‘Umunede remains peaceful, welcomes all under my reign’

As the weeklong activities by Umunede in Delta State to celebrate the 25th coronation anniversary of its traditional ruler begin, His Royal Highness, Dr. Ezeagwu Ezenwali 1, FMNR (JP), Agadagidi, the Obi of Umunede Kingdom, the monarch, in an exclusive interview with The Guardian, reeled out his achievements, challenges and potentials of his kingdom. He spoke with Godwin Ijediogor (News Editor) and Sony Neme

Twenty-five years after your coronation, what are your major achievements?
It has been a success story, because since my coronation, things have improved tremendously in Umunede, in all ramifications.
Specifically, since my reign, Umunede now speaks with a voice, in terms of political leaning, and it is already paying off. This has led us to have a member in the state House of Assembly, Mr. Tony Elekeokwuri, which evaded us for years, and we have, for the first time in two decades, come into the mainstream politicking in the state.

Another major landmark is the peaceful coexistence, as you would not be able to distinguish between the indigenes and non-indigenes in my kingdom.

It may interest you to know that this earned us commendation by the last administration of Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan.

 What has that translated into, in terms of government presence in Umunede?
Apart from the numerous awards received, it also earned us a place in the state Traditional Council and Security Committee.

To commemorate those achievements, we had a groundbreaking ceremony for a befitting palace for the kingdom, which would be unveiled during the anniversary.

I want to add here that without peace and tranquility, there won’t be any form of development, such as the newly built, multi-purpose Agadagidi Community Town Hall, named after me, which is the first of its kind, as I am being honoured with such a befitting edifice in my life time.

We also have Area 2 Customary Court built here, as well as a Magistrates Court and a state High Court in Umunede during the period under review.

All these are achievements occasioned by peaceful co-existence here.

Certainly, it might not all roses, so what were your major challenges and how were you able to surmount them?
As a cosmopolitan society, we had the issues of working for our individual selves, in what could be called a voice of barbell, which we have tackled diplomatically by galvanising my people and letting them know what we have lost while playing the opposition politics.

As soon as I mounted the throne, the first task I had was to bring everyone in Umunede under a canopy of love and understanding and living with one another in harmony.

As for challenges, that is a human factor that must be embraced, as we are bound to have them. What matters to me is how you go about solving them. Presently I can beat my chest and say there is no major challenge due largely to my style of leadership as the monarch, as I carry all along.

Certainly, there could be some people who may not be satisfied, and I reach out to them as soon as it comes to my notice and carry them along. The joy is that I am in charge here as my people love me and I respect their wishes.
Ancestrally, some people see Umunede as having its root from Benin, while others think otherwise, especially with your Ibo dialect.

Who actually are you and what is the history of Umunede?
Umunede was founded by Ede, a Benin prince who migrated from the ancient kingdom in search of a place to create his kingdom, as Benin was already saturated.

His name is Ede, while his children are called Umu Ede, but was corrupted to Umunede by the colonial masters.

So why the Ibo name, Umu, which means children in Ibo language?
You will recall that the first set of people that came with the colonial master were the Ibos, who brought Christianity and education to us and influenced our names and a lot of things.

It is only of recent that some of us started changing it to what it should be. That problem remains, because they didn’t end it here but they took it to wherever they went. Even as far as Onitsha, who are also from Benin, suffered same fate. The name of Agbon, who is the senior brother of Ede, was also changed to Agbor.

Now that you have the ears of the state governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, what are your expectations from the state, as you celebrate your landmark at 25?
Truth is that there is no infrastructure located in any urban town that is missing in this kingdom, but the problem is that of functionality.

Specifically, water supply is like gold here and electricity supply is epileptic due to malfunctioning transformers and step down. NITEL and Post Office are here, but I don’t know if they are still functional.

As for the general hospital, thank God for the governor and his administration for the facelift and provision of facilities there now. We remain grateful to him. Only two weeks ago, they came to commission a Sickle Cell Centre there. They have also refurbished and transformed the health centre.

But like Oliver Twist, we plead for our internal roads, which have all gone bad, to be given facelift and also plead for a tertiary institution to be located here.

What are your major festivals and what is their relevance to your kingdom?
The major festival is Iruanmor, which is seldom celebrated, but a must in the life of a monarch. Its date and time is usually based on when the king would have consulted the gods and obtained its approval.

The second is the annual Igue festival, which is celebrated by the Binis in December, but here in March or April. It is a celebration to mark the end of clearing, burning and dressing of our farmlands before planting, to appease the land for bountiful harvests.

The third one is Iwaji, which is the new yam festival, celebrated to usher in the new yam. It is after this celebration that the new yams could be eaten.

Before the enthronement of a new king, what are those activities that take place?
Same day that a reigning king joins his ancestors is when the new king, the late king’s first son, mounts his throne. There are traditional rights and many other activities that are obviously not for the pages of the newspaper.

What is the organogram of your kingdom?
The Obi is the traditional, spiritual and political head of the kingdom. His words are sacrosanct.

However, I have chiefs that work with me. Foremost in this order is the 24-man Obi-in-Council, which has representatives of diverse interests and presided by the Obi.

Next are the Princes in the kingdom, with certain titles statutorily reserved for them, such as the Akonowe. They are followed by the Council of Chiefs, the Umunede Progressive Union (UPU) and other positions, including the warlord.

Instructively, UPU is exclusively inaugurated by the Obi purposely for the development of the kingdom. Their ideas can be taken wholesale, amended or rejected outright.

How would you describe Umunede’s location?
Umunede is strategically located in a way that everybody coming from any part of the country will have stopped or passed through here and we have keyed into this to our advantage.

It might interest you to know that during the civil war, the Nigerian soldiers were stationed here, with a full compliment of a division, led by late head of state, Gen. Murtala Mohammed. Even President Muhammadu Buhari was here as an Army Captain.

 Because of the cordial relationship they enjoyed here. We benefited immensely when they left, as they attracted major infrastructures here, such as NITEL, Water Board and NEPA, were was given to us even when Agbor was still being serviced by the then Rural Electricity Board (REB).

Happily, Okowa has found us worthy to become host of an industrial park that is first of its kind in the whole of the South-South. Aside industries, likes of Dangote that have shown interest to be located here, the park will also have schools, banks and a Police station. Already the land has been procured, with survey carried out. All these are what our strategic location has brought us, especially as we don’t discriminate here.

It may interest you to know that I am a true Nigerian in all ramifications; an Umunede by birth, I grew up in Yoruba land and attended the famous Luba Comprehensive College, Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, and Bauchi State School of Science and Arts.

So, majority of my friends are Yoruba and Hausa and I speak both languages as well.