His Majesty, Eze Kalu Kalu Ogbu IV, the Enachioken of Abiriba Kingdom and deputy chairman of the Abia State Council of Traditional Rulers, was called to the Nigerian Bar on Wednesday, July 28, 2021. In this interview, he spoke on his motivation to read Law and his plans for the profession among other issues.
You were pursuing a master’s degree before you read Law, how do you feel about your accomplishment?
It is a very wonderful day for me, and I am indeed very happy and grateful to God for his grace.
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How did you combine your functions on the royal stool and academic studies?
It was not an easy task; it was very hectic. I had to work extra hard to do whatever I had to do. I want to thank my wife, my council and lieutenants in Abiriba – His Highness, Eze Uche Banjamin Agu IV of Agboji and Eze Amogudu, His Highness, Eze Eme Uguru Ikpoka and Eze Ukiwo Otisi Ukiwo – as well as the 17 village heads. They stood by me when I was not in the kingdom. They are wonderful.
Were you able to bag the master’s degree you were pursuing before reading Law?
I have a first degree in Government and Public Administration, then I commenced my master’s degree in International Affairs and Diplomacy at the Abia State University, but I had to switch to Law. I have been admitted again for a master’s degree in Law.
How do you intend to use this qualification in your functions as a traditional ruler?
It is an added impetus to the work we are already doing in Abiriba. In fact, the position is one of the inspirations to do the programme because I started seeing some areas of deficiency. Our traditional laws are beautiful, but you cannot use customary law in this century because there are several other issues that prop up in the course of adjudication. So it became very necessary for me to go back to school.
And I was always threatened by some lawyers who kept writing to the palace to do this or that. So I decided to go and read Law to also reply them when they write.
At the time we had an issue at the palace, a lawyer was brought in and he was busy making his argument without knowing that I was almost a lawyer. When I took him on some arguments, he was shocked. I floored him because the arguments he was bringing were so hollow and intended to intimidate us. After my reply, he calmed down and we became friends.
Besides, I love education because I believe that a man cannot live or act above his knowledge. You can always be constrained by the level of knowledge you have, so I needed to expand my scope to fit now and the future.
Do you intend to open a chamber and practise one day?
After doing all these, one cannot just lock it up. I want to focus on human rights, assisting people. Beyond that, I want to make Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) the focus of my practice.
How would you juggle law practice with the traditional stool?
As a matter of fact, you know the ADR is more traditional than formal. So it is like I am already at home with some of the practices. I will key it up with formal education. Having 24 hours a day, how you create and prioritise your time is based on the way you want it.
My chambers will be in Abiriba, from where I can go to anywhere. In other words, I want to bring law practice home because, among all our lawyers, none has found it necessary to put up a chamber in Abiriba. Like I said, my interest is mostly pro bono, human rights and ADR.
What about land disputes and others?
My expertise will also be necessary in a lot of land matters, which are common with every growing community. We have already started having land challenges in Abiriba. I think it may also be necessary in issues of inheritance because it is very important. I am writing a book now on inheritance, which will come out soon. It covers inheritance in Igbo land, with focus on Abiriba because it is unique, being matrilineal. There is a lot of misunderstanding of inheritance in Igbo land.
The Supreme Court verdict delivered by Justice Rhodes Vivour (retd) presented female inheritance custom in Igbo land as unconstitutional; what is your take on this?
That is based on their perception that the custom is contrary to natural law and equity. But actually, the customary law of Abiriba is equity personified. It is not about being against anybody; what happens is that when greed sets in, it causes social dysfunction. When we return to what it is from the beginning, it is equity, balanced and fair.
As a lawyer interested in ADR, are you concerned that this is not well developed in Nigeria, especially looking at continuing congestion in the courts?
To a large extent, ADR is not well developed in Nigeria, and perhaps Africa, but a lot of strides that have been made in multi-door courts system in Lagos and Abuja and the Rules of Professional Conduct in Section 15(3)(d) has made it mandatory that every lawyer make the client know about ADR in resolving disputes before going to litigation. In fact, it is the in-thing now and where practice is going because you discover that if you still want to live in peace with your neighbour, you don’t need to go to litigation, you would rather go for ADR, whereby you will work together and arrive at a consensus. It is always a win-win rather than a zero-sum game.
Students of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) just got admitted for remedial studies before the Nigerian Law School proper, what is your view on the belief that the quality of law graduates in Nigeria is declining?
I think it is exaggerated; if you had gone through the system you would know. It is not easy. But if you say that the quality of general education in Nigeria is falling, yes. And the Nigerian Law School is fed from the society. Generally, law standard has not fallen.
Talking historically, what is your view on the moves to return looted artefacts to Nigeria, your kingdom being one of the ancient iron-working centres?
From historical accounts, a foremost anthropologist, Elizabeth Isichei reported that in 1752, the Abiriba iron-smith was already at an advanced stage. They were manufacturing a lot of metal implements for farming and warfare. Then a lot of things got missing, which were developed by our ancestors. But if you go to that place you still find few things like original hoes, the machete used by war dancers and others. Also, there are these wooden artefacts found on the hall of every traditional ruler in Abiriba, who is of the stock – those with blood lineage to the founders of the community.
You see some at Ameke, which represents Ndiogogo, some at Umuachukwu, Amaelunta, and stuffs like that. While some of them are still there, some were found in a museum in New York recently and they were marked to be gotten from Abiriba.
Are there efforts to recover these artefacts?
The curator of the museum in New York has already contacted me through Dr Eke Anya, and we are still discussing. At the time being, we are only working on the artefacts in New York; that is the one I am sure of.
I am discussing with Agboha people, where our forebears first settled in Abiriba when they came in, so that we can construct a small museum there where everything about our people would be displayed – artefacts, folktales, cuisines, and all that, so that visitors would go there when they visit Abiriba. I don’t know how soon they will listen to me.
There appears to be sustainable peace in Abiriba, is it because of your ADR skills?
I think it is God because people have fought on several fronts. Few years back, we did our Itu-Eye (annual calendar of programmes) on July 6, but some people fixed a different date.. After that, they realised that what they were doing was wrong. This year, some people came from Aba and went to some kings to tell them not to participate in the Itu-Eye, but they told them to stop causing problems. So people are becoming wiser. But it is still God.
What is your advice for Abia and Nigeria?
In Abia, people are trying to make things difficult for the governor, but I know he is a wise guy. My message is equity. We started with that and we must continue. There should be no politics of prebendalism.
For Nigeria, there is the need to use dialogue to resolve the problems of the country. What people are agitating for needs to be addressed. One thing I know is that our president was not elected to superintend over the dissolution of this country.