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Idumuje-Ugboko: As Crisis Rocks An Ancient Monarchy
Published Jul 26, 2020 IN Features,
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 BY AUSTIN OMO OYIBODE

 

The crisis rocking the sleepy, serene town of Idumuje Ugboko in Aniocha North local government area of Delta state has lingered now for over three years, and like an open sour begging for attention, is festerring to a near uncontrollable proportion. There are indeed many issues surrounding the troubled community, though the principal challenge is bordering on the kingship tussle and disagreement among key actors in the community. Though there have been several meetings aimed at resolving the contentious issues, available reports say some groups have reportedly turned down moves by stakeholders to broker an enduring truce. Following the lingering crisis, Delta State Government is yet to accord official recognition as in staff of office to to the crown prince who, upon the demise of the former traditional ruler (Obi), Albert Nwoko, four years ago in line with the provisions of the tradition of the ancient kingdom on monarchical ascen­dancy, was chosen and crowned by the people as the king of the community.

 

With the delay in non- issuance of staff of office from the office of the Deputy Governor, Delta State, the kingdom’s Obi, Chukwunonso Nwoko, can neither attend functions of traditional rulers in the local government or have any official dealing with the state government. From the perspective of the government, it therefore could appear that the Idumuje- Ugboko community is yet to have a traditional ruler since the last king, Obi Albert Nwoko, died on February 6, 2016, that is running into a total of five years ago.

 

The non-recognition of the king reportedly played out dur­ing the disbursement of the state government’s palliatives to communities in the state on account of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The Pointer learnt that the palliatives for the community were channelled through a member of the Idumuje-Ugboko Development Union to the vulnerable people in the agrarian community. The Pointer also gathered that, as an offshoot of the crisis rocking the community, the economy of Idumuje-Ugboko that was once thriving has collapsed sig­nificantly. Sources within the kingdom informed our reporter that the community market has lost its candour and traditional ambience of flamboyance.

 

In the view of Prof Demas Nwoko, an international architect / designer and indigene of the kingdom, the community has lost its beauty and fragrance. The challenge in IdumujeUgboko is reminiscent of a government that has lost its essence. Prof­Nwoko noted that the solution lies in the hands of the Delta State Government but the state government, he reasoned, seems unwilling to wade into the matter. Prof Demas Nwoko is very unhappy over the lingering crisis dividing the people and knocking their heads against one another. He said the is­sues could have been resolved in their formative stages, but alleged that the government kept mute, hence the matters have now escalated, leading to deaths, ostracization of com­munity members, counter-accusations and the collateral fall of traditional values.

 

The 84-year-old iconic professor and prince of Idumuje -Ug­boko kingdom, who spoke to The Pointer in his country home , stressed that Delta State Government reportedly allowed the issues to degenerate, hence the matter has escalated. He said: “If issues are left to fester, the system will get corrupted. When corruption sets in, the bye-product of corruption is maggot. In some countries, people eat maggots, when they want food and it’s not there, they eat maggot. They close their eyes and eat maggot. It becomes their staple food.

 

“It started from one little dead rat that nobody removed and the maggots took over, lay their eggs and they festered. What is happening in Idumuje-Ugboko is not supportable. Whatever the issues are, they should not continue. It shouldn’t happen. It can only happen in a fractured society, a society without values and effective governance. Such society is incapacitated and impotent. The society here is disintegrating systematically. Every people of the world have their own culture from where they manufacture their governance system and rules.”

 

Professor Nwoko concentrated the blame on the government of Delta State. He alleged that Delta State Government aban­doned the crisis in the community and allowed it to blossom. “The government left the matter to fester. I haven’t seen the hand of government in this matter, in trying to either right it or stop it. There must be a reason why this thing has lasted so long. What I’m saying is that the government of this state has not done anything about the matter. That is why it has lingered for many years,” Nwoko observed.

 

Nwoko said the state government failed to handle the issue with the recognized late king, Obi Albert Nwoko. He noted: “We have a system that when a king dies his eldest(surviving) son takes over. It’s a very peaceful process. It’s automatic. The king was already over 90 years. So, it was inevitable that he must die. Why has the successor not been recognized by the government and given staff of office? The same day a king dies, another king is enthroned. Why has it become a problem for the government to give staff of office to the Obi? Until that is done, nobody should talk about any other civil problem in this town. Whether any­body likes it or not, he is the king of this kingdom.”

