command led by the able Commander, the former PRO of the State Command, SP Linus Nwaiwu, deserves commendation for its gallantry in the arrest of a traditional ruler, among other suspects, in Imo State last week, for alleged involvement in kidnapping.

Although the Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers issued a statement disowning the accused as not being a traditional ruler (although he contested for the traditional stool in his community), it is still valid to state that the traditional institution is captured and corrupted because more than once before, monarchs have been implicated in such criminal ventures.

But the news that a traditional ruler was involved in such heinous crime shouldn’t come as a surprise to any keen observer of developments in Igbo land in the last two decades.

The author, Okechukwu Nwanguma
The author, Okechukwu Nwanguma

The hijack of the traditional institution in most of Igbo land (and perhaps some other parts of Nigeria) and it’s infiltration by people of questionable character whose only credential is that they are either men of wealth or are connected to people with political influence marked a turning point in the history of that once sacred and revered institution.

Times and values have changed. What was considered in the time past as unthinkable and abominable became today’s norm and normal. Yesterday’s villains became today’s heroes and the new brand role models for the youth, shaping their thinking, moral values, worldviews, orientation and aspirations.

Prior to the later era of decadence, social acceptance of individuals in traditional communities was based on hard work, integrity and noble achievements in learning and character. But with the era of decadence it is now determined by how much money and brute force individuals can muster. Character, learning, moral rectitude and integrity were relegated. Debauchery became glorified. Should it then be any wonder that in both traditional, political and even religious leadership settings, shere wealth and ‘connection’ to privilege is the prevailing and determining factor over fitness, suitability, qualification and community acceptance based on high moral standards? Being ‘poor’ and not ‘connected’ disqualifies you even if you wear uprightness as cloth. But if you can flaunt wealth, never mind the means, you can either buy off or intimidate the majority and have your way. The pervase philosophy and rationalisation of ‘the end justifies the means’ became the new mantra. With your money and influence, you can place yourself above the collective will of the community.

Therefore, political hijack and infiltration marked the end of the glorius era when the emergence of a traditional ruler was based on the will and consent of the community and the position, the exclusive preserve of nobility and royalty; essentially of men of character, integrity and truth.

By my recollection, the tragic transition from the former order (when the community chose or elected and endorsed its traditional ruler) to the later (when vile politicians and men of illicit wealth and influence assumed ascendancy) happened in Imo State under the Achike Udenwa administration when Udenwa, as governor, notoriously carved up communities, created fiefdoms and imposed or enabled the imposition of his ambitious cronies and loyalists on their various communities which did not accept them as traditional rulers.

In some of such communities, their were community resistance to such desecration and corruption of traditional democracy leading to disputes, divisions and intra community conflicts. Many hitherto peaceful and united communities became torn apart and embroiled in conflicts with some resulting to loss of lives and destruction of property and unresolved bad blood. In some communities, such conflicts persist till today.

This dangerous trend continued under successive administrations which continued to balkernise or encouraged the balkernisation of communities to create new fiefdoms for government appointed or sanctioned ‘traditional rulers’ who lack popular acceptance by their ‘subjects’.

It is not in all communities in Imo State today that the traditional rulers are the choices of the majority members of the community or that the traditional rulers enjoy popular acceptance and respect among their people. Many communities have remained in perpetual conflict or only ‘enjoy’ the peace of the graveyard.

Only few among the generation of the famous and revered traditional rulers of the good old days are still alive. Of course, there are few among the later day traditional rulers who meet the basic character, integrity and rectitude which the occupiers of the traditional stools in the past glorious era of sanity were known for.

But there is a surfeit of characters like the ‘traditional ruler’ arrested for alleged involvement in kidnapping. There are many documented cases across the country of some traditional rulers involved in all sorts of crimes and vices including fraud, land grabbing, exploitation and oppression of the poor and helpless in their communities.

Prior to the case of the ‘traditional ruler’ in Imo State arrested for kidnapping, Imo State Police Command was already investigating another case of alleged involvement by yet another traditional ruler in the State in the torture and cruel treatment of a 16-year-old boy after maliciously framing the innocent lad with the crime of armed robbery. The traditional ruler is also accused of extorting money and land from the boy’s father as a condition to free his only son from unlawful detention which he is also accused of masterminding.

One Mr. Chimezie Joseph of Umuoma Ogbe in Ahiazu Mbaise LGA, Imo State reported that his 16-year-old son, Chimezie Wisdom was arrested in the evening of 6/7/20 on his way to dispose refuse. He said he was seized by some youths of the community led by one Camilus Ike and taken before the traditional ruler of Ogbe autonomous community, Ahiazu Mbaise LGA Eze Patrick Ihuoma.

He said the Traditional ruler and some of the youth tortured his son and inflicted grievous bodily injuries on him, hiting him with sticks and using flames of fire from a burning wood to burn his body in a bid to force him to confess that he is an armed robber. He continuously denied the allegation. He further said that the traditional ruler personally hit his son on the head and back with wood and he has since then been suffering severe headache. He said the youths also used machetes to brutalise and inflict serious injuries on his back.

He said after seriously battering and grievously injuring his son, the traditional ruler handed him over to the police at the local Ahiazu Police Division.

Mr. Chimezie Joseph said he went to the traditional ruler and pleaded for the release of his son but the traditional ruler demanded the sum of five thousand Naira (N5000) from him to fuel his car and an additional sum of two thousand five hundred Naira (N2500) which he said was in lieu of traditional hot drink for him as a traditional ruler, to go and ‘beg’ the police to release his son. But it turned out that the traditional ruler deceived and defrauded him.

He said the traditional ruler instead went to the DPO and ensured that the boy was not released but rather had the case transferred to the State CID, Owerri where a corrupt police officer Tom detained the boy for 16 days without granting him access to his father or to medical treatment for his serious injuries. The officer was demanding money – initially 500k and later 250k- to release the ‘armed robbery’ suspect.

Mr. Chimezie Joseph said after several efforts to secure the release of his son, and realising that the police officer involved in the case was in cahoots with the traditional ruler to extort more money from him, he had to approach the traditional ruler again, still pleading the innocence of his son and appealing for his help to have his son released. He said the traditional ruler asked him to give up his ‘land or company’ or give him the sum of 500 thousand Naira for his son to be released.

He said that the persecution of his son arose from a community dispute and in order to get at him, ‘they’ decided to frame his innocent son- his only child, with ‘armed robbery’ without stating who was robbed, where and when. He said some community members who have issues with his mother-inlaw whom his son has been staying with connived with the said traditional ruler and ‘the youth leader’, Camilus Ike to label his son in order to exert revenge. He said his son is not the first in the community to be victimized by the traditional ruler, who he said is not yet formally coronated due to some controversies in the community surrounding his emergence as traditional ruler.

The boy was eventually released on the orders of the DCP State CID when his plight and the activities of the IPO and the traditional ruler were brought to his attention.

On the directives of the Commissioner of Police, Imo State, the activities of the police officer, the traditional ruler of Ogbe, Ahiazu Mbaise LGA Eze Patrick Ihuoma and the community youth led by Camilus Ike (frame up, torture and extortion) are currently under investigation. The Commissioner of Police Imo State has ordered the summon of all the parties including the traditional ruler, Carmelius and the IPO.

We are watching!

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