GODWIN UDOH, AYODELE OLUBUSE
In contemporary Africa, and indeed the world over, a people’s tradition, and to a large extent, its culture, is unarguably, their way of life. This truism, incontestable as it is a conclusion both unanimous and obvious, predates the present as it is handed over from generation to generation in every given commune, clan or kingdom, as the case may be.
Peaceful leadership transition in African communities also forms a core part of the cultures of the organization as it signifies the end of an era and the beginning of another none. The culture of different Afican communities as regards picking a traditional after the demise of the former varies, as each tribes have their own unique characteristics.
Idumuje-Ugboko in Aniocha North Local Government area of Delta State, certainly fits into any of the above descriptions. Not only is it an autonomous community by virtue of the fact that it operates laid down traditional modes of governance, it also lays claim to being a kingdom because there exists a traditional ruler, whose authority is duly recognized by the Aniocha North Traditional Rulers Council as well as the Delta State Government, and duly gazetted to t as it he bargain.
In this wise, the Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko is the paramount ruler and custodian of the culture and tradition of the people. But he can’t rule in isolation. Therefore, there are four (4) ranking Chiefs, namely the Iyase, the Odogwu, the Isama and Uwolor, who oversee their various four quarters of the community namely Atuma, Ogbe Ofu, Ogbe Obi and Onicha Uku respectively. But for the avoidance of doubt, the Iyase is the head of the Onotu (social control) in the community as well as being the most powerful chief after the Obi.
Because he is next in line and head of the Onotu (the paramount chiefs), the Iyase, traditionally, is the FIRST person to be contacted when the traditional ruler, that is, the Obi, joins his ancestors.
Thereafter, he, (the Iyase) will inform the Diokpas (Eldest Men) in the four quarters, who will then proceed to the palace and do the needful that same day of the Obi’s passing on. The Obi’s demise will then be made official Three (3) months later by the Iyase. Meanwhile, before the official announcement of the Obi’s joining his ancestors, the Iyase presides over all meetings in the palace during these 3 months and after the formal announcement. He then directs the Onotu and/or the Omu to ensure that the town’s market is closed and the people shave their hair as a mark of respect to the departed Obi. These directives are to last until the king is buried traditionally. And they are indeed sacrosanct.
It is ONLY after the burial ceremonies of the departed Obi have been concluded that the process for the coronation of a new Obi commences. This must be religiously followed as the culture and tradition clearly demand.
Investigations reveal that some persons loyal to the Crown Prince of Idumuje-Ugboko, Prince Nonso Justin Nwoko, are bent on circumventing the laid down traditional due process for the coronation of the late Obi’s successor by side-lining the community’s paramount Chiefs which has the Iyase as the next in line of seniority after the Obi and evidently, this is not going down well with a majority of indigenes who are not comfortable with the idea of abusing traditional due processes for a matter as weighty as the coronation of a new king.
This school of thought allude to the fact that part of the established customary practices as established in t the Benin Kingdom from which Idumuje-Ugboko derives its Kingship heritage, is that the Crown Prince is not supposed to be seen in the palace while his father is still on the throne. They claim that with the advent of information communication technology, the Crown Prince could conveniently communicate with his father, the Obi, without meeting him physically.
Sources allege that the Crown Prince suddenly relocated from his Lagos base in 2014 to Asaba, from where he started visiting the palace almost on a weekly basis. They stated that from the year 2015, they started noticing, what they referred to as “interferences in the administration of the town” which created the impression that there was a parallel Obi in Idumuje-Ugboko.
Reports indicate that in March 2015, a meeting of Izu-Ani (general meeting of the community) was summoned by the palace, but they received the shocker of their lives when they arrived the venue only for the Crown Prince to tell the astounded gathering that the meeting had been suspended sine die! There were spontaneous protests and arguments that dovetailed towards upholding the tradition which had it that since the Obi was still alive, it was not the duty of the Crown Prince to make such pronouncements. That signalled the genesis of the looming crisis.
Further investigations revealed that in the early months of 2015, a consortium named LINAS, made an application for the community to grant it, in addition to its thirty-three (33) hectares it already had, Ninety (90) hectares of land, for the purpose of building a Sports University. This was to meet the National Universities Commission (NUC) requirement for a minimum of one hundred (100) hectares land space for the setting up of a university.
Based on the LINAS and partners application, an Izu-Ani (general meeting of the community) was convened, where it was agreed that the Idumuje-Ugboko community will own forty percent (40%) equity while sixty percent (60%) will be retained by LINAS and partners, Consequently, after the preparation of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) of the minutes of the Izu-Ani meeting, a letter dated 10th April 2015 and signed by his Royal Majesty Obi Albert Nwoko, approving the LINAS proposal, including the resettlement of the farmers around the approved land, was produced and transmitted to LINAS.
It is a known fact that some years ago, Onicha-Ugbo and Idumuje-Ugboko communities went to court over land dispute. At that time, prominent persons from Idumuje-Ugboko such as late Pa Joseph Moemeke form Ogbe-Ofu Village, contributed immensely both morally and financially to the legal tussle which Idumje-Ugboko was later to win. It was then decided that the disputed land be demarcated as community land.
It was also gathered that one late Deacon Anizor, an indigene of the community was given land to build a furniture factory, while one Prince Martins Ezedulu Nwoko benefited from community land allocation to set up a poultry farm
Also, one Mr Uche From Ogbe-Ofu quarters who owned a cash crop plantation on the land where the community’s Comprehensive High School was established in 1978, was asked to vacate without any compensation being paid.
