Contrary to the position of Senator Chris Ngige that the Obi of Onitsha, His Majesty, Nnaemeka Achebe approved the flag-off of his gubernatorial campaign on the same day as the annual Ofala festival, the Ime Obi Onitsha, the Kingdom’s traditional council, has denied the claim as false.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate for the November 16 Anamabra governorship elections had come under heavy criticism for staging the official kick-off of his campaign rally in Onitsha on Tuesday, October 8, 2013 – a date which had been set aside for the Obi of Onitsha’s annual Ofala festival, with many describing it as an affront on the traditional institution in the state.
In his defence, Ngige had reportedly said he received permission from the Palace of the Obi of Onitsha concerning the rally, adding that his Campaign Organisation even got permission to pay a courtesy call on Igwe Achebe before proceeding to the venue of the event.
But a statement by the traditional Council observed that “the Traditional Council and the Monarchy of Onitsha, as a policy, always studiously steer clear of any involvement in partisan politics. That notwithstanding, after due reflection, the council considers it necessary to correct the persistent misrepresentation of our highly principled and respected monarch, resulting from the privileged access that he granted Hon Okonkwo-Okom, as a deliberate effort to portray our monarch as unreliable”.
The Council also decried the manipulative endeavour which the APC stalwarts in the state engaged in as a result of their privileged access to the traditional council of Onitsha.
The statement, which was signed by notable chiefs led by Chief Chike Ofodile SAN, the Onowu Iyasele of Onitsha, clarified the sequence of events leading up to the purported approval claims by Senator Ngige.
According to the statement, Senator Ngige, through Hon Okonkwo-Okom, informed His Majesty via a short message service (SMS) of his intention to attend the Ofala Festival in company of some serving governors and requested for His Majesty’s prior consent and protocol accommodation in the program of the day.
The Council further said that His Majesty responded through another SMS saying that “He, Ngige and the Governors are very welcome. To ensure proper protocol, advise the number of them coming and names, if possible. I’ll emerge at 2pm and all should be seated by then. Ofala Onitsha is a cultural event and not for politics. I look to seeing you there personally.”
The Onitsha Traditional Council noted that “in all the SMS exchanges, there was never any mention of a political rally. Thus, the claim by the party that approval for it was granted by our monarch or the palace is a mere ruse. No approval for political rally was sought and none was granted.”
The statement further explained that on realizing the real intent of APC’s request, His Majesty promptly informed Hon Okonkwo-Okom in no uncertain terms “that their intention was very manipulative and irreverent of the culture and tradition of his people and therefore unacceptable. Our monarch further told Hon Okonkwo-Okom that it would be best, in the circumstance, for the APC chieftains not to appear at the festival to avoid an explosion of the anger of his people.”
The Council reiterated that it is regrettable and traditionally unethical for the governorship candidate to choose the date of the Ofala Festival as a day to flag off of his political campaign in Onitsha and described the APC governorship candidate’s activities as a deliberate “attempt to seek political mileage out of a painful disdain of Onitsha culture and tradition.”
It also maintained that the Onitsha Traditional Council will remain committed to good governance and democratic process adding that, “Our people believe strongly in the plural democratic traditions of the country. Thus, we respect the constitutional rights of every political party to pursue its objectives. Indeed, our indigenes enjoy diverse political affiliations, including membership of the APC.”
The Council pledged to “pray for a free and fair election next month and would support and pay due allegiance to the next Governor of the State, as we have always done”.