Igbos in Ghana are not only building enduring people-to-people bridges between Ghana and Nigeria through culture, but are also committed to support the country build a resilient economy, Eze Jude Chukwudi Ihenetu, the Eze Ndigbo of Ghana, tells MARTIN-LUTHER C. KING in this interview. He said with over 40 per cent of Igbos in Ghana being landlords who have built their own houses in the various places where they are living, making them contributors to the development of such areas; and many more paying taxes to government, rent to shop owners, salaries to workers, utility bills to different service providers as well as their children's school fees and family hospital bills, Nigerians, and Igbos continue to contribute immensely and positively to building a strong and robust Ghanaian economy. Excerpts:
Q: An effort at legislative diplomacy has been initiated between Ghana and Nigeria to bring a final end to the Ghana-Nigeria trade rivalry. The process is dragging, however. How can both countries fast-track the process?
A: My advice to them is that whatever you say, back it up with action. Anything we delay action, remember that we are human beings, your vision is not my vision; your vision and my vision can be for us to achieve the importation of rice by the end of this year. Maybe, by the end of this year, God forbid, God might call us back home, God forbid; and, that vision will automatically die. Or, those still alive may not see that vision as workable, and may change it. But if they implement it quickly, that will eradicate poverty and hunger. That is to say that if we do it immediately, it will help. But if we procrastinate and continue to waste time, whatever they have agreed upon, in bilateral and diplomatic relationship, they should make sure they implement them so that the measures will start working immediately, and not to waste time.
Q: How can the large community of Nigerians, and the Igbo particularly, in Ghana harness and exert their economic power and build a formidable front that will not only inure to the benefit of Nigerians in Ghana, but also engender the respect of their host communities and the government of Ghana?
A: You see, the answer is already embedded in the question: the Igbo's are hardworking people. Every Igbo man works so hard to make everywhere he is comfortable. Again, the answer is that 40 per cent of Igbos here in Ghana are landlords; they build houses in the various places where they are living. That's development. The same 40 per cent are in trading; they pay taxes, they pay shop owners, they pay workers, and they pay utility bills where they live. Still among that 40 per cent, the majority are parents with children here (in Ghana), and paying school fees from which the Ghana education system benefits from. Think about health; we are also paying for health bills to make sure our health is ok. So, anywhere Igbos are, we ensure we contribute in building a strong economy for wherever we are. Any Igbo man that moved out of Nigeria, that moved out of Igboland to any part of the world is going there for the development of that area. So, that's why I said the answer to the question is already there.
Q: But how can the Igbo community have a common front that can work with the authorities to improve the community's group image?
A: It's not all that easy for the Igbo man to have a common front. This is because every Igbo man is a democrat by nature; it's always difficult for all Igbos to come together to build a particular front. But the typical Igbo man, anywhere he is, is building a structure to move that name, 'Igbo', and, also, helping the country where he is. Reality must always be there. If anybody comes here to tell you that any Igbo man or any Igbo groups will come to build one particular, formidable front, I, personally, don't see such working. But in every areas where Igbos are, they are building structures that will help Igbo's go far.
Q: Don't you think that is kind of dangerous? Does being that way not make them easy target for those that would want to take them out one by one?
A: Yes, you are 100 percent right. It's easy for any simple policy to get us out from the business in Ghana because of we not having a single front. And that single front is what me, my elders and the working committee of this throne have been talking about for many years up till now. We've not achieved it. That's why I'm telling you that I can't see it working. We in this palace came up with the idea of setting up an Igbo village in Ghana, an Igbo market in Ghana and a whole lot of things about the Igbos; but the people are frustrating such visions. And some of the people who are frustrating these things are those that, maybe in their private corner, are made. But our vision is for our upcoming people. Because, as I am sitting down here, I don't think I need anything from anybody; what I need from people today is for them to be praying for me. God, by His grace, is giving me my daily bread through my hard work. The prayer of the people also helped me more and more. Now, we here, that's me, my elders and my working committee, what we are thinking about is all these boys on the street; we are talking about the upcoming ones; we are talking about our own children. What will be their future in time to come. That is why we are thinking about we having , maybe, Igbo Mall in Ghana; a mall where every Igbo man will be together, similar to Melcom, China Mall, Shoprite, and all that. A particular place where every Igbo man will be there to trade; where we can have an Igbo village where you can come and get property there a little bit cheaper, so that we can live together as a family. These have been in our plan all these years; but some people are frustrating it. You try to make it work, but some people are not allowing it to work; such people are not thinking about the future. That's why I'm telling you that I don't see it as feasible for Igbos to have that one common formidable front. But, it will be the best for us, if we will.
Q: Kindly tell us about yourself?
A: Myself? Everything about me is out there. I don't think there's anything left to talk about.
Q: Just restate it?
