A paper delivered during the first political summit with the theme ‘Redirecting the Political Trajectory of Lejja Community’ on November 12, 2022
By MALACHY C. EZE*
I consider myself privileged and highly honoured to stand in your midst to crack the ground and lay the foundation for an all-inclusive brainstorming discussion and debate on resetting, restructuring and/or re-establishing an appropriate framework for the progressive development and emergence of a great ‘federated’ Lejja. The resolutions therein should target “Redirecting the Political Trajectory of Lejja Community” as a relevant stakeholder in the political affairs of Nsukka LGA in particular and Enugu state in general. The purpose of this political summit, the first of its kind, is to provide appropriate framework, indices and scope for understanding and resolving the ensuing problematic of prevailing under-development, degenerating unity, outburst of nuisance among the youths, and utmost neglect of Lejja in the contemporary political order.
The perceived neglect reached its apogee in the non-appointment of any Lejja citizen to an executive position at the LG and state levels, difficult accessibility of Lejja due to dilapidated road networks, perennial power failure, and seeming indifference of the present government to the plight of the community in spite of powerful representations. These have orchestrated anger and a new wave of revolt against the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the quest for a renaissance currently spreading among our people.It has equally led to phobic utterances and abuse of some of our leaders and dignitaries who for unknown reasons try to defend the scenario. For these, we have gathered to review the trends that metamorphosed into the current situation andchart a new course for Lejja renaissance.
I humbly wish to draw your attention to the following and inevitable facts:
- I am not a politician for now and have not come to condemn or propagate the interest, manifesto, or ideology of any of the political parties.
- Equally, I am not here to judge or praise any personality in Lejja, whether living or dead. However, I find it extremely difficult to avoid mentioning some names and events if we really want to appraise our developmental trajectory, successes and failures. This is not an adventure into eulogy, nor am I occupying the judgement seat.
- I am not equally on a voyage of academic exercise, which would have required technical review of literature, theoretical explorations, and explicit framework of analysis; however, it is inevitable to clarify the meaning of key variables in this paper, i.e., Lejja, Relevance, Politics, and Development.
- Thisp will certainly pock some minds, provoke some to anger, generate criticisms, and personal attacks. However, my solace is that the responsibility of developing the template for the ‘federated’ Lejja renaissance is located in the activities of various focal groups, and the expected communiqué that will emerge at the end of this summit. Mine is to chart a course for them.
Lejja — ancient and modern
The name ‘Lejja’ refers to an ancient town, which formed a part of Nsukka LGA that is bounded by Aku in the west, Ohodo/Ozalla in the south, Nsukka/Ede-Oballa in the east and Obimo/Nsukka in the north. The Lejja was divided into three quarters with an ascending traditionally built system of stable administration that find expression in ‘Eze’ and oldest-man leadership. The principles of oldest man and ‘okpara’ as found in the entire Igbo land defined ascension to the throne and the acquisition of power and authority to manage common wealth and social services. In this traditional arrangement, Dunoka village is the eldest and ‘Onyishi’ and holds the ‘Eze’ Lejja while the units of administration were the ‘Oha’, ‘Umuada’, and ‘umuikorobia’. The seat of authority and the palace of ‘Eze’ Lejja is the ‘Otobo Ugwu’, while laws emanate from resolutions and agreements particularly among the ‘Eze’, the leaders of the three quarters in Lejja, and ‘ndi-Onyisi’.
I wish to remind us that the ancient town called ‘Lejja’ is now history following the creation of Lejja and Lejja-Uwani autonomous communities. All the structural, legal, and administrative paraphernalia that sustained its existence is now legally extinct, and anything that emanates from the old order now as a common agenda must be consensual in nature. The presidents-general of the two communities and the organisers of this forum understood this clearly when they code-named it “Lejja Town Union Federated”. The implications of this for the development of these towns are enormous.
- The political and administrative structures of the old order are now moribund and have been transferred to the Igwes and not the Eze any longer. However, the spiritual power, authority and relevance of the okpara/oldest man still exist.
- The seat of power and authority is now located in Igwe’s palace and cabinet, and any other unit of administration the Igwes might consider necessary. Unfortunately, and to the best of my knowledge, none of the Igwes has a befitting palace for town meetings, nor do they have functional and stable cabinets. I may be wrong but I think that their present cabinets were scrambled together to satisfyo of the autonomous community requirements but not as instruments for developing our various communities. Because of this, coordination of development activities, events, conflict resolution, administration of justice and peace in the two communities are at their lowest point. There seems to be anarchy and this is one of the primary factors facilitating under-development in the federated Lejja.
