Nigeria recently lost one of its most vocal and revered monarchs, Eze Emmanuel Emenyonu Njemanze, the Ozuruigbo V of Owerri, in Imo State. The highly respected traditional ruler of the Imo State capital passed on last month at the age of 84. He reigned for 27 years, having ascended the throne of his forefathers on November 11, 1989. His remains will be laid to rest on June 10, according to Owerri tradition.
Eze Njemanze was widely acknowledged as a kind ruler and a devout Christian. His authority and influence spanned beyond his immediate domain in Owerri to other parts of Igbo land and beyond. He was one of the longest reigning monarchs in the South East of the country. By all standards, his opinion was well sought after and respected.
His traditional title, Ozuruigbo V, was a carefully chosen one that has profound implication as a man whose authority and influence must be seen beyond his immediate environment. Undoubtedly, he was a first class royal father, the 8th Njemanze on the throne and the eleventh monarch from his father’s dynasty. He was among the first set of students of the famous Government College, Owerri.
The late Eze lived a life fully dedicated to the traditional institution, especially that of the cultures and traditions of his people. He was a brilliant pharmacist who used the profession as a tool to advance the cause of humanity. His accomplishments at General Hospital, Owerri, where he rose to the position of Chief Pharmacist before he retired, were remarkable. He left indelible footprints at the hospital, which is now known as Federal Medical Centre, Owerri.
Eze Njemanze was known to be firmly committed to maintaining the good name of his family. The Njemanze dynasty is well respected for its commitment to public service and nation building. During the 1958 Constitutional Conference that ushered in Nigeria’s independence two years later, the monarch’s late father, His Royal Highness, Eze Johnson Osuji Njemanze, represented the old Owerri Province at the former Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly. He was part of the Eastern Nigerian delegates led by the renowned first indigenous President of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, to the London Constitutional Conference. Later, Eze Johnson Osuji Njemanze became the vice chairman of the Council of Traditional Rulers of the former Oil River Protectorate with Calabar, the present capital of Cross River State, as its headquarters.
Unlike his brothers, the life and times of Eze Emmanuel Njemanze, the Ozuruigbo V, was not without controversy. The controversies emanated from attempts from certain quarters to challenge the beliefs and principles he so much cherished.
On many occasions, his path crossed with that of the state government. One of the first spats he had with the state government was in the early 1980s when he disagreed sharply with the then military administrator of the state, the late Captain Amadi Ikwechegh, on his perceived high-handedness, and advised him to remember that power is transient.
Also, a few years ago, his path again crossed with that of the current Governor of the state, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, whom he accused of balkanizing Owerri and the entire state. Such was the intensity of the rift with the Okorocha administration that he was suspended as the Deputy Chairman of the state Council of Ndi-Eze, the highest decision-making organ of traditional rulers in the state. His ‘offence’ was his alleged support for Eze Cletus Ilomuanya, who was removed by the governor as chairman of the State Council of Traditional Rulers. As a further punitive measure, the state government split his domain into five autonomous communities, with each having its own traditional ruler. This was a very low point in Eze Emmanuel Njemanze’s 27 years reign as a monarch. Those close to him say he never fully recovered from the shock of the balkanization of his domain.
Yet again, in 2012, he suffered another travail, as his ultra modern palace was razed by a “mysterious” fire. This tragic incident forced him to relocate his palace to a private residence outside his ancestral home, where he lived until he passed on last month.
He will, however, be remembered as a steadfast ruler who was unflinching in his commitment to the customs and culture of his people. Despite his many travails, many people have extolled his strength of character, intellect, resilience, wisdom and sobriety in the face of crisis. Among those who have commiserated with his family and subjects is the state governor, Rochas Okorocha, who advised his family members to continue with his good works.
No doubt, the passage of Eze Emmanuel Emenyonu Njemanze, Ozuruigbo V, has deprived Nigeria of an outstanding guardian of the traditions and cultures of his people. He lived a life worthy of emulation and we wish him sweet repose.The Sun