Okpankpo Aro: The apex traditional governance council in Aro kingdom, revives?

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Mazi Emma Kanu Ivi

Okpankpo Aro, the highest traditional governance council in Aro kingdom socio-cultural and development setting was founded by the late legend Eze Aro, Mazi Kanu Oji, CFR, at about 1934 to mark his twenty years of been crowned Eze Aro in 1914. Before then, there were some other Arochukwu Native Authorty councils such as Council of Ndi Eze Ogo and Aro Clan Council to mention but two. The Okpankpo was created to work smoothly with all the already existing traditional institutions especially the Aro Clan Council to ensure unity, peace and progress in Aro kingdom. However, with passage of time, Aro Clan Council fizzled out making way for Okpankpo Aro to takeover major proceedings in Arochukwu. It has now so developed to become an apex powerful decision making body in Arochukwu kingdom with appellate jurisdiction and final pronouncement in all Aro kingdom matters relating to culture, custom and tradition including community development. It’s main objective remains to help provide Eze Aro with useful and valuable ideas, resources and strategies that could facilitate successful governance of Arochukwu, a kingdom which has been growing into a more complex cosmopolitan state for the not very well educated and, or unexposed village heads and Eze Aro to successfully manage alone. Mazi Kanu Oji, the then Eze Aro, in his natural wisdom, foresaw the imminent complexity of the Aro kingdom state; he smartly appointed some carefully selected educated Aro men who were very committed to Arochukwu developmental issues to join a set of his few selected village heads who were knowledgeable in various aspects of Aro culture, custom and tradition to form his first Okpankpo Aro council. The Okpankpo council with such well balanced human capital team became very powerful and successful in assisting Eze Aro in major conflicts resolution and effective leadership of “the growing modern Aro kingdom.” Some, then, saw the Okpankpo as a council of Aro wise men which Eze Aro founded himself; hence the council was alternatively known as “Okpankpo Eze Aro.”

About four years later, in 1938, late Mazi T. K. Utchay, one of the well educated Aro elites from Ujari village, the founder of defunct Jubilee School Arochukwu, the first Superintendent of Education, Missionary Society of Nigeria based in Port Harcourt and the Organizing Secretary of Arochukwu Youth League, successfully put together into a well designed art form some well selected pieces of relevant Nsibiri Aro historic items that he used in creating the “Omu Aro” logo which has now been generally accepted as “Aro national coat of arm.” Omu Aro quickly became “the official insignia and the emblem of power of the Arohukwu Native Authority.” It became the approved and adopted official great common seal of the Arochukwu people. The official approval and adoption in about 1942 of this unique artwork for Aro kingdom national coat of arm and as a great common seal of Arochukwu people was one of the vital historic achievements the first set of Okpankpo Eze Aro made about eighty years ago. The Omu Aro emblem was later made more popular by it being designed on a special Aro cultural dressing wrapper cloth called ‘Omu Aro Joji’, solely for the use of Aro people, by late Mazi W. O. Okereke of Okereke Brothers Ltd from Amuvi village in 1940s; that entrepreneurial work of Okereke Brothers also received the endorsement of the Okpankpo Eze Aro during that same period.

Ever since its establishment, Okpankpo Aro had witnessed several restructuring, by its founder, late Eze Aro, Mazi Kanu Oji, CFR. The last restructuring he made before his death on 26th June, 1987 after serving Aro for 73 years on the throne was the one he did during the late Mazi Emmanuel Okorafor’s leadership as President General of Nzuko Aro which resulted into “Eze Aro bringing in every serving President General (PG) and Secretary General (SG) of Nzuko Aro as members of Okpankpo Aro, effective only during their tenure in those leadership positions of Nzuko Aro. Therefore Okpankpo Aro membership of both the PG and the SG of Nzuko Aro expires soon after their tenure in office, unless or otherwise reappointed by Eze Aro.” Now, after the death of late Eze Aro, Mazi Kanu Oji, Aro kingdom began to experience some challenges that tended to tear the kingdom apart. Some of such challenges include the tussle to the throne of Eze Aro that lasted over seven years in court and also the unnecessary demand for creation of autonomous communities in Aro kingdom by some disgruntled elements. But God in His infinite mercies used some well meaning Umu Aro to provide solutions to those challenges. Today Arochukwu has another Eze Aro in the person of Mazi Vincent Ogbonnaya Okoro, CFR, who was officially crowned on 31st May, 1995 after a protracted legal tussle that did great damage to the unity, peace and progress of Arochukwu kingdom. However, by the special grace of God, Arochukwu still remains and will continue to remain an indivisible kingdom under the rule of the Eze Aro.

