Benue High Chief, Ojikpuru 1 of Ibila, Ode Ochi Emmanuel, recently emerged the winner of the keenly contested Middle Belt Traditional Council (MBTC) chairmanship election in the whole of South West in Lagos. In this interview granted JAMES IBECHI during his home visit at the Yuletide, in his home town of Ibilla, Oju LGA, Benue State, he applauds Governor Samuel Ortom over the amended chieftaincy law that has given his people the opportunity to have a first class chief. He also speaks on other issues of state importance.
Congratulations on your recent election as Chairman, Middle Belt Traditional Council (MBTC) in the South West of Nigeria and happy New Year to you.
Thank you for acknowledging my election as Chairman of the Middle Belt Traditional Council in the South West.
It was observed that the election was keenly contested, would you like to comment briefly on it?
The election was highly contested and I saw my emergence as the chairman as the grace of God and I am thankful to all the stakeholders of the Middle Belt in the South West for giving me that resounding victory. It is a challenge to be given a position that is highly responsible and I pray that God Almighty will give me the wherewithal and wisdom not to fail them. That was my pledge to them and I remain fervently committed to that pledge.
What is the tenure of your office?
The constitution says five-year tenure.
What about the unity of the component communities?
You know the original Middle Belt states which comprise Benue, which is my home state; Plateau, Niger, Kwara, Kogi, the FCT, Southern Kaduna and Nasarawa. These are the states. In furtherance of the unity of the so called minority in the Northern Nigeria you have some detachments of Taraba and Adanmawa states that are part of us and indeed we are more conscious than ever because we want to fight the issue of marginalization to a standstill. We want to be heard, recognized and acknowledged because the truth is that without the Middle Belt region in this country there is no Nigeria. We are the unifying factor that holds the other segments of Nigeria together and we want to acknowledge that and appreciate that and be thankful to God Almighty who has given us that role and we want to play it wisely and purposefully to the grace of God Almighty.
You talked about marginalization, would you expatiate on it?
It is a wide knowledge, far and wide, that when we talk about national agitation, the North is known as the north. We talk about 19 northern states when it comes to national issues, but afterwards, by the time we come home when the issues at the national level are resolved based on the nineteen northern states, when we come back home there is always a recourse to the key northern states. At that point issues of marginalization come to the fore. It has been going on all this while and we can no longer keep silent. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If we have to remain solidly as the nineteen northern states whatever that is achieved in that regard must be equally shared. There shall be no compromise; there shall be no favoritism. That is what we are all about
Let us come to your home front, you are a High Chief in Benue State, from Oju Local Government Area to be precise and here you are for a visit during the Yuletide. Incidentally, this is the time that your community is in the process of selecting a first class chief for the first time, would you like to comment on the process so far and whatever you have to contribute to it?
Yes, I want to thank the administration of Governor Samuel Ortom for giving us this opportunity that we have been clamoring for a long time. It is long overdue, but we are grateful to him that God has used him to further the course of Igede nation. Having said that, it is so far so good. I am happy with the process that is going to eventually lead to the emergence of the first class chief of Igede nation. Since my arrival at home for the Yuletide, I have made very wide consultations with key stakeholders that will lead to the eventual conclusion of this all- important matter. And from the consultations I have made, the responses from all of them I would like to sum up as very good, and initially some clandestine moves were made to subvert the course of this all -important matter. But I have discovered from the consultations I have made from key stakeholders who are considered as opinion leaders in the Igede nation, that they have spoken well; they voiced out their minds and I reasoned with them; yet the most important thing is that everybody is gearing up to be on the same page on this matter, so that the process is not scuttled. So, I am happy with the development so far and indeed, the last stakeholders meeting we had at the Oju Local Government Guest House, all key stakeholders in Igede nation were present and from the heart-to-heart discussion that went on that day I am convinced that it was a great pointer to the fact that Igede nation has resolved absolutely to toe the path of greatness and I am very happy and thankful to God.
The fact on ground indicates that stakeholders are disunited in the process of the selection of the first class chief, and I don’t know if that is what you are linking to the clandestine move by some people or are you saying that the division has leveled out?
Like I said, before my arrival at home, I have read on the social media some stories from some quarters and listening to all that, I was a bit apprehensive but like I said when I got home I made some consultations with the majority of stakeholders and from my discussion with them I discovered that those speculations and all that on the social media has no in-depth that can be regarded as any major division in Igede nation. Yes, in things like that, you must definitely expect some pockets of the dissenting voices, but when the majority and the key critical stakeholders are united then I think the pocket of dissenting voices have nothing to do with this. It is insignificant. But when I talk about the key critical stakeholders I mean the Igabwos and the clan heads that are the chiefs, they are united on this course. The zoning arrangement that Omi’Ny Igede did was divine, because if it is left to the public domain then all this will be heard on this matter. The crises will have been deeper than what we are seeing. What Omi’Nyi Igede did was divine and was God inclined. So it has really narrowed down the contest and in fact we should be conscious that the issue of tradition can never be politicized. It is not a case of APC or PDP or any other party, but a matter of tradition and when we talk about tradition, we go to the nitty-gritty of what is tradition and the kingmakers are the Igabwos and the chiefs, and in the last stakeholders meeting all these critical stakeholders came out with one voice.
