OBUZOR: Our Greatest Achievement Is Giving Legality To The Obuzorship
The Obuzor of Ibuzor in Oshimili North Local Council of Delta State, His Royal Majesty, Obi (Prof.) Louis Chelunor Nwoboshi recently marked his 20th anniversary on the throne with much pomp. The retired Professor of Agriculture reflected on the revolutionary Obuzor System, as opposed to gerontocracy, which the community had known for centuries. And though there were pockets of opposition, he was determined to push through. He also talked on the state of the Nigerian educational system and other issues. Hendrix Oliomogbe reports.
How has it been in the last 20 years since you became the Obuzor of Ib’uzor?
It has been tough. It has been difficult. I came in with so much optimism, thinking that since my people were unanimous in the demand for Obuzor rulership system, the resistance to change would be minimal. But that was not the case. The very few, who opposed the establishment of the system, capitalised on the ignorance of our people on government white paper and misinformed them. So, before I could settle down, I had court cases and traditional disputes to manage. I thank God because the early cases had no strong foundation, which strengthened and made me research on tradition and culture of our people. But above all, it made the Ib’uzor Kingdom the only institution backed by the force of law at the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Having been with gerontocracy for nearly 300 years, where the oldest man in the society was the leader, who could neither enforce nor enact a new rule, people were doing exactly as they pleased. Some people now cashed in on the ignorance of this senility of elderly ones and became de facto leaders. These were the people who really wanted to be the Obuzor and when they could not, they went into the campaign of calumny.
What specifically were the problems and who were those wanting to be the Obuzor?
The problem was simple, but the definition was deliberately made complex to deceive the masses. Simply put, there were some sons of Ib’uzor who thought they were much more qualified than I am. There was another set of people who really benefitted from the old system and never wanted an outright change. They only wanted a kind of amendment that would make them surrogates.
One of them welcomed me with a court summons. He argued that the Obuzorship was an imposition on the people and so should be declared null and void. That was the first one. The second person was the one who wanted to ride on the back of the Diokpa; that the Diokpaship should not be abrogated. But during government enquiry, he scored only seven percent, while those supporting the Obuzor system scored 93 percent.
Because he wasn’t chosen, the one that wanted to be the Obuzor now went to court, demanding that the system is abolished. That took seven years from the lower to the Appeal and Supreme Courts. He lost. So now, we have a Supreme Court declaration in support of the Obuzorship system. There is also an Act of Parliament by the Delta State Government in support of the system, which legally institutionalised the Obuzor system of government.
What is the Obuzor system all about?
The system came about because we ran the gerontocratic system, where the oldest man in the society automatically becomes king and is succeeded by the next oldest man. The Obuzor system came to replace this. It is a miniaturised state government because it is composed of all the components of Ib’uzor, which comprises 10 villages. Each of these villages has a spokesman called the Okwulogbe. All these spokespersons plus the President General of Ib’uzor people in the Diaspora make up 11 people. These people constituted the government called Obuzor-in-Council, which is charged with the task of running the administration of this community on a day-to-day basis, thinking solely of the direction and policies of these communities. They coordinate and galvanise the effort of Ib’uzor people both at home and abroad to develop the communities.
What is the role of the Obuzor in all these?
The Obuzor is the Chairman of this council. As the Chairman and arrowhead, he represents the community both at the local, state and federal levels.
How did the people come about the Obuzorship?
There is a book titled The Obuzor Dynasty, which traced the history of the clamour. Because of the oldest man being the king, he couldn’t be a good representative for us both at the local, state or any level for that matter. Ib’uzor people always felt marginalised, when it came to representation. Their voices were not being heard and so the agitation started as far back as the early 70s immediately after the civil war. They started agitating for a spokesman for the town; somebody who should be a leader for the entire town. It was during the enquiry that we realised that if we agreed to change, there would be no need doing it half measure. We should get somebody who should be able to represent us both at the local council, state and federal levels in the traditional council of chiefs. The only people who do that are the traditional rulers and that was why the Obuzor was made a traditional ruler rather than a Prime Minister. Today, he is the traditional ruler of this town and the prescribed Authority of Delta State Government in this community. That is a revolution.
