Ezeigbo Title Tears Ireland’s Igbo Community Apart
Ezeigbo Title Tears Ireland’s Igbo Community Apart. Among the Ireland’s Igbo community things are falling apart. There is threat of outright violence: Lawyers have been consulted; and the police have been put on high alert. Name calling is also the order of the day: words like drug barons, 419ner, criminals, wife snatcher, in short, all sorts of verbal ogbunigwe have been flying around. For over two months Xclusive Magazine has painstakingly investigated this matter that we can now authoritatively reveal all the sordid details.(Interview with Mr. Ezeani was conducted on behalf of Xclusive Magazine by Tunde Moshood, Publisher of Famous Enquirer)
The struggle for Ezeigbo chieftaincy and the blind ambition of a few is tearing the seemingly peaceful existence of the second largest Nigerian ethnic group in Ireland. The question being asked is what is in the Ezeigbo title that would cause two seemingly close Igbo sons to want to tear each other apart? We understand that the position attracts an attractive salary, but is that enough? We learnt also that with the Ezeigbo title political doors would be opened and contacts in high places. So what? Is that enough reason to sacrifice the brotherhood and unity of a people that have been marginalised for so long, a people who fought in a three-year Biafran wan in which over one million of their people died?
In our investigation, Xclusive Magazine reliably gathered that the two principal actors at the centre of what is now known among the Igbos as Agha Eze Ndi Igbo (war for King of Igbo people) are Matthew Emeka Ezeani, a successful lawyer, a patron of Igbo Community in Ireland (ICI) and the Ebubedike of Akusionu and Stephen Orji, a successful business man and the charismatic President of Igbo Community in Ireland and Agbaedo Nkiti 1 of Igbo land.
And there is no letting in their attack on each other. Emeka in an Xclusive chat with Xclusive Magazine said, “What we have here is a clique of four or five people led by Stephen Orji, who consider themselves business barons and their business is shady for that matter. I go on record to say that people who do shady business in Ireland and who give Nigerians a bad name, who think they would use Ohaneze to give themselves legitimacy, have failed.”
Steve Orji, incensed by this accusation, countered, “Emeka is also a criminal, a manipulator. It is because of his political ambition that he wants to become the Ezigbo by all means.”
Contrary to Emeka’s claim, the Ezeigbo opposition is not “a clique of four or five people.” Rather, Xclusive Magazine can authoritatively reveal, it is Emeka that is running away with a clique against the wishes of the majority of the Igbos in Ireland. In a last minute crisis meeting convened on 7 December 2008 at Immaculate Heart Church, Rowlagh Dublin and witnessed by this reporter, unprecedented number of aggrieved Igbos from almost all the counties in Ireland were present and with one voice. Ndi Igbo have never been this united.
Genesis of the Crisis
But if the truth has to be told, Igbos in Ireland have never been truly united. There are Igbo Associations in all counties of Ireland, but they are appendages, dangling precariously, no real foundation, with different names, independent of the other, and no central body that hold all the branches together. There are Ezenwanne Drogheda, Nwannedinamba Dundalk, Ohaneze Ndigbo Limerick, Izu Anioma Ireland, Igbo Progressive Union Galway, Igbo Community Ireland in Dublin and a host of other contractions of Igbo unity.
However precarious this arrangement may seem, it appeared to have served the Igbos relatively well. Up until February 2006 when, due to “series of wrangling within the Association”, a group of some members, led by Chuck Okpe, broke away from Steve Orji led Igbo Community Ireland (ICI) to form another Igbo Association called Oganihu Ndi Igbo. The break-away created deep animosity between the two groups. Expectedly, it generated fierce competition, as one group intensified efforts to out-do the other in popularity and acceptance among the other ethnic groups and the Irish society at large.
Our source, deeply vast in the internal dynamics of Ireland’s Igbo politics, revealed to us that in this struggle to win the hearts and minds of the Ndi Igbo in Ireland and the entire Irish society, Igbo Community Ireland (ICI) was winning Oganihu Ndi Igbo hands down, and increasing its membership rapidly. As at the time both Associations were dissolved there were 100 strong financial members of ICI as against mere 25 members of the Oganihu Ndi Igbo. ICI had not only dwarfed its Dublin rival but was quickly spreading its influence all over the counties of Ireland to the extent that most non-Igbos did not know that ICI is just one independent Association out of many Igbo Associations in Ireland. Our source put this down to the charisma and financial muscle of ICI President, Steve Orji.
