THE Ovie (monarch) of Idjerhe (Jesse) Kingdom in Ethiope-West Local Government Area of Delta State, HRM, Erhikevwe I, whose palace was razed by irate youths over his refusal to authorize the lynching of a suspected ritualist, on November 13, speaks on how he escaped death by the whiskers . He also sheds light on how he tried to avert the tragedy and the reasons for the vile actions of his adversaries in the kingdom. Excerpt:
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South South
On November 13, your palace was razed by a mob, did you have any premonition as you woke up that day?
I woke up normally without premonition of what later developed. I had plans to go to Asaba to attend the screening for those going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem; so when I woke up, I took my bath and we started our early morning devotion. This was about 6.30 am. One Hon Oyibo, who was to travel with me because his car had no spare tyre , came to join us and, while we were in the devotion, somebody ran into the palace to alert me that they had seen the suspect, who had been inflicting machete cuts on persons and running into the bush.
He appealed to me for support to enable them capture the suspect in the bush and I alerted some of my chiefs and the police to go to the area. Within 30 minutes, they rushed in that the man had been arrested and, in a matter of seconds, the entire palace ground had been overtaken by youths, men, women and children. They all came and the suspect was identified as a Jesse person from Ugbomaja waterside. Initially, they had alleged an Hausa man was committing the havoc and I said thank God, we are making progress.
By this time, the crowd was surging and I overheard them saying the man must die and they were making all the attempts. I urged the police to take the man away. We had an experience, about a year ago, when one Oyeware from Ejenesa village was alleged to have kidnapped a little girl and was brought to my palace. In the process of preliminary interrogation before the police that I invited came, the palace had been taken over by youths, who snatched the suspect from the police and burnt him to death at the roundabout in the town square.
So, as I heard them say they were going to kill him, I said this thing was going to happen again and it should not happen in my palace. Remembering not long that we had the Port Harcourt Four and, apart from that, as a king and as human being, I know that it is not good to kill somebody without following due process . That is why I asked the police to take him away and the moment the police took him away, somebody released false information that the man had escaped from the police.
How I escaped
Then, they descended on the house, everything and me. The next moment, there was fire in the house, but I managed to escape by scaling a fence of about seven feet. I jumped down and many others, those who came in good fate to see what will happen were involved. Many of them had to scale the fence. At the end of the day, my car, the vehicles of others, who came to my palace, were burnt. The army rescued me from the bush where I hid myself. Eventually, we picked my wife and son and we ended up in Koko, where a Good Samaritan clothed us because we were half-naked, I only escaped with my knickers and T-shirt. I hardly thought that what happened that day would happen.
When I heard of the alleged ritualist attacking people on Sunday, I invited palace chiefs against Monday morning to deliberate on the issue and I told the youths to go into the bush and comb all the suspected areas. They complied and one chief brought some traditionalists, who boasted that they could use voodoo powers to track down the suspect. They demanded N40,000, which I gave them. Then, on Monday morning, I asked the chief if the traