FEATURE: An exclusive interview with HRH Eze Samuel Ohiri – With Joi John

 

ohiri.jpgHRH Eze Samuel Ohiri is a product of Emmanuel College, Owerri. Upon completing his secondary education, he proceeded to the Texas Southern University where he obtained a degree in Medical Technology . Following his certification by the American Society of Clinical Pathologists, he worked for a period of time before relocating to Nigeria to establish his company – Hi-Tech Diagnostic Limited.

He set up a manufacturing factory for diagnostic test-kits ranging from HIV test kits to Pregnancy test kits  duly certified by NAFDAC.

In 2011, the mantle of leadership came calling when his community, Obi Orodo selected and elected him as  Eze.  In 2002, he was again elected Chairman, Orodo council of ndi Eze. Months later,  he was also elected the Chairman, Mbaitolu Council of ndi Eze. HRH Eze Samuel Ohiri served in this capacity till he was graciouslly appointed by His Excellency, Owelle Rochas Okorocha and served in that capacity before his subsequent appintment as  Chairman, Imo State Council of ndi Eze.  Married to the ever radiant, Ugoeze Chioma Nnenna Ohiri, their union is blessed with four children.

In this exclusive interview with Joi John,  HRH Eze Samuel Ohiri speaks on some of his achievements as Chairman, Imo State Council of Traditional rulers, his views on the participation of traditional rulers in politics and much more.

 

Excerpts:

J.J: What are some of your achievements since you assumed office in, 2011?

As the Chairman of Council,  I have achieved a lot with the support of Owelle Rochas Okorocha who is a wonderful champion of the Igbo cause and believes in the igbo tradition and culture.

First of all, we increased the monthly allowance of all traditional rulers in the state. In addition to that, working with the Governor, we have also been able to get security votes for Ndi Eze. The traditional rulers in Imo state are the only ones across Nigeria that are being paid security votes. No matter how little, its still very significant. That is to show that they are Chief Security officers of their various kingdoms. The Governor, working with us in the council found it wise to extend the funds to them every month to help out with small expenditures to ensure their kingdoms are well secured.

Since I got into office, the prestige of traditional rulers has been restored. Before , it was like a cat and mouse game among Eze’s within the council and people where taking the Eze’s for granted. Now, we’ve been able to restore the integrity and respect for traditional rulers.

TRADITIONAL PARLIAMENT: With the help of the Governor, we established the traditional parliament in Imo state where all the Eze’s come together every quarter to review our traditional practices. We review them and try to harmonize them to make them 21st century compliant. We also try to make sure that all the kingdoms / communities in Imo state are on the same page with regards to our tradition and those that are lagging behind are encouraged to follow suit.

We have been able to institutionalize our traditional and cultural practices in their communities and begun promoting them well. For example we’ve able to review this issue of Traditional marriage in the igbo setting. We’ve been able to harmonize it. When a young man is looking for a wife, before now, they were asked to pay so much in terms of dowry and other material things. In some instances, you find that some young men go broke after getting married so we’ve tried to streamline the traditional marriage practice to make it affordable. We have been able to harmonize it at N10, 000 (Ten thousand naira). Wine and drinks for the bride’s family have also been drastically cut down so it can be affordable to our young men looking for wives to marry that way they can get married without being bugged down with bills after marriage.

INDIGENSHIP LAW: Indigenship law has also been introduced. When someone goes to a particular community and stays there for a very long time the person should be able to exercise some rights and privileges in their host community.

WIDOWHOOD PRACTICES: Before now, in most places when a woman’s husband dies, the brother in-law and family members will strip her of all her belongings and assume her husband’s estate. We felt it was wrong because when a man is married to a woman, whatever they get or acquire together belongs to whichever one of them that survives. We have been able to correct that so when a woman looses her husband she should be able to exercise full control of her husband’s estate.

PROMOTING IGBO LANGUAGE: We as traditional rulers, as the custodian of the culture, it will be a shame if under our watch, our language goes into extinction as forecasted by the United Nations. As custodians, we will ensure that the igbo language is protected.