What have been your achievements?
The greatest achievement was bringing legality to the Obuzor Institution and refusing to abdicate in the face of opposition mounted by some people just 12 days after the coronation. If I had abdicated, we wouldn’t have had anything to celebrate today, because there would not have been any Obuzor Institution. I salute the effort and resilience of a few sons of this community and that of Chief T. J. Okpoko (SAN), who prosecuted the case to Supreme Court. Without them, this Institution may not have had the legitimacy we enjoy now.
Other achievements are not difficult to mention, but it is not usually proper to sing one’s own praises. The easiest way is to compare the Ib’uzor of 20 years ago and the Ib’uzor of today. Obviously there is a difference, but the rate of improvement might not have met our collective expectation. One thing I have done is to fashion out some ideas on how the development of a community should be handled, creating a developmental model for a community like Ib’uzor. Having said these, I can mention some development that people just take for granted.
Physically, we have tried our best. When I came here, I met a Police Post. But now, I have a Police Division, making Ib’uzor the only community in Delta State that is not a local council headquarters that has a police division. I have a Magistrate Court, a High Court and Area Customary Court. If you come to water, that is a public utility, I know we have not done well, but we are no longer drinking from our streams. We now have boreholes. Through the instrumentality of one of my noble daughters, I have met the Honourable Minister of Federal Ministry of Water Resources, who promised and is now in the process of building a dam that will give us 1.5 to 2 million gallons of water per day. It has got to an advanced stage.
As for electricity, there was a high frequency of outage, when I ascended the throne. It was worrisome, as the voltage was equally so low that I had to ask questions. I was told that Ib’uzor was on a line that starts from Obosi, Anambra State and goes all the way to Abudu in Edo State. If anything happens along this line, electricity had to be switched off for repairs. Through my enquiries with the electricity company officials that if we could install an isolator beyond Ib’uzor towards Ogwashi Uku, any fault at all in this big circuit, which they could trace from Obosi and beyond Ib’uzor would result in the isolator being switched off and there will still be light in Ib’uzor.
Secondly, Dr Orewa of Agbor, Chief Patrick Ozieh of Ogwashi-uku and I approached former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003. We demanded that the lines should be divided into two. So, we now have one from Obosi to Obior, Delta State and another one from Umunede to Abudu to be taken to Irrua in Edo State. We also pointed out that Delta is the only state without a step-down transformer; that we were getting our light from two different states. Obasanjo told us that it was not his government’s fault, because the contract had been awarded since 1993 but was not executed. We told him that we couldn’t remain like that. Obasanjo revoked the contract and re-awarded it for a 132KV to come from Benin City with a step down at Agbor and another one in Asaba, a 33KV line from Asaba to Ib’uzor. That is the history of the step-down. The work started between 2004 and 2005. It is ironical that Ib’uzor is the last to get electricity.
When I came here, the hospital was not even fenced. People came to the hospital with jerry cans of water. At meetings, I discovered that nine out of every 10 persons wore glasses and that river blindness is endemic in Ib’uzor. I felt we needed to tackle the problem. So, I approached members of Rotary Club, who brought a doctor to Ib’uzor to treat people with eye problems. I also complained to H.E. Ambassador Ignatius Olisaemeka in Tel Aviv, Israel, where he was then. Some people promised him to give us drugs and equipment. God smiled on us when Olisaemeka was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. That was the turning point for the community. He agreed to a small reception in his honour. Some people worked against it when I said we were going to raise money for the event. They thought I was going to use the opportunity to source money for myself. But I told them that part of the money would be used to construct an eye hospital and they agreed. The eye hospital is not a local one, as it was constructed in such a way that I thought I would be able to tie it to the University College Hospital, Ibadan (UCH) and Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, Anambra State, so that their students could be coming to help us treat river blindness.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough money to complete the hospital, let alone enough equip it. We had to give it to the government and that is where it is today. We built a water harvester, a big well at the hospital to collect rainwater for washing the floor, at least. Our people in Atlanta, Georgia, United States provided the money for this. All attempts to build a borehole there had failed until in the end, our benefactor, Ambassador Olisaemeka came to our rescue again.
