Travels by Maurice Archibong, 3-time winner, travel & tourism
reporter of the year email@example.com 08056180050
Count us out –Igbo Elders’ Forum
‘…There’s no going back’
A row has broken out among members of Igbo community in Ghana over planned installation of an Eze Ndi Igbo in the former Gold Coast. Interestingly, two dates; September 9 and September 15, have been slated for the coronation of two rival aspirants. And these contestants’ lore is a thriller, brimming with intrigue, complacency, obduracy, dynamism and antagonism; all rolled into one. Seeking to be crowned as Eze Ndi Igbo in Ghana on September 9, is Chief Geoffrey Nmuokwougwo alias Ichie Gburugburu, immediate-past president of Igbo Community in Ghana.
On the other hand, arrangements have also been concluded for the coronation of Chief Chukwudi Jude Ihenetu as Eze Ndi Igbo in Ghana on September 15. Billed to take place at Efua Sutherland Park, Ihenetu’s coronation is an elaborate four-day affair interspersed with a lecture, New Yam Festival, display of Igbo cuisine, Igbo traditional dances and costumes as well as a pageant to pick Ada-Igbo Beauty Queen, among others.
Speaking with Travels in Accra, Chief Ihenetu enthusiastically declared that numerous social and political heavyweights, both Ghanaians and Nigerians, have accepted his invitation to grace the occasion with their presence. This should not come as a surprise, for Ihenetu said he is Chairman, Board of Trustees, Ghana Chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and also the founder of Ambassadors’ Club of Nigeria in Ghana.
However, where both coronation ceremonies take place, Igbo people in Ghana would have two kings, which naturally prompts the question: Can a ship have two captains? Interestingly, even as the issue of whether any of the two known aspirants is actually qualified was still being considered, more and more Igbos in Ghana were also warming up to be crowned Eze Igbo there. If allowed to continue, the situation could snowball into one with “More Chiefs than Indians” and this, probably, informed the decision by some respectable Igbo elders to wade in, to avert confusion.
This group of Nigerian elders and technocrats, living in Ghana for decades, is anxious to alert the world that they have no hands in what one septuagenarian described as “an attempt to create confusion”. But, before Travels eventually encountered 11 of these established community leaders at a roundtable inside Paloma Hotel, Accra; we were treated to a primer inside a suite at Golden Oyster Hotel located in the Caprice neighbourhood of Kokomlemle in the Ghanaian capital. Apart from the 11 elders and leaders, who described themselves as Patrons; Travels also engaged Chief Hyacinth Nwoke, Chairman of Igbo Community in Tamale in a telephone conversation on the issue. Speaking during the preamble, before we set out for Paloma Hotel, venue of the roundtable proper; Hon. Joseph Obi, who is Asante Region President-elect of All Nigerians Community Union and 2nd Vice Chairman of Nigerian Union of Traders in Ghana (NUTAG); was keen to emphasise that the issue of a king for Igbo community in Ghana “is not our priority, now”.
Chief Nwoke, Igbo Leader in Tamale, expressed similar sentiment. Also at the roundtable, aside Hon Obi, a former President of Nigerian Youth Association (NYA); were: Chief Onyema Ndaraku, incumbent President, Igbo Community in Ghana; Sir Raphael Nwosu, an alumnus of University of Ibadan who has been living in Ghana since 1967; Sir Festus Onyeaghala; Dim Ikenna Molokwu, an ex-President of NYA and currently, NYA Patron for Asante Region; Chief John Chukwu Okorie, President of Igbo Community in Kumasi; Chief Felix Egbochukwu, NYA Life Patron; Chief Edwin O. Odumodu; Prince Emmanuel Okeson; Mr. Benson Chika Okorie; and, Chief Francis Okoro. At these elders’ and leaders’ forum, everyone seemed to agree that; though the primary concern of all Igbo living in Ghana was their economic interest, it might not be a bad idea to have an Igbo king as a rallying point for the preservation of Igbo culture. However, the forum was unanimous that the current timing for coronation of an Eze ndi Igbo in Ghana was wrong.
Hear Mr. Okorie, a medical equipment merchant resident in Ghana since 1978: “We deserve to have a traditional leader, but; whoever wants to mount the saddle must meet certain criteria. Such a person must be law-abiding, and an active member of Igbo community in Ghana. The aspirant must be a personality known to all Igbos in Ghana. But, as of now; we don’t have enough information on any aspirant. So, I’m against coronation of anyone as Eze ndi Igbo in Ghana; for now”. Echoing similar reservation; Prince Okeson, resident in Ghana since 1985; declared: “I think Igbos should have a king in Ghana; after all, Hausa and Yoruba have their king here.