CHIEFTAINCY TITLES: Joi, you are aware that before now, Chieftaincy titles were been given indiscriminately to the point that criminals, people of dubious characters, kidnappers , armed robbers and those who go to make money from dubious means come back to be rewarded as traditional rulers . I have worked very hard to stop that. Now, let me tell you in 2010, before I became the Chairman, Council of Ndi Eze, in Imo state, in 2010 alone, a total of 3,480 chieftaincy titles were given across the state. By that time, we had a little over 500 autonomous communities.

When I resumed in 2011, I frowned at that. I felt it was making a mockery of our traditional institution so we had to put in place some checks and balances to ensure that no traditional ruler in Imo state could give out more than 3 chieftaincy titles in a year. We made it in such a way that Chieftaincy titles were bestowed based on the individual’s contribution to the society. The person must have contributed to the development of their respective societies and they must have also touched people’s lives positively in their own community. Chieftaincy titles shouldn’t be for sale so we streamlined these policies and ensured that before any chieftaincy title was given, permission must be obtained from the council. The council will in turn make radio announcements informing the general public that a certain traditional ruler was about to hand out a chieftaincy title to the particular individual. We would also ask that if anyone has reservations concerning the installation ceremony, they should write to our office and let us know. So far it has worked, the public really liked the concept. We’ve had instances where members of the public have stepped forward with grave concerns, we investigated and stopped the installation.

As I was saying, the year before I came in, from January 2010 to December 2010, a total of 3,480 chieftaincy titles were given in the state but between June 2011 when I came in and December 2011, only 38 Chieftaincy titles were given in Imo state. Throughout the following year, 2012, the total number of chieftaincy titles given in Imo state was 79 and in 2013, the total number of chieftaincy titles given in the state was 121 as opposed to the thousands in the past . So now, when you step out and introduce yourself as a chief in Imo state, people will know that you are a person of honour and it came well deserved. Chieftaincy titles are no longer for sale in cases where one Eze or community will come out in an occasion and confer chieftaincy titles to more than a hundred people. We put an end to that.

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: The prestige and integrity of traditional rulers has been restored. Before I came in, the traditional rulers were under fear. They weren’t really free to express themselves for fear of being intimidated, suspended or dethroned. When I came in, I called my traditional rulers and asked them to be free to express themselves. I encouraged them to give counseling to people of their communities , the government and assured them that , they would not be intimidated or witch hunted. Now, our Royal fathers walk around with integrity and respect that an Eze deserves.

KINGDOM ADMINISTRATION: Ofcourse you know that His Excellency, in his wonderful wisdom introduced the community government councils across the state. This is a new way of administering the kingdoms and autonomous communities. When the law establishing the community government council was being made, I personally went to the House of Assembly to canvass that traditional rulers be made Chief security officers of their respective autonomous communities. With the support of the Governor, the Honourable members also bought into that suggestion and today, the Eze’s are the Chairmen of the Community government councils in their communities. Before, when you go into some communities, it would be difficult to know who was in charge. In some places, it was a tug of war between the Eze and the PG but all those things have been streamlined now. When you go into a community, the Eze knows where he belongs, as well as the P.G. We have eliminated unhealthy competiton among them.

WELFARE PACKAGE: Right now we are working with His Excellency to ensure that our Eze’s who do not have vehicles are given the opportunity to take advantage of subsidized car loans from the Government. We have done so much. Ofcourse you know His Excellency is building a new traditional parliament; a new office complex for ndi Eze and also an official residence for the Chairman, council of ndi Eze in Owerri. Within this short period, we have done so much and most importantly; one thing I am very proud of is having the confidence of my Eze’s and carrying them along. What is your relationship like with the Eze’s in yor cabinet? I carry my Eze’s along in everything I do. The council is not about me. It’s not a one man show. If I become an emperor or the only cock that crows, it wouldn’t augur well for the council so I try to carry all my Eze’s along. I am working in a harmonized way with my Eze’s and I respect and love them. There’s love , unity and respect.

J.J: That’s quite impressive…how do you cope being a Knight of St. Christopher and a Traditional ruler? I would think that it is a tough job performing all the traditional rites as a Royal father and as a Knight, which makes you a defender of the Christian faith… how are you able to merge the two roles?

dance ohiri.jpgThe two roles actually are not in conflict. Infact, they compliment each other. Let me say this to you. … I have travelled around the world; I have studied and read quite a lot and one thing that is certain is that no matter where you go in the world, it is the religious beliefs of the people that lay the foundation for their culture and their tradition so you can never ever separate Religion from culture and tradition. Having said that, being a traditional ruler and a Christian knight are not in conflict.

