Ben Ezechime, Enugu
In 1929 a group of women from the then Eastern Region of Nigeria made history by trying to resist the British colonial masters for attempting to introduce payment of tax by the womenfolk in the East.
The “Aba women’s riot of 1929” as it came to be known was in protest against British Administration in Eastern Nigeria that introduced warrant chiefs, who were empowered by the colonial governor to rule the communities on their behalf.
Interestingly in post colonial political arrangements in the South-Eastern region of Nigeria, chiefdoms were not dignified so much like the practice in Northern and Western fringes of Nigeria.
However, things appear to have taken a new dimension following the creation of more states in the region and the struggle for political power.
Enugu State was created in 1991 from the old Anambra, and subsequently, in 1996, Ebonyi was created.
In the attempt to balance the political equation in the state, the owners of Enugu as they fondly call themselves, decided to use their political knives and machetes to cut and join communities, hamlets, villages and local governments.
After the balkanisation, hostilities started with many communities feeling alienated and cheated hence the need to pacify, heal festering wounds, and give some people sense of belonging. Thus the creation of autonomous communities became very imperative.
Following the return to democratic rule in 1999, the urge to have more autonomous communities increased with political considerations more important this time.
In 2002 under the administration of Dr Chimaroke Nnamani, over 200 autonomous communities were created to bring the total number then to 402.
By 2017 under the present regime of Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi the number had reached 450 autonomous communities in the state.
In 2017, Ugwuanyi decided to set aside a whopping N2.5 billion for direct disbursement to each autonomous communities in the state through their Igwes, Community leaders, and Youth leaders to be disbursed in tranches of Five Million Naira.
The total amount to be received by the communities was Ten Million Naira each, that is, after a successful execution of a project, the community will come back to collect another tranche of Five Million Naira.
He said this was to make the rural communities be part of his administration and execute projects dearest to their needs.
However, the aftermath of the exercise was a mixed bag of mistrust, anger, accusations and counter accusations in various autonomous communities.
Some of these problems led to killings and intra-community crises; there were bitterness and hatred among some community youths and the appointed Igwes; though, few of the community leaders utilised theirs to construct pet projects for their communities.
Due to the many crises that characterised the Five million naira development funds given to the Igwes, it has not been heard that the government released the second tranche to any community since then.
Meanwhile, in 2018 prior to his reelection bid the governor constituted another committee to create more autonomous communities, which political watchers believed was a mere gimmick to get reelected for a second tenure.
As it turned out the governor kept the committee in the cooler while the communities were grouping and brimming with the anticipation of receiving them to make their presentations, the exercise never took place.
After the conduct of the PDP primary elections in May 2022, on September 22, Ugwuanyi inaugurated another committee for the creation of more autonomous communities in Enugu State in a move that was clearly intended to be used to curry favour for him and his party at the 2023 polls.
Just before the elections, all the Igwes of the autonomous communities were directed to deliver their communities to the ruling party or risk their positions.
Many autonomous community Igwes became the mouth piece and megaphone of the PDP in their domains.
Incidentally, the committee did not meet the constitutional requirements of submitting the report before the elections.
The committee just submitted its report to the governor after the polls with a recommendation of 353 new autonomous communities across the 17 LGAs of the state.
If Gov. Ugwuanyi implements the committee’s report, it means that Enugu State will be having over 800 autonomous communities.
One thing clear about these autonomous communities creation, especially those created for mere political reasons, is the fact that, they create more problems than they were meant to solve.
The struggle for who becomes the Igwe brings clannish hatred and creates more enemies in an hitherto peaceful community such that rather than uniting the people, it divides them the more.
Even while the committee was yet to submit her report, the fight for Igweship have been raging with many appointees of Ugwuanyi welding supremacy powers.
Many gladiators have been laying claims to Igweship being their turn and spoiling for war if they are denied.
Interestingly, Ugwuanyi is heading home on May 29, with no particular destination; so, what becomes of his political autonomous communities? Only time will tell.