Deji, Afenifere and Ndigbo Akure

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By Emeka Omeiheon

Igbo traders in Akure, Ondo State capital shut their shops a couple of days ago to protest alleged moves by the Deji of Akure, Oba Aladetoyinbo Aladelusi to dethrone the Eze Ndigbo of Akure, Sir Gregory Iloehika. They were also piqued by alleged threats from the Oba to expel them from the ancient city.

Deji of Akure, Oba Aladetoyinbo Aladelus
Deji of Akure, Oba Aladetoyinbo Aladelus

Reports had it that Iloehika had gone to the Oba’s palace with some of his chiefs to honour his (Oba’s invitation) only to be attacked on arrival by some youths who removed his crown, tore his dress and were about to manhandle him further but for the intervention of policemen.

Initial reports were hazy on the cause of the disagreement. But there were insinuations that the Oba had accused the Eze Ndigbo of insubordination and disrespect to the tradition and culture of the land.

However, the Oba came out days later through the Asamo of Akure land, Rotimi Olusanya to provide some insight into the episode. He accused the Igbo of violating the tradition and culture of the land; insubordination and disrespect to him.

He further alleged that Igbo traders at the Moferere market recently contravened the rules guiding the market and that the Eze Ndigbo refused to carry out his order to eject illegal traders from the market. He equally made reference to the embarrassment the Eze Ndigbo caused him and his cabinet during his last visit. But the clarification did not provide the needed evidence of what constituted the acts of embarrassment by his invitees especially given their allegation that their leader was attacked and disgraced at the palace.

We needed to know what really happened when the Eze Ndigbo and some of his chiefs arrived at the palace. Given the issues that have been canvassed, the Oba ought to have come public with details of aspects of their conduct that constituted disrespect and insubordination to his throne? The inability to give a comprehensive account of all there is to the issue did not help matters especially in view of its sensitivity.

For now, it is difficult to fathom any concrete evidence of insubordination and disrespect for the culture and tradition of the Akure people as alleged. The only discernable clue may be found in the refusal of the Eze Ndigbo to expel illegal traders (whatever that means) from the Moferere market. How that would warrant all the incendiary allegations, threat to dethrone and sack Igbo residents in Akure remains largely curious.

It would appear the controversy is an administrative matter undeserving of the threats and bad blood it has generated. It concerns the source of livelihood of some people. Even as the details of the alleged illegality of the traders remain cloudy, its handling would ordinarily require some caution. It is an issue all those concerned should sit down and trash out taking into account the peculiarity of the situation.

The Igbo people in Akure have said they respect the culture and tradition of their hosts and there is for now, no evidence to controvert that. There is also no reason why they should not obey the culture and tradition of their hosts. Neither the alleged existence of illegal traders at the Moferere market nor the refusal or inability of the Eze Ndigbo to eject them would suffice as blatant evidence of insubordination and disrespect for the culture and tradition of the Akure people.

Again, even if there were actions or lack of it on the part of Iloehika that offended the Oba, it was unfair to lump all Igbo residents together and accuse them of blanket malfeasance with threats of expulsion. Good a thing, Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko has waded into the matter with a view to resolving it amicably.

But the intervention of Mimiko and a statement from the Afenifere Renewal Group seem to have opened the lid to the crux of the disagreement. The conditions given by the Oba for the resolution of the matter which required Iloehika to drop the title of Eze Ndigbo in addition to not wearing the crown appear to be the main issue.

The Afenifere corroborated this when it denounced what it called an “unrelenting desecration of Yoruba culture by Igbo communities’ obsession with having a crown king in Yoruba domain”. They consider it an expansionist agenda that connotes territorial influence and ownership. The group alleged that in Akure, the Eze Ndigbo believes that he has powers to invest people with chieftaincy titles that are traditional to Yoruba kingship system.

Perhaps, these are some of the issues that have not gone down well with the Oba. If that is the connotation the Eze Ndigbo title conveys within Yoruba land, their worries can be understood. But such conclusion is faulted by the position of the South-East Council of Traditional Rulers on the matter.

Not long ago, a 10-man delegation of the council led by its chairman, Eze Cletus Ilomuanya visited Oba Rilwan Akiolu of Lagos and urged him and the state government to disregard those who parade themselves as Eze Ndigbo because it is an abuse of the culture and tradition of the Igbo people. They made it clear that the “Eze Ndigbo title was a corruption of the Eze-ship system in Igboland” and those parading themselves as so outside Igboland are “unknown by the Igbo in the locality they reside and not chosen and recognized by anybody”.

Given the above, Afenifere’s interpretation of the import and connotation of the Eze Ndigbo title was highly exaggerated and therefore guilty of the fallacy of hasty generalization. Those so addressed were at no time enthroned by an assemblage of the Igbo in the localities they reside. So the issue of territorial expansionism and ownership do not have any foundation. Not even when the council of traditional rulers has been having a running battle with those who parade such titles.

Those that accord them recognition for some expediency should share vicarious responsibility in the matter. Igbo people know their leaders outside their ancestral homes. And such leaders have nothing to do with the Eze Ndigbo title. It is therefore wrong to conclude that those who go by that title do so at the behest of the Igbo for influence and expansion. Ironically, such warped profiling accounts for the quick resort to hold all Igbo residents liable for errors of omission or commission by the so-called Eze Ndigbo title holders.

The Akure incident brings to the fore all that is wrong with the Nigerian state. Threats to expels non-indigenes at every slight disagreement, is at the root of the subsisting difficulties in nation-building. The impression that those living outside their ancestral homes are being done a favour by their hosts is a patently misplaced one. They live there as a matter of right and not at the whims and caprices of the natives. They are bona fide members of this unity in diversity that appropriates resources from one part of the country to develop others.

If those from whose backyard much of the resources for the development of the less advantaged parts of the country are fetched, have not claimed exclusive rights, why should the rights of citizens to reside in any part of the country be an issue? It is wrong to seek to abridge or threaten that right under any guise including such issues as disobedience to culture, tradition and insubordination.

Of course, there are laws, rules and regulations guiding organized conduct to which all are expected to abide. But recurring reminders to citizens that they are foreigners in their own country, will for a long time continue to impair efforts at nation-building and integration. It may turn out the greatest undoing of this country. (The Nation)

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