The idea is to use my background as a Christian and knight of the church to also do my work as a traditional ruler and custodian of the culture and tradition of the people. Our fore fathers believed in God. They served God however, people may argue which God they served; some of them worshipped idols but they believed that those things were their god .

Now as Christians, we know who the true God is; God almighty. So we now channel all our traditional and cultural practices to the glory and worship of our God that Christianity has taught us. Whether we are now doing libation or breaking of the kolanut, cultural festivals or whatever, we do them to the glory of the God that we serve now. That is why when you see traditional rulers blessing kola nut or praying over the kola, at the end of it all, they end it all, they will say n’aha Jesus Christ onye nwe anyi; that’s in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s no longer in the name of Amadioha or any of the other gods our ancestors worshipped so, there is no conflict. All one needs to understand is that it is the religious beliefs of a people that lay the foundation of their culture and tradition. In the South eastern part of Nigeria, Igbo’s are 99.99% Christians. What I have done in my community as the traditional ruler and in my role as Chairman of Imo state council of ndi Eze is to makesure that our cultural and traditional practices are quite in consonance with our religious beliefs as Christians in Igbo land.

 

J.J: I would like to get your comments on the sealing of the council secretariat and events leading to it.

Well, that was quite unfortunate. I wasn’t in Nigeria. As you can see, I’m here in the United States. I got phone calls and text messages from people of Imo state that were outraged. That was a desecration of our traditional institution by the police and whoever that brought them. That kind of nonsense would never happen in the North. You can never have a situation where the police cordoned off the house or office of the Emir. It’s only in Igbo land that you see or hear of something like this. Its quite regrettable. I was made to understand they were brought there by Cletus Ilomuanya and that’s really a shame. I ask God to really forgive him.

 

J.J: What is your take on the involvement of Traditional rulers in politics?

ohiri hi 5

First of all, I don’t think that traditional rulers should get involved in partisan politics. Politics is everywhere. Within the traditional institution, there is politics; in the community there is politics; in the family and even in the Church. What we are talking about here is partisan politics.

As the Chairman of Imo state council of ndi Eze , all Imo sons and daughters are my people. I love and cherish all of them.. I don’t view them from the point of one partisan prison or the other. I look at them as my own regardless of their partisan affiliation. I don’t think it right for traditional rulers to get involved in politics and that is where some of our Eze’s have erred in the past; getting themselves involve in partisan politics.

For example, during the campaign period of 2010 leading to the election of 2011, we had so many of our Eze’s who got themselves involved in partisan politics preferring one political party over the other to the point where Eze’s and traditional rulers were being told not to receive a particular candidate in their palace. That was wrong! I was one of the Eze’s who stood up to condemn that. I saw it then as an abomination where those Eze’s were being forced to discriminate among their children. If you come to my kingdom, there are people that come from different political parties and it will be an abomination for anyone to tell me who to receive or who not to receive; they are all my children. I don’t think that Eze’s should allow themselves to get involved in partisan politics. Any Eze that gets himself involved in partisan politics is trying to get himself in trouble.

J.J: What steps are you taking to protect the traditional rulers institution from being bastardized?

Right now, we are advising government that before any body is made an Eze or traditional ruler. The government must make sure that the person is somebody of impeccable character; a person of honor and integrity who commands the respect of his people. Also, the selection of an Eze must come from the community not a situation where the government will come and impose one criminal on the community as their traditional ruler. That’s what was happening in the past. Some people were never selected or elected by their people. What we are trying to makesure is that first of all, communities are given the opportunity to freely select their Eze’s based on their traditional norms and constitutions For those that don’t agree on a selection, the government can come in and try to help them to select their Eze.

In all and all, the Eze must be somebody that has a very clean character. That is exactly what we are trying to do now. We are no longer folding our hands watching government impose Eze’s on people that they really don’t want. I also want to thank His Excellency,Owelle Rochas Okorocha in that regard because we have actually worked very hard to makesure that those who come into the traditional institution are men of honor and good character.

J.J: In a recent interview with Eze Cletus Ilomuanya, he expressed some reservations to me on Your Majesty’s work relationship with the Governor. He believes you are not firm in your role as a Royal father. He says he wants you to be bold enough to call the Governor to order and advise him on pertinent issues in accordance with the traditional institution. Would you like to comment on that?

