Brothers at war in Idumuje-Ugboko over chieftaincy stool

Prince Justin Chukwunonso Nwoko


• Land Issue Is Diversionary — Ned Nwoko
• It Is More A Tussle Over Land — Nonso Nwoko

A house divided against itself can certainly not stand, so they warned. An impending implosion may just lead to the fall of House of Nwoko, which for centuries has presided over affairs of the small town of Idumuje Ugboko, Aniocha North local council of Delta State, should the feuding princes not entomb the hatchet. The cause of friction is who, between Prince Justin Nonso Nwoko, the eldest surviving son of the late King Obi Albert Nwoko III, and his younger half brother, 18-year old Prince Uche Nwoko, is the rightful occupant of the ancient chieftaincy stool. 

While the elder Nwoko has since been coronated as king by a section of the palace, the teenager, a final year secondary school student, is not relenting in his march to the throne. He is so supremely confident that as the chosen one, that like the biblical Joseph, his elder brother might pay obeisance to him.

The coveted kingship stool became vacant last February, when their father passed on at 91. The cold war over who the crown fits turned hot recently, when some suspected hoodlums brazenly invaded the palace in a desperate bid to abort a meeting of the elders.

A vandalised motorbike lying close to the ancient palace wall; broken and upturned tables and chairs, as well as broken bottles, which littered the place, told the sordid tale of the invasion.But determined not to turn the other cheek, the king’s men were said to have fiercely fought back and some of the opponents were badly hurt. Though no life was lost, but there is no doubt that all stakeholders will have to live with the scars of the assault for a long time.

From being a peaceful community, where cheerful princes pumped hands within the confine of the palace, there is now mutual suspicion and palpable fear in the community, even though security has been beefed up around the palace, with the deployment of anti-riot policemen.

The Iyase (traditional Prime Minister), Chief Chris Ogwu, alleged that anarchy is now the order in the town, a few kilometres from the council headquarters at Issele Uku, as the teenage prince’s supporters are now hounded by some village thugs.Ogwu, a veteran journalist and pioneer editor of the state owned The Pointer newspaper, said his insistence on the truth earned him a severe whipping, while the windscreen of his vehicle was smashed and his house vandalised by thugs on the monarch’s orders.

He said: “Over 100 thugs now occupy the palace. They invaded the community, dragged people out of their homes and beat them up, and destroyed indigenes’ belongings. They invaded the market and chased away traders. They also invaded the secondary school, causing teachers and pupils to scamper into the bush, as they shot sporadically.”

Prince Uche and his supporters contended that the choice of the elder half brother couldn’t stand, as the people’s age-old customs were not followed in the installation. They are holding him out as more qualified, because his parents are from Idumuje-Ugboko.The Iyase said the crowning of the monarch was a taboo, as the ceremony should have waited until after the three-month burial rites for the deceased nonagenarian. He further alleged that a desecration of the tradition occurred, when as Crown Prince, Nonso was put on the stool by only one man, as against the six required by tradition.

He said: “Persistent protests against this act were shoved aside by those who insisted that Prince Nonso should sit on the stool, the same night the Obi passed on. The haste was simply to frustrate the young prince.“By the standing order and rule in Idumuje-Ugboko, Prince Justin Chukwunonso Nwoko is not qualified to succeed Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko, as his mother is from Ubulu-Uku.”

He said the Obi has many rivers to cross to be accepted, including that his mother is not from Idumuje-Ugboko as prescribed by tradition, but from Ubulu-Uku, adding that he is currently standing trial in the Magistrate Court at Asaba for an alleged forgery offence, as well as conspiracy in case number CMA/420c/2016: Commissioner of Police vs. Chukwunonso Nwoko and two others.

In the heat of attacks, 75-year-old Princess Maria Nwoko alleged that a pack of thugs, numbering over 40 beat her and other relations mercilessly and vandalised their houses under the cover of darkness.Tearfully, she pleaded with the police to be in constant operation in the community to protect them, claiming their lives are in danger, as the entire community is now enveloped in fear.

The late Obi’s last wife, Queen Faith Okwukwe Nwoko, together with over 100 youths and elders are said to be taking refuge at Prince Ned Nwoko’s mansion located in uptown Idumuje-Ugboko.Rising in stout defence, however, Obi Nonso said he was yet to figure out why his enemies are arguing that he is not fit and qualified to mount the throne, which tradition is strictly based on the principle of primogeniture. As the eldest surviving son of the deceased king, the lot, he insisted, falls on him to take over, and that there is no iota of doubt about that.

He seemed coherent, intelligent, gentle, unassuming and calm, despite the crisis rocking his domain, as well as the multiple court cases instituted against him. Picking his words slowly, the Obi dismissed the accusation of killing his father with a wave of the hand, insisting that they are only interested in creating a crisis in the agrarian community.

He said: “According to our tradition, when the Obi passed on in February, there was no vacuum, as the next person is installed. There is no argument about it. So, as the first surviving son, I was installed immediately after the burial. The burial took place around 12 midnight and I was installed at about 2 am. The next thing we heard was that my siblings and I murdered the Obi. There is a petition to that effect.”