 

He frowned at why govern­ment has decided not to give him the staff of office so that he could interact with govern­ment and carry out his duties as the tradition requires. He added: “So, it means the gov­ernment has deliberately or by commission or omission created a situation in this community that shouldn’t happen. Whatever is happen­ing or has happened is imma­terial. If you leave your house open, rats will take-over.”

 

He lamented the fall of the economy of Idumuje-Ugboko. He said the Idumuje-Ugboko had a thriving economy. It once made a name in North­ern states and Lagos. Lorries were taking food from the community to Zaria and La­gos, but since the crisis, the economy has plummeted, adding that the chieftaincy system ‘has been murdered and the government is maintaining silence as if it’s unaware of the developments in the community.’

 

Prof Nwoko, who expressed displeasure at the lackadaisi­cal attitude of government towards the crisis, said: “Whatever reason I can’t fathom why the government kept quiet. The government has abandoned this kingdom. I don’t know for whose benefit. The whole matter lies squarely in the hands of the head of this state. This town is the backyard of Abuja. They come and collect them from wherever they are and take them to Abuja and lock them up. The state government is not doing anything about it.” This was in apparent reference to the number os the sons and daughters of the kingdom that have been arrested and locked up in Abuja for expressing their views on the matter.

 

For those who are arguing that Prince Nonso is not the rightful heir to the throne, Professor Nwoko said there is a system of succession and it is in the records of Delta State Government, noting that the government could not shy away from its responsibilities. For him, it is not a subject of debate on who should ascend the throne after late Obi Albert. He posed series of questions to Delta State Government, thus: “Do they want to change the system? Do they need us to tell them what to do? Do they have to come and ask us who is going to be the next king in this town? It’s not an issue of opinion. Does it mean they don’t have records?

 

“That shouldn’t arise at all. We don’t have a succession prob­lem. You can’t ask me, ask government. Ask ministry of chief­taincy. If they cannot answer it and they depend on me, then something is wrong... So, anything that happens or continues to happen in this community lies in the hands of the government.”

 

For those who link the crisis in the community to the land where Prince Ned Nwoko is building his All Stars Sports Uni­versity, Prince Walter Eziashi, former President- General of Idumuje Ugboko Development Union, dismissed such claims, saying such is a false alarm. He argued that the land where Ned is building his university has no business with the crisis in the community as the land had been acquired prior to the death of Obi Albert Nwoko. He showed our reporter various signed documents, indicating the allocation of the land to Prince Ned Nwoko by the late king. The documents transferred owner­ship to him.

 

Prince Eziashi said allegations that Prince Ned demanded for land but Prince Nonso asked him to develop the portion allotted to him by late king before demanding for another was false. He said the issue of land for the university had already been settled before the demise of Obi Albert Nwoko. According to him, the demand for land to build the sports university and international golf course began in February 2015.

 

But due to the expanse of land needed for the project, a meeting of Ani-Izuani was summoned to hold a community congress. Prince Eziashi told The Pointer that Prince Nonso, banking on the age of the late king then, said the meeting would not hold. He alleged that Prince Nonso called other princes, including Prince Martins, Professor Somaina Gabriel Nwoko, and told them never to attend the meeting to conclude plans to allocate a portion of the community land for Prince Ned’s proposed university.

 

He said against all odds, the process of allocating land for the university was concluded. He explained that a letter was sent to the late king on April 10, 2015. He said the land from which Prince Ned demanded allocation for the university is a community land. Hence, any indigene who needed land for factories, institutions, hospitals should be given for community development purposes. He added that though all the processes were followed to acquire the land for the university with signed documents, Prince Nonso instituted a legal action against Ned, Linus, and Aniocha North local government council on January 6, 2016, an action which, according to him, ran counter to the decision of the community.

 

Prince Eziashi told The Pointer that Prince Ned won all the cases, the last ruling was on June 3, 2019. He alleged that in 2015, Prince Nonso jumped bail following police investigations that revealed a fraudulent document. He said he petitioned the police to investigate two letters and the report implicated Prince Nonso. He alleged that anybody who is not on the side of Nonso is declared an enemy and ostracised from the com­munity.

 

Eziashi dismissed as falsehood, claims that Nonso asked Ned to develop the land he initially acquired before demanding for more. He said Prince Ned has never discussed any land issue with Prince Nonso. Hear him: “In the year 2000, the community allocated 33 hectares of land to Prince Ned to develop a dairy farm which will go with a dairy factory. Ned brought in over 500 cows. All of us were living witnesses and we are still living witnesses. Those cows all died, some were stolen. He, thereaf­ter, decided to convert the land to a tourism centre which will include a zoo that was in the year 2000.