Well, I actually read that interview and it was really funny and it’s also funny that you are asking me to respond to those insinuations. Honestly, I didn’t understand what he was talking about because he was not being specific about what issues he expected me to advise the Governor one way or the other.

First of all, I want to state that Eze Ohiri is known in Imo state. People know me and they know my background and character. When he tries to question my integrity, I don’t think that anyone buys that. Perhaps there is a particular thing he wanted me to tell the Governor and so he believes I am not giving the Governor sound advice. I swore an oath to give my Governor honest and sound advice every single time and that is what I have been doing. Our Governor is also one that listens and I appreciate God almighty for giving us a Governor like him. I don’t know what Eze Ilomuanya is talking about so I would actually want him to be more specific. Reading from the interview (on ImoStateBlog.com ), I think what he was referring to was the Governor’s court case with him.

Now, here’s a man who filed a lawsuit against the Governor and the High Court in Owerri ruled against him. They ruled that the Governor had powers to remove as Chairman of the Council. During that period, Ilomuanya did not agree. He continued to parade himself as the Chairman of the council; he continued to parade himself as the Chairman, South East council of Traditional rulers knowing fully well that if you are not a state chairman, you cannot be the chairman of the South East Council of traditional rulers. That is one of the abracadabra that he is involved in. He likes to hoodwink people into believing one rubbish or the other but what he doesn’t know is that people have grown. People are far more educated than him. The facts are that with that judgement, he never complied with it. He never believed in it but he kept parading himself. During that period, he never accepted that ruling.

When he went to the Court of Appeal, they set aside the ruling of the lower court and then the Governor took his matter to the Supreme Court. All of a sudden, Ilomuanya wants the Governor do this and that. He said the Governor was not obeying the rule of law but he has forgotten that after the ruling of the High court in Owerri, which gave judgment against him, he never complied with that. So, perhaps that is why he expects me to advise the Governor to comply with the ruling of the court of appeal. The Governor has the right to proceed to the Supreme Court and the Governor has exercised that right. He was served that the Governor has taken the matter to the supreme court so he should have gone home to wait for the Supreme court to decide that matter instead, he is running around calling his Governor all kinds of names and saying so many unprintable things against the Governor and my very self. Honestly speaking, I think the Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha tolerated a lot of nonsense from that guy, Ilomuanya. No Governor in the Federal Republic of Nigeria or Africa as a whole will tolerate the kind of rubbish that Cletus Ilomuanya said or did against Governor Rochas Okorocha. The Governor showed a lot of maturity and restraint in the midst of so much provocation from Cletus Ilomuanya. So, when he says I should have advised the Governor, perhaps he was surprised I did not advise the Governor to dethrone him long time ago. He went on the Press asking every traditional ruler in Nigeria who gave Owelle Rochas Okorocha a title to withdraw it from him. No Eze or traditional ruler will make such statement against his Governor and remain a traditional ruler the next second. Maybe that was the kind of advise I was to give just like he advised the Governors he worked with and had so many Eze’s dethroned even where there innocent. I am a man of honour and I work well with my Governor; we talk and discuss. There are so many things that happen and we leave it to God almighty. I think Cletus Ilomuanya needs to go and bury his head in shame.

 

J.J: At the end of your tenure, what would you like to be remembered for?

At the end of my tenure, Honestly speaking, I believe that God is in charge of my life and everything that I do. At the end of the day, everything I have done, every single step that I’ve taken from the first day I stepped into that office will make up my history. Most importantly, I will like to be remembered as someone that came and brought back honesty, hardwork, integrity and respect back to the traditional institution. I will like to be remembered as the person that came and reconciled our traditional and cultural practices with our religious beliefs as Christians. Before now, people believed there were in conflict but today that perception has changed. I would like to be remembered as that Eze that came and gave my best to the good of humanity and ndi Eze in Imo state. Also, one who came and made sure that our traditional institution was not brought to ridicule again.

 

A Joi John exclusive for IMO STATE BLOG.com

Copyright Notice: All rights reserved. This interview with HRH Eze Samuel Ohiri may not be reproduced, or published in whole or in part without prior express written permission from IMOSTATEBLOG.COM

 

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