By virtue of your position as a high chieftaincy holder in Igedeland and as chairman of MBTC, you are a major stakeholder, you should know more, so how soon are we expecting the first class chief for the Igede people and secondly since it is going to be the first chief of its kind in the entire history of Igede land, what about the issue of the palace of th Igede monarch? Is there a ready built palace to accommodate the incoming king, and if it is to be built, where will it be sited?
I think in the stakeholders meeting, the recent and the last one, it was agreed that the Omi’Ny Igede should get in touch with the government to seek the approval of a date that the selection of the first class chief would be made. I believe that the process of getting across to the government for an appointment of a date is in the process and very soon this will be made known to the stakeholders and that will be done.
The role being played by the Omi’Ny Igede in the process of selecting the first class and other chiefs, is it statutory?
Yes it is statutory because the organ of unity in Igede is Omi’Ny Igede, that is the statutory body of Igede nation and in doing that, they must carry along the Igabwos and the chiefs that’s the Adikobias. So, they are a tripartite statutory body of Igede nation. You have the Igabwos who relate with the spirit world of Igede nation and you have the chiefs who are the Adikobias of Igede nation that is the spoke persons of all the clans of Igede nation; then you have the Omi’Nyi Igede which is the melting point of all the constituents of Igede nation. Those are the tripartite organs; they are regarded as the Supreme Council of Igede nation. So, any organs other than that are supportive to the main tripartite organs of Igede nation.
But it was said that it is not the duty of Omi Ny Igede to do a zoning neither is the stool zoneable which means if the king emerges on the zoning arrangement by the socio-cultural body there is bound to be illegitimacy problem. What do you say?
I have said Igede is a tribe and Igede has its origin. We have the deity of Igede nation; we have the norms of Igede nation, we have the tradition of Igede nation and if this matter is of tradition, noting can happen without the traditional support, and you must not forget that the native authority has its laws and the Nigerian constitution recognizes the enclaves of tradition and so anything that has to do with tradition must follow the due process of tradition, and you must not forget I have said it before that Igede nation has recognizable tripartite organs and I have named them and I want to mention it again in order to avoid ambiguity. I have said the Igabwos, you know the place of Igabwos in Igede nation, they are the ones that relate with the spirit world of Igede nation. Then you have the Adikobias that are the spokespersons of all the clans in Igede. Then you have Omi’nyi Igede which is the conglomerate of all the units of Igede nation. These tripartite organs are the Supreme Council of Igede nation. So if these tripartite organs are the supreme council of Igede nation, the decision that is taken by them is binding. And so you cannot contest the decision of this people in the court of law and think you will have any lead way. To crown it all, the decision about the zoning that was initiated by the Omi’nyi Igede have been taken with absolute confidence by the Igabwos and the Adikobias. That was in the last meeting and that is why I have said before that I was overwhelmed and thankful to God that Omi’Nyi Igede and in fact the body of Igede nation have come to terms with the reality and they have taken bold step to actualize the unity in Igede.
The issue of the palace, that is not going to be a problem, even if because of the recession, the government delays the construction of the palace, the Omi’Ny Igede have well-meaning sons and daughters that are able to construct a befitting palace for the ruler and when the time comes we are all willing to do that. He is our ruler he must be given a befitting place to live that is worthwhile. We will not hesitate. I, personally, will be very involved in doing that by God’s grace
But strictly, is it not the duty of the state to also provide a palace?
Let me digress a little, it is not a government appointment, it only confirms the fellow that the community has chosen. So if it were to be the appointment of the government, they would not have referred it to the Igede nation. The process for the emergence of the leader has to do with the critical stakeholders which are in the Igede nation. It can only be confirmed by the government and that has been the practice in other place
Let us talk about the development of the state in the present administration. You have once frowned at the state government’s performance especially as the issue of salary payment is concerned, since you have decided to visit your home for this yuletide, will you visit the governor and what is your observation?
Yes, in fact, I have made effort to visit him during my last visit to Makurdi, but it was not possible because he was not in town. I have come to the state, I have gone round to make some consultations; I have spoken with some few people. The problem of the government has to do with the current wave of the economic recession in Nigeria. It is not peculiar to Benue State. I understand that the governor is doing his best even though his best is not going much miles as expected, but if the best he is doing is with consistency we will have some levels of result in times to come. But he should not relent. He should continue to fashion out his ways of generating internal revenue to augment what is being received from the national treasury. That is a key and the issue of diversification, the issue of supporting the farmers should be geared up and these cottage industries should be revitalized. From this various areas, I think the economy of the state will be boosted. The issue of salary is very key, because it has a multiplier effect on the generality of the people of the state.
Finally, do you have any comment to the stakeholders who are patently in the forefront of the selection of the Igede first class chief?
My advice is that since we are talking about tradition, the due process should be followed. No one should take financial gratification in order to subvert the due process of tradition. That is my advice and from what everybody is saying so far I am impressed. They should not relent; they should redouble their efforts in sincerity with absolute love of Igede nation in mind, so that the due process will be concluded very quickly for the emergence of our first class chief.