When he was leaving the organisation where he worked, they wanted to pay him his terminal benefits, but he requested that they should drill a functional well at the hospital. That is what we have today. The hospital mortuary was in a terrible shape, but today, we are happy that the government has come to our aid and constructed a befitting mortuary. We have our normal health centre at Ogboli and another one at Umuezeagwu. There are plans to build another fairly big hospital in the community through self-effort. The donation of a couple of people made all these possible. History will not forget them.
Are you satisfied with the Obuzor system as it is today?
We have to move with time. There should be the Ib’uzor Wheel of Progress and the coordinator is the Obuzor. From now, whenever we have several opinions, we try to prioritise them by using this model. In a community like this, what we need to survive is community contributions to various issues. We have to visualise a way of rendering account. We have now decided that every five years, there must be some sort of account, a report, and an audited account of how we have progressed so far. In five years, all the Okwulogbes will go back to their villages to seek for re-election. In their villages, they can either be re-elected or rejected. You can come back as many times as possible but must be going back for re-election after five years. People should assess your performance and if you did well, they will re-elect you. If, on the other hand, you didn’t perform well, they will reject you and appoint another person. This paves the way for new blood to be injected into the system.
We have also tried to show that there must be a flow of information. The Obuzor is the Chairman. A Diokpa heads each quarter. The Obuzor system has strengthened them by appointing a chief, who is like a Prime Minister to the Diokpa. The Prime Minister has an inner cabinet made up of 15 people. These people are the ears of the village. With 15 persons in each quarter, no household is too far away from their representative. So, they can always hear what is happening and be able to send back information. It is a two-way traffic. I can send messages down to the family, just as the family can send their message back to the table of the Obuzor. That again has been very helpful to us, as we can collect lots of information in two, three days.
The way we live, bury, marry and so on, has been very anachronistic for some time. We are trying to change some of them. For example, when somebody’s husband died in those days, she would mourn for about 13 months, but now it takes only one month. All the burial ceremony must now be completed within one month. Both the interment and outing are now done in one day so that the young man doing the burial will not have to apply for leave twice in a month.
What have been the challenges so far?
There was a lack of understanding of the meaning and principles of the Obuzor Institution. There was no sufficient effort to educate the people on the Obuzor rulership system. Instead of reading the White Paper and all the documentation that led to the institutionalisation of Obuzor for a better understanding, most elites depended on hearsay. So, it was easy for the mischief-makers to exploit their ignorance and inability to read. That was the major challenge. Empty vessels make the most noise. They were so vociferous that their negative campaign was mistaken for the truth.
On the whole, we are happy that people are now beginning to read, understand and ask valid questions. That is one of the major reasons we are celebrating 20 years of Obuzorship in grand style.
Is succession by primogeniture?
The succession in the Obuzor system is a very interesting one. It is a rotational thing. We have three ruling houses, each with four administrative systems. The three ruling houses are Otu Odogwu, Otu Uwolo and Otu Iyase. I am from Otu Odogwu. After me, it will move to Otu Uwolor and then Otu Iyase and back to Otu Odogwu, though this time; it won’t go to my family, which has four units but another family unit within the Otu Odogwu.
Anybody from Ib’uzor can be an Obuzor, Okwulogbe or any of the titled chiefs in the community. It is a self-ruled system. The three ruling houses are spread throughout the villages. It is all-inclusive. It is only someone that says he doesn’t want to belong that won’t belong.
Are you not worried that the dead are being buried at home since there is no cemetery in Ib’uzor?