However, I am against any coronation now because the timing is simply not right”. In the same vein, Chief Odumodu said: “For now, we don’t need any eze because there are other more-pressing matters to address”. On his part, Sir Onyeaghala opined: “I don’t think kingship is our problem here. For now, there are more important causes to address. If, in the future; our people want an Eze ndi Igbo in Ghana, then they could have one.
For now, however, an Eze ndi Igbo in Ghana is the least of our needs”. Further buttressing this position, Sir Raphael submitted: “With my 45-years’ experience living in Ghana, I will not back any Eze ndi Igbo throne here, for now”. But, when asked what time the installation of an Igbo king in Ghana could be considered auspicious in their opinion, none of these leaders was forthcoming with any future date, year or decade, even.
And, this lacuna would be seized upon by Chief Ihenetu and his protagonists. Hear the quip of Mr. Kelechukwu Ike, fondly called KK: “Even if these elders have all the time in the world; they may never come up with any king”. Those who hold this view were quick to point out that for over half a century, opponents of any coronation never thought it necessary to have an Eze; therefore, even if “they (elders and patrons) are given another millennium, we will still not have an eze”; rued KK, who is author of a book on Nigeria, entitled, Where do we go from 50. In any case, the elders were keen to emphasise that they are not against any of the aspirants. In this regard, elders reminded that Igbos living in Ghana had other priorities. Perhaps, most pressing of all the challenges they face is the issue of registration of their businesses, over which the shops of countless Igbo merchants had been shut across Ghana in the last three years.
Another matter that Igbo people resident in Ghana believe calls for urgent resolution is the reconciliation of all ndi Igbo in that country. It could be recalled that Igbos in Ghana found their umbrella body suddenly fragmented over dispute arising from change of name from Igbo Community to Ohaneze ndi Igbo in Ghana. Travels was told that Chief Nmuokwougwo (Ichie Gburugburu) had, while still President of Igbo Community in Ghana sought to adopt Ohaneze ndi Igbo in Ghana as new epithet for Igbo Community Union in the former Gold Coast, but; while such a change of appellation was being considered, Nmuokwougwo’s tenure as Igbo leader had come to an end.
And, voila! Instead of waiting for his successor to preside over the name-change or otherwise, a body known as Ohaneze ndi Igbo in Ghana was allegedly registered surreptitiously. We were told that for his inexplicable motive and haste in rushing to register Ohaneze in Ghana, Chief Nmuokwougwo was consequently sacked from the body of Patrons of Igbo Community Union in that country. Critics of Ichie Gburugburu claim the immediate-past leader of Igbo people in Ghana did what he did because of his alleged intention to emerge as Eze ndi Igbo through the back door. These cynics pointed out that the decision to include installation of Ichie Gburugburu as Eze, Ohaneze ndi Igbo in Ghana among events of the planned inauguration of Ohaneze ndi Igbo in Ghana on September 9 is proof of the man’s alleged scheme to have himself crowned.
It is, however, worth noting that some members at the leaders’ and patrons’ forum revealed that; whereas, Ihenetu formally made his aspiration known to some eminent Igbo personalities through homages he paid; Ichie Gburugburu never did so. Albeit, they also argued that Igbo people in Ghana must have a hand in selecting anybody that would be their traditional leader. Their position is based on the fact that “any Eze ndi Igbo as leader of Igbos in Ghana must be chosen by the community such a king would lead” and not foisted upon them by “someone or some people in Lagos”, as they put it. Moreover, they also submitted that there are procedures that must be followed before any aspirant was accepted as Eze-designate.
“We, the elders, must vet the character of any candidate. As our potential traditional leader, we must ensure that the Eze is someone without blemish, in terms of character. We must know where the person is coming from; his source of income, qualifications and whether or not the aspirant is truly conversant with Igbo culture”, explained one of the elders. Indeed, one antagonist of Chief Ihenetu’s aspiration was keen to remind: “Charity begins at home”.
This was a veiled allusion to Chief Ihenetu’s wife’s nationality and this critic would soon tip his hand, when he added: “If Ihenetu loves Igbo culture so much, why did he not marry an Igbo lady? He is married to a Ghanaian. Now, if he becomes Eze; we will have a Lolo that cannot speak Igbo. So, how many years will this Lolo spend before coming to grips with Igbo tradition and way of life?” Interestingly, even before this last speaker was through; another leader had interjected: “Apart from all these, with Ghana’s presidential election around the corner; you would agree with us that the issue of coronation should be suspended for now”.