The monarch explained that the heart of the matter is the alleged refusal of the palace to approve 90 hectares of land to a former member of the House of Representatives, Prince Ned Nwoko for the purpose of a sports university.In his view, the controversy over the land matter, which has been on since 2015, is the underpinning factor from which other sundry issues are springing forth.

When they give the impression that there is a tussle over the kingship, it is just a ruse to cover up the real thing, which is, Prince Ned’s ambition to own the entire town, because we don’t even have 90 hectares here, apart from the one he has taken. But based on his past record, nobody will give him land, except we are all stupid,” he said.

As a man of power, he said the former legislator merely wants to subordinate and subdue commoners, so he can grab all that he had surveyed.The beleaguered monarch maintained that, if the town elders made the mistake of ceding such huge parcel of land to the ex-lawmaker, his generation doesn’t have to repeat it.

Unruffled, he said in a desperate attempt to discredit him, his haters had come up with a rape case, and that not done, they also came up with the obnoxious petition that he is mentally and physically unfit.“They have been calling me an imbecile and a mad man. They say my mum is not from here, but the late Obi’s mother is from Ugbodu. So, such does not hold water. I don’t know the psychologist that certified me a mad man. I studied Psychology, so, I know a little about madness, at least,” he explained. “They petitioned the local government, which was taken to the Obi in Aniocha North, where we were told to go home and settle the matter, that they were not aware that the throne is under contest.

“As we speak now, there is a case at the High Court challenging my position here. Those are the things we have been going through. The last, but not the least was when we were holding a thank-you meeting after the burial rites. The next thing we saw were imported thugs, who came and disrupted the meeting.”The Obi alleged that the village thugs invaded his palace right under the watchful eyes of policemen, who were drafted to keep the peace. And rather than stop them, the police merely stood by and advised that the meeting be discontinued, as the atmosphere was combustive.

He said: “Prior to that, the law enforcement agents had advised that next time we schedule a meeting, they should be given 24-hour notice. We did that and the police came, as usual, the thugs were waiting outside. But we were disappointed, when the police again said the atmosphere was charged, so we shouldn’t hold the meeting. Then I asked: ‘So, why are you people here?’ I went outside and told everybody what was happening. And that was how we went to Zone 5 headquarters in Benin.”

The king swore that he never sent thugs to invade his subjects’ homes to abduct and bring them to the palace for horsewhipping, as being peddled by his opponents.He, however, conceded that some furious community youths must have taken advantage of the invasion of the palace to carry retaliatory attacks on perceived sponsors.

“It is quite unfortunate that they brought the Iyase here in the wake of the crisis, but one of my uncles said he was not looking well, that nobody should touch him. So, they escorted him back to his house,” he explained. “It is possible that some persons took the laws into their hands in such a situation, where you have angered the people, and youths are not the easiest people to manage. But as for bringing anyone and flogging him, it is a cock and bull story. There is no way I would go and hire thugs to come and disrupt Izuani meeting that I called, except if I were a mad man.”

So, what is the way forward to resolving the crisis?
Sighing deeply, the traditional ruler suggested ways of salvaging the situation in order to avoid impeding implosion.The first option, which according to him is impossible, is to swallow bitter pills and allow Ned to have all the land he requested for, consequent upon which all the court cases against him will be cleared.

He insisted that the former Federal lawmaker must atone for all alleged atrocities he committed against the palace and the community, which included payment of the various fines imposed on him, so that he can be of good standing in the community and the royal family, of which he is a part.He vowed that there is no way his kinsman will get the land so long the buck stops at his desk, except Ned goes through due process.

“He has to apply for land, after which there will be a feasibility study and a committee will then study it to recommend what should be done. But he wants to cut corners. So, the option is left to him to decide. One man cannot terrorise the entire community,” he said.The king maintained that his late father did not approve the controversial 90 hectares of land.

He said: “More than 10 years ago, he was given approval for 30 hectares of land. He told the community he wanted to build a ranch and a dairy product factory. In this community, there are so many young men who need jobs, so our fathers in their wisdom thought that this is our son, who was a member of the National Assembly, and that if his request were granted, the local economy would improve.“Unfortunately, they did not know that the young man was not entertaining such idea. He converted the 30 hectares of land to a private estate without even coming back to the community to ask for permission for change of use. Our fathers, including the late Obi, were so interested in pampering Ned because, as a member of the royal family, he got advantages that could not be extended to others.

“I know that people in the community are still complaining about the decision to cede the 30 hectares to Ned. There was an Izuani meeting that I attended, and my uncles were struggling so hard to defend that decision. I know it was not the right thing, but I could not come out to oppose my father and uncles. But that has been lingering, and suddenly in 2015, the young man came again to ask for 90 hectares for Golf Course in this village, when we have one in Asaba that is even under-utilised.