 

“The issue of the university came up 15 years after. That was in 2015. The basic land requirement for the establishment of a university is 100 hectares. That is the first requirement you must have before you can approach NUC for issuance of provi­sional licence for establishment of university. So, Ned said we have 33 hectares already, let us have additional 90 hectares so that we will have over that 100 hectares put together. The 90 hectares were awarded by the late Obi and right of occupancy has been issued. There is no present Obi in Idumuje-Ugboko. So, there is no basis for Ned approaching Prince Nonso for university land.”

 

To buttress the view that there is no Obi in Idumuje-Ugboko, he said the Directorate of Chieftaincy in the Office of the Deputy Governor of Delta State wrote to the community, insisting that until all the subsisting issues in court were resolved, ‘there cannot be any kingship talk in Idumuje-Ugboko community.’ A copy of the letter, signed by Omonyeme Erute, on behalf of the Permanent Secretary, was made available to The Pointer. Fol­lowing his ‘non-recognition’ by the government, Prince Nonso does not attend meetings of the traditional rulers council of the local government. He added: “You become an Obi when you are gazetted. You become an Obi when you are issued a Staff of Office. So, it’s an insult for anybody to say Nonso is an Obi.”

 

Prince Eziashi alleged that Prince Nonso’s grandfather, who was a colonial interpreter, enthroned himself as Obi Omousi 11 in 1927. But in 1942, he changed his name to Obi Nwoko 11. He said his father was Mr. Justin Nkaeze Omousi. He then asked “who crowned him king? And as for Nonso, there are laid down rules; nobody can just wake up and crown you Obi Does a man without any traditional relevance install an Obi?”

 

Prince Eziashi who spoke to our reporter in Issele-Uku, the headquarters of Aniocha North local government area, said ‘as far as the people of IdumujeUgboko are concerned, Prince Nonso is in his father’s house. His father lived in that compound. He insisted that there is no law that recognizes him as the Obi of the kingdom. When he is tired he will leave. He added: “The government palliatives that came during the lockdown were sent through the council. I got a call that they don’t know who to send Ugboko’s palliatives to. I had to call Hope Uwagwu, the national PRO of the union, to collect what is due to Idumuje- Ugboko and send to the people. This is because Nonso is not recognised as Obi.”  

Eziashi told our reporter that there is an injunction restrain­ing him from parading himself as Obi, adding that what he is doing at the moment is contempt of court. He noted: “One of the court warrants against him is from the Federal High Court, Abuja. I ask one question, if you have no skeleton in your cup­board, why are you dodging the law? If he is a man of integrity, why avoiding the law?”

 

“Recently, two suspects of the 2017 genocide were arrested by the Delta state police command, and in their confessional statements, they implicated him as the man who sent them and the financier. The police invited him he did not honour the invitation. So, what do you expect the police to do? Is it not to arrest him? And that was what the police did. They went to the press and said he was kidnapped.”

 

Chris Ogwu, the Iyase of Idumuje-Ugboko, said since the demise of the late Obi Albert Nwoko on January 7, 2016, there have been troubles in the kingdom. For him, there are many versions to the issue in the agrarian community. One, three princes are laying claim to the throne of his late father. Two, in 2017, there was riot which claimed lives in Idumuje-Ugboko and the police are still carrying out investigations. Three, there are claims that somebody was killed but the body was not found. Four, there are issues of banishment of indigenes from the community. These are issues that are causing commotion in Idumuje-Ugboko.

 

He said ‘people are being ostracised, forcing them to abandon their families in the community. Others are told not to associ­ate with their families’. These, according to him, are issues that are fuelling crisis and causing disharmony in the town. On the involvement of Prince Ned, he said his name is being mentioned because Prince Ned and Nonso have issues over the land for Prince Ned’s Sports’ University.

 

He said: “The land he applied for when the late Obi was alive to build the university was approved by the late king. The Crown Prince has not agreed that the land was approved for Ned Nwoko. So, they have been in court and the matter is yet to be resolved. He has been invited to so many peace meetings. He has been attending. Still there is no peace, because the other has refused to settle.”

 

On the fitness of Prince Nonso to ascend the throne after the death of his father, Chief Ogwu said he is the first son of the king. He, however, said the kingship of his father is being doubted. But the matter is currently in court. “One of the per­sons contesting for the throne said his father is the first king and that he himself is entitled to inherit his father’s throne. So, that is the position; all the matters are in court. It is the court that will decide who is qualified or capable to hold the throne in the interest of IdumujeUgboko people, not the elites or any particular class of persons.”

