By Sunny Mbila
An autonomous community can be described as a group of people who share a common identity based on their cultural and traditional boundaries, with a Traditional Ruler chosen by the community according to their tradition and usage. The concept of autonomous community in Igbo land can be traced back to pre-colonial era, where communities existed as independent village unit.
However, a nation-wide reform of local government was initiated by the Federal government in 1976, which resulted in the formal recognition and political support for chieftaincy institutions, leading to the creation of local government structures that still exist today. Autonomous communities were established as a constituency for would-be chiefs, with the chieftaincy edict of 1978 formally establishing the Eze or Chieftaincy institution in each autonomous community.
The noble reason for the creation of autonomous communities was to decentralise governance, making it more accessible to the grassroots level, and promoting development partnerships between the government and these communities. The communities were also expected to generate revenue independently, embark on development projects, and assist in maintaining security by utilizing their grassroots intelligence network.
Analysing the impact of the creation of Autonomous Communities in Ohafia
There are 15 autonomous communities in Ohafia made up of 26 villages.
The villages in Ohafia are:
The 26 villages in Ohafia are:
Elu, Amuma, Asaga, Akanu, Amaekpu, Amangwu, Ibina, Amuke, Ebem, Nkwebi, Abia, Amankwu, Eziafor, Isiugwu, Oboro, Okagwe, Okon, Ufiele, Ndi Amogu, Ndi Aku, Ndi Anyaorie, Ndi Ibe, Ndi Okala, Ndi Orieke, Ndi Uduma Awoke and Ndi Uduma Ukwu.
The 15 autonomous communities in Ohafia are:
Akanu Ukwu, Asaga Ukwu, Amangwu Anaga Uka, Ania, Amaedo, Isiama, Owuwa Anyanwu, Ebem-Oha, Eziafor Ukwu, Okon Aku, Nkwebi, Amaibe, Ekelogo, Amaukwu and Eziukwu
In Abia State, the administrative structure of governance, as outlined in the State Law of 1991 (as amended), grants autonomous traditional rulers the authority to govern recognized autonomous communities.
Refer to attached publication on the Autonomous Communities in Ohafia Clan by HRH Eze Igwe Ojike (MON) ANNEX A and a rejoinder to the said publication written and signed by the 26 Ezieogos and members, Council of Ohafia Monarchs. ANNEX B
AUTONOMOUS COMMUNITIES IN OHAFIA CLAN
BY HRH EZE IGWE OJIKE (MON)
& NTO ALI AKU OF OHAFIA.
1) In my frequent discussions on the effect of the creation of various autonomous communities in our culture and tradition; and on our structure of Government, I have come to realize that a good number of people are not very conversant with the Provisions of Abia State law No. 8 of 1991 (as amended); and consequently, do not understand or fully appreciate its implications and practical effects on the tradition and governance structure of the Ohafia Clan.
2) This brief write-up is intended to illuminate and explain the various grey areas of the law so that people can fully appreciate its impact on our society. 3) LAW No. 8 of Abia State of Nigeria 1991 (as amended) brought about a root and branch realignment of town and village structure in Abia State.
It produced seismic and fundamental changes in the governmental structure of the Ohafia Clan. Villages in the Ohafia Clan were reduced from 26 to 15 Autonomous Communities and the Eze-ship institution created.
4) According to the Government in a letter dated 11th April 2011: “The Eze is the Traditional Ruler and Government Representative in the Community. As the society becomes complex, Government in her wisdom creates institutions and structures it deems fit that would help her with the dynamics of modern development changes. Hence, The Abia State Traditional Rulers and Autonomous Communities Law of December 1991 defines an Eze (of an Autonomous Community) as a Traditional Ruler or Head of an Autonomous Community who has been identified, selected, appointed and installed by his people according to their own tradition and usages and presented to the Government for recognition…the role of the Ezie Ogo should be advisory to the Eze of the Autonomous Community… Accordingly, an Ezie Ogo is not allowed to answer HRH or HRM; and confer Chieftaincy Titles.”
