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What if Governor Soludo removes Obi of Onitsha?

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I wrote a piece highlighting the constitutional order that was being challenged in Anambra state when the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, decided to call out Governor Chukwuma Soludo in the media. The much-respected royal father made a very poor decision with that one. It was an unprovoked fight with all gloves off. I feared that Soludo, who is the executive governor of Anambra state and a sub-sovereign in Nigeria, would use his maximum powers.

Under a presidential democracy, in which there are only three arms of government, the law is very clear on the powers of the Governor and the consequences of insubordination to his office, including the chairman of the traditional council who is also an appointee. The chairmanship of a traditional council is an appointive office and an appointee calling out his appointor publicly is more like the tail wagging the dog. Rather than provoke a public uproar against the appointing authority, appointees take the path of honour by resigning.

The establishment of the Anambra state council of traditional rulers by the previous administration of Anambra state—which Soludo inherited and upheld—was merely a gesture of deference, administrative convenience, and a valiant attempt to preserve the traditional institution—even though the constitution gave the traditional rulers no role. Olusegun Obasanjo as military head of state reformed local government in 1976, leaving the governor of the state with discretion over the role of traditional institutions in government.

As said, Nigeria’s traditional rulers are not assigned a specific role in the constitution. Thus, Soludo did not invalidate the legitimate position of the traditional leaders of the state of Anambra by suspending some that violated both laws and codes of conduct for traditional rulers in the state. He has shown great generosity, which is demonstrated by his proposed new council, which grants automatic membership to any recognised traditional ruler in the state contrary to what was obtained in the past.

Within a tripartite system of governance, the governor of the state, functioning as the Chief Executive, Chief Accounting, and Chief Security Officer, bestows authority upon the traditional institutions to the extent he wishes. Therefore, Obi of Onitsha serves as an officer under the Governor, who serves as the state’s chief executive officer, in the same manner as other officers.

The president of the nation or the executive governor of the state represents “the State” as the sovereign in both theory and reality. The position that Soludo currently holds as governor of the state of Anambra is what matters, not the person. It is necessary to distinguish between the two to comprehend how and why Igwe Achebe crossed the line though Soludo continues to pursue the path of peace and conciliation despite the affront.

The Traditional Rulers should not use the suspension of some of them as a justification to neglect their responsibilities; rather, they should be prepared to work in tandem with the government in all its endeavors to turn Anambra into a livable and prosperous homeland. The governor’s Public Private Community Partnership (PPCP) programme is a key tool in his administration for the rapid development of Anambra State. As stakeholders, the traditional rulers should assist the governor in making the most of this programme of implementing strategic development in each town within the state.

Because it was wrongfully constituted in violation of section 2 (F) of the Anambra State Traditional Rulers (Amendment) Law, 2020, the body hitherto functioning as the Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council as constituted was, in fact, unknown to the law and populated by only a select few.

The fact is: that the group is not the Traditional Rulers Council as defined by the statute that established it. Because of this, the body as it existed at the time was unable to act lawfully or make any decisions that would have been deemed valid in the context of the applicable legal provisions.

The governor desires that all traditional rulers in the state, not a select few, join the Anambra Traditional Rulers Council and that the term limit be lifted to rid the state of this illegality. The Governor will formally establish the council following the relevant law’s amendment, enabling it to operate legally.

Some have said that the governor has quietly and politely removed Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe as the chairman of the ANSTRC by dissolving the illegal council and moving to establish the legally constituted and fully expanded body.

This begs the question, “What if Obi of Onitsha is removed by the governor?” Obi of Onitsha has been chairman of the Anambra Traditional Council of Traditional Rulers since when Peter Obi was governor about 20 years ago. This is anathema in a democratic dispensation.

In Anambra state, the Obi of Onitsha is not the oldest Igwe in office if Igwe Nnewi’s age and the duration of his reign—more than 60 years—are taken into account. In a democracy, what is normal is the chairmanship of the Council rotates among the three senatorial districts in the state and is strongly advised.

Soludo has the authority to decide what to do as governor of the state, including whether to create a duly constituted traditional rulers council now or later as he promised. What’s more, the Obi might return or might not as the head of the new council that will be put in place.

It is important to note deposing the Obi of Onitsha from his throne is within the governor’s authority. It is within Soludo’s executive powers, and there is precedent, even though he is not likely to take such extreme action as Governor Jim Nwobodo did by deposing Igwe John Umenyiora as Igwe of Ogbunike.

The Anambra State Governor, who appoints the chairman of ASCTR, equally has the authority to remove the chairman for any reason and even for no reason at all. This is because the position is political. In 1981, for instance, Governor Nwobodo removed the Onitsha Igwe Obi Ofala Okagbue as chairman of the traditional council and replaced him with Igwe Osita Agwuna. Later, Igwe Emeka Nnaji, Nze 1 of Amagunze, took Igwe Agwuna’s place when Nwobodo was governor.

Those getting emotional about it should know that a significant amount of the Traditional Rulers’ or institutions’ significance vanished with the rise of Constitutional authorities. The fact that elected Town Union Executives exist in the South East further diminishes their significance and subordinates the traditional institutions to civil authorities.

For example, the supremacy of civil authority was demonstrated when the Sokoto Sultan, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, was exiled to Kaduna State after being dethroned by the military governor of Sokoto State. Sir Adesoji Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife, and Sir Olateru Olagbegi, the Oba of Owo, were also dethroned by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, then Premier of Western Nigeria.

Similarly, Emirs Sanusi Sr. and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi were deposed and exiled—the latter in the current dispensation. While it is not prayed that Soludo should dethrone the Obi of Onitsha due to any intransigence, it is important to note that the Obi of Onitsha does not hold a permanent position as Chairman of the ASCTR and must not preside over the proposed new body when it is established by the proposed amendment. It isn’t his inheritance. If he returns as chairman, it is purely out of the magnanimity and at the pleasure of the same Governor Chukwuma Soludo whom he has subjected to public ridicule.

Dr. Law Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts; drlawmefor@gmail.com; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor.

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