Ogbozinne-Akpugo, Enugu community unsettled by monarch’s murder
Four months after many indigenes of Ogbozinne–Akpugo Autonomous Community in Nkanu West Council of Enugu State fled their homes for safety, following the crisis that climaxed with the killing of their traditional ruler, Igwe Stephen Nnaji Nwatu on June 11, 2018, the community is still a ghost town.
Now, the once quiet community, where indigenes joined hands to ensure its development, is abandoned for old men and women, just as the police is having a field day indiscriminately arresting the natives over the murder incident.
Since 2005, the deceased Igwe Nwatu had been having a running battle with some members of the community over his alleged highhandedness in the running of the affairs of the community. The main issues included, the alleged forceful acquisition of a piece of land to develop his palatial home; the payment of clearance levy before any event is held in the town, and the annual fee of N6, 000 for men, and N3, 600 for women to be paid by each adult member of the community.
The monarch met his death at Amodu–Awkunanaw, a neighbouring community, when he reportedly tried to stop members of the community from trooping to Enugu Government House, where both parties had been invited for a meeting with the Chief of Staff to the governor, Dr Festus Uzor. The meeting was called to resolve the lingering crisis in the community.
It was gathered that the monarch, in company of armed police officers, ambushed the delegation at Amodu Junction and ordered them to return to the village.
A free-for-all ensued at the palace after the delegation ignored the order. In that encounter, the late Igwe’s men, policemen used sticks, batons and gun barrels to do battle.
It was further learnt that a driver attached to the royal father ran over one Elder Jessy Okenwa, allegedly on the orders of the king, crushing his two legs in the process.
This development allegedly broke the camel’s back as the mob that had gathered in various hired buses overwhelmed the traditional ruler and his men and pummeled them thinking that Okenwa was dead.
While the policemen and others in company of the monarch fled the scene leaving him m naked in the middle of the road, some community members took the injured Okenwa to the Government House, where he was revived at the Government House Clinic, before being referred to the National Orthopedic Hospital, Enugu.
Okenwa, who has since been discharged following his inability to raise funds to sustain his medical treatment at the hospital can no longer stand on his feet as both legs were badly affected.
The traditional ruler, who was later moved to the ESUTH Teaching Hospital by policemen, died few days after he was rushed to the facility.
Upon his demise, hell was let loose as some of his supporters invaded the community destroying and burning property, and firing sporadic gunshots.
The next day, the police in several Hilux vans began the indiscriminate arrest of natives, leading to many fleeing their ancestral homesteads for fear of being arrested.
When The Guardian visited the community recently, it still remained a ghost town as the few elderly women, men and children that are still around live in fear. The many homes torched and abandoned stood derelict as a testimony of the tragic encounter.
At the village square where many shops are located, none was opened for business at the time of the visit, and there were evidence that they have not been opened for a while now.
A 92-year-old, Pa Samuel Okenwa, who was the only person spotted in his compound alongside his wife, lamented the crisis saying he had not set eyes on members of his family since the incident that claimed the life of their traditional ruler.
“We are here alone. The children ran away and have not returned. We cannot account for them because none of them has called to ask about us. It is a terrible thing. There is no peace any longer in this community. As you can see, many homes have been abandoned because the police is moving about arresting people. That is the situation in Ogbozinne community,” he lamented.
Pa Okenwa, who is the oldest man in the community traced the crisis to 2005, saying it began with the imposition of illegal fines, levies and forced labour by Nwatu and his cabinet on the community, stressing that several appeals and meetings held to enable him stop the levies were to no avail.
“We were living peacefully until the Igwe raised four flags. First, he said if anyone dies in Ogbozinne Autonomous Community, the family would pay N4, 000 for every male child in the family before the deceased is buried. The security outfit he instituted is the one collecting the money with two cartons of beer and palm wine. He also instituted marriage levy of N6, 000, which will be paid by the in-law, as well as, the family whose daughter is being married. It is charged per head. We protested the development, but it was ignored.