5) Functions of an Eze: Section 19/1 states that “In addition to any duties and obligation imposed upon a recognized Eze by tradition and custom, his function shall include following:
a. Representing his Autonomous Community on ceremonial occasions.
b. Receiving important visitors to the Community on ceremonial occasions.
c. Presiding at cultural ceremonies in the community.
d. Acting as the custodian of culture, custom and tradition and advising the Community on them.
e. Assisting in the maintenance of law and order in the Community.
f. Taking steps to reconcile disputing parties in civil matters whether or not such matters which the disputing parties bring him for reconciliation are matters governed by any law of the community.
g. Encouraging development project of the Community.
h. Assisting the state and Local Government in-charge of the Community with collection of taxes and rates.
i. Promoting stability and peace in the Community.
j. Attending meetings by the Chairman of the Local Government Area, for the purposes of consultation and advice.”
Ohafia Clan has been fundamentally restructured. As a consequence, new constitutions and possibly byelaws evolved to regulate intra-community relationships and determine governing structures.
The Ohafia Clan can be classified into three groups: Group A (Metamorphosis) – there are 5 Groups her comprising 14 villages namely: Amaukwu: Amuma, Ufiele, Amaibe, Amuke and Ndi Ibe,
ANIA: Abia, Ndi Uduma Awoke, Isingwu, Amankwu
Isiama: Amaekpu and Elu
Owuwa Anyanwu: Ndi Aku, Ndi Uduma Ukwu, Oboro and Okagwe
These villages surrendered their individualities and decided to go into a union with other villages. They have constitutions and by-laws to regulate their affairs and determine intra-community relationships.
GROUP B (Realignment or Dismemberment) – Here a single village was split into smaller communities: Ebem Oha, Ekelu Ogo, Eziukwu
Ebem Oha went ahead and realigned with other villages, namely: Ihe Nta (Ibina), Ndi Amogu, Ndi Anyaorie, and Ndi Okala
The total number of villages in this group is therefore 5.
Here, it was realized ab initio that the village Development Union was moribund, and therefore; irrelevant in the new order of things and the various Autonomous Communities formed their Development Unions – thus: Ebem Oha Development Association, Ebem Oha Development Union and Eziukwu Ebem Improvement Union.
Each of these new groupings is now performing the functions of the defunct village Development Union.
GROUP C (Evolution) – These were villages that gradually developed into new Communities in a seamless way with only a change of name.
This beguiled the fact of very fundamental changes in their structure and system of Governance. Under this group are: Akanu Ukwu, Amaedo, Amangwu Anaga Uka, Asaga Ukwu, Eziafor Ukwu, Nkwebi and Okon Aku.
8) The Hard Facts: a) The Office of a Traditional Ruler (The Eze) as the head of an Autonomous Community was created by the Law and will remain so until the Law is abolished.
b) Villages as organs or units of Governance as we used to know them have been “abolished” so to say, even though they are still there structurally and physically.
c) Government deals only with the Autonomous Communities. As a case in point, Government invites only the President General, Youth Leaders, Women Leaders of the various communities to meeting for consultation and action. Assuming Government wants to share responsibilities, this will be done accordingly to Autonomous Communities -15 in Ohafia Clan and NOT the 26 villages we are used to. In other words, Abia State Government recognizes and works with the 15 Autonomous Communities that it created and their Traditional Rulers.
d) Government does not recognise the institution of the Ezie Ogo. The duties and responsibility of an Ezie Ogo are assigned or delegated to him by the Eze of the Autonomous Communities in which the Ezie Ogo (or Village Head) belongs.
e) Superficially, it has been ‘business as usual’ for communities in Group C, but in reality, it is not. For example, if the Government wants a meeting with the President General of Ohafia Communities, Amaedo (formally Ndi Orieke) will produce one, Akanu Ukwu (formally, Abia, Ndi Uduma Awoke, Isingwu and Amankwu) will provide one, which is at variance with our village (original) Structure.
f) The present unwillingness or inability of the Ezie Ogos to accept what is on ground is due to the fact that the Ezie Ogo believes that the Traditional Ruler – a creation of the Law – has usurped his traditional functions as a custodian of culture and tradition of his village.
But some of them forget that a number of the Traditional Rulers were Ezie Ogos in their respective Village settings and that the Ezes are not Warrant Chiefs handpicked by the colonialists. The Ezes emerged through legal and democratic process and are therefore not usurpers of the customary functions of the Village heads.