A: Ok. I am a son of Emmanuel Ihenetu, of Amaigbo, in Nwangele local government area of Imo State, Nigeria. My mother is called Eugenia Ihenetu. I come from a family of 8, one daughter and seven sons. I grew up in that village, and also with my grandparent at Isu-Njaba. I got through my education; and, thereafter, got into business. Subsequently, God brought me to Ghana in 1995; since that time, I've been a businessman, trading and working so hard to make sure I provide daily bread for my family, and assist people around. In the same process, I got married in 1998 to my beautiful wife, Liberty Ugoeze Chinyere Ihenetu. God has blessed me with five children, three females and two males. I also have nine adopted children. I have eight grandchildren now; three of my girls are married; I have three sons-in-law. There are many other people around me that God is using me to take care of them. I became the king of the Igbo community by grace in 2012, August 30; so this is nine years that I've been sitting on this throne, to the glory of God. By His grace, God is using me, my elders and my working committee to project Igbo culture in this country, Ghana, defend Nigerians and Igbos. Not just Igbo king in Ghana but, by extension, we support all Nigerians; but the tribe I'm sitting on their throne are Igbos. But our gates are always open, we don't close that gate; it's open for everybody, not only Igbos but all Nigerians. So, this is who I am, just that simple Chukwudi Jude Ihenetu. Thank you.
Q: What would you say have been your major achievements on the throne?
A: First of all is that you can feel the presence of Igbos in Ghana. All these years, every Nigeria has been tagged 'alata', 'alata', alata', whether Yoruba, Hausa, Edo, Efik; and, when any of those does something untoward, they say it's an Igbo man, an 'alata'; when they say 'alata', they mean an Igbo person. But one of my achievements, and that of my elders and working committee, is to let the entire world know that Igbo, as a tribe, is here in Ghana. Also, we are promoting our culture; this is nine years of us promoting our culture in Ghana. Every year, when we promote our culture, we make sure we bring on board Ghanaian kings, queen mothers and Ghanaian dignitaries, including government officials to see what we are doing. Another achievement is our establishment of Igbo-speaking schools to make sure we promote our language, make sure that our sons and daughters speak Igbo language. We, also, make sure that our wives, especially those who are non-Nigerians, also speak Igbo language. So, we have done all these things. Then, we have gone round the regions bringing our people close together, and closer to the authorities where they are situated, especially in the traditional sector. You know every region in Ghana has a regional house of chiefs where the paramountcies meet. So, any region I am visiting, we make sure we write a letter to that region to meet with the regional house of chiefs. So when we go there, we introduce ourselves, and also introduce our sons and daughters who live in that community to them. So, the paramountcies there will also relay the information to the sub-kings and chiefs under them to let them know about the presence of the Igbos in their communities. We have also achieved the education of our people about the laws of the land, what is right and what is not right. We shouldn't say that Ghana is like Nigeria; we should know that every country has its own rules and regulations. So, we have achieved all these. Not just achieve it on the streets, but also by going to various homes where our people live. We also always attend functions; and, we use every opportunity we have to talk to our people and let them know what they should do. We have also achieved creating good relationship between Nigerian traders and Ghanaian traders, letting them know that we are one, and that we don't need to be fighting each other. We have also achieved getting the Ghanaian authorities to know that not every Nigerian is a crime-committer, that it's only a few people who do that. We have also achieved by letting them know that we are not in support of any crime; and, if any crime is committed the law should handle it the way the law says such should be handled. And since we, myself, the elders and the working committee, came on to this throne, and in all my media publications and engagements, I always ensure to reiterate that the law will squarely face you if you commit crime. And, that also puts fear into our people, and has helped to reduce the attraction to commit crime by our people. In sum, we have achieved so many things, not one, not two. I only hope we can achieve more.
Q: You will be 10 years on the throne next year. Any plans to mark the milestone?
A: The plan will be, first of all, to thank God for giving us the opportunity. A lot of people when they are crowned, don't even last for one year; some people, immediately they are crowned you see them no more. But God has given me the grace to be on this throne from the beginning till this time; nine years now, going to 10 years. My health is good, my wife's health is good, my children's health is good; the health of my elders is also good, to the glory of God. So, it's to first of all thank God for that grace. Secondly, we will also celebrate Igbo culture, display our culture like we normally do. We will reach out to many more people around the world; not just only to Ghanaians, but round the world, especially to those that love tradition and culture. We will also invite the clergy; every year, we do haveva lot of clergy come around to celebrate with us. So, next year, we are going to reach out to more members of the clergy. Because, it's going to be a Thanksgiving year, for clocking 10 years. So, many things will be on board. As time progresses, we'll be updating you.
Q: Do you have any final words?
A: My last word is that as long as you are living in Ghana, and you are a Nigerian, you must respect the laws; you must do what the laws of the land demand you to do; don't violate the laws. At the same time, make sure to work hard, so you don't depend on anybody; work hard. Whatever money that is in your hands can change your life.If you have Ghc500, you can start selling pure water, which can change your life. Don't wait till you get Ghc5,000 or Ghc10, 000, and misuse the Ghc500 you already have; then you'll still remain where you are. Any amount of money with you can change your life. And, the bottom line about life is you having money to feed yourself, catering for your daily bread and taking care of your bills. So, don't ever engage in robbery, or rape, or cocaine business, or rituals. But engage yourself in hardworking. Even the Bible makes us understand that he that works hard reaps the benefit of the same. So, my last word is, Work hard; and, hard work pays a lot.
Q: Thank you so much for your time.
A: God bless you!