Eze Innocent Okoligwe (Okukoro II) is the traditional ruler of Awo-Idemili ancient kingdom in the Orsu Local Government Area of Imo State. The consultant physician tells GIBSON ACHONU about his community, career and experience on the throne
Every community has its dos and don’ts. What are the things considered a taboo in your kingdom?
There are so many things considered taboo in the Awo-Idemili ancient kingdom. First among equals is the uprooting of planted seed yam. This is followed by incest. Any form of incestuous act in Awo-Idemili is a taboo, be it from an adult male or female or either way. Again, it is also a taboo to marry a blood-related one. In Awo-Idemili, equally, it is a taboo to eat or kill a tortoise. This is because tortoise is seen as a deity and therefore totemic in Awo. The removal of boundary lines or marks (odudu) usually done with flowering plants is a taboo, especially the one done by an Eze himself or his cabinet member as directed by the Eze. More so, it is a taboo for a woman to cut palm fruit. Women do not curse, slap or beat men. Those who are not initiates of the masquerade (mmanwu) cult do not discuss or abuse the masquerade with levity. This is because the masquerade is considered to be sacred. No one goes closer to the masquerade. If you are not initiated into the masquerade cult, you do not come closer to it. I could not have become an Eze if I am not a member of the masquerade cult. Above all, you don’t sell human beings or parts. When a cow is killed in the compound of any family in Awo, the head of the cow or a part automatically belongs to the family that killed it. It is not negotiable or contestable. However, it is important to state with all due sense of sincerity that modernity has affected some of these aforementioned taboos.
Can you explain the most unique festival usually celebrated in your community?
Iri ji (new yam) festival is the most unique. Unique in the sense that everybody comes home from different places to celebrate it. It is also unique because it traditionally marks the beginning of a new year. It is usually celebrated with masquerades and fanfares. Prior to the day of the celebration, my subjects (men and women) usually come to the palace to pay tribute or homage to me. Like I said, the new yam festival demarcates the new year from the old one. It is pertinent at this juncture to state that no one eats the new yam in Awo until the new yam festival is celebrated. The period, again, is used to make supplications to God Almighty for the bounties and other blessings for the year and keeping everyone alive and healthy. It is also the time to give awards to excelling farmers (di jis) for their bumper harvest. The eze equally uses the period to give awards to deserving sons and daughters of the kingdom even beyond, especially those who have in one way or the other contributed to the growth and development of the community.
Did your parents prepare you for the throne?
It appears I was prepared. This is because it was foreseen that I would be made an eze one day to occupy the throne of my grandfather. They prepared me in terms of training in the traditional aspects of life and formal education too. But I must be sincere that I was then not very serious with the traditional teachings because I never believed that, one day, I would become an eze. What I have regretted since I became an eze was the fact that I did not initially consent to my late grandfather’s wish, to begin to be well-rooted in traditional things to the throne. These teachings were orchestrated to pave the smooth way for me to become an eze when he was alive. It would have paid off more handsomely, honorably and rewarding if it had happened. He would have been happier in life if I had done that. All the same, I thank God Almighty that at the end of the whole journey, his wishes were fulfilled.
What type of parents did you have?
My parents have passed. My father was a prince of the old existing Okoligwe-Ohakwe dynasty of Awo-Idemili. He was educated and was a noted transport administrator in Lagos. My mother was also educated. She was a primary school teacher in Lagos. But she retired as a matron of Community Secondary School, Awo-Idemili.
It is believed that certain blood sacrifices are made in the installation of a new king. Did you undergo such a process?
With all due sense of sincerity, I am a committed Christian, so nothing in terms of blood sacrifices happened in the course of my enthronement. No type of ritual was performed before, during and after my installation as an eze. I am not compromised to any cult. The masquerade cult I joined is a lesser one and it is general to all developing young males and not for the throne per se. Believing fervently in God Almighty, I know that HE has worked seriously for me on the throne.
Growing up, did your colleagues or ex-classmates treat you like a prince?
Yes, my peers held me as a prince, with all rights and privileges thereto appertaining. This was because of my training and exposures. Though I was born and bred in Lagos, they (peers) knew I was a prince. But one thing spectacular was that they did not believe that I would one day go back home to become an eze. Again, this is because they saw me more like a typical Lagos boy. It is important to state at this point that at the reunion of the University College Hospital, Ibadan, otherwise called ‘Ibadan Medic ‘77’ in 2008, I was the only eze then among my ex-classmates. But presently, we have other people among the same ‘Medic ‘77’ set as kings in their respective communities.
What informed your interest in studying Medicine?
To be very honest, from my primary school days, I loved doctors for what they are. I saw doctors as humanity helpers. I had wished for a very long time to help humanity as a doctor. That was why I fervently laboured for subjects that would pave the way for me to study Medicine. It is also pertinent to disclose to you that in any tertiary matriculation examination, I choose Medicine in the three columns for the course options. It is noteworthy that I would have been any other thing in life like journalist, lawyer, accountant and what have you because I also excelled in other subjects that would comfortably pave the way to study such disciplines, but my love for Medicine overrode every other discipline in life or of human endeavor. This is why, today, I am practicing Medicine as a vocation.