This matter was presented to the Commissioner of Police and Commissioner for Chieftaincy Matters,” he said.
He stated that the matter was equally taken to court at Agbani, and later to the Enugu State Government House, adding that the court heard the matter on June 11, 2018, after which the community members proceeded to the Government House to honour the invitation of the Chief of Staff on the matter. “It was while they were on their way that the monarch tried to stop them with his militia and police, when eventually his vehicle ran over Jessy and community members mobbed him.”
A Methodist priest at Emmanuel Methodist Church, Ogbozinne, Rev. Kenneth Azikiwe Okafor, who corroborated Pa Okenwa’s story equally regretted that the community has been deserted due to the crisis.
He said: “The incident happened on June 11, 2018. I don’t know whether to call it a mob action that led to the death of Igwe even though he didn’t die on the spot. He was rushed to hospital where he gave up the ghost later, and that led to destruction of houses in the night of that incident. That night I started hearing gunshots and in the morning when I came out, I went round the villages and discovered that many houses were burnt, and that led to the village being deserted. Many people deserted the community and up till now, we don’t know the whereabouts of some people.”
Okafor, who has served in the community in the past three years added: “I met with the monarch and complained to him about the feelings of the people. He said he cannot do anything. The issue of forcing people to work for him; the burial levy to be paid to the Igwe’s purse, and other obnoxious laws. I told him one-on-one that these things were not good, and that he should be a listening leader, but it did not yield any fruit. I called his cabinet members to advise him to do well and they failed to advise him.”
A member of the Igwe’s cabinet, who spoke on condition of anonymity, alleged that the levies were agreed by the community, and that they never entered the personal pocket of the late traditional ruler.
He stressed that, “some elements in the community who felt that they were the right persons for the Igweship tried to scuttle it by instigating some members against it. That is the crux of the matter. Nobody was forcing anybody to work for the late Igwe. The point is that because the Igwe was not always at home, those who were supposed to carry out certain responsibilities failed to do so and when he tried to call them to order, they will cry to those opposed to the throne. I do not see what the monarch did wrong.
“If you come to our community and see the level of development there, you will begin to wonder where these complaints are coming from. The Igwe did his best to develop the area and carry our people along, but some greedy ones refused to cooperate with him and rather planned to eliminate him. It is sad, but we shall see it to the end.”
Since the crisis broke out, the locals have continued to lament continuous harassment and intimidation by the police. In fact, they alleged that the nonchalance of police, especially in Agbani is what has contributed to the lingering crisis.
Okafor is of the view that the police should share part of the blame in the crisis as, according to him, “I met with the DPO Agbani severally and complained to him before the incident. But I think the police was not living up to expectation. Each time, I complained to them they would not give a listening ear, but the Igwe would always come home with policemen to threaten people.
“That is why the town can now be described as a ghost town because the police is arresting people and people are running away from the community. The level of arrest so far has not helped in the peaceful settlement of the matter. Therefore, even when you say there is a commission of inquiry, I doubt whether the people will be willing to go there for fear that they may be arrested. That is the problem. They did not act accordingly, otherwise, we should have solved this problem before now,” he said.
Mrs. Chinasa Nnamani, who claimed she was among the natives subjected to, “forced labour” by the late Nwatu, told The Guardian that her son, Onyekachukwu, an apprentice in Lagos, escaped arrest a few weeks ago.
She alleged that the policemen who came to arrest him, ended up arresting his friend and wondered why the police should go as far as “arresting young boys who had no role in the incident.”
Maintaining that many residents have been arrested, she stated that while those who could afford their bail have regained freedom, others who could not are still being held behind bars.
It was gathered that about four persons (including an elderly woman) who have been charged to court were remanded in prison custody on the order of the court.
Another native, Mrs. Comfort Nwobodo, who narrated how her residence was set on fire, stated that the police trailed her son, Uchenna, an estate developer to his residence in the Lekki part of Lagos State.