9) Section 19 subsection one has spelt out the functions of the Eze of an Autonomous Community. The functions are comprehensive enough to help a discerning mind deduce their corollaries; and frankly speaking there can be no two captains in a boat – “The Ezeogo” as a nomenclature is foreign to Ohafia culture and tradition.
The failure of majority of people to understand and appreciate the fundamental changes that have taken place in the structure and nature of the government in Group C have had a domino effect on some other Ohafia Communities. The practical paradox is that the Federated Units instead of concentrating on the Unified Development Union like the Abia Union still retains Old Village Associations as if they were recognised by Law. In actual fact, they are NOT.
The wind of change sweeping through the Ohafia Clan from East to West and North to South, brought about by the Abia State Law No. 8 of 1991 (as amended) means that The New Language is community NOT village AND The New Numerical is 15 (fifteen) NOT 26 (twenty-six).
The failure to detect these subtle differences has been the cause of misinterpretation of the law by all and sundry. The sooner we realised this better operational efficiency and functionality of the Unified Development Union in particular and Ohafia Autonomous Community system in general. Q.E.D.
HRH Eze Igwe Ojike (MON)
Ucheoma Nkwebi And Nto Ali Aku of Ohafia.
COUNCIL OF OHAFIA MONARCHS
(ONOKE NDE EZIEOGO OHAFIA)
THE UDUMEZE PALACE, ELU OHAFIA, ABIA STATE, NIGERIA. PHONE: +234 803 8719671
RE – AUTONOMOUS COMMUNITIES IN OHAFIA CLAN BY HIS HIGHNESS, IGWE OJIKE (MON).
OUR DEAR EZE IGWE OJIKE (MON),
The attention of the Council of Ohafia Monarchs has been drawn to your publication on the above subject.
We hail you for your love for the Ohafia nation, which in the first place informed your willingness to write this discourse on the “Autonomous Communities in Ohafia Clan.”
1. Any unbiased person who reads your treatise will have no choice than to ask why you have decided to be a lone-ranger in your pursuit to wage war against Nde Ezieogo Ohafia. We will believe that it is not a case of a vaulting ambition, which usually over-leaps and falls on the other side?
One would have expected you to make use of your accumulated wealth of experience, your academic prowess, your exposure and your aculturisation and status to build the Ohafia values into a most admired system rather than tearing it apart and dismantling its world acclaimed values.
We are tempted to ask what your problem is? Please identify it, and we shall help you to find a solution. Is it the Royal Stool of Ohafia that you are after? … well, Eyes are watching.
We are not unmindful that you have left a legacy of dethroning Nde Ezieogo in Nkwebi to create room for yourself to occupy both the seat of the Ezieogo and that of the Autonomous Community Eze. A Latin adage says “Cave ne Cades” which translates “Take care that you do not fall”. Please do not extend this legacy of yours to Ohafia. In this light, we want to direct you to ensure the immediate reinstatement of Ezieogo of Nkwebi, in line with Ohafia tradition.
2. HISTORICAL FACTS
Let us digress a bit into history and take cursory look at the structure of Traditional Administration in Ohafia before and after the advent of the British Colonialism in Ohafia.
i. Originally, Ohafia was made up of 25 villages known and addressed as (OFU RA ISO – TWENTY-FIVE) and later, Amankwu grew and developed to a village status. The whole of Ohafia agreed to and did accord a village status to Amankwu. Ohafia thus become 26 villages known and addressed as (OFU RA ISHI – TWENTY-SIX)
i. The Village Council/Court:
The administration of each village in Ohafia is essentially on democratic line. The supreme control is lodged in the hands of the village council, which is composed of the Ezieogo of the village together with heads of kindred /families/compounds, and the Ezie Akpan. It is the Ezieogo who presides and announces the verdict of this court.
In summary, the Ezieogo in Council of the various villages are vested with the legislative, judiciary, customary and administrative functions in the community or village.
An unsatisfied litigant in the village council/court may appeal to the clan council/court in Elu Ohafia.
ii. The Clan Council/Court:
In addition to the village council, there exists the clan council made up of all the twenty-six village heads. The Ezieogo of Elu Ohafia who is the chairman of the Ohafia Council of Monarchs and the Udumeze of Ohafia presides. In his absence, the Eze Agba Ohafia, who is the Ezieogo of Amuma Ohafia presides.
