Friday, 23 December 2016

ON THE 2016 BENUE STATE CHIEFTAINCY LAW


The report of the committee of Idoma Area Traditional Council appointed to fine-tune the position of the council on the implementation of the 2016 Benue State chieftaincy law in Idoma land, signed by Joseph O. Ada, secretary to the council, and two others, confirms that from the early days of her nationhood, Idoma political history is replete with chieftaincy conflicts.



 The report has it that Idoma and Igala had to leave Wukari because their Jukun brothers marginalized them from the traditional chieftaincy stool. Idoma later separated from Igala at Idah on the same grounds.
     
Besides interstate boundary conflicts, internal communal clashes over farm land and recent devastating invasion of the area by Fulani herdsmen, the greatest threat to peace and security in Idoma land is chieftaincy disputes.

By 1978, all the twenty two old districts in Idoma land had major chieftaincy disputes. In 2013, out of the seventy-two chieftaincy-related litigations in Benue state, the nine Idoma-speaking local government areas, out of the twenty three, accounted for sixty-five. Within the first three years of his reign, the present Och’Idoma, His Royal Highness, Elias Ikoyi Obekpa, recorded two hundred chieftaincy disputes.

Apart from the protracted legal battle between Okpani Ugboju and Ella Okwuludo over the traditional stool of Och’Otukpo, characterized by the destructive Okwu eta and Okwu ahapa (Three Clans and Seven Clans) dichotomy, one of the most turbulent recorded chieftaincy disputes in Idoma land was that over Alegwu stool in Adoka chiefdom, which raged throughout the 1970s. Three persons who were believed to be factional leaders in the crisis; Egli Oko, Achegbulu Oko and Adoyi Ebube, were sent on exile to Okpoga, Oju and Ugbokolo respectively,

In Ado local government, the infamous royal and non-royal phrase was introduced into the state political lexicon by a major media house in its coverage of the 1997 chieftaincy crisis in the area. The words assumed a cliché with which the area had been polarized.

Like every conflict, the major effect of chieftaincy dispute in Idoma land is that all the affected communities are sharply divided along perceived cleavage. Every form of inter-personal relationship, including partisan political grouping, even marriage, had been along these artificial barriers. That mutual mistrust is the basis of disunity among the people which had been the bane of internal security and meaningful development in the area over the years.

Various governments in the state had identified had destructive effects of chieftaincy disputes and made concerted attempts to resolve it but to no avail. The fact is not that the problem is insurmountable, but that those governments lacked sufficient political will to address it.

When, in 1978, as earlier noted, the state was embroiled in chieftaincy disputes, the military government of Colonel Abdulahi Shelleng, set up a six-man panel on Idoma Area Chieftaincy Disputes, headed by Justice Sylvester Onu of the State High Court. Among other terms of reference, the panel was directed to determine and codify the method of selecting traditional title holders in Idoma area of the state with the view to ensuring lasting peace among the communities.

The panel recommended that all kindreds be entitled to the district headship. Government accepted the recommendation and issued a White Paper on it. Peace was restored to the area.

Unfortunately, for inexplicable reason, the same government set up another committee, headed by Hon. Justice Katsina-Alu, Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, to review the White Paper. That committee recommended that the district headship should exclude some kindreds. Government accepted it and issued another White Paper, thereby throwing the state into deeper chieftaincy crises, which persisted until the present regime came to power.

It is with the view to addressing all acrimonies associated with traditional rulership in the state that the Governor, Samuel Ortom, shortly on assumption of office, submitted the executive bill on Benue State Chieftaincy Law to the House of Assembly. This is pertinent because, although the problem was more prevalent in Benue South Senatorial District, otherwise referred to as Zone ‘C’, crisis in any part is crisis in the state.

The House subjected the bill to public hearing where all interest groups made their invaluable contributions. It was the collective desire of the people that the Assembly passed as a bill, which the Governor promptly signed into law.

The amended chieftaincy law provides for two Area Traditional Councils, each to be headed by a Paramount Ruler and ten Intermediate Area Traditional Councils, to be headed by a First Class Chief each. Every Local Government Area has a Second Class Chief and two Third Class Chiefs while each district has a District Head and five Clan or Kindred Heads. Contest for respective positions, which are to rotate among all constituent parts, is open to all male adults with requisite qualifications. The process of selection to fill relevant vacant positions is unambiguous.

. By this law, the Governor has displayed rare statesmanship towards repositioning and strengthening the traditional institution in the face of challenging realities. It is a fact that the institution had been structurally defective with inherent inadequacies that were threatening its very foundation. The Benue State Chieftaincy law could not have come at a better time. If Jukun, Igala and Idoma separated over marginalization, it follows, therefore, that the current chieftaincy law has saved Idoma nation from devastating crisis, if not outright disintegration, over sectional marginalisation in the chieftaincy institution. People must learn to live with time and not to push the hands of the clock backwards.


. The chieftaincy law has addressed some of the nagging problems in the state, such as internal security, pull-him-down syndrome and political upheavals, which were all firmly rooted in certain principles of the traditional ruler ship.

. Already, the law has been successfully implemented in some parts of the state with the selection of Third Class and First Class chiefs as well as Tor Tiv. While its implementation in other parts of the state is being awaited, I must appreciate the transparency in the selection exercise and appeal that it is sustained. All vacant positions that are recognized by the provisions of the law should be filled up in order to grant all aspirants a level playing ground. Every person who means well for the future of Idoma nation must accept this law. Moreover, the rule of law is sacrosanct and any act of illegality must not be treated with kid’s glove.

As the Governor, Samuel Ortom, rightly pointed out in one of his interactive radio progammes, ‘There must be innovation in whatever we are doing in this world for us to move forward’. This is a universal maxim. It was Arnold H. Glasow who noted that, “One of the true tests of leadership is not just the ability to recognize a problem, but the courage to courage it, before it becomes an emergency”.

Governor Ortom is, therefore, a true leader.


 Otse Otokpa
writes from Makurdi
22nd December, 2016



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