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By Law Mefor

Since taking office on March 17, 2022, Governor Chukwuma Soludo has encountered difficulties establishing peace and order in Anambra state. When Soludo took office as Anambra State’s fifth governor, the state was in disarray, much like many parts of the South East. In general, people constituted law unto themselves, traded where they pleased, constructed where they pleased, and behaved as they pleased. Unknown gunmen (UGM) were running amok in the state.

Not even the esteemed traditional institutions escaped the damage. The Code of Conduct for Anambra State Traditional Rulers, which was adopted during the administration of Peter Obi, revised under Governor Willie Obiano, endorsed by all traditional rulers in the state, and signed into force by His Royal Majesty Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, Chairman of the Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers, was abandoned by several traditional rulers.

When Soludo took over, he had a grand plan to make Anambra an affluent and livable state. Given the confusion and fiasco he inherited, his fantastic ideas can’t be speedily implemented. His focus initially had to be on bringing law and order back to establish the preconditions necessary for growth, development, and transformation.

The governor, acting through the commissioner of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, suspended one or two traditional rulers who violated extant rules. Rather than reach the governor privately, the Obi of Onitsha responded with an open letter to Soludo via a commissioner, wherein he called the governor out, demonstrating the disarray once again.

The expertly composed fourteen-paragraph letter highlighted one or two key points: Igwe Achebe, the head of the Anambra council of traditional rulers, was not consulted, and the suspended traditional rulers’ transgressions outweighed the penalty meted to them. Achebe’s beautiful letter admitted that the traditional rulers should face punishment, although a lighter one, for their transgressions.

The Anambra Traditional Rulers Law 2007, as amended in 2020, is the mother law that gave birth to the Code of Conduct for Anambra Traditional Rulers, which Igwe Achebe personally signed on behalf of the rest.

Despite reading it several times, one could not find the part that stated the governor had to consult the Council before enforcing disciplinary action against non-compliant traditional rulers. This indicates that Igwe Achebe’s expectation—rather than an existing legal condition precedent—that he should have been consulted is what gave rise to his faulty sense of entitlement. The governor in this instance did not break any laws or precedents.

Suspended Igwe Damian Ezeani of Neni Community

The question is: is there a law and code of conduct that govern Anambra traditional rulers’ affairs? That is the question interested parties ought to pose and answer. Why wouldn’t the regulations govern their business if they voluntarily agreed to abide by it? The traditional rulers who disobeyed these regulations were also disciplined under Obiano, and heaven did not collapse. Laws are laws until they are repealed, no matter how bad they may be. Therefore, it makes little difference that Soludo did not contact Obi of Onitsha, provided that the Traditional Rulers’ Code of Conduct never stipulated such a precondition.

Part of the letter announcing the suspension says, “In view of the foregoing, and for order and good governance, I am directed to inform you that Mr. Governor has suspended your recognition as the traditional ruler of Neni until further notice in the exercise of his powers under Section 2 (C) of the Anambra State Traditional Rulers (Amendment) Law, 2020.”

In section XVIII of the Code of Conduct for Anambra traditional rulers, it is stated, for the avoidance of doubt, that “A Traditional ruler shall not confer chieftaincy titles or similar awards on persons outside his domain, without obtaining clearance and permission from the respective Traditional Rulers of the recipients.” This rule was put into effect by the Anambra Council of Traditional Rulers since the days of Peter Obi as governor, and it derived from Section 2 (C) of the mother legislation. This is the main issue, and the Ndi Igwe who were suspended broke this extant rule. Since then, the three Igwe who broke the regulations have expressed regret to the governor and remorsefully turned back where they came from, which will serve as the foundation for their recall.

The letter of suspension, which has been partially quoted and signed by the Honourable Commissioner, has also been read and deeply appreciated. Even if the suspension order’s wording has flaws, it certainly wasn’t ultra vires or an invocation of a statute that didn’t exist. The letter cited their infractions against the Anambra Council of Traditional Rulers’ code of conduct.

Igwe Achebe made it quite evident in his letter that he has unrestricted access to the governor. He related what he had discussed with Governor Soludo not so long ago. The fact that the governor was the one making the call is a crucial detail in that account. So why did Igwe (the Obi of Onitsha) use social media to get in touch with the Governor, where he stressed that Soludo’s government does not treat the Council with respect?

According to the 1999 constitution, as amended, the governor of a state is the sub-sovereign and does not share authority with the traditional rulers. For the avoidance of doubt, the traditional council is not one of the three arms of government in a presidential democracy.

This has been put to the test in the current democratic dispensation when Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje, then governor of Kano State, deposed Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi for overstepping his authority. Ganduje removed the Emir Sanusi, deported him to Nassarawa State, and divided his Emirate into four and that decision stands till this day.

The same deposition occurred in Kogi state a few days ago. A first-class traditional ruler, Ohimege Igu, Konto-Nkarfe, Alhaji Abdulrazaq Isa Koto, was deposed by Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello. Additionally, the deposed king was exiled to Niger State’s Rijau Local Government Area.

Bello and Ganduje operated under the same legal authority also granted to Governor Soludo by the Nigerian constitution. The fact that Soludo only placed the traditional rulers under suspension until they purged themselves of their ill behaviour does not imply that he lacks the constitutional authority to remove them from office or that he is ignorant of his enormous powers as governor and sub-sovereign.

Yes, Ndigbo are republicans, but it does not make them above the law. The governor of a state must deal with lawlessness in an exemplary manner, to restore civility and law and order. Because of this, it was impossible to comprehend Igwe Achebe’s letter or the people who were applauding him for choosing to drag the administration he was a part of into the media rather than using official methods to contact the governor. The reason behind this is the question.

It is undeniable that Igwe Achebe has a responsibility to stand up for the people on the council he leads. It’s also not an option to do the right thing the wrong way. It is inelegant and inappropriate to criticise the governor in public and even to make public the amount of money a traditional ruler takes home, as these actions do not address the concerns the Commissioner brought up in his letter of suspension.

If Igwe Achebe had tried every avenue to get in touch with the governor without being successful, his letter would have been seen in good faith. He didn’t even try.

Not just Ndi Anambra, but also Nigerians in general hold Igwe Alfred Achebe and Prof Soludo in high respect. Trying to pull Soludo down is unwittingly provoking an unnecessary fight, which Ndi Anambra will be the ones to suffer. It is a preventable distraction.

Therefore, one will urge well-meaning Ndi Anambra to persuade the governor not to exact revenge, even though he is well within his personal and legal rights to so do as the Anambra state governor who is answerable only to Ndi Anambra through the Anambra House of Assembly and the Judicial arm. As opposed to Igwe Achebe’s purport, the governor’s consultation with the Traditional Council is a privilege, not a right. No law has prescribed it.

Dr. Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts and also from Anambra State; drlawmefor@gmail.com; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor.

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