We are planning the Ib’uzor new city and things such as cemeteries will be part of it. I am not happy, seeing graves everywhere. I have 90, 000 square kilometre of land with a population of 400,000. We cannot be without a cemetery and refuse disposal units or dump sites. All these must be built into the new city plan. I have discussed it with the Urban and Regional Development Agency of the state during the last dispensation. I intend to discuss it again when I visit the new governor.
What is the future of Nigerian traditional institution, considering there is no specific role assigned to it by the Constitution?
The traditional institution is actually the most neglected aspect of Nigerian life. Some of our woes today are caused by that neglect. After independence, India and Malaysia returned to their tradition and from there, they started building up. Before the advent of colonial rule in Nigeria, youth upbringing was done in a particular way. By the time a youth was grown up, he would have been well prepared and could fend for himself and live with others amicably.
In the olden days, traditional institutions upheld the rules and traditions of the communities and ensured that all obeyed them. The institution had the specific way by which sanctions were administered, even without police. They had a system of rewarding good people in the society. There was an established system of mentoring. For example, if there was a good man, other people’s children were sent to go and live with that good man so that they would emulate the good characters of that person.
They also had a way of punishing bad people. For serious crimes, people were ostracised; they had to beg to come back. But all that is gone now. Even with the police, army, government and all that, people still commit all sorts of atrocities today. And as long as he can bribe, he goes scot-free. Under the traditional system in the past, a thief would always be called a thief. They were stigmatised; there was a kind of social stigma.
The traditional institution is our own base. All our philosophies of life are in the hands of traditional rulers. They motivate people and compensate them for communal living. Are the local councils performing? Are they sweeping the streets? In a properly equipped traditional system, all these will be done. The number of cases that traditional rulers handle in their palaces, if left untouched, will result in the government spending much on court construction, employment and infrastructure to do so. So, it is ridiculous that even our own sons do not recognise that peace and security are being handled at that level.
During the Indirect Rule System, the traditional rulers were upholding peace and progress, but they were properly equipped. If government equips traditional rulers, I am sure they will perform even better now that they have greater knowledge. It is unfortunate that we are the ones downgrading our own traditional institution.
What was the attraction for accepting to be a traditional ruler?
For me, it was not a question of attraction, but that of service. It was a call to serve. If you are close to me, you will know that I am a child of circumstance. I try one way or another to build bridges. Whenever there is a gap, I provide a bridge. By the time I came here, I had done virtually everything. I had travelled all over the world. I had served the world at the World Bank level, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Nigeria, Africa (Tanzania, Kenya). I had also served Nigeria my country diligently and I know every part of Delta State. When I first came back from Australia, I discovered that the Ibusa to which I was returning had no electricity and water. It was all darkness.
In my father’s house, we had mud bed instead of the mattress but I had never slept so soundly in my life as I did that night. The whole place was fresh, with no odour. Even before I came here, I had done a few things that my colleagues marvelled at. I had contributed to the upliftment of this community long before I became the Obuzor because of the experience I had gathered. I am a forester and we always make ourselves comfortable wherever we are. In the forest, we have a campsite and camp bed.
What do you think of the clamour for the creation of Anioma State?
There was a time in 1980 when I was in the vanguard for the creation of Anioma State, but as of today, I am no longer doing that. Anioma State has been virtually created. Asaba was not destined to be the capital. It was not even mentioned as the first. It was Abraka and Ughelli that were supposed to be the capital of Delta State. When they finished, Abraka and Ughelli tied. They were now pleading for one to step down for the other. They took this to former military President Ibrahim Babangida, who picked Asaba.
Personally, because I know where Asaba, Forcados, Escravos and other towns are, I would say that Asaba is not central enough to be the capital, but it is not our making. It is our fortune.
My take is that whoever cries out should be placated. You should try and see his viewpoint, but it should be accepted, as it has happened. It is not a question of fighting, but if after being placated, you still want to go ahead, it is you that will agitate and not me. I won’t agitate to go anywhere. If somebody says that we are not Delta enough, he can easily opt out and leave the remainder for us. For me to raise money for the creation of Anioma State today is very senseless. I say it with all sense of seriousness.
