It is indeed a privilege and honor to be invited to present the keynote address at this 13th Ikeji Aro Annual Lecture Series for the year 2018. I wish therefore to thank God Almighty and also the organizers of the Arochukwu for Christ Movement for this honor.
The Theme- “Peace: Its Implications and Application in Arochukwu Kingdom” cannot come at a better time than now when our traditional institutions are being undermined.
The topic “Unity in Diversity: a Great Gain for Arochukwu Kingdom”, was borne out of the desire to showcase the advantages of unity in a typical heterogeneous society or community such as Arochukwu Kingdom. It is also my intention to prove that where there is peace, there is unity, progress and development.
The term “Peace” has been defined severally by different people as well as dictionaries and to a large extent; they all appear to be saying the same thing. The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defines ‘Peace’ in three various ways, viz;
i. Freedom from wars and violence.
ii. A state of calm or quiet.
iii. A state of harmony or friendship.
Webster’s Dictionary defines “Peace as a state of tranquility or quite; freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions; harmony in personal relations; a state or period of mutual concord between governments”.
Notable Scholar, Albert Einstein defines “Peace as not merely the absence of war but the presence of Justice, of law, of order, …in short, of government”. The Faculty of Law Students, University of Oslo, defined “Peace as a state of well being that is characterized by trust, compassion and justice”. According to them, in this state, “we can be encouraged to explore as well as celebrate our diversity and search for the good in each other without the concern for personal pain and sacrifice. It provides us a chance to look at ourselves and others as part of the human family, part of one world”.
From the above definitions, it is obvious that opinions will vary as to whether or not there is peace in Arochukwu Kingdom today. If you apply the first and second definitions of peace by The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the answer you will get is that there is peace in Arochukwu Kingdom. However, on the application of the third definition by Oxford, Webster’s dictionaries, as well as those of Einstein and the University of Oslo definitions, I am very sure that many people are likely going to say that there is no genuine peace in Arochukwu Kingdom today.
The Bible in James 4 verse 1 asked “where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” He summarized that wars and fights come from our lusts and evil desires to covet our neighbor’s rights and property.
It can be said without contradiction, that our ancestors built a very harmonious society from over four different groups of people that evolved to become one. It was their unity and harmony that gave birth to the greatness and legendary power and influence the Arochukwu Kingdom had for many decades in the past. Our uneducated forebears held sway in Nigeria for many years prior to the colonial era and even after the advent of the British. The fame and influence of the Aros were felt virtually in all parts of Eastern Nigeria including some parts of the Middle-Belt region.
The paradox of our present time in history is that we are more educated but less intelligent and less tactful. We are widely exposed but have narrower viewpoints. We spend more time arguing but achieve fewer consensus. We have more experts among us yet many problems. We have many more churches yet our lives (ethics) are not improving. We have many factors that ought to unite us together but choose to focus on those issues that divide us. Peace in Arochukwu Kingdom today in all truthfulness is an illusion and non-existent.
Simply put, most of the stakeholders involved in achieving unity and peaceful co-existence in Arochukwu Kingdom are not sincere in the pursuit of real peace. Some of them are beneficiaries of the present impasse in the Kingdom and for such people they want the music to play on. But by the special grace of the Almighty God whom we serve the music will stop playing sooner than later in Jesus Name. Amen.
2. WHO ARE THE AROS?
Mr. Chairman Sir, please permit me not to go into the historical narrative of the origin of the Aros, for obvious reasons, I have rather chosen to ask the question “who are the Aros?” In his book titled “The Kingdom of Arochukwu”, Rev. (Prince) Joshua Kanu Oji on page 3 stated that “the Arochukwu Kingdom is made up of three Kindreds under the headship of the Eze Aro. The Kindreds are the Oke Nnachi, the Ibom Isii and the Eze Agwu na Okwara Agwu. The Oke Nnachi is made up of Amankwu, Amangwu, Asaga, Atani Oke Nnachi, Amuvi, Isimkpu, Obinkita Oke Nnachi(Nde Agor), Oror Oke Nnachi, Utughugwu. The Ibom Isii Kindred – Agbagwu, Amasu, Amukwa, Atani Ibom Isii, Ibom Etiti, Oror Ibom Isii, Ugwuakuma, Ujari. The Eze Agwu na Okwara Agwu Kindred – Amannagwu, Amoba, Atani Eze Agwu, Obinkita, Ugbo, Ugwuavor.
