THE ONIHEA CHIEFTAINCY TITLE AND THE LAW – HINTS AND MISSES
By Femi Okafor
I did promise to add my voice to the trending issue on two of our lbusa forums, the source and authority of Chieftaincy titles and the place of the Obuzor/Senior Diokpa in all these. Actually, to understand and appreciate the genesis, l went through several comments from other forums and from what l gathered, the smoking gun was the title of Onihea of lbusa or of Umuahea as the case may be. While some claimed that since the Obuzor did not confer the title on Mr. Roland Nwanze, his chieftaincy title is not recognized by the palace, others held the view that the title is restricted to the givers, the Umuehea and therefore, such title, not having the input and the seal of the Senior Diokpa of Ibusa and/or the Obuzor institution, is not valid. For this reason, the holder of the Chieftaincy title can only be addressed as Onihea of Umuehea and not Onihea of lbusa. I want to believe that it is this opposing and conflicting view that fueled the endless online debate in both Ndi lgbuzo and the People of Oshimili North forums.
Let me state right away that all the views and entrenched positions held by those who brought about the controversy was informed, in my considered opinion, by reasons other than the acquisition of knowledge and/or clarification of issues bordering on traditional matters. What has been written by some of us may have also been as a result of our desire to settle hidden scores and animosity towards the holder of the title or to set traditional records straight. Whichever way, some languages employed and the nature of the rhetoric leaves no one in doubt that hate sometimes carefully coded, was the underlying but concealed reasons used to portray the search for the truth.
Now, l am not unmindful of the problems which the endless power struggles between the traditional authority or institution in lbusa and the members of lzu Ani, a situation that had created endless animosity and which had successfully kept the inhabitants of the community divided on traditional issues since the introduction of the Obuzor institution of traditional administration into our community. The framers of the instrument of authority, the White paper and the establishment of what appeared to be divided traditional structures did not in any way help matters. However, before l deviate from the main issue, we may need to examine what the White paper on the Obuzor Chieftaincy declaration says on the powers of the Obuzor to initiate and confer Chieftaincy titles on deserving sons, daughters and in fact on any individual that the throne may deem worthy to receive a title from the community for various reasons
It should also be noted that there are two types of Chieftaincy titles: the traditional and hsonorary title. While the traditional titles like the Odogwu, Uwolor, lyase, Ikwele and perhaps the Ohene and maybe, the Omu are known to law as they may have been included in the Obuzor Chieftaincy Declaration, most honourary titles are not so documented. These honourary titles are created and awarded by the Obuzor at his own discretion in conjunction with the Senior Diokpa and in accordance with the law. Let us not forget that our lbusa community is made up of what we could describe as autonomous, but federating units/villages. Each village has its own power to administers its people and with unfettered right to select, and confer titles according to their needs, without recourse to, or in fact, to obtain any input from the authority of the Senior Diokpa or the Obuzor as the case may be.
I recall that Mr. Nkwuka Peter ‘Abu’ Udeze, in his contribution gave as example of the village title conferred on late Chief Willy lkolodo by the Umuisagba without any reference to the then Senior Diokpa, such title being within the exclusive domain of the Umuisagba Community. Such award not having the input of other federating units/villages in lbusa does not, ab initio, invalidate the title in any shape or form.
The law that empowers and bestowed authority on the Obuzor to award and confer titles on anyone is not absolute, hence it needed the input of the Senior Diokpa for such titles to be validated. But that law is specifically for traditional titles recognized by law as contained in the Obuzor Declaration law and such other lbusa titles as the case may be, to be determined by the Obuzor-in-Council. The legal arrangement did not take away the right of the autonomous federating villages/units to create and confer Chieftaincy titles on their own deserving sons and daughters; otherwise, it would have expressly said so. Though it is desirable for such recipients to be introduced to the Obuzor-in-Council as a courtesy, failure to do so does not in any way render such titles invalid, a nullify or unrecognizable by the Obuzor institution, the Senior Diokpa or the members of the community.
To those who claim that the Obuzor does not recognize the Onihea title, l think that is a joke carried too far. It is a figment of their imaginations, and at best, and for no other reasons, than selfish motives. It is doubtful if such a claim emanated from the palace neither could those propagating such ideas show any evidence in support. Take for instance, many members from our community that hold Chieftaincy titles from communities other than lbusa. Could we then safely and in clear conscience claim that such titles will not be recognized simply because the holders got their titles outside the lbusa Community? The answer is no. The point being made here is that there are honourary Chieftaincy titles and there are some others that are strictly traditional titles that are governed by the laid down procedures as per the Obuzor Chieftaincy Declaration law.
Mr. Jude Adiefe posited a very relevant question which, in my considered opinion, was apt in this our conversation. According to him, giving the polarised traditional structure in place in lbusa today as a result of the lingering power struggle for supremacy and relevancy between the Senior Diokpa/lzu Ani on the one hand, and the Obuzor of Ibusa on the other hand, a situation that made it difficult if not impossible to liaise with the Obuzor in-Council in order to streamline an award of a Chieftaincy title, assuming without conceding its relevancy in this instance, conferred on an indigene from an opposing camp, does that, ab initio, invalidate such award and conferment? The answer again is No. And besides, the above scenario can only be considered if it was mandatory that for such title to be recognized as such, it must have the insignia of office belonging to the palace of the Obuzor of lbusa.
But where, as it has been shown by the Umuisagba Chieftaincy title conferred on late Mr. Willy Ikolodo, where the input of the Obuzor or the Senior Diokpa was not mandatory by law, such courtesy can be dispensed with and yet the title is nonetheless, valid.
As l have pointed out before, where a law by its very nature failed to expressly restrict or prohibit the performance of an act, such act, when performed, could not be said to be in violation of the law. The power invested on the Obuzor to initiate, process, award and confer a Chieftaincy title on any individual does not remove the equivalent residual power hitherto exercised by any of the existing federating units/villages to initiate, process, award and confer Chieftaincy titles on their worthy sons and daughters. Such award, be it an honourary or traditional title and not subject to the Obuzor or Senior Diokpa’s approval, does not in any way diminish its value, relevance or its acceptability by the community. It therefore, follows that the idea that the Onihea, a title that has existed from time immemorial and the exclusive preserve of the Umuehea community, is not recognised by reason of such title not having been approved by the Senior Diokpa and or the Obuzor-in-Council, is erroneous and those who holds such views are inherently in error both in law and in substance.
Femi Okafor, a Lawyer writes from United States of America