Reminiscent of the riddle of the hen and the egg: Which came first? Igbo elders hold the view that, a chief should be installed in each of Ghana’s 10 regions first of all. Thereafter, a central authority could emerge in the person of Eze ndi Igbo of Ghana through a selection from this conclave of chiefs. On the other hand, Ihenetu’s camp argues that with an Eze ndi Igbo in Ghana on ground, the process of mobilising the various communities in Ghana’s 10 regions would be easier. “Why are they just coming up with this grassroots thing, now? They have been here for over 50 years without an Eze but seeing that some people have made up their minds to install a traditional leader for us, these so-called elders want to put a spanner in the works”, charged one pro-Ihenetu element. In 1995, after living in Lagos for some years, Ihenetu relocated to Ghana in search of the proverbial greener pastures.
Today, he is widely regarded as a wealthy entrepreneur with fingers in different pies. However, the scoff of one Igbo elder resident in Ghana was: “He is still a small boy. He can be rich but money cannot make you Eze”. Responding to the conclusion reached by 11 patrons and leaders of Igbo community in Ghana after the roundtable at Paloma Hotel, Chief Ihenetu said there was “no going back”. He stressed that his planned coronation had reached a point of no return. Hear Ihenetu: “If they had expressed any opposition to my installation from the beginning, I would not have pursued this ceremony.
Curiously, many of the same people now seeking to dissociate themselves from my planned coronation, had collected traditional homage, including choice drinks, from me and pledged their support, when I went to make my intention known to them several months ago”. Hear Mr. Kalu Chukwuma, apparently a staunch supporter of Ihenetu: “These people you call patrons…who are they patronising? I have been in this country for over 10 years but I’ve never felt their presence”. Speaking further, Chukwuma, who introduced himself as a 28-year-old barber charged: “Do these elders and patrons know how many Igbo boys are languishing in prison in this country? People that will never stick out their neck to rescue a distraught Igbo youth are calling themselves my elders.
When Igbo youth have problems, they go to people that can help them: This is why we want Chief Chukwudi Jude Ihenetu as our Eze because he has proven over the years that he is caring. He cares for every Igbo, both young and old”. In his contribution, another Ihenetu fan; a well-educated technocrat, who asked not to be named; declared: “To say that a man would be disqualified because his wife is Ghanaian amounts to discrimination. If we find Ghana good enough for us to live in, we should also consider their people as equal, when it comes to choosing a partner”. However, it is worth pointing out that this speaker is; like Ihenetu, an Igbo man with a Ghanaian spouse. Apparently, to avoid the matter becoming twisted, one elder had jumped in to explain: “No one is saying that there is anything wrong with marrying a Ghanaian. In fact, countless Igbo men and women are married to Ghanaians. But, the throne is a traditional thing.
An eze, as custodian of Igbo tradition, must have a Lolo that can communicate in the same language of the womenfolk, for whom she is queen”. Ihenetu again: “For over 50 years, we have been struggling like sheep without shepherd. For how long shall we continue like this? Our youth have suffered enough. Now, we; the younger ones and, for too long, victims of some conservatives’ complacency; have decided to move on”. With eyes filled with sorrow, Chief Ihenetu queried: “My brother, why are our people like this?” He was however quick to recover from that fleeting betrayal by emotion. On numerous instances, he was keen to remind that the dream to be crowned Eze ndi Igbo in Ghana was not really his own. “For over 10 years, every Igbo youth has been addressing me as such. It was the youth’s decision that I should formalise this title and I started the plan for my formal installation many months ago, after due consultation with many elders and patrons”.
When asked if he was worried that his chances of becoming Eze ndi Igbo in Ghana could be dimmed because his wife is non-Igbo; this is what Ihenetu had to say: “I am happily married to Mrs. Liberty Ihenetu. My wife is a Ghanaian and we are blessed with three lovely children. I am proud of my Igbo heritage and also proud of my cross-cultural family and my host country. I think those that say I am not qualified to be Eze because my wife is Ghanaian are misguided. Eze ndi Igbo in Ghana is a throne in the Diaspora, so; being married to Ghanaian, for me; is an asset, really”.
Interjecting, KK thundered; “My brother, I’m surprised that some of our people think this way, sometimes. To me, Chief Ihenetu already has an advantage here because his Ghanaian-born Lolo would serve as a link between Igbo women and Ghanaian womenfolk easily. I am shocked that some of our people want to turn a man’s advantage into a disadvantage”.
Travels could not meet Ichie Gburugburu because the Ohaneze leader in Ghana said he was very busy. When we called his number in the morning of Monday, August 27, Ichie Gburugburu said he was attending to some very urgent matter in connection with his forthcoming coronation. In the afternoon of the same day, the chief said he was at a meeting and that he would call us as soon as the meeting was over. When we called again, some two hours later, Chief Gburugburu asked us where we were: “I’m at Tudu Motor park, but; if you could squeeze out 10 minutes to speak with us, I’ll suspend my journey out of Accra to come and have a chat with you, Chief”, we had said. Chief Gburugburu: “O, my dear; I’m very sorry that we cannot meet today because you are leaving town.