These Kindreds are domiciled in the 19 villages of Arochukwu with more than 150 colonies all over the former Eastern Nigeria. The villages are as follows – Agbagwu, Amannagwu, Amangwu, Amankwu, Amasu, Amoba, Amukwa, Amuvi, Asaga, Atani, Ibom, Isimkpu, Obinkita, Oror, Ugbo, Ugwuakuma, Ugwuavor, Ujari, Utughugwu.
It is interesting to note that the Aros in Diaspora towns or colonies were founded by either individuals or groups from different Aro Villages. The establishments of those towns were based mainly on trade routes or plantations and the land boundaries were respected by all the people concerned.
A cursory look at the composition of Arochukwu Kingdom reveal that it is made up of people from different tribes or clans who serve dual purposes as they travelled to their different areas for trading purposes. They mind their personal business interests as well as double as agents of the all powerful Aro Long Juju known and feared by all across the country. The Aro traders had links with the coastal traders who have contacts with the European slave dealers and this helped to promote their business.
It is very pertinent to mention here that the Kindreds are scattered among the nineteen villages of Arochukwu and they are living peacefully with each other. The Aros were able to achieve great success in their exploits in trade, influence and control despite the heterogeneous nature of the Aro society because of the peace and harmony that existed among them.
In his contribution to “Who Are The Aros?” in Dr. S. K. Nwangoro’s book, “The Aros Culture & Traditions”, a renowned historian Prof. A. E. Afigbo stated that “The Arochukwu Community must be considered first and foremost as an Igbo clan. But being a border community and because of its nature of occupation which is long range trade and manipulation of an oracle, whose fame and influence took a large portion of the territory between Benue and the sea, it has absorbed many non-Igbo elements through marriages, domestic slavery and other unusual processes of contact and fusion.”
Is it not interesting that despite the peculiarities of diverse people, the Aros evolved a homogenous community out of a heterogeneous people. This was only possible because of the ability of the Aro elders in the community to manage their differences peacefully.
3. THE SEVERAL CHALLENGES OF THE AROS
i) The Aro-Ibibio War:
Without going into the historical perspective of the cause or causes of the Aro-Ibibio war, suffice it to say that Eze Agwu sort help from outside Aro to drive away his hostile Ibibio neighbors. Nnachi was reputed to be a very powerful medicine man whose efforts to assist Eze Agwu drive away the Ibibios failed. In order to achieve this aim, Nnachi requested Nnubi to send his Akpa warriors to assist.
It is on record that it took the arrival of the Akpa troops led by Osim and his younger brother Akuma as well as Nnachi’s efforts to overcome the Ibibios. According to Mazi Okoro P. Kanu in his book, “Pre-Brirish Aro of Arochukwu, Notes and Reflections on An African Civilization” page 37, that war unfortunately, claimed the life of Osim, the commander of the Akpa warriors. The death of Osim and the refusal of his Kinsmen to go back to their homeland, changed the original terms of their engagement. However, the new arrangement gave rise to a formation of a larger federation to facilitate the defense of the land against encroaching groups.
ii) Anglo-Aro War:
The Anglo-Aro War (1901 – 1902) was a conflict between the Aro-confederacy in present South-East, South-South, as well as some areas of North-Central geo-political zones on one hand against the British Empire on the other. The hostiles began after the protracted tension between Aro leaders and British colonialists was not resolved.
The Aros knew that the British penetration would destroy their economic dominance of the hinterland. The Aros also opposed the Christian religion, which threatened their religious influence through their oracle Ibini Ukpabi. The Aros organized raids on communities in order to undermine British penetration of the hinterland. While the British was preparing for the invasion of Arochukwu in November 1901, the Aros launched an attack on Obegu (a British ally). The attack was led by Okoro Torty and about 400 people lost their lives. This attack quickened the British decision to declare full military action against the Aros. As expected the Aro forces resisted the British invasion strongly inspite of the fact that they lacked modern military weapons. This was done with the help of those living in the Diaspora. The human and military resources of the Aros both at home and in Diaspora were pulled together to persecute this war. In other words they were united in their fight against the British Empire.
Even though the Aros lost the war, the British did not find it easy as a result they took further interest in Arochukwu homeland. This led to the establishment of British administrative unit early in Arochukwu in order to monitor closely the activities of the Aros. For this reason Arochukwu had customary court, police post, prisons earlier than many surrounding communities.
iii) The Crisis of the Development Unions in the 1970s:
At the end of the Nigeria-Biafra Civil war in 1970, many Igbo communities used their town development Unions to support the government efforts in rebuilding the many infrastructures that were damaged during the war. In Arochukwu Kingdom the story was different as there were two unions struggling for supremacy. The two Unions were the Arochukwu Development Union and the Arochukwu League. Whereas the Union had followership from the elderly with some few young men, the League was mainly made up of younger men especially bureaucrats.