How have you been able to balance your profession with your traditional responsibility?
The truth is that I discovered that being a medical doctor has been very helpful in discharging my duties as a traditional ruler. Both of them are very complementary. In Medicine, you have to develop the skill of listening and the desire to help people. Again, in a traditional institution, you also developed the ability to listen to people and complaints to solve their problems. Therefore, both Medicine and the traditional institution give you the opportunity to listen and the zeal to help. In all, I don’t see the two responsibilities as being burdensome or onerous as people see it.
Would you say becoming an eze has been financially rewarding?
Being an eze has not added any financial breakthrough to my life. For clarity’s sake, I don’t see the ‘ezeship’ stool as an avenue to extort people or exploit them. I don’t also see the traditional institution as an avenue to amass more wealth. The type of life I live makes me say so. So, nothing flamboyant moves me in life. Every good thing I need in life I go and get it, but anything I don’t need in life, I don’t go for it for the sake of getting it or over-enriching myself. I am a simple-styled man. In terms of what I wear, I don’t wear apparels or traditional insignia of office that would always portray me as an eze. As I said, I am a simple man, who dresses simply and every other thing done and seen around me is simple. As an eze, I wear simple attire. This is because I strongly believe that the hood does not make the monk.
What remarkable things have your people benefitted from you as a traditional ruler and medical doctor?
People are regularly benefiting from me, being a traditional ruler and a medical doctor. For instance, I have never charged anybody for any medical consultation from my palace. Again, I want to repeat that with my position as the eze and my profession as a medical doctor, I don’t extort people. Let me say that most people like me for my lifestyle, especially those who know me. This is because I am a simple-styled one. Whatever the rich come to pay tribute or homage to me is acceptable to me, so also the poor. I so much value the ones from the underprivileged, as they bring to me avocado pear, ordinary pear, corn, mango, plantain and what have you.
It is generally said that when a man is installed as Eze, he is in money and wealth. Is that true?
No, I don’t believe in that saying. Being Eze has not improved my finances, but it spiritually, mentally, socially and otherwise improved my lifestyle. The ‘ezeship’ stool has put more discipline into my life and restricted my needs, among others. This is against the impression many people have about the ‘ezeship’ stool. At this point, let me reaffirm that the goodwill I have does everything for me. The goodwill is very rewarding to me. For instance, there are things I would have used whooping sums of money to get but goodwill gave them to me at no expense.
How many wives do you have?
I have only one wife but in the old setting, a king is expected to have many wives.
Why didn’t you marry more as a king?
My grandfather had over 40 wives but with the challenges and demands of modernity, I don’t think it is necessary. I considered it not necessary to marry many wives. This is because of modernity and my Christian lifestyle. It is important to note at this point that I am a committed Christian. I was wedded traditionally and in the Christian way of life too. However, all the women in the Awo-Idemili ancient kingdom are traditionally my wives.
How did you meet your wife?
Honestly, love and what I saw drove me to her. I saw things that met my expectations. She is a princess too. Nevertheless, it was not the princess status that attracted me to her. She is simple, loving and caring. As a princess also, she understands everything about royalty. Those were the driving factors.
Many kings in the past were respected like gods. Do you think that perception still exists?
I answer yes and no to that question. Yes, in the sense that when an eze takes a decision, it is taken as to be from the gods. I do not like that in my own case because I don’t want my subjects to see me as a demigod. I answered no in the sense that modernity has changed that old belief.
There are concerns that some kings dabble into partisan politics. What implication does that have on the traditional institution?
By nature, we are all political animals. My cabinet members are all in different political parties but I am not. I am the father of all. Though I would have my preference, I don’t allow it to influence my thoughts. I encourage members of any cabinet to go into partisan politics. This is because when any candidate that wins, I am happy and have a preference because I am the father of all. I don’t have any party card. I don’t attend any political party meeting and it cannot be held in my house. It is, however, noteworthy that all vying candidates know me. So, anyone that wins, be it from the All Progressives Congress, Peoples Democratic Party or All Progressive Grand Alliance, we felicitate with him or her. Let me say that ezes are always in line with any government in power, what we call our local parlance, AGIP; this is, ‘Any Government in Power’. This is where my education and exposure come into place as advantages.
What has been your greatest challenge on the throne, especially as it concerns adjudication?
The palace is also a place of arbitration. When I get such cases, it is usually read out to the parties involved. Again, after judging the case, any feuding party is given the chance to go to court for more redresses, if they wish. But one thing is spectacular at this point. To the greatest glory of God Almighty, no court has turned down any of the decisions taken by me and my cabinet. This is because we ensure that no sentiments affect or influence our decisions on any matter we adjudicate on. Again, for many times the law court has given me a subpoena, I have not failed to be present and to present my opinion in the law court.
Briefly tell us about your higher academic background?
I am a consultant physician. I am also a fellow of the West African College of Physicians. I had my Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelors of Surgery from the University of Ibadan in 1977. One striking thing in my life is that I chose UI after I gained admission into two other universities. I presently work with a mission hospital, Holy Rosary Hospital, Emekuku, near Owerri, the Imo State capital.
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