BY JOE IGBOKWE
There is this adage in Igboland which says that when elders are not at home children may wear snakes as necklaces. Another one says only a foolish elder will be at home when a she goat delivers while in tether. The holy Book added a great voice when it says; woe betides a nation whose leaders are children. Another school of thought rebuked that evil triumphs in any society when good men do nothing.
The needless encounter between HRH Deji of Akure and Mr Gregory Iloehike who is claiming to be the Ezeigbo in Akure has once again put in the front burner the vexed issue of Ezeigbo outside Igboland in Nigeria. In the South West, Northern Nigeria and even South South this recurring decimal, noise and confusion about Ezeigbo titles outside Igboland has lingered on for too long for it to be given a deserved attention. Disturbed by the deluge of crisis being generated in cities outside Igboland by the so-called Ezeigbo titles few years back, Ohaneze Ndigbo asked that the title should be Onyendu Ndigbo not Ezeigbo. Few of these jesters and impostors complied for a while but within a very short time these clowns returned to continue to embarrass themselves and Igboland. I had thought that Ohaneze will stand up to carry the big stick and beat these pretenders back on the track but not Ohaneze. I had thought that Ohaneze will write a strong letter to all governors outside Igboland to convey their strong position on this very important matter but not Ohaneze. I had thought that Ohaneze will go the extra mile in introducing heavy sanctions for any nonentity that will flout the directive but not Ohaneze. Rather we have continued to live with this comic drama and primitive display of inanities outside Igboland.
In Lagos we have these Ezeigbos in all the 54 local governments and LCDAs and this writer has witnessed all the troubles and confusion associated with this misnomer. One Chief Nwachukwu who lives in Okota in Isolo and one Chief Ohazurike who lives in Oko Oba, Agege have engaged each other in a supremacy contest of who will be the Ezeigbo of the whole of Lagos for years now with no respite in sight. At a time Mr Babalola , the former Chief of Staff Lagos wrote to me to help him clarify the real Ezeigbo of Lagos among the two. I never reported back to the Chief of Staff of Lagos because I considered the drama as a needless distraction that needed no government attention. While Ohazurike is tilting towards PDP, Nwachukwu pitched his tent with APC. It is all about politics of the stomach and that of survival.
But how did we come to this sorry pass that ordinary people who left Igboland in search of a better life in other parts of Nigeria got themselves entangled in this power struggle in order to get something to eat? Who introduced this aberration into our moral and cultural lexicon? Who are the progenitors of this shenanigan outside Igboland? What points were they trying to score in the first place? What is the purpose? Is it another form of buying and selling phenomenon Igbo is known for all over the world? Is Ezeigbo title now goods to be sold in an open market? What is the benefit or for whose benefit? When these Ezeigbos get to Igboland what do we call them? Do we call them Igwes or Obis when the royals gather? Does anybody know the background and antecedents of these people who parade themselves as Ezeigbos?
From my little investigations I have found out that these local Ezeigbos left Igboland as common traders, carpenters , bricklayers, motor mechanics, barbers, house boys, drivers, apprentices, etc. Some of them made some money in business and needed some political power to raise their status both at home and outside Igboland . Some are failed businessmen who are looking for a way to earn a living and be important again. Some resort to it to attract attention to themselves and attract political, social and economic patronage. All they need to do is to buy red caps and piece together some attires that look royal and kingly. Some of them who are landlords build meeting halls in their compounds where they call palaces. Soon they will start inviting people of like minds to start coming to meetings. Soon they start organizing new yam festivals just to get gifts, money inclusive. Paid singers and drummers will also be in attendance to make the drama to be complete. Elections times are also times for government recognition and money is involved also. The local Ezeigbos get money from governments for mobilization and support. At government functions they are sometimes invited to add colour to the event. Politicians use them a lot to try to reach Igbo in their local governments and development areas. It is pure business and those who know about the gains have seized the space and they are not in a hurry to let go. No wonder the craze is now all over Nigeria except Igboland.
The Ezeigbo title outside Igboland may be an embarrassment to Igbo culture and dignity but politicians outside Igboland exploit it to their own advantage. While the governors and other politicians need them to win elections, the Obas and Kabiyesis see them as intruders, interlopers and impostors who are encroaching into their kingdoms. They see them as rivals and competitors who are taking some of what belong to them. They see it as a case of two captains in one boat given the way the Ezeigbos carry themselves about with deafening noise and arrogance. This is the reason why HRH The Deji of Akure is fighting back. The real king does not want a fake king in his kingdom. The Deji of Akure does not want a divided kingdom or divided royalty. He wants total control of his people including those who came from other lands.
I suggest that Igbo leaders especially Ohaneze Ndigbo should move into action now and stop this nonsense forever working with the governors outside Igboland. We must produce a position paper on it and compel our people to abide by it. We must stamp our feet down by doing the needful before it gets out of hand. Our people must care about the feelings of other Nigerians outside Igboland where they do businesses and must be told in the strongest terms to respect the rules of engagement and rules of business anywhere they are. This craze for titles outside Igboland is making a mockery our tradition, culture and cherished ideals. Now, who are these Ezeigbos? What are their pedigree? What do they do for a living? Where are they coming from? Do we know whom they are and what they represent? What is their status in their home towns? A situation where drug kingpins, 419ers, armed robbers, kidnappers, failed businessmen hide under Ezeigbo titles to continue to embarrass us calls for immediate attention and concrete actions. We cannot continue to pretend that all is well when these pretenders sow seeds of discord between our people and the host communities. We need to convince other Nigerians that we care about peaceful co-existence and the need to understand our differences. We need to have the courage to do away with this dangerous trend which tends to cause disaffection between us and the host communities across Nigeria. Let us abolish this Ezeigbo title outside Igboland for peace to reign.
—Igbokwe wrote from Lagos
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