“They did not see him at home, but found his brother Chinedu, an SS 3 student of Ecumenical School, Enugu, who went on holiday and arrested him. They also arrested my son’s cook, Friday and asked his wife, Nneka not to leave the house. That is the way they have been pursuing everybody around. I have not been to the village since they burnt our house,” she lamented.
But contrary to reports, the President General of the Ogbozinne–Akpugo Autonomous Community, Chief Emeka Nwodo, claimed that the community was calm, and that its indigenes were living their lives without fear. He added that those “running away from the community may be doing so because their conscience was disturbing them.”
Asked why the police have continued to arrest people, he said: “A man was killed and before the incident that led to his death, somebody had threatened his life. If a monarch was killed and those who conspired to kill him posted it on Facebook, that will tell you that somebody has a case to answer. If those that are running away did not do anything wrong, why are they running away? They should come out and plead their innocence. The police cannot just arrest people indiscriminately, there must have been a link. What we are talking about here is murder and if the police are called to investigate, they should be allowed to do their work.”
He stated that the autopsy report conducted on the late monarch, gave a clear indication of the cause of his death.
It was gathered that before the incident that led to the death of the monarch, he listed some community members, who allegedly threatened his life and sent their names to the police. The Methodist priest, who confirmed this much, said that the family of the late traditional ruler is insisting that those mentioned in the list must be brought to book, stressing that, “they insisted that until those who killed Igwe are brought to book, peace will not reign. They said the people named by the Igwe are the suspects and that their names are with the police.”
As tempers continue to flare, Okafor said: “I have pleaded with them to give peace a chance because if this continues, more people will die. I have continued to meet other personalities pleading for peace because this thing might cause serious crisis in the nearest future. The community is not safe because even at night, gunshots are still booming and people are breaking into other people’s houses and carting away property. They are breaking into shops and removing goods. So the community is living in fear.”
Rev Okafor, who was arrested by the police shortly after he spoke with The Guardian, was charged for alleged conspiracy and murder of Igwe Nwatu. He was arraigned on September 29 by the police and remanded in prison custody.
Six other persons including Uchenna Edeh; Joseph Okenwa; Leonard Nnam; Mrs. Nnemba Comfort Okenwa; Lawrence Nnajiofor, and Nwodo Chinedu, who were also arraigned for similar charges were also remanded in prison custody.
Besides the failed meetings, one of which resulted in the fracas that claimed the traditional ruler’s life, the state government few weeks ago set up a judicial panel of inquiry to unravel the cause of the crisis and proffer solutions.
Although, many see the intervention as belated owing to the fact that human and material casualties have been consumed, even as the monarch lies cold in the morgue, there are indications that fears created by the random arrests may have marred the work of the panel, which sitting was recently suspended.
But as a result of the inability of the panel to invite key witnesses to testify, Counsel to Okenwa, B.N Nebe, asked the Commissioner of Police to arrest and prosecute suspects in order for justice to be served.
He stated that Okenwa could not continue his medication at National Orthopedic Hospital due to paucity of funds, adding that the pains and hardship he has been subjected to by the incident were devastating.
Meanwhile, the State Police Command has denied allegation of “indiscriminate arrest and harassment” of locals in the community.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in the state, Ebere Amaraizu, explained that those currently in prison custody were linked to the crime, a development, which prompted their arrest, and prosecution.
Amaraizu, who said that one of the principal suspects was still at large, explained that those prosecuted either relationships with some of the key suspects now at large, or conspired to murder the monarch, stressing that, “the onus lies on them to prove their innocence in the matter.”
Shortly before the judicial panel of inquiry led by Justice Ben Agbata (rtd) suspended sitting, it visited the community, where some victims narrated how arsonists torched and raided their property.
Agbata assured them that the panel would do all in its power to get to the root of the crisis, as well as, suggest ways to restore peace.
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