This clan meeting of the Ohafia monarchs is called from time to time to discuss issues affecting the whole of Ohafia clan. They also sit to consider appeals emanating from the lower courts – the various village courts. Their verdicts are more often than not admissible in the law courts.
4. Seemingly, you appear to have fallen in love with the Chieftaincy Edicts and Laws of Abia State in so much as they seem to favour your desires, but oblivious of the fact that such Chieftaincy Edicts and Laws has ‘code of conducts’, which means “a list of forbearances set out in the constitution of a community the breach of which by the incumbent Eze is punishable with suspension or deposition of the offending Eze”
5. It may also interest you to note that the said law recognises the existence of our cultural and traditional ways of life and by implication the Ezieogo-ship institutions, especially where there are not found to be repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience.
6. Accordingly, your assertion that government does not recognise the institution of the Ezieogo is misconceived, misleading and mischievous and far from the truth. It is a sacrilege for anyone to discredit and abase the revered throne of our fore fathers the way you have done in your write up. We therefore, urge you to stop sowing seeds of discord that will destroy our custom, tradition, as well as the peace and harmony that we enjoy in Ohafia today.
7. It is pertinent for you to note that the Chieftaincy Edict you have been quoting, provides that Autonomous Ezes should be addressed as His Highness (HH) and not His Royal Highness (a title specifically reserved for Royal Princes and Princesses). It will be stating the obvious to say that you HH Igwe Ojike do not have a drop of Royal blood in your veins.
The Ohafia system of traditional governance is an inheritance from our ancestors. Any attempt to banish it by you or someone else will be resisted because it is not in conflict with the constitutional governments of this country. Rather it is supportive.
8. Ohafia has 26 autonomous and federated villages that demonstrate a true and typical example of Democratic Federalism.
And as you rightly observed, there cannot be two captains in one boat. The Ezieogo is the custodian of all traditional instruments of power and ruler-ship in Ohafia. He is the custodian of
(i). Custom, Tradition and Culture
(v). Otusi / Ofo;
(vi). The Ezieogo is also the only one traditionally authorized to wear double Eagle’s plumage
Please answer these questions if you can.
(i). In an Ohafia set up who decrees that there will be no market and it comes to pass?
(ii). Who decrees that nobody should go to farm and it comes to pass?
(iii). Who decided when new yam will be harvested and celebrated and it remains so?
(iv). If a land is needed for public or organisational use to whom does the applicant go?
(v). If an Autonomous Eze is to be selected and presented who presides, and who presents him?
(vi). If a citizen becomes a thorn in the flesh of the community and proves to be dangerously disposed, who gives order to bring the accused to the town square to prove himself innocent or otherwise?
For the avoidance of any doubt, the answer to the above questions is the Ezieogo – the Ohafia Monarch.
9. Let us again go back into history for further clarification. During the colonial era, the British Colonial government created institutions that would enable them perform certain functions at the grassroots level.
The Ezieogo was assigned the duty of the tax collector. This put the Ezieogo in a most unenviable position. He will get the butt of the government if he fails to collect the tax, and if he collects the tax, his people become disgruntled at being made to pay and being summoned to court for failure to pay. Later, other agents were used to collect taxes, but despite the fact that these agencies operated at the grassroots, the colonial masters were careful not to interfere with the traditional system of the people.
It is, in the light of the above that most communities in Ohafia decided to shield their Ezieogo from political and government interference, and thereby presented an alternative candidate to the Autonomous stool, who may be removed by the government’s whims and caprices.
These government agents were known as Warrant Chiefs. They operated all over Eastern Nigeria, but at no time did they challenge the authority or have conflict with the Obis, Ezes, Obongs, Ezieogos, etc.
These Warrant Chiefs treaded the boundary line of power with caution. Furthermore, Ndi Ezieogo were recognised during the colonial era and that was why the white man went to the Ezieogo to request for a piece of land to build schools, churches, police stations, etc. they did not go to the Warrant Chiefs, just as they do not go to the Autonomous Community Ezes today.