Since Mazi Vincent Ogbonnaya Okoro ascended the throne of Eze Aro the only restructuring exercise he carried out in Okpankpo Aro was the one he did on Avor day, 18th July, 2009 when he swore in a new set of Okpankpo members. This followed his official dissolution on 1st January, 2009 of the old Okpankpo Aro that was branded corrupt by many and some of its old members. The dissolution attracted some mixed reactions from some sections of Arochukwu. Some hailed Eze Aro’s action as the best thing and assured way to cleanse the old system from bribery and corruption it was known for. While few vocal others criticized the action on the basis that Eze Ibom Isii and Eze Ezeagwu were not consulted before the dissolution. The protest of these two Ezes aroused some kindred sentiments that made some of their members kick against the dissolution. And this created some tension in the polity. The leadership of Nzuko Aro led then by Mazi Emma Kanu Ivi and some Aro leaders of thoughts played valuable reconciliatory roles to calm nerves down. And at the end of it all an elaborate ceremony that held on 18th July 2009 at the Eze Aro Palace hall to inaugurate the newly restructured Okpankpo Aro. Mazi Vincent Ogbonnaya Okoro, CFR, the Eze Aro himself, swore in all the members to the joy of all. In his inaugural speech, Eze Aro reaffirmed that his decision to dissolve the former Okpankpo that was beclouded with corruption was for the best interest of Aro kingdom. That it had also offered him the great opportunity to bring some of the brightest and committed Umu Aro on board of the new Okpankpo Aro to help them contribute their quota ‘to our collective quest to reposition Arochukwu for greater achievements in the new emerging global trends’. Finally, Eze Aro succeeded in restructuring the Okpankpo Aro by bringing in some responsible and knowledgeable Aro men of various learning’s, backgrounds and exposures into his new Okpankpo Aro council. And that was a very good change.

But as would be expected in any system that brings in some change with innovations, some people supported it while some others opposed it. Those that opposed it, later used the immediate past Nzuko Aro leadership (2010 – 2016) to frustrate activities of the new Okpankpo Aro to the extent that they made the Okpankpo practically dormant and treated it as if it never existed. When that leadership came into power in March 2010, they became openly critical of the Eze Aro’s new Okpankpo Aro. But that lasted only as long as their administration lasted. And when their leadership expired in March 2016, many things began to unfold. Ingredients of their hitherto hidden plots and failures became exposed. Their handling of the finances and accounts of the union still remains heavily questionable. Gradually, many began to distance themselves from some of their plots. One of such plots was the failed plan to permanently do away with the new Okpankpo Aro. They propagated some destructive messages against the speaker of the newly reconstituted Okpankpo Aro. They used the meetings of the council of Ndi Ezeogo to unlawfully replace the Okpankpo Aro meetings throughout their six years in leadership. However some Ndi Ezeogo were bold enough to speak out the truth that their meetings could not and should not be used to replace Okpankpo Aro meetings. Yet the die hard critics of the Okpankpo Aro forgot that their revolt action against Okpankpo was a direct insult to the office of Eze Aro. That Okpankpo Aro was a special creation of Eze Aro which comprises few selected Village heads with some duly appointed credible, committed and knowledgeable Aro men that do meet periodically as needs arise. That the council of Ndi Ezeogo consisted purely of the village heads that meet regularly to help Eze Aro solve some local mundane issues. The two bodies and their respective meetings are totally different. Eze Aro remains the permanent chairman of the Okpankpo Aro. He never and may never co-chair or alternate the chairing of Okpankpo meeting with any other person. He may however authorize his duly appointed representative or anyone of his own to deputize for him. But that does not mean an abdication of that role to anybody else. Okpankpo Aro still remains the Okpankpo Eze Aro.

In Okpankpo Aro council, three official appointments are usually made by Eze Aro based on kindred units, namely: (1). The Speaker, who must be the President General of Okennachi kindred. (2). The Secretary, who must be the President General of Ibom Isii kindred. and (3). The Treasurer, who must be the President General of Ezeagwu kindred. The vocal critics of the restructured Okpankpo Aro as at then were mainly from the last two kindred units; those critics never found any problems with the occupants of the last two positions. They were deeply concerned with the position of the speaker. Some had argued against the choice of the person occupying that position because of their personal relationships with him. Some said they were concerned with his style of managing the position. While some others kicked against it merely on misinformed kindred sentiments. Yet, some of the critics forgot that his appointment is purely a system issue that can only be handled within the relevant system. The administration of the immediate past Nzuko Aro (2010 – 2016) stood on such weak criticisms to thwart the aims and objectives of Okpankpo Aro. Fortunately they were not able to dissolve it. It is only the Eze Aro himself that has the power to dissolve any Okpankpo Aro set up, or call and, or stop its meetings. But because of our Eze Aro’s current health issues, some few Aro leaders used that opportunity to frustrate the holding of Okpankpo Aro meetings for quite a long time, despite the fact that Eze Aro has a duly appointed representative who can deputize for him in such meetings.

