IGWE Kenneth Onyeneke Orizu III, traditional ruler of Nnewi Royal Kingdom never grew up to know his mother. His mother died one week after his birth.
His feeding alternated between a foster mother’s breast milk and coconut milk, as there were no baby formula foods those days in Nnewi. Everybody feared that he would die, but miraculously he survived.
Such survival disposition has kept him alive for 94 years with 56 years of it on the throne. Another part of his personality is resourcefulness. He wields no small influence in sustainable development and peaceful co-existence of the people of his kingdom. In no small measure were his contributions to Nnewi’s fast-paced development after the civil war.
Before his ascension to the throne, Nnewi people, though enterprising, concentrated on buying and selling. He told his people that he would want the town to shift its enterprising nature to industrialisation. Over the years, Nnewi has demonstrated this by having many manufacturing concerns.
It never came as a surprise that the city is home to INNOSON Motors, the first indigenous vehicle manufacturing company in Nigeria. Nnewi controls 70 per cent of Nigeria’s automotive spare parts market.
Where the Nkwo Nnewi market is situated today used to be known as the Agboedo forest, housing the Edo deity. The belief then was that if you entered the Agboedo forest, Edo would kill you. The springboard of Nnewi’s manufacturing ingenuity, the market came alive when Igwe Orizu with the assistance of late Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, who had suggested they clear the evil forest and make it the centre of Nnewi envisaged catalytic effect in the town’s growth.
The market was Igwe Orizu first major work towards developing Nnewi. At that time, five deities controlled the town and the people mostly pagans. The market gave Nnewi commercial prominence and paved the way leading to its status as one of the enterprising industrial cities in Nigeria.
According to Igwe Orizu, “Many people didn’t buy the idea but rather ran away in fear of the deity’s wrath, but we got it done. After clearing the forest, we negotiated with the landowners, and the market became a reality.”
Igwe Orizu was also instrumental to the establishment of Teachers Training College Nnewi; now Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital.
Igwe Orizu III is an offspring of the Orizu royal dynasty, the son of Igwe Josiah Orizu II, who welcomed Christianity to Nnewi. His grandfather, Igwe Iwuchukwu Orizu I, was the first monarch to own a personal car in Nnewi and his great-grandfather, Igwe Iwuchukwu Ezeifekaibeya.
When the British Provincial Officer in Onitsha paid a visit to Igwe Orizu I on his motorcycle, he was surprised that Igwe Orizu had a car but unregistered. He asked that he register it at the Licensing Office in Lagos, the only available Licensing Office.
But Igwe Orizu I was not at ease with such distant journey. He asked for a nearby station which moved the British Provincial Officer to open a Motor Licensing Office in Onitsha and eventually registered it as Onitsha ON 1 (Onitsha One).
Igwe Orizu III was born on October 30, 1925. In his primary school days, young Orizu was chauffeured to Central School, Nnewi, in his father’s car. He attended Hope Waddell Training Institution, Calabar, and New Bethel College Onitsha, in 1942, for his secondary school education.
Though a prince, after his secondary education, Prince Orizu, burning with the self-reliance engaged in some serves before joining the Eastern Nigeria Information Service (ENIS), publishers of Eastern Outlook Newspaper. The paper outfit employed him as a circulation staff and posted him to Port Harcourt, where his punctuality and commitment to duty spoke through his duties.
He astronomically increased the Outlook newspaper sales, which was selling at about 150 copies to 500 and later, rose to 1000 copies. He had a salary increase and promotion from his employers in appreciation of his hard work.
The company transferred him to Onitsha where he performed a similar sales feat. The newspaper moved him to Asaba as the Commercial Manager for Mid-Western Region.
The death of his father, Igwe Josiah Orizu II, in 1962, disengaged him from the services of ENIS. According to the tradition of Nnewi, he mourned his father for a year until his father’s death was announced to the public on May 9, 1963.
On May 10, 1963, some elders and notable people of Nnewi rode on a motorcade to Enugu to present Igwe Orizu III to Dr Michael Okpara, Premier of Eastern Nigeria. They officially informed Dr Okpara that Prince Kenneth Orizu would be succeeding his late father the next day.
Dr Okpara expressed joy and commended them for the understanding they demonstrated in standing behind the new king. Nnewi town coronated Prince Kenneth Orizu III on June 2, 1963.