10. Let us revisit pages 5 and 6 of your treatise –
Under group B (Realignment or Dismemberment):
Take note that the truncated Ebem-Oha Autonomous Community metamorphosed into: (i) Ekelogo Autonomous Community – Ezelogo Ebem, (ii) Eziukwu Autonomous Community –Eziukwu Ebem, and (iii) Ebem-Oha Autonomous Community comprising, Mgbaga Ebem, Ihenta (Ibina), Ndi Amogu, Ndi Anyaorie, Ndi Okala
Despite this arrangement, be informed that what is called Ebem Ohafia still exists as a village in Ohafia, with Ezieogo Ukoha Kalu Ukaoha as the Ezieogo of Ebem Ohafia and the Eze of Ekelogo Autonomous Community.
Be informed also that Ebem Ohafia has a development Union known as Ebem Ohafia Development Union. It is not moribund as you claim. It remains the heart of all developments in Ebem Ohafia.
We would challenge you to mention one project in Ohafia carried out by an Autonomous Community Development Union. We are not talking of any contraption put together by you in Nkwebi to buy the soul of the people.
11. FOR THE FUTURE – JUST TO KEEP THE RECORDS STRAIGHT.
Ohafia was swimming in the ocean of love, peace, unity and progress. Ohafia decided to build a secondary school, the Ohafia High School. Three Ohafia sons were selected to study in America in order to come back and run this school. Many villages that this scholarship award did not favour were not pleased. Some decided to send their own sons to the University both in Nigeria and abroad. Soon, the agitation to split Ohafia into four clans to accelerate development began.
Ohafia came to be divided into 4 clans namely:
Comprising Elu, Amaekpu, Okagwe, Nkwebi, Ndia Nku, Ndi Uduma Ukwu, Oboro, Ebem, Ihenta (Ibina), Ndi Amogu, Ndi Anyaorie and Ndi Okala.
Comprising Akanu, Isiugwu, Abia, Ndi Uduma Awoke
3. Ohafor: Comprisingf Asaga, Amuke, Eziafor, Ndi Ibe and Ndi Orieke.
4. Okamu: Comprising Okon, Amuma, Amangwu and Ufiele
12. About 1959 – 1960, during Nigeria Independence, Dr. M.I. Okpara became the Prime Minister (Premier) of Eastern Nigeria. He established the Eastern House of Chiefs to conform to what obtained in the North and West. Ohafia came to Elu for a candidate to occupy the position. The Ezieogo of Elu then was an illiterate and not suitable. A school master at Aggrey Memorial College Arochukwu, who was from the Umua Lekwa Ruling Family in Elu Ohafia was presented.
Thus, HRM Eze Okon Agbai Olugu II became a second-class Chief in the Eastern Nigeria House of Chiefs and the Udumeze of Ohafia.
13. About 1979, when Chief Onunaka Mbakwe Ph.D. became the Governor of Imo State, he created Autonomous Communities. All the four clans in Ohafia became Autonomous Communities.
Additionally, Ebem-Oha Autonomous Community was carved out of Isiama Autonomous Community and Okon Aku from Okamu.
The New Autonomous Communities were six:
Ania – now the newly created Amankwu had become a village in Ania. Ohafor
Amaukwu – what is left of Okamu after carving out Okon Aku.
Later, the following new Autonomous Communities emerged from these six Autonomous Communities.
Amangwu Anaga Uka,
14. (i) That a person is ignorant of a phenomenon does not mean that the situation does not exist. May we refer to P8 section 9 of your write- up where you ignorantly averred that, and we quote, “The Ezieogo” as a nomenclature is foreign to Ohafia culture and tradition.” Unquote. You have displayed by this singular statement the degree by which you have distanced yourself from Ohafia history, custom, culture and tradition.
As far back as 1910 when the Church of Scotland Mission came to Ohafia, the Ezieogo of Elu Ohafia was Ezieogo Imaga Agwunsi. It was through him that all negotiations were carried out. Ohafia had the institution of Ezieogo long before the advent of the white man.
(ii). In 1960 when Nigeria became independent, Sir Francis Akanu Ibiam became the Governor of Eastern Nigeria and at that time, Nna Agbai Opia was the Ezieogo of Elu Ohafia. Sir Francis was not an Ezieogo then.
(iii). After many years as the governor, about six years, Sir Francis went to his hometown, Unwana and become the Ezieogo. Do you see how misinformed you and some other Ezes are, when you aver that Ezieogo is foreign to Ohafia culture and tradition and that it was borrowed from Afikpo. Wherever people use Ezeogo in Ibo land, it is borrowed from Ohafia and not Ohafia borrowing Ezeogo from Afikpo as you erroneously upheld.