Surprisingly now, the Okpankpo Aro that hitherto appeared comatose during the six years of the last Nzuko Aro regime, suddenly showed a great sign of revival resulting from an appeal championed by the two kindred Ezes. These Ezes went around lobbying for an emergency meeting of the Okpankpo Aro to be called “to discuss certain critical issues that could negatively affect Aro kingdom.” The meeting was eventually called and held on 26th November 2016. It was presided over by Eze Aro representative, Mazi Oji Kanu Oji. But the question now on the lips of many Aro people is: “what really happened that made the two kindred Ezes to make the unexpected dramatic u turn from their earlier position?”

The truth of the matter is that something unfortunate happened recently that propelled the two kindred Ezes to now begin to champion the revival of the meetings of the 2009 restructured Okpankpo Aro. The irony of the matter is that these same Ezes who were hitherto used to drag the 2009 restructured Okpankpo Aro to slumber, are the ones that have turned around to begin to push for the reawaking of the the Okpankpo Aro meetings they had in the past helped it to go down. What an irony of fate; and funny enough, the same Speaker of the restructured Okpankpo that was been criticized and castigated in the past has now become the new saint that should intervene and help resolve ‘an important Aro kingdom issue’ with the Abia state government. But what is it that has really happened?

We learnt that Abia state government recently released a gazette that ousted, from the official register of the duly recognized Ndi Eze in the state, the names of some community chiefs (His Royal Highnesses) that do not have recognized identifiable autonomous communities they rule over. That may mean that such Ezes may stop adding “His Royal Highness” (HRH) to their names; and they may be stopped from attending meetings of Ndi Eze both at the local government and state levels. That may also mean that some stipends which the state government pays to the recognized Ndi Eze will now elude them. It is that bad as our two kindred Ezes are likely to be affected as they do not have any separately identifiable autonomous communities they govern over. They only administer their respective kindred units within the purview of Arochukwu kingdom. Therefore, the two affected Ezes have to do something quickly at Aro kingdom level to help them get out of the looming shame. The need to bring this information to Okpankpo Aro level where people with the likely right experience, connections and contacts to solve the problem can easily be found becomes inevitable. Nevertheless, there is need for something wise to be done by leaders of Aro kingdom to salvage the image of the two Ezes (namely: Eze Ibom Isii and Eze Ezeagwu),, irrespective of what they might have done in the past. We all need to help them and save Aro kingdom from any form of unwanted embarrassment this may cause us and quickly too. Probably that is what might have compelled the two kindred Ezes to wisely and rightly solicit the support of Okoankpo Aro by urging the representative of Eze Aro to help call an emergency Okpankpo Aro meeting that can help resolve the issue. That call resulted in the Okpankpo Aro meeting of the 26th November 2016, held at Eze Aro’s palace, Oror, Arochukwu. That singular action has now translated into a quick call for the revival of the true meetings of the restructured Okpankpo Aro. My own stake on this matter is that, no matter what had happened in the past, there is need for all and sundry to join hands together to get the two Ezes back to their position which some of us under Nzuko Aro platform had laboured so hard to secure for them on 31st December 2001from Governor Orji Uzor Kalu’s regime. I also believe that due respect must always be accorded Eze Aro in all the processes towards resolving this problem. Any Okpankpo Aro meeting that needs to be called must always receive due approval of Eze Aro or his duly appointed representative.

We need to recall that Aro kingdom strongly opposed creation of any autonomous communities in Aro . We always maintain that the ancient Aro kingdom is an indivisible kingdom, very unique in nature, special in character and quite distinct from other commercialized community kingdoms that have been emerging left and right in other communities during the tenure of Chief Oji Uzor Kalu as a governor in Abia state. Aro leaders of which I was among had various meetings with governor Orji Uzor Kalu at various times in 2001towards granting Arochukwu kingdom a special consideration in the recognition of Eze Ibom Isii and Eze Ezeagwu as special Ezes with ”His Royal Highness” status to enable them continue to render special assistance to Eze Aro who has a superior and higher command authority over them in the governance of Aro kingdom. Our fervent request to Governor Orji Uzor Kalu then was duly accepted by him and a document made by Nzuko Aro which clearly specified the terms and their roles was duly and jointly signed by Eze Aro, His Majesty Mazi Vincent Ogbonnaya Okoro, HRH Mazi Kanu Nwa-Kanu, Eze Ibom Isii and HRH Mazi Okorafor Uroh, Eze Ezeagwu; it was also counter signed by His Excellency, Governor Orji Uzor Kalu, and dated 31st December, 2001.

Therefore in the face of this current problem, Aro kingdom must surely appeal to the present governor of Abia state, His Excellency, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, to kindly look into this special situation of Aro kingdom which the state government had earlier in 2001 considered and approved. We need to ask the governor to graciously grant us the same special favor of duly recognizing these two Ezes as their HRH, restore them fully to their due positions, and also pay them all their stipends if any that might have been denied them in the past. We equally appeal to the new leadership of Nzuko Aro to always work amicably with the new Okpankpo Aro and its leadership to ensure that its aims and objectives, especially in assisting Eze Aro in moving Aro kingdom to a much higher level of beauty and success, are effectively attained, to the glory of God.

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