I am very far away from Accra right now. But, I’ll be in Lagos on Wednesday and will call you, so that we can meet”. Travels again: “Sir, is it true that you have an event coming up on September 9th?” “Yes. We are having inauguration of Ohaneze ndi Igbo in Ghana on September 9 and I will be crowned Eze ndi Igbo in Ghana on that day”, Chief Gburugburu affirmed. When asked about the venue and time of the event, the chief promised to send us all the details, “including my picture”; if we sent him our e-mail address. The e-mail address was subsequently sent to him, but by Wednesday morning, no mail from the chief could be found in my Inbox. Later, an email sent from one Paul Nwachukwu Emmanuel’s box, but signed by Comrade PE Irechukwu, who introduced himself as Secretary of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Ghana asked Travels to get in touch with him for “authentic information of this issue”. Days later, after numerous attempts to speak with Mr. Irechukwu on phone; he finally took our call.
Irechukwu explained he had been very busy with preparations for the formal inauguration of Ohaneze ndi Igbo, Ghana Chapter. When asked, if Ichie Gburugburu’s photo and CV had been mailed to us; this is what Irechukwu had to say: “If you want any picture or information on any aspirant, please speak to the individual directly. I am Secretary of Ohaneze in Ghana and not secretary to any person”. As things stand, Travels was informed that Igbo community patrons in Ghana got a court injunction restraining Ohaneze in Ghana from carrying out any activity that could lead to the coronation of Ichie Gburugburu as Eze ndi Igbo in Ghana. But, Ohaneze’s scribe in Ghana, Mr. Irechukwu, told Travels the body’s inauguration would still hold on September 15th.
When asked if Ohaneze had any event coming up on September 9 in Ghana, Irechukwu replied: “If you want to know, if our inauguration will come up on the 9th, I can confirm that this event will take place”. Concluding, he said: “For details, I will scan and send an invitation card to you via e-mail. I want you to see this as official invitation to come to Accra and cover the event. In the process, as a witness, you will get the true picture of the situation”. It would seem that the choice of September 9, for the coronation of Ichie Gburugburu is seen as a false start.
Igbo elders in Ghana expressed surprise that after Chief Ihenetu had slated his coronation for September 15, another coronation was billed for an earlier date, September 9; where Ichie Gburugburu would be crowned Eze ndi Igbo. Recall the adage, cunning man die, cunnying man bury am? And the imbroglio eventually waxed into a picture where it wasn’t just enough that one aspirant’s installation date came earlier: The one that was first to breast the tape was likely to carry the day. So, Pronto! Chief Ihenetu was installed Eze ndi Igbo in Ghana on August 30th.
Apparently crying foul! Mr. Irechukwu told Travels that “Ohaneze is the only association with authority to crown anyone Eze ndi Igbo in Diaspora”. Also seeking to play down the significance of Chief Ihenetu’s installation, a supporter of Ichie Gburugburu scoffed: “Those that came to crown him are not very important chiefs”. But, such criticism must be taken with a pinch of salt; for, the President General of Eze ndi Igbo in Diaspora, Chief (Sir) Oliver Akubueze, led the delegation of Igbo chiefs that performed Ihenetu’s monumental rite of passage in Ghana, according to KK.
Additionally, the symbolism thrown up by the presence of the Ga (aborigines of Accra) Traditional Council members and the fact that a Ga chief actually performed the Libation-pouring Ceremony at Ihenetu’s enthronement could not be lost to those steep in such matters. In spite of all these, it must be borne in mind that, the position of Igbo elders, patrons and leaders in Ghana cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand.
As the dispute unfolded, amid conflicting and misleading information filtering in from Ghana, Travels had to make three shuttles to Ghana within the same number of weeks. Our motive? Certainly not to fuel the fire, for we subscribe whole-heartedly to the notion of the patrons, who during the roundtable at Paloma Hotel emphasised the importance of reconciliation of all factions of the Igbo community.
So, where do we go from here? If Chief Ihenetu’s public presentation as Eze ndi Igbo in Ghana goes ahead and he is eventually generally accepted by all Igbos in the old Gold Coast, he would do well to heed the counsel of patrons of Igbo community there to toe the path of reconciliation. Indeed, this chief alluded to this, when he mused: “At the end of everything, no king can rule alone. Successful kings generally thrive on the advice of wise ones in the community. So, everyone, young and old, will have a role to play at Ama Obi ndi Igbo in Ghana”.