(iv). Read the British intelligence report on Ohafia (1927 – 1930) and you will see that Ezieogo institution existed before then and the white man was dealing with them.
15. There are Autonomous Community Ezes who have decided to work in harmony with their Ezieogo. These Ezes are making progress in their various areas but those ones who are oppressive and want to exert a non-existent power on the Ezieogo have not had peace in their “Kingdom” and they will not, unless there is a change of heart.
We therefore advice that you, in particular, step down from your Olympian height and dialogue with your Ezieogo and Nde Ezieogo to find ways of moving Ohafia forward for the good of Ohafia and humanity which is the reason why the State Government gave you a Staff of Office in the first place. Please return your Staff of Office to the State Government if you prefer war to peace. Also, note that the law that creates autonomous communities in Abia State, posit that the communities seeking autonomous status must have:(1) A School – (Secondary and Primary, (2) A daily market, (3) A health centre/hospital, (4) A major stream, (5) More than one community/village.
Therefore, is Nkwebi qualified to be an autonomous community going by the law in Abia State?
16. What you termed “hard facts” in your write-up are immaterial, and irrelevant and so we have decided to ignore them. Rather, we wish to conclude by admonishing you that despite your idiosyncrasies and misguided stance, we still have respect for you as a distinguished son of Ohafia and as such, we had expected you to carry out a serious research and ask questions before you put anything to paper or allow your misunderstanding and personal perception of the Chieftaincy edict to becloud your vision. What we need is a synergy of action between the Nde Ezieogo Ohafia and Autonomous Ezes, for the peaceful development of Ohafia and not self-induced acrimonies that will tear us apart and send us backwards.
Keep fit and stay safe.
“Annex B” signed by the 26 members of the Ohafia Council of Monarchs.
However, the current perception of autonomous communities and their traditional rulers has changed over time. Some traditional rulers hold limited influence, having been appointed by the government without any claim to traditional lineage or legitimacy in the village.
As a result of government control, the position of Eze has become subject to the unpredictability of politics, rather than cultural and traditional practices. The government may remove an Eze who belongs to an opposition political party without regard for the welfare of their community. This novel political arrangement resulted in some consequences whereby the state government interacts more with the traditional rulers council, while the villages rely more on their Ezieogos, causing an official communication disconnect between the government and the communities.
The dilemma created by this novel political arrangement by government has been immense. The Ezieogos of the 26 villages believe that the government established autonomous communities and their traditional rulers but did not abolish the rights of the hereditary/lineage leadership of the Ezieogos, who are the custodians of all traditional instruments of power and rulership in the villages and towns of Ohafia. The Ezieogos play crucial roles in maintaining traditions and resolving disputes in their respective villages since they are closest to the people and are the custodians of village traditions. Neglecting their roles could lead to chaos and impede the administration of justice.
However, some village Ezieogos’ administration is viewed as semi- primitive and full of infractions, hindering the progressive development of many villages. As a result, there is a demand for literate Ezieogos who can improve the quality of administration in the villages. This issue has caused friction in some ongoing intra-village disputes in Ohafia. Furthermore, the creation of autonomous traditional rulers and the need for literacy have further undermined the hereditary leadership of the Ezieogos. Therefore, many communities now prefer fairly literate and affluent members of their community to represent them rather than relying on illiterate lineage headship.
To promote development and tackle security challenges in Ohafia, it is crucial to establish a peaceful environment. To achieve this, it is important to bridge the communication gap between the government-recognised autonomous traditional rulers and the Ezieogos who hold the traditional instruments of power and administration in the villages. This should be a top priority for all those concerned with the well being of Ohafia. Despite the complicated arrangement between community rulers, there is still hope for improvement. The Abia State Government has already taken a proactive step to address the issue by prohibiting the creation of additional autonomous communities.
To fully harmonize the roles of these traditional institutions, it is important to establish a clear and specific role for them in terms of conflict resolution and community security. This effort is necessary to prevent further degradation or tarnishing of traditional institutions in Abia State. The government should consider expanding its efforts by recognizing the original 26 villages of Ohafia clan as autonomous communities and officially acknowledging their Ezieogos.