HIS Majesty, Igwe Benneth Izuchkwu Emeka stands out as a monarch. He is the traditional ruler of Umueri Kingdom in Anambra East Local Government Area of Anambra State. His kingdom is the birthplace of the famous Ijele Masquerade, the biggest Masquerade in Sub-Sahara Africa. Eko-Ebo II, as his official title indicates is a monarch endeared to his people. He wears the royal diadem with humility, selflessness and a contagious mien that attracts. His contribution to his community before ascending the throne is immense and hugely appreciated by his people.
A man who never forgets his humble beginning, Igwe Emeka is urbane, yet at home with his people. If monarchy suggests bridging culture and civilization, a meeting point between tradition and modernity, fostering peace for development, Igwe Emeka embodies that. It strikes as no surprise that for five years, Umueri people persuaded him to ascend the throne but he was just content contributing his resources to the development. UmUeri people felt that someone who pumped time and resourses for the development of the kingdom, when made the king, would do more.
The royal father believes every person should carry a sense of responsibility towards meaningful development of their communities, particularly those with the wherewithal, even without honour of chieftaincy title, award or recognition by their communities.
“I have contributed significantly to the development of this town. I’m into road construction. Every year-end, I use caterpillars to grade roads in Umueri town. You know the state is erosion prone, we have roads affected by erosion in the town. Grading the roads makes life easier for people. These and other projects I embarked on for 10 consecutive years before my coronation and still do.”
Divine direction was what Igwe Emeka attributes as the factor for him accepting to be king. The conviction came while on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. During one morning devotion, the officiating priest said he saw traditional crown on somebody’s head. “He never mentioned name but I felt it was me. After the devotion, I told him there was a process going on in Umueri town to choose the king and they have being persuading me. The Reverend said he saw crown on my head but he didn’t want embarrassment which was why he never mentioned my name. He said I should go and accept it.
I returned to Nigeria with just five days to go to for indication of interest. I called on my kinsmen to get the form for me. Of course, when I obtained the form, I was selected unopposed. Prior to that time, my family members kicked against me taking to the throne. The moment God affirmed it, there was no opposition.”
Though, the monarch did not grow up robed in royalty but dreamt a palatial life. He lost his father in 1973, after his primary school education at Oche Primary School, Umueri, former St. Gabriel Primary School, Umueri. With no one to sponsor his educational pursuit, his elder brother, Samuel Emeka took him to Sokoto to learn a trade. The young Ben Emeka began a new chapter in his life as motorcycle spare parts apprentice under late Chief Goddy Ibe. After three years of apprenticeship, his elder brother gave him money to start business thus marking another phase in life.
The traditional ruler excelled in business, though he never envisioned starting life that way; education was paramount in his mind, “As a brilliant pupil, it wasn’t my intention to go into business at that age. It pained my primary school teacher that I couldn’t further my education even with excellent grades in my Common Entrance Examination. Even when I stated business, I still had in mind to further my education.”
With a growing and diversified business concern, he relocated to Aba, Abia State in 1990. Occupied with family and a flourishing business, Igwe Emeka never lost the hunger for higher education. He engaged in private tutorial for General Certificate of Education, which he passed. He gained admission into Rivers State University of Science Technology, Port-Harcourt, in 1998 and graduated with B.Sc in Business Administration in 2003.
At Aba, he had diversified from motor spare parts to caterpillar parts and later to equipment leasing. He bought machines from companies that were folding up. He used his caterpillar spare parts experience to fix those machines.
“This I did until I have so many machines that I started leasing them out. I later realized that most construction companies were hiring machines from me. Since I have the machines, why not go into road construction? That was how I registered New Idea Construction Company in 1999. It took me nine years before I ventured into road construction. By then , I was in Port Harcourt, I left Aba, for Port Harcourt in 1997.”
Igwe Emeka cherishes peace. He has been at the vanguard of fostering peace. He often urges people to use peace to promote love and development. On ascending the throne, he set up Umueri and Aguleri Peace and Reconciliation Committee, “Before then, if an Umueri and Aguleri persons disagree, you hear people say, Umueri and Aguleri have started fighting. It was the committee that started to de-emphasize that any misunderstanding between two persons from both communities is a personal matter, no communal factor in it.”
You know the two communities’ share a common market. Once negative news starts in the market, killing, and destruction follows and spreads to other areas. Today, it tells a different story. Any quarrel between persons of the two communities is first reported to the committee, which is a standing committee.”
After the Umueri and Aguleri communal crises in the 1990s, he came back and discovered that most buildings were touched, his own house razed. A man who thinks of God first, besides being generous, he decided to build God’s house first, before rebuilding his own. “In 2006, I started building the church that is the Cathedral Church of St. Gabriel (Anglican Communion) and handed it over to the Anglican Church in 2007. The church stands as Cathedral Headquarters of Diocese of Niger West, comprising all the Anglican churches in Anambra East and Ayamelum Local Government Areas. I built Sahara Hospital Umueri. Besides that, I built Umueri Recreation Club. I also built five classroom blocks for Community Secondary School, Ivite, Umueri, among other projects.”
How a leader wants to lead determines his leadership style. When Umueri wanted to coronate Igwe Emeka, he told them that as a Christian, he wouldn’t be involved in fetish practices. They accepted. “I told Umueri people the purpose for which I accepted the Crown was to draw them to Christ and not just being King of the town. Since then, I have been holding crusades, seminars, and other activities to draw people close to God.”
To help indigent students of Umueri, Igwe runs the Edward and Victoria Educational Foundation; in honour of his late parents, for Umueri students in tertiary institutions. He established the Umueri Law Students Scholarship for law graduates who cannot afford the Law School fees. The Umueri Youth Empowerment Foundation, in similar vein helps youths of the community to acquire skills and empowers them financially.
“I have a shoe from that empowerment that I still wear. You will think it is a foreign product. When youths are empowered, search for white-collar jobs end. You can start something and employ others, that’s what the skill acquisition and empowerment is all about.”
Wholeness of life is fundamental to Igwe Emeka, whose vocation demands mental, physical, and spiritual fitness. For over a year, he has been working out every day for one hour, starting by 6am. On his invitation, Eagles Fitness Club, Awka, comes to Umueri, every last Saturday of the month to engage him and Umueri youths in over nine kilometers of roadwork.
Igwe Emeka would like to be remembered as a monarch, who added value to peoples’ lives and transformed Umueri Kingdom. He is married to Chinwe (Oche eze) Emeka with six children.