Oganihu Ndi Igbo might be down but not out. Our impeccable source, who knows Chuck very well, revealed that inside his diminutive frame is a fighter. Chuck, he said, was beefed by what he saw as Steve’s flagrant display of flamboyant arrogance, carrying himself as if he was the king of all the Igbos in Ireland.
He had been overhead several times swearing that Steve was never a chief, that the “chief” he attached to his name was a sign of the desperation of someone seeking for attention.
So for the past two years Chuck and Steve did not see eye-to-eye and the two Igbo organisations they led continued to live like cat and dog, giving Igbo people a bad name.
But in August 2008, some well-meaning Igbo people in Ireland had to call for a truce. A 15-Man Peace Process Committee, with Emeka Ezeani as the Chairman, was set up to unite the two warring factions and midwife a new union, Nzuko Ndi Igbo, for all Igbos in Dublin.
According to our very reliable source, but along the line Emeka wanted to also assume the chairmanship of Igbo Community Ireland to oversee and coordinate the New Yam festival. Steve was said to have been angered by this move. He was still the President and constitutionally vested with the authority to oversee the New Yam festival. Other members of the Igbo community vehemently rejected Emeka’s idea. And as a proud man, and one who was said to have given much financial and professional support to the Association, Emeka was deeply pained. He abandoned the Committee and refused to be part of the New Yam festival, an event he had played prominent role from its inception in Ireland.
The New Yam festival was organised successfully. Prominent Igbo chiefs were flown from Nigeria, among them was Colonel Joe Achuzia, the Secretary-General of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural body.
Xclusive Magazine learnt that Col Achuzia was very impressed with what he saw and the commitment of the Ireland’s Igbos in the promotion and celebration of Igbo tradition and culture. He also became aware of the three-tier rift among the Igbo rank and file: ICI vs Oganihu Ndi Igbo; Steve vs Chuck; and Emeka vs Steve. He also did not particularly like the arrangement in which Igbo Associations were scattered all over Ireland with no centre.
He opted for a wholesale approach to solving the problem. He is reported to have said in Igbo that rather than cutting a tree from the stem, it should be uprooted from the ground, by which he meant, the two associations should be dissolved and a single Igbo body be established.
On 3 September 2008, in an emergency meeting at the Immaculate Heart Church, Col Achuzia dissolved Igbo Community Ireland, Oganihu Ndi Igbo and the Steering Committee set up earlier to midwife Nzuko Ndi Igbo and mandated Reverend Father Sylvester Onyeachonam, an Igbo man and the Chaplain of the African Chaplaincy Dublin Archdiocese, to convene a meeting where all the pending issues would be resolved.
Father Sylvester would be assisted by Father Christian Onyigbuo and Reverend Obinna Ulogwara, Chaplain of the African Chaplaincy, Anglican Diocese, Dublin. Col Achuzia handed over to Father Sylvester the constitution of Ohaneze and all other relevant documents, with the promise to come back to Ireland at a later unspecified date for the inauguration of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo in Ireland.
Xclusive Magazine can authoritatively confirm that the original plan was to have a strong and unified Ohaneze Ndi Igbo in Ireland that would become a strong pressure group to be repositioned towards 2011, the next general elections in Nigeria. For quite a while some Igbos in Ireland with political ambition have been moaning over what they see as the marginalisation of Igbos in Europe to the advantage of the Igbos in America, appointed into choice political positions in Nigeria. “These American people are not even as educated as those of us in Europe,” lamented one source.
The choice of Father Sylvester, a Catholic priest, to oversee the peace process was greeted with overwhelming approval. Majority of Igbo people are devout Catholics.
Father Sylvester was therefore seen as God-fearing and expected to be fair in his approach. Always carrying a smile, barely two years in Ireland Father Sylvester has been such a strong unifying force of all African in Ireland, irrespective of their religious and ethnic affiliations.
Also, Father Sylvester is an intelligent man who does not discriminate. He has attended nearly all meetings he was invited by African groups, and some of those invitations had been at his own request. Also, Father Sylvester has supported and related marvellously well with the ever-growing number of Pentecostal churches, whose members see the Roman Catholic as a veritable recruiting ground for members.