“So, he now added sports University to what he wants to do with the 90 hectares. I have always been in Lagos. I relocated to Asaba in 2014 to be closer home. It was during one of such visits that I came across the whole idea of land request.

“It was not just that he was asking for the land, he was already bulldozing people’s land. I inquired from him whether he had talked to the people farming on the land, because that should be first stage, and he said he would do so, but he didn’t bother to talk to them and went on encroaching. He was not just ready to stop.”

He further alleged that, while his people queued patiently to cast vote for the candidate of their choice in the 2015 governorship election, a sinister plot to deprive them of their land was being perfected.

On its part, the pro-Ned group faulted the new Obi, insisting that the vast land was duly approved by the late Obi, and that the son (Nonso) allegedly forged documents to rescind the approval.A high chief, the Odogwu of Idumuje-Ugboko, Chief Sunday Anthony Edemodu, who claimed to be a victim of the recent invasion of the palace by thugs, explained that as the Land Allocation Chairman, the late Obi Nwoko III duly approved the allocation of the controversial land to Ned, as freely agreed by the community.

Also buttressing Odogwu stand’s, Secretary of the Land Allocation Committee, Mr. Kennedy Iloh, said the monarch is curiously opposed to development in the community, even when his qualification as the successor remains in doubt.He alleged that a handful of elders in the community were beaten up and rendered homeless by hoodlums loyal to the embattled king, just for speaking the truth.

But the Obi faulted the Odogwu and the scribe. He said a memo written on his father’s letterhead to the effect that he (Obi) had given Ned and his company, Linas International 90 hectares of land, which he intercepted in November 2015, alerted him to a sinister design to grab vast hectares of the community’s land. All that the messenger (an uncle) from Ned needed for the land to be his was the Obi’s signature.“It was from that time on that Ned marked me as enemy number one. Before you know what was happening, I became a thief, as they accused me of stealing rice. Soon after, I became a forgery expert, as they accused me of forging my dad’s signature,” he said.

Prince Ned Nwoko dismissed the charges against him by the Obi as unfounded, noting that the land in question was duly approved and given to him by members of the Land Committee. “The paper had all the relevant signatures, including that of the transited traditional ruler and there is no way I, as a reputed ex-lawmaker could have condescended so low as to forge the paper,” he said. “The land is for a university project, christened Star University. It is a known fact that universities are always cited on vast land. It is my unconditional love for my community that propelled me to establish the institution there.”

Going by the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of Star University, everybody is carried along, as the land is equity contribution by the community, which is 40 percent.The proprietor emphasised that the application for the said land went through the land allocation committee. So, is the land where his house is located.

“In the Master Plan, dilapidated primary schools will be renovated to serve as Demonstration schools, while secondary schools will be upgraded and better equipped to serve the community.“The land will return to the community, if not developed five years after allocation. As a Sports university, there will be areas for such sports facilities as mini stadia and sports centres.

“The documents, as required by National Universities Commission (NUC), were submitted to the last and current leadership of Idumuje-Ugboko Development Union (IUDU). Documents submitted include, the University laws, the Academic brief Vol. I & II, the Environmental impact Analysis Report, Draft University Law, Master Plan, Geotechnical Investigation report.”

Contrary to claims by his detractors, the former legislator said it is not true that there was no feasibility study on the project, and that it is just a plot to grab land.An anonymous local source disclosed that one of the two princes leading the opposition against the proposed Ivory Tower, applied to handle the drawing of the institution’s Master Plan, but failed to secure the contract, as it is the responsibility of the NUC to nominate consultants that are registered with the commission.

Embittered, the source said the kinsman swore to frustrate Ned, as the politician is fondly called, for not exerting his influence to ensure that a homeboy was given the job.He denied having a hand in the plot to unseat the monarch, which is the responsibility of the kingmakers, and he is not of them.Ned maintained that the royal father was only using the land issue, which he insisted time and again, was approved by the late monarch, to whip up sentiments.

“The land issue is diversionary tactics. The kingmakers insisted that he is not qualified to mount the throne. They refused to recognise his coronation, but instead of standing up to them, he is busy painting me black. He chased his brothers and stepmothers away from the palace and he wants me to support him. He is only making me a scapegoat, so that the great issue of the day, which is his non-qualification as Obi, will be forgotten.”

Against the backdrop of the charged atmosphere, a youth leader, Comrade Emmanuel Kogwonye, summed the situation thus: “We the youths have decided not to fight back at those attacking us, no matter the level of provocation. We thank our illustrious son, Hon. Ned Nwoko for making his country home available for our safety. So, we are here to protect our people, while also ensuring that no attack comes to Mount Ned Nwoko.

“This whole issue started, when Prince Ned said he was bringing a university to our community, which we welcomed as development. But some cabal turned his good intention and gesture into selfish interest with an attempt to rubbish our patrimonial relationship.”No doubt, these are tense times for the locals, some of who are caught in-between the raging chieftaincy tussle.Meanwhile, the teenage prince has been taken into hiding, to protect and preserve him until peace returns.



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