 

On the invasion of the palace last Saturday, Ogwu said Prince Nonso was picked up because he failed to honour series of in­vitations by the police and ‘the police cannot fold their hands.’ He said several courts and police invitations have been made, he failed to respond. The last resort was for the police to whisk him away. He insisted that he was not kidnapped as reported in some media.

 

However, an 80-year-old man, Nelson Dike, blamed Ned Nwoko and Nonso for the crisis in the community. He said: “The problem is that there is portion of land Ned is request­ing for. They have given him some portions before but the Obi said he should develop the first one and if it’s not enough he can apply for another one. He refused that directive, he went into the land began to operate, taking people’s land to join the ones given to him. That is the genesis of this problem. We are with the Obi. The community is totally behind him because he is not fighting for himself but for the entire community. He told him that one person cannot claim the whole land; what of the other people?”

 

On the allegation of bodies being inside the palace, Dike disagreed. He said since he was born nobody has been buried inside the palace, except the three Obis who have died. He added: “If Obi’s wife gives birth she cannot enter that place. She goes to her parents, stays three months, and cleans her body before returning. So, there is nothing like that. “

 

Chinye Anazia, a community member, also told The Pointer that no matter the situation in the community, the people will still remain one. He said: “Our king is our king. Whoever belongs to us belongs to us. I believe we have no two kings in the town. No matter, maybe because of problem or one thing, people will say, there are two kings but as far as we are concerned, there are no two kings. We have only one king who is Obi Nonso.

 

“Whether mad man or not he is our king. Everybody is under his control because he is king of the town. The community is behind the king. Whether rich or poor, we are under his umbrella. Whether he has been crowned or not he is our king. This issue can last for years, he is still our king.”

 

But Goode Omezi, pioneer chairman of Aniocha North local government area, will have none of this. For him, the issue in Idumuje-Ugboko should not be taken to the media. He told The Pointer that the elders of the community want peace. He is of the view that the approach of the Obi of Owa, HRM Efeizomor where he called the traditional rulers in Aniocha North for a peaceful resolution was the best approach.

 

There are many suggestions toward the return of peace to the troubled community. As rightly observed by Professor Demas Nwoko, the system has been fractured and traditional values destroyed following the non-recognition of the crown prince by Delta State Government. For Professor Nwoko, the needed peace in the hands of the government. The failure of the government to intervene and bring the warring factions to their knees is the major cause of the crisis.

 

The Iyase of the community, Chief Chris Ogwu, believes that the pronouncement of the courts is important to the peaceful resolution of the crisis. He said there are many issues in court. The pronouncement of the courts, in his view, will make the warring factions know who is right and who is to bow to the other. He also added that the peace deal by the Obi of Owa is a necessary way of out of the battle of supremacy.

 

On the part of Prince Eziashi, he said a lot of bodies have mediated but Prince Nonso has allegedly stood on the way of peace. He said Nonso is only wearing his father’s crown. However, he said Benjamin Elue’s group, the Anioma Congress, has intervened and made recommendations but Nonso and Mbanefo re-interpreted the recommendations. He also said the Obi of Owa, in consultation with some Obis in Aniocha North invited Ned and Nonso and forced them to embrace each other and thereafter released a communique.

 

Prince Nonso was asked to call back all those he ostracised. But surprisingly to him, a month after, one Isaac Jebose was hired and he started calling Ned brutish, killer, murderer and liar. He now asks: “Does that show people who want peace?” He added: “We have more than 20 cases in court. Four of them are criminal proceedings by the state against Nonso, the oth­ers are civil litigations. Most of them were instituted by Nonso against us but we have been winning them.”

 

On the workability of the recommendations of Obi of Owa, he said: “Look, the Obi of Owa cannot give us peace. It is Ugboko man that will give us lasting peace. Peace that will be lasting in Ugboko must be Ugboko made which may be difficult to come because Nonso and co are not prepared. We have attended more than five meetings. In each one, when we finished our presentations with documents, people get tired because they hear contrary things to what they have been told.”

 

Our reporter made attempts to reach the palace for com­ments, efforts made were rebuffed. Prior to visiting the palace, a call was put to the crown prince. Immediately he heard: ‘I’m a journalist from The Pointer,’ he said: “stop harassing me” and hung the call. Despite the response, our reporter visited the palace at IdumujeUgboko where one Peter began talking with him but a directive came from within the palace and the interview was stopped abruptly.

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