In 1981, when we were fighting for Anioma State, we discovered that in 1983, we couldn’t get it because we had only four local councils. We then had to fight for more local councils. We succeeded in creating three more councils to make it seven so that Anioma State could be created. We had to build structures for us to eventually become a state.
On October 13, 1989, I again led all the traditional local councils to former Bendel State Governor, Tunde Ogbeha and told him that from then on we should be called Anioma instead of Bendel East or Bendel Igbo and our own version of the Igbo language is Anioma Igbo. My present stand is that Anioma has already been created. What we need now is to assert ourselves here and the opportunity to do that is now. Let those that want to hear listen, but good luck to those who don’t want to hear.
How would you assess the present state of Nigerian education?
All I can say is that we are acting the play written for us by the British colonial masters. They gave us a pre-determined education. For example, a farmer can determine whether he wants to produce an egg-layer or a broiler. He does that by feeding the broiler with a special formulation different from what he feeds the hen. The colonial masters fabricated a special scheme of education, which they use for us here and that is why we are suffering.
The only thing they wanted you to do was how to read, write, weigh and measure. With all this, however, you would only be able to fill an invoice, which is exactly what we are doing. All our education is about money. Everything was about business administration, banking and finance, agriculture, philosophy, history and so on. Africans are not idiots and you can see that in this area of measuring, Nigerians excel. They excel in mathematics, physics and anything that has to do with measurement, calculation and all that, but not anything that has to do with the brain.
The colonial masters decided that anything that has to do with the brain was out of it. That is the reason why most of our civil servants are near fools by the time they retire. They can’t discuss at their villages meetings. They can’t fit in, because what we have been the British determined education.
So, it is time for us to re-invent, re-equip and teach the Nigerian comprehensive education. That is what we need. Your sky-scrapper is an illusion. You think you are growing but you are not. India is miles ahead. I remember as a student that we used to contribute money to the poor in India until I visited the country on their Independence Day only to see them displaying sophisticated missiles made in India. These were the people we were contributing money to feed. They were making Tata vehicles, which just came out newly. People were laughing at them, saying that the chassis was bigger than the engine, but that was what they were using. Today, is Tata not all over the world?
We were on the same level with Malaysia. Malaysians have their culture. They came here, borrowed our oil palm from the Nigeria Institute for Oil palm Research, near Benin. We are now importing oil from Malaysia. Today, we have institutions that are churning out
Unemployable graduates. There is no employment and a lot of people who have been to school cannot even be employed, because of the kind of education they have.
I traced kidnappings, armed robberies and most of our social vices to all these. Everybody wants to succeed. If you cannot succeed through education, then you look for a short cut. If you ask any young Nigerian which are the two leading local football teams, he won’t know. But ask him about that of the English Premier League, he will deliver the answer straight away. That is because they have been taught to imagine things they don’t know. This makes reading difficult because it is about discovering something. It is a voyage of discovery.
What do you say about the general political situation in the country?
Everybody is in the mood for change. We were promised change by President Muhammadu Buhari. He is barely six months in the saddle and so; it is too early to judge. The reason is that former Head of State, Gen. Murtala Mohammed spent only six months and is being viewed as a saint. We don’t know what he could have been if he had been there for more than six months.
Nigerians are generally happy with the situation. Buhari promised them change. We want to see that change come. Change is a three-stage process. The first is that a man knows where he is and you come to convince him that he needs to change to something better, which he doesn’t know but you make him believe that it will make him better, and then he changes. The next thing is how you are able to convince him that where he is, is better than where he was. That takes a longer process. Buhari has won the first two stages but has not won the third.
What are your expectations for the future?
The first 18 years of my reign have been that of infancy and tutelage. Today, we are now about two years mature. I hope we are going to mature some more in all directions, in unity and strength. I wish the community progress. My expectation is that there should be no more childishness.