Igwe Orizu, the grand patron of Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council, said his coronation was one of the most memorable days of his life, but few days after becoming Igwe, he got so bored. “I would sit down here from morning till night.
I could not move around freely, which was quite different from my kind of person who could not stay in a particular place for long. My movement became too restricted for my liking. As early as 7 am, people would start bringing cases to resolve.
I had significant responsibilities as Igwe Nnewi because I was in charge of 25 towns; that was before the mass recognition of traditional rulers in the Second Republic. Before the coming of the Europeans, Nnewi’s royal authority extended to Ihiala, Nnewi South Local Government Area, and present-day Ekwusigo LGA. During the colonial era, it was only Igwe Nnewi and Obi of Onitsha that stayed in court without rotating among the warrant chiefs. Only the two monarchs had the power to pass death.
“Nnewi comprises of four quarters, Otolo, Uruagu, Umudim and Nnewichi, each independent but interrelated and has its own Obi. Otolo-Nnewi, however, produces the paramount traditional ruler of the town from the Orizu royal family.
The people wanted four kings for Nnewi, but our progenitors knew why they said it would be one and hereditary. The succession system is hereditary, and that removes the tension and resentment associated with the installation of a new king in other towns. It has insulated the kingship from opening it up to crisis rocking the selection of a new king.”
Igwe Orizu III is the first monarch in Nigeria to abolish the Osu caste system, thus entitling everyone in Nnewi sphere of influence free-born. He is a man in love with the culture of his people but discourages wastage of resources at traditional marriage and funeral ceremonies.
Igwe Orizu III, is an advocate of peace, a norm the Orizu royal home has maintained over the year. He said the land of Nnewi had abhorred bloodshed for over 100 years and had not reported cases of inter-village killings or dispute.
The monarch said he only guided Nnewi people and rule over them. He lauded Nnewi people’s ‘think home philosophy’ rechristened ‘Akulueuno’ by Anambra State Government. Long before the state government embraced the initiative, Nnewi people have been at the forefront of it.
By Akulueuno philosophy, ndi Anambra and Igbo are urged to think home by having a substantial part of their investments in Igboland. Igbo people are known for their entrepreneurial spirit, yielding most of their investments outside the region. They have contributed to the development of those places more than their homeland.
Whether by the individual or collective initiative, Nnewi people cited most of their investments not just in Igbo land but in Nnewi. Igwe Orizu III stated that by dint of determination, perseverance, and hard work, the people had transformed the auto city in an excellent technological advancement pace.
Igwe Orizu doesn’t only advocate peace among Nnewi people but also his people and non-indigenes and Igbo people living in other parts of the country.
He demonstrated this on May 31, 1988, when he toured some parts of northern states with an entourage and other notables of the community. The tour, according to him, allowed him to sue for brotherly co-existence in those areas.
The monarch visited Kano, Katsina, Funtua, Minna, Maiduguri, Bauchi, Zaria, Kaduna, Sokoto, Jos, Suleja, Katangora and Gboko, among other places. The benefit of the tour served as tonic unification of Emirs of these areas with Igwe Orizu and gave room to cement ndigbo relationship with their host communities.
Igwe Orizu’s disposition for peace infuses in him peace of mind. He recalled an occasion his first daughter in admiration of his bold and friendly approach to issues asked if he sleeps. He smilingly answered that once he goes to bed at night, that he sleeps off like a baby and faces the palace duty the following day with a prayerful approach.
He assures that his son, Prince Charles Obianefo Orizu, who will take to the throne after him will broaden the peace and brotherly love that exist in Nnewi with humility and respect for human dignity. His endearing peace initiatives earned him the name, ‘General of Peace’ by his people.
As the traditional ruler of Nnewi Kingdom, Christianity is not alien to Igwe Orizu, unlike some traditional rulers. He is a staunch member of the Full Gospel Men’s Business Fellowship which holds at his palace hall and attends all synod sessions of the Diocese of Nnewi since 1996, until date.
He has been a Jerusalem Pilgrim (JP) on many occasions, climbing the designated mount without help during the mountain climbing sessions.
He has unassumingly sponsored many Christians to Jerusalem on pilgrimage. The monarch admirably called Igwe na-eje-uka – the church-attending king by his people.
He worships at his home church, St Thomas Anglican Church, Otolo Nnewi, and attends religious and church activities without segregation.
Igwe Orizu III is a recipient of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) and a Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International.