It is my considered opinion that for the two autonomous communities to advance in any developmental programme, HRHs & cabinets and/or their communities must:
- Establish a potent venue and structure where meetings and other special events will be taking place. This being the case, the federated Lejja should initiate self-help programmes to complete the on-going Town Hall construction at Nkwo and draw a Memorandum of Understanding or an Agreement that will define the rotational use of the facility by the two communities.
- HRHs should dissolve their current cabinets and, through consultations, appoint people with potential for unity, peace and development. The principle of equity MUST guide them in this direction.
- Establish modern structures of administration as a framework for all-inclusive governance such as:
- Palace Affairs, Political and External Relations Unit (cabinet secretary as head)
- Peace and Conflicts Resolution Unit
- Projects and Community Development Unit (PG as head)
- Legal Unit (arenowned lawyer as head)
- Religion, Tradition and Cultural Affairs Unit
- Account/Finance Unit
- Audit/Project Monitoring Unit
- Security and Police Affairs Unit (aretired senior police officer/military personnel as head)
- Title, Coronation, and Ofala Affairs Unit (an ‘Onowu’ to be appointed as head)
Notes: The head of all the units shall constitute the Igwe’s inner cabinet, called NdiIchie/High Chiefs, while other members of the various units shall be called Chief. Both categories of membership of Igwe’s cabinet must have their separate official regalia, which they MUST appear on at every official ceremony.
- The Igwes must arrange and fix permanent dates for performing annual festivals that feature activities like traditional dances, sport competitions, State of the Town address, and fundraisers for projects, etc.
Politics is a concept that has been so misunderstood, wrongly defined and misapplied due to a lack of disciplinary orientation and the game of westernisation. It will be a waste of your precious time and energy to embark on the exploration of such definitions and their criticisms. I simply align myself and this paper with the definition of politics proffered by Professor Okwudiba Nnoli, which holds that politics refers to all activities directly or indirectly related to the acquisition, use and consolidation of state power. In this discussion, we have to dissect the definition into three fundamental components, namely: a) all activities directly or indirectly related to the acquisition …of state power, b) use of state power, and c) consolidation of state power. It is in the first component that the issue of Lejja’s relevance will be assessed, while the development of the federated Lejja will be examined in ‘b’ & ‘c’.
- All activities directly or indirectly related to the acquisition …of state power: One’s participation in political activities that lead to electoral victory or power acquisition defines his relevance in the system. Such activities include but not limited to:
- Membership of a party and involvement in its activities: Most people join parties and attend their functions in expectation of what to eat, drink and share without contributing anything towards the procurement of such things. When victory comes, you will not be remembered because you were earlier settled. For this singular reason, most politicians ignore their electoral thugs, many people and communities because they settled them during the campaigns. The most recent example is different people and communities’ visit to Lion Building as a form of solidarity wherein they were given money to mobilise groups and hire vehicles for the visit. In the end, they were given specified but different amounts of money either to the towns or groups that visited.
Did they (i.e. visitors) do the governor a favour? NO. And has the governor been doing that in the past? NO also. Be informed that people are sponsoring such expenses — and they are the people that will be remembered in the end and not those that went to receive the money. In the various parties, what are the Lejja people doing to facilitate the activities of these parties in the town, at the local government and state levels for the forthcoming 2023 elections? Absence of such in the past defined our neglect and their prevalence now will define our relevance tomorrow.
- Purchase of forms and party candidature: When a community presents credible candidates that purchase forms for party primaries always, whether they win or not, it largely makes the town relevant. Stakeholders from other towns and the party will look for such candidates as their ambassadors in their own towns during campaigns, in regime activities, and in any form of sharing of appointments, positions, and projects. Except the brave step recently taken by Hon. Ben Obodoechina – whether right or wrong, no politician from Lejja has in recent times contested strongly for any electable position at the local government, state and national levels in any of the parties at all after the likes of the late Hon. Engr. John Nweze and Hon. Felix Amu. I know some people may jump up to argue about rotation agreement, which is an objective argument but a defeated one. Rotation is a noble agreement and instrument in today’s political contest, which politicians do not adhere to when they feel favoured. Otherwise, why has some representatives at the state and national assemblies stayed beyond two tenures as agreed, and have to be forced out through strong intra-party opposition? Why is the rotation of Enugu North senatorial seat disrupted in the current regime?