Real trouble and escalation of tension began when, sometime in mid-August of 2015, another letter dated 12th August 2015, originating from the palace, and purported to have been authored by HRM, Obi Albert Okwadiegwu Nwoko the 3rd, JP, MON, the Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko, disclaiming the first letter of consent, which was dated 10th April 2015, emerged!
Evidently, that development which was a huge embarrassment to prominent stakeholders of the community, did not go down well. Efforts by indigenes of the community to seek audience with the traditional ruler in order to confirm the veracity or otherwise of the letter, proved abortive and one of them, (name withheld), was left with no other option than to petition the then Commissioner of Police, Delta State Command, to investigate the authenticity of the letter in question. The petition was dated 16th September 2015. Investigations further reveal that the Police carried out a diligent investigation between September 2015 and February 2016 and came up with a report indicting then Crown Prince Nonso Justin Nwoko and three (3) others of forgery.
It was also gathered that the then CP, Usman Alkali, directed that the case file of the petition be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), State Ministry of Justice, Asaba, for advice. It was further gathered that the DPP also upheld the indictment of Prince Justin Nwoko and three others and advised that they be charged to court which was accordingly adhered to and they were indeed arraigned.
The current position is that without justifiable reason, Crown Prince Nonso Justin Nwoko absented himself from the criminal proceedings on 9th February 2017 and 14th February 2017 respectively. Not impressed, the trial Chief Magistrate Dike of Chief Magistrate Court 1, Ibusa road, Asaba, issued a bench warrant for the accused persons arrest.
On the 3rd of August 2016, the fifteen (15) year old daughter of his Royal Majesty, Obi Albert Nwoko (name withheld) was allegedly raped in the palace. The victim was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital, Asaba, for medical attention that spanned over two weeks.
It was also revealed that upon the return of the victim from treatment in Asaba, some members of the royal family held a secret meeting where they turned themselves to the Nigerian Police Force and Judiciary who are constitutionally empowered to investigate and bring culprits to book as well as sanctioning them when found guilty respectively.
At the end of the secret meeting in the Palace, it was alleged that a very prominent “Prince” demanded for a refund of the cost of the medical treatment of the raped Princess to himself!
The crux of the matter is on why such abominable act was concealed contrary to the tradition of the people which the palace, the venue of the heinous abomination, symbolized? Curiously, rather than rehabilitate the victim, she was allegedly withdrawn from her School, Command Secondary School Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, to Onicha Ugbo Secondary School in Aniocha North, with the threat not to ever disclose the identity of the rapist to anyone. More worrisome is that the abominable and despicable act was not even brought to the notice of the victims’s father, HRM Albert Nwoko, who was still alive then!
The Royal victim was left to suffer humiliation and rejection with nobody to defend her rights, while even her mother, a wife of the late Obi (name withheld), was equally helpless as she too had been threatened and as such, was afraid for herself and her children.
Sometime in September 2016, the attention of a good Samaritan indigene of the town (name withheld) was drawn to the despicable act and when he learnt that the matter was yet to be reported to the police, he lodged a formal complaint via a petition dated 20th September 2016 to the Delta State Police Commisioner CP Zanna Ibrahim, titled, “COMPOUNDING FELONY, TO WIT, RAPE ON A PRINCESS…” (name withheld).
It is gathered that investigations have been ongoing, but unfortunately, those who concealed the facts of the rape in the Royal family have been evading arrest as evidence has proved that several invitations have been sent to the palace but all have so far been rebuffed by the alleged culprits.
An impeccable source told Delta Issue that “we are not against anybody ascending the throne but we cannot allow an indicted person to do so.
Our tradition permits regency as was the case between 1955 and 1981 before our departed Obi, HRM Albert Nwoko, was crowned the Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko. So, having few months of Regency for the Crown Prince to clear himself of the forgery indictment and several criminal and civil actions taken both by and against him at various courts, will do no one any harm. His employing the same mischievous set of women and youths to send packing his late father’s wives from their matrimonial home in the palace and going about persecuting his perceived enemies is not the solution. I will advise him to come out of hiding where he is presently, under the guise of mourning his father and expedite action through legitimate processes of clearing his name in all the criminal and civil proceedings by and against him in the law courts.”
Even though it is an established pre requisite that any Obi to be crowned must have both parents as bonafide aborigines from Idumuje-Ugboko (Crown Prince Nonso Justin Nwoko’s mother hails form Ublulu-Uku in Aniocha South), some other sources claim that the only way the Crown Prince can be crowned as king is for him to take a wife from the community, withdraw his court cases against the Izu-Ani and prominent sons of the land, like Prince Ned Nwoko whose LINAS and partners allocation of ninety (90) hectares of land to establish a Sports University the Crown Prince is fighting vehemently through litigation. For this group, the Sports University will evidently attract unprecedented socio-economic development of the community and environs and as such must be supported by well-meaning sons and daughters of Idumuje-Ugboko including Crown Prince Nonso Justin Nwoko.
Even the Aniocha North Traditional Rulers Council who convened a truce meeting at the instance of the Obi of Ezi, advised that an enlarged meeting of the community’s Izu-Ani be convened in order to resolve the crisis while all parties withdraw their cases before the law courts.
Only time will tell how soon the Royal Rumbles will subside, but suffice it to say that it is a ticking time bomb, which, if not nipped in the bud of dialogue, could escalate and rock the relative calm, peace and unity in the community whose tourism potentials include the singular privilege of being the highest peak and altitude, at Mount Ned Nwoko, arguably, in the South South of Nigeria!