The late Eze Kanu Oji, Eze Aro in consultation with Eze Kanu Okereke , Eze Ibom Isii and Eze Uro Okorafor , Eze Eze Agwu set up a Committee known as Arochukwu Joint Action Committee (AJAC) under the Chairmanship of Late Mazi Lancaster Okoro to look into the matter and make recommendations to the council.
At the end of its sittings and submission of its report to Eze Aro in Council it was decided that there shall be one Development Union in Arochukwu to be known and called Nzuko Arochukwu Men and Women Wings. The Eze Aro in Council appointed Late Mazi Emmanuel Okoroafor as President General and Elder (Mazi) U.K.Udonsi as Secretary General for the Men’s Wing. Also Late Elder (Mrs) Maria Achinivu and Late Mrs. Beatrice Nwankwo were appointed President General and Secretary General, respectively for the Women’s Wing.
The decision was accepted whole heartedly by all the stakeholders. There was no clamor for Kindred or Sectional representations as people tend to demand now. The considerations for those appointments were based on competence and commitment. With the able leadership of the Founding Executive members of the two wings Arochukwu witnessed great progress and development during their time. At the expiration of their tenors elections were conducted peacefully for new leaders to emerge. That was the case until a few years ago when the issues of Kindredism and Sectionalism were introduced by unpatriotic persons in the elections of both the Men and the Women’s Wings.
At this junction Mr. Chairman Sir, let us remind ourselves the popular Aro proverb of the “broom bunch” and the “broom stick”. A word they said is enough for the wise.
iv) The Threat of Relocating Arochukwu Local Government Area Head Quarters:
Many of us were witnesses to the threat of relocating the Arochukwu Local Government Area Headquarters to a virgin land outside Aro under the guise of lack of adequate infrastructure. It took the patriotism of our elder statesman Mazi Dagogo Okoronkwu (Atu Aba) to redeem the situation. He single handedly took away our shame by building a Modern Administrative block at the L.G.A Secretariat which was the condition given for the head quarters to remain at the present site. At that time, it was seen as an Aro problem and all hands were on deck to proffer solution. It was neither a Kindred nor a Sectional problem. To God be the glory.
Again for many years the Aros were battling with the completion of a modern civic centre complex. The foundation of this edifice was laid many years ago and fund raising ceremonies held in some cities of this country, yet it almost became an abandoned project. Thank God for the intervention of our brother, Dr Alex Otti, (Ugwu-Aro) who completed the edifice within one year with the support of some of our brothers and sisters. It took the united efforts of some patriotic Aros to deliver the building. The participants were propelled by the Aro spirit of unity in contributing to a worthy project in the community.
v) Abia State College of Education Technical Arochukwu (ASCETA):
We may wish to recall that not long after the college was established around 1995 here in Arochukwu, there was an evil plot to re-locate the college. The Foundation Provost proposed to the State Government that the college be relocated because of inadequate infrastructural facilities at the Institution. His choice was a Teacher Training College Complex at Ihe-Mbawsi where according to him had all the relevant facilities and were lying waste.
This was a big challenge to Arochukwu Community and all stakeholders in the Kingdom rose to the occasion in unison. The Eze Aro in Council levied all the villages while all branches of Nzuko Aro were levied to raise funds for the renovation work needed to provide basic facilities for the take off of the College.
The plot for the relocation of the College was thwarted by the unity of purpose exhibited by Nzuko Aro Central Executive Committee members, leadership of the branches and indeed the full support of Okpankpo Aro, Council of Ndi Eze Ogo and patriotic Aros. The Aro spirit was very alive in our people at that time, much more than it is at present. Kindred and Sectional disputes have not permeated into the hearts of our people. We should all be looking forward to having such opportunities to make Arochukwu Kingdom great again.
vi) The Neglect of the Eze Aro Throne
At the advent of British rule in Nigeria, the Eze Aro throne was highly revered. In his book, ‘The kingdom of Arochukwu’ by Prince Joshua Kanu Oji, a portrait of Late Eze Aro was captioned on page ii as follows “Paramount Chief Kanu Oji, the Eze Aro. Here is the Eze of that dominant Ibo town in Calabar Province who owns the celebrated oracle known as “Chukwu” or “Ebili Ukpabi” meaning Great God (the imperialist named it “Long Juju). With superior intelligence, the Aros were able to establish about 20 colonies for commerce in almost all parts of Eastern Region nearly in similar pattern as the British colonial system. The Aros were the leaders and promoters of that much feared Abam and Ohafia warriors. They are called by other Ibos “Aro Okigbo or Umuchukwu.”