- Party and electoral funding: Those who fund party meetings and activities are always relevant in party administration and activities. How many of us have been funding any of the political party activities such as meetings, payment of office rents, printing of campaign posters and fliers, erection of billboards, donation of vehicles for party logistics, or assisting party litigation in situations of conflicts? These are the things that make one relevant but most of us are interested in what they will get, eat or drink all the time.
- Political mobilisation and sensitisation: Securing the support of people and winning new members are continual activities of every political party. When an individual, group or community secures an army of supporters for any political party, they remain a relevant party stakeholder all the time. Using the current dispensation as an example, how many of us are involved in face-to-face or door-to-door campaign to win people over to any party?How have you been circulating your party’s activities? Have you ever donated buses to convey your party members to any LG and state function? Are you involved in gathering people for any form of party meeting such as circulating urgent information? Are you involved in political image-laundering of your party and the party’s candidates? If any, what is the proportion of party loyalists doing any of these for any political party in Lejja? Our inability to engage in these activities seems to have been undermining our relevance in political parties and political regimes.
- Creation of electoral wards: Electoral wards form the units of political representation in Nigeria’s political system. From each ward comes a councillor who may be appointed as supervisory councillor at the local government level. In a situation where the number of wards and councillors from a town is small compared to others, they will not have an effective voice in the LG politics and administration.
For instance, Nsukka LG has 20 wards and councillors out of which Lejja has only two in each case. This represents 10%, which in my mind is infinitesimal to make Lejja relevant. This was politically motivated to undermine the influential role Lejja plays in determining political affairs in Nsukka LG. The fight came first as driving Lejja out of Nsukka LGA and jumping Nsukka and Alor-Uno to join former Ovogovo LGA. Elder statesmen of the era fought against it vehemently, and they decided to give us less wards. Something must be done.
Similar to the above experience is the creation of autonomous communities wherein Nsukka LGA has about 36 autonomous communities with two only coming from Lejja. Towns that are smaller in population and even land mass do not have fewer than five autonomous communities. The implication is debilitating for the development of Lejja. For instance, what influence or relevance do our two Igwes have on the rest of 34 Igwes in the LG? Out of N3.6 million that comes to Nsukka LG as monthly royal allowance, only N200,000 comes to Lejja. If development projects, allocations, and appointments are to be given equitably, only two is our portion while smaller towns smile home with five and more. It is clear that the federated Lejja has been politically structured to be insignificant in the affairs of the state and LG. Something must be done.
- Population and registration of voters: Politics is a game of number and political parties and politicians are interested in communities that have large populations. With certainty, I admit that no human or existing policy can hinder the population growth of Lejja, and the population is seemingly high. However, the inefficiency of population census inhibits the actual population figure of the town, while our people’s indifference to voter registration makes it worse. This experience is at variance with the 1976–1983 experience. It is equally important to note that over 70% of the sons and daughters of Lejja reside in urban areas and engaged in census and voter registration there. During elections, most of them do not return home for elections. Even some of those who registered in Lejja do not participate during elections due to one reason or the other. Consequently, the ruling party at all levels in the state views the support or non-support of Lejja people during elections as inconsequential. This perceived irrelevance deprives the town of its share of political appointments and allocation of infrastructural projects. Something must be done.
- Political appointments: This is one of the essential political activities that any ruling party is required or expected to engage in. After every election, appointments are given to some people to neutralise opposition and legal contestations against victories, and as a reward to some people for their contributions during elections, as active party stakeholders, and as relations and friends of the victorious candidates. Such appointments include EAs, SAs, SPAs, commissioners, heads and members of boards, education institutions and parastatals, etc.
When a community receives multiple appointments, it gives them voice; they attract multiple projects, and they become relevant in the affairs of the state. Where there are no such appointments, the community lacks a voice, suffers neglect, and becomes irrelevant in the affairs of the state. Lejja falls in the latter category. The present government and its predecessor did not appoint anybody from this town as EA, SA, SPA, commissioner, head or member of any board, head of education institution and parastatal in their 16 years of administration regardless of an army of distinguished professionals and vibrant politicians Lejja has produced. This rendered Lejja politically voiceless and irrelevant in the past 16 years at least. Most of the people in Lejja we hearabout are civil servants that rose through the ranks and are using either their position or personal money to affect the lives of our people.
From the above issues raised, I find it appropriate to make the following recommendations:
- The federated Lejja Town Union should establish a standing lobby and pressure group consisting of different professionals and entrepreneurs to push for the interests of the towns.
