The Chairman, Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers (Eze Imo), HRM, Eze Samuel Ohiri has described as retrogressive and regrettable the amendment of Imo State of Nigeria Traditional Rulers, Autonomous Communities and Allied Matters Law No.15 of 2016.
Following the amendment by the Imo State House of Assembly last week, traditional rulers have been stripped of the right and powers to elect their chairman and deputy chairman.
The House in the amended bill has now vested the powers on the governor to appoint the chairman and deputy chairman.
Eze Ohiri, while answering questions from reporters at his palace at Obi-Orodo on Saturday, called the move by House of Assembly as retrogressive and regrettable.
Eze Ohiri said ” First, let me say that it is sad that at this time of Coronavirus pandemic and its attendant health, economic, security and social challenges, the thing that will make the list of priorities of the Imo State House of Assembly is who and how the leadership of the State Council of Traditional Rulers should be selected.
“More so disturbing is that the House of Assembly will go into such a matter secretly and pass an amendment bill without holding public hearings or seeking an input or advice from the royal fathers.
“Secondly, let me state clearly that one of the best things that has happened to the traditional institution in our state in the recent times, is that law which empowered the traditional rulers to elect their leaders.
“I am in the best position to say this because I have served as an appointed chairman of the council and an elected chairman of the council, and I can tell you that the difference is like night and day.
“I heard Hon. Uche Ogbuagu claim that they did the amendment to “fully return the dignity of Ndi Eze”.
“But I am saying to him, our son, please spare us the indignity and insult.
“He also said that it was bad for traditional rulers to lobby for votes and support during the elections.
“Please know that lobbying is a civilized and acceptable instrument of marketing ideas and convincing others to buy into them.
“Even Hon. Uche Ogbuagu employed lobbying tactics to convince other members who otherwise wouldn’t have supported this bill amendment.
“As I said earlier, I have worked as an appointed Chairman of the council and being a political appointee, you were expected to do the biddings of the person that appointed you.
“In most cases, you were treated as any other political appointee. You were expected to mostly be at the government house with files attending meetings that sometimes were purely partisan and you were expected just as all other political appointees to implement those partisan decisions whether you liked it or not.
“You were not free to speak your mind and defend your institution.
But as an elected chairman, first of all, you feel elated because you are there through the power and confidence of your fellow traditional rulers. So your allegiance is mostly to God and to them (the Ezes).
“You feel free and independent to do your job as a traditional ruler. You are able to avoid being dragged into partisan politics. You are able to concentrate on your job description and allow the governor some space to do his work. If he needs you, he will call you and if you have something so important to tell him, you can reach him and come back and concentrate on your job.
“A typical example was during the 2019 political campaigns and elections, especially for the position of governor of Imo State, as those of you in media are well aware, we were able to resist any move to adopt or endorse any candidate. Rather, we maintained neutrality and rolled out a level playing field for all, so that the will of God through the people would prevail. We invited all the governorship candidates irrespective of their political parties to our Traditional Parliament Chamber to address the traditional rulers and inform them first hand of their visions and aspirations for Imo State. That was the first of its kind in the state. That obviously wouldn’t have been possible if we were appointed.
“How then can our son, Hon. Uche Ogbuagu tell well informed and educated traditional rulers of Imo State that stripping us of our right to determine and elect our leaders will somehow restore our dignity?
“I remember that sometime in 2010-2011, the same Hon. Uche Ogbuagu released an audio message in cassette and disc formats under the name of “Talkingson International” that sold millions of copies, where-in he berated former governors for inviting traditional rulers to meetings and having them wait for hours before their arrival, and the habit of requiring traditional rulers to stand-up whenever the governor entered the room. To him then, those were denigrating to the royal fathers.
“But I tell you, it is far more denigrating to a man or to any group of people to deny them the right to choose their own leaders, especially after they have experienced that freedom to choose. So, I will therefore disagree with Hon. Uche Ogbuagu and the House of Assembly on this one.
“This amendment will only drag traditional rulers back to the centre-stage of partisan politics.
Therefore, I will advise the governor not to assent to it.
“More so, this type of action is diversionary and capable of distracting the governor from focusing on the real challenges now facing the state.
“His Excellency, is currently working hard to deal with important issues like security, roads, healthcare sector, education, agriculture, improving the IGR of the state, payment of Salaries & pensions, the Coronavirus pandemic and others. These are enormous and challenging tasks, so to me, he does not need any distractions at this time. I don’t see how changing the way the leadership of the traditional institution in the state is selected will address any of these mentioned critical issues at this time.
“It is also important to mention that the current leadership of the council was elected according to the existing law in 2018 and their tenure is for five years. We have served for two years, remaining three years. His Excellency has said that he is a man that believes in the Rule of Law and had proclaimed and promised the Council of Traditional Rulers during our courtesy call to him, that he respects the council and will not interfere with its tenure or activities.
“We hold His Excellency to those his words and advise him first and foremost not to sign into law this amendment Bill to the Law No15 of 2016 for the sake of maintaining the dignity and respect of the traditional institution in our dear state, and to also resist any pressure to accent to the amendment Bill and enforce it retroactively”.