On 14 September 2008 Father Sylvester swung into action by constituting a 5-man Igbo General Assembly Reconstitution Committee. The members were: Obiora Aduba, Thomas Chukwu, Kelechy Ahaotu, James Onwu and Kelechi Onwumereh as the Secretary. The mandate of the Committee was “to find peace and unity within Igbos in Dublin.”
While the Committee was still sitting, Father Sylvester lost his father and had to travel to Nigeria for his burial. On his return the Committee members had finished their sittings and a 12-point recommendation was submitted to him. One of the key recommendations of the Committee was the setting up of a 3-man Caretaker Committee “to manage the affairs of Ndi Igbo in Dublin for no longer than three months and prepare elections.”
The Ezeigbo Saga
Xclusive Magazine reliably gathered that it was at the process of approving and implementing these recommendations that Emeka travelled to Nigeria and came back with a letter signed by Col Achuzia. In the letter dated 28 October 2008, addressed to Barrister Ezeani, Chairman Nzuko Ndi Igbo, with the subject: “Inauguration of Ohaneze Ndigo in Ireland”, Col Achuzia mandated Emeka “to organise and prepare for inauguration of Ohaneze Ndigbo and the Igbo traditional council in Ireland.”
It was this letter and its weighty mandate that completely destroyed the fragile peace, deepened the divide between Steve Orji and Chuck Okpe on one hand and the emergent two factions, one in support and the other against Emeka-for-Ezeigbo-of-Ireland, on the other hand, what is now widely regarded in Igbo circle as Agha Eze Ndi Igbo (war of Igbo King).
The faction supporting Emeka, championed by Chuck Okpe, argues that Emeka is eminently qualified to lead the Igbos in Ireland. He is a qualified and practising lawyer and a principal partner of Ceemex & Co. Solicitors, Ireland’s first ethnic law firm. Also, Emeka is very intelligent, an eloquent speaker and highly connected in the higher echelon of the Irish society. Needless to say that he is also blessed by God with such a well-endowed and an imposing frame.
The Dundalk chapter is yet to decide whether to remain part of the opposition, or join Emeka’s camp, or simply remain neutral. But so far it has been fiercely raided and decimated with the lure of chieftaincy titles: Ifeanyi, its former President earlier suspended due to anomaly in the financial account of Nwannedinamba, was crowned the Eze Udo of Dundalk; and Bennie Attoh, who doubled as the Vice-President and acting President, was on 31 December 2008 conferred with the Ada di ora nma title. We gathered that Bennie had since resigned.
It appears that while the opposition continues to plan, Emeka Ezeani is quickly consolidating: holding court, reaching out to other institutions on his capacity as Ezeigbo of Ireland and dishing out chieftaincy titles to whoever cares. An average Igbo man or woman is title crazy, and with his ability to use it as bait, Emeka is already in an advantageous position.
On that 31 December 2008 at the Teacher’s Club, opposite Rotunda Hospital Dublin, when Bennie was conferred with the Ada di ora nma title, two other people were also inducted into Ohaneze Ndigbo traditional council of chiefs: Paul Mefor was made the Okigbo; and Oghenevwoke Akpubi, Senior Registrar/Acting Consultant at the St. Luke’s Hospital Kilkenny and an Ughelli (delta state) man, received the title of Enyi Ndi Igbo (friends of the Igbos).
When asked for his reaction to this spate of Igbo titles being dished out by self-styled Ezeigbo, and even to non-Igbos, Glen Adimora, a strong member of the opposition, waxed proverbially: “when one man cooks for all, the food would not go round, but when all cook for one man…” He had left his final words hanging.
And at the Teacher’s Club that New Year eve, the music that was played repeatedly was Osita Osadebe‘s classic liner, “a na anu ogu, oji ji anako ji” (while others are fighting one with yam continues to plant one’s yam). Anyone vast in the nuances of Igbo proverbs can deduce easily from Osadebe’s music Emeka Ezeani’s defiant message: the ezeigbo war is long over; this is the time for consolidation.
Proverb, writes Chinua Achebe in his classic novel, Things Fall Apart, is the palmwine with which Igbo words are eaten. Ohaneze kwenu! Mma mma nu.Ohaneze kwenu! Mma mma nu. Ohaneze kwezuanu! Oganihu ohaneze.
- This article appeared in print in Xclusive Magazine Ireland in 2009.