- The federated Lejja Town Union should also establish effective machinery to pursue and secure the creation of more autonomous communities and political wards.
- Village-level sensitisation is required for all Lejja adults residing outside to relocate or transfer their voter registration to any of our political wards, and further efforts should be made to ensure that those that have not registered for elections do so even after the 2023 elections in preparation for 2027.
- Considering the infinitesimal ratio of the number of registered voters and number of autonomous communities in the federated Lejja, appropriate political alliance should be established with other perceived minority towns with appropriate agreement to bolster a formidable and dominant political structure that determines who wins an election in our constituencies and LG. This is one of the ways to resuscitate the political relevance of Lejja town.
As a concept or term, development is simply a process that creates growth, progress, innovation, change, and/or addition of physical, economic, environmental, social, and demographic components to any system, organisation or community. The purpose of development is to improve the level and quality of life, and create or expand infrastructure,value chains and employment opportunities without damaging the resources of the environment for future use.They call this sustainable development. It implies, therefore, that development exerts visible impacts on people (i.e. their skills, knowledge, dressing and eating codes etc.) and the environment. In all forms of relationship, the level of one’s development defines his goals/interests and relevance, while in politics development policy and agenda defines the interest of any regime for any community. Then the question is, IS LEJJA DEVELOPING OR NOT?
Your Highnesses, ladies, and gentlemen, Lejja politicians,stakeholders, and philanthropists can boast a little about their past efforts to transform the lives of our people and environment. It is historical that Lejja and her sons and daughters are experiencing changes in different areas. For example:
- Electricity: In the early 1980s, the NPP-led former Anambra state government put in place electric high tension that gave power to Aku through Lejja without stepping it down for our use because of our support for NPN. When Engr. Hon John Nweze became chairman, Electrification Board, it was stepped down and today there is power in virtually all the villages, courtesy of individual efforts.
- Water supply: Back in those days, there was no single borehole in Lejja. We either went to Adada River or Obimo to wash clothes, fight and fetch water. Today we can boast of a dilapidated expanse of borehole attracted by the late Chief (Hon.) C.U. Opata (KSM); a borehole at Umuoda attracted by Professor D.U. Opata, a borehole at Ezenobe that exists courtesy of Senator Chukwuma Utazi, sachet and table water factory at Umuefi, underground water wells in most families, and dispensing water tankers running around the towns.
- Education: Previously, we had only two primary schools, i.e., Central School and CPS Lejja-Uwani, and Community Secondary School Lejja. Today, we have many nursery/primary schools, three public secondary schools (one federal and others state), two or more private secondary schools. Academically, we have internationally acclaimed professors and not political or arranged professors, professionals/graduates in virtually all academic fields at all levels.
- Religion: Lejja used to have one Catholic and Anglican stations with traditional religious worship, but today the three denominations have expanded so much that we have many parishes with new structures, additional Pentecostal denominations, a litany of clergymen of different divides, a Bishop to reckon with, pastors and traditional priests.
- Politics and administration: Lejja has graduated from one town to two, one political ward to two, one party town (i.e. NPN/PDP) to many parties’ town (dominantly PDP, APC& Labour Party).
There are two important facts to note at this point:
- Enugu state and the federated Lejja town have been a one-party community. Consequently, all the recorded or observed development projects in Lejja are products of PDP governments and/or PDP stalwarts occupying different positions, whether elected or appointed. Some of them like Mayor Alphonsus Nweze and Professor Damian Opata have not even occupied any positions in recent times but have used their influences to attract these projects.
- However, it is in the implementation and management of these projects that the walls of Lejja unity, trust and development began to crack. Put simply, the manner or pattern of location and implementation of the observed projects is the cause of our present predicaments as a people. Consequently, Lejja towns should stop playing the politics of party but of personality involved in electoral contest. Today, I am not partisan yet fully OBIdient because of the calibre of the LP presidential candidate.
For the benefit of doubt, let me elucidate the point I made above. When the late Chief (Hon.) C.U. Opata (KSM) brought the pioneering water borehole, it was connected to a mighty safety tank constructed at Amankwo – a village locatedon the hill — for easy circulation of water to all the 33 villages. Opata influenced the employment of many of our sons and daughters, and so did Chief Barr. Emmanuel Madu. Everyone in Lejja fought to ensure that Chief Opata and now HRHIgwe Anthony Ochike won their respective elections in 1979 and 1983. Go and verify. The water project Opata brought was stalled when manifest corruption prevailed in its management. Allegations of embezzlement and mismanagement of funds contributed by married women discouraged them from continuing. However, the fear of being killed if one demanded accountability led to the famous biblical statement, “TO YOUR TENTS OH ISRAEL!”