In the Eastern House of Chiefs, the Eze Aro was a recognized First Class Chief alongside Obi of Onitsha and Igwe of Oguta. The position of Eze Aro Throne in Abia State, a small fraction of the former Eastern Region, has been relegated to the extent that he is not a member of the Council of Traditional Rulers. At the Local Government level, the story is not different. In other parts of the country thrones similar to that of Eze Aro are made permanent Chairmen of the State Council of Traditional Rulers. Examples abound in Edo, Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Sokoto, Zaria, Kano, Calabar, to mention but a few. The Traditional Rulers in the same class as the Eze Aro are appointed Chancellors of Federal Universities shortly after ascending the throne. What has gone wrong in our own case?
In the spirit of Arochukwu Kingdom, let us arise to the occasion and do the needful to ensure that our revered Eze Aro throne is accorded its rightful place in history. If we the Aros do not, nobody will do it for us.
vii) TRUE STATE OF AFFAIRS IN AROCHUKWU KINGDOM
Let the truth be told to shame the devil. At the moment, the Eze-Aro-Council is not functioning as we used to know it. The Council of Ndi Eze Ogo has been operating without its substantive Chairman. Both the Men and Women Wings of Nzuko Arochukwu are not enjoying the usual cordial relationship that used to exist between them and our Royal Father, the Eze Aro.
There are disagreements between the Kindreds and also in the Kindred. As we speak now, a particular Eze is in Court with his Kindred Head with the support of some of the other Eze Ogos within the Kindred. The matter has been in Court for more than twenty years now. The interventions of Eze Aro-in-Council and Patrons of Nzuko Aro Men’s Wing have not been able to put the matter to rest. No doubt useful time and resources have been expended on this matter.
At the political level, the story is not quite different as members of various political parties are virtually at war. Our people are sharply divided along political parties to the extent that political party rallies and campaigns are becoming violent. Some of our Royal Fathers have become partisan to the extent of openly campaigning against some candidates. This is very improper as Royal Fathers they are expected to give their blessings to all their subjects irrespective of being in different political parties. That is how it should be done thereby isolating themselves from politics and subsequent backlashes of government functionaries when they assume office.
Arochukwu Town is supposed to be the third Township in the State after Aba and Umuahia but there is nothing to show for it. Our infrastructures have been run down. The Arochukwu General Hospital is empty of necessary equipment to run a good hospital. Our intercity roads are very deplorable and are becoming death traps for commuters. As a Community we can speak out to Government for whatever it is worth, at least, for the records. Keeping quite cannot help us in this matter.
Mr. Chairman, Sir, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I am bold to say that until all stakeholders in Arochukwu Kingdom recognize and accept the status quo as put in place by our ancestors and agree by consensus to effect changes where necessary, genuine peace may continue to elude the Kingdom. Societies are dynamic and the only thing that is constant is change. In achieving this change, we must be truthful and open minded. All stakeholders must have respect for one another.
To me the question we should be asking ourselves in any conflict situation is should we go out and fight for what we believe in or should we not worry and just accept things as they are? You answer is as good as mine. However, remember that things of this world and a comfortable living can never give you peace. Only our Lord Jesus Christ can give you peace. Do not look for happiness and peace from things of the world or from men or women of this world. They will fail you only our Lord Jesus Christ can give you lasting joy, peace and happiness. He is the Prince of Peace.
If you want to have the love of God, if you want to be free from the burdens of this world, you should surrender your life to Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God who came to earth two thousand years ago and shed His blood on the Cross to save you. He rose from the dead and is sitting at the Right Hand of God. He wants to come into your life. If you invite Him into your life, He will come to you. As you surrender yourself fully to Him, He will give you joy and peace which this world cannot give.
As we continue our journey into the future, may we close with the memorable words of Sir Winston Churchill, “if we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall soon find that we have lost the future”. May our present be a continuum of harmony, peace and progress and may it never engage our past in a quarrel.
LET US PRAY:
In Jesus name, our Heavenly Father, King of glory, we want to thank you for all your goodness and mercies upon our lives and the lives of our children. Dear God, it is for your purpose and our collective well-being as a people that you have preserved Arochukwu Kingdom these past years.
Please continue to strengthen in us the spirit of freedom, peace, unity, affection and brotherly love. Help us to eschew the evils of greed, hatred, mischief, violence and self destruction, so that in our collective strength we may continue to grow as one united and indivisible Community. Reconcile our past with our present so that we may have a great future. May God Almighty bless us all in Jesus name. Amen
Thank you for listening.