Even some of the later efforts to revitalise the project through new government and EU intervention schemes failed due to the same phenomenon of corruption. You would be shocked by findings if you decided to investigate this allegation. Those in the management committee were members of the PDP and not PDP itself. Consequently, it is germane for us to switch over to personality politics,where as a community we scrutinize and punish people who are running for elections and managing our projects as individuals,and not the party that allocated such projects. Take it or leave it, personality politics has taken overthe current political dispensation in preparation for the 2023 general election. The revolutionary-like movement called Take-Back-Naija and the OBIdient movement speak volumes.
- Electrification project: When the electricity was stepped down from the high-tension wire supplying energy to Aku, it only covered from ‘Ishi Engine’ to Nkwo along the major road and stopped there not because the electrification materials finished. This generated anger and divisive spirit among the three quarters in Lejja. But we all forgot to address our minds to the fact that Amube where the power was stepped down was jumped and Umuoda-Dulugwu and Amankwo where the poles passed were not equally electrified. It just served specific interests. Many began to see politicians as those who strive for electoral victory for the purposes of self. This led to political apathy and indifference to political processes and institutions.
The self-centred actions of our sons equally manifested in the actions of some Lejja sons who, in spite of their power and influence, failed to give our people jobs – not even their immediate brothers and sister who are graduates. To make matters worse, some exalted politicians and/or public officeholders used their positions to oppress and exploit their people. For these, most people in Lejja lost interest in politics and the enthronement of any person in Lejja.
- The coming of Federal Government Girls’ College and the relocation of Community Secondary School,Lejja, equally generated high-level pressure and conflicts of interests among the various quarters of this community. The product of this conflict of interest, though a new level of development i.e. the establishment of Lejja High School and Community Secondary School, left an indelible mark of disunity, distrust and quarter politics. It balkanised our nationalism, degraded our strength and fundamentally punctured our unity. Even if the late Chief Opata should come out now to contest for an election, it would no longer be business as usual.
A Similar conflict arose with the establishment of Orie-egu,and the modernisation and relocation of NkwoLejja. I think that this paper has struck the cord and identified the point where we derailed.It is hereby adduced that injustice, lack of equity, lack of fairness, and corruption are the fundamental factors responsible for the amputation of Lejja nationalism.
It is my kind suggestion that:
- The federated Lejja Town Union should as a matter of urgency set up a powerful Consultative and Reconciliation Committee (CRC) and give it terms of reference.
- The federated Lejja Town Union should set up another committee to be known as Project Review and Refurbishing Committee (PRRC) that will assess all moribund projects, uncompleted projects, and work out modalities for the expansion of electricity and water projects to all the villages in Lejja.
Prior to the 1999 democratic experiences, the federated Lejja was seen as dominant in the political life of Nsukka LGA primarily because we were united, politicians were philanthropic and apostles of equity, while most of our population resided in the town. Our nationalism was apt. Nsukka and its neighbours dreaded us and fought for us to be part of Ovogovo LGA. When they failed, they undermined us structurally by ensuring that we have two electoral wards and autonomous communities only, which limits the number of our representatives. To worsen the matter, over 70% of our population is currently residing in urban areas where they registered for elections and cast their votes. All these have rendered us irrelevant and muted state government interest in appointing our sons and daughters into political positions and locating development projects in Lejja, particularly in the current political dispensation. To complicate this, disrespect for the principle of equity and reign of corruption in the management of the few projects sited in Lejja by some LG chairmen and federal legislators together with self-centred attitudes of some of our politicians and top public servants have orchestrated apathy, division, and quarter politics. Further, most party members in Lejja do not do anything to support party activities and its candidates for elections, and this equally undermined the possibility of considering them for appointments after elections.
My views and recommendations as contained in the body of this paper are for your consideration. Finally, may I take this opportunity to thank all Lejja citizens who donated immensely towards the treatment of our brother from Ezenobe that had an accident and was hospitalised at Memphis Hospital, Enugu. May God reward all and let us emulate and continue with such gesture. On this lies the rebirth of our unity and love for each other and for the town. I wish this political forum a fruitful deliberation/discussion, resolution, and pray for the rebirth of a Federated Lejja.
*Prince Dr Eze (FSSRC, FIMC) [pictured] is a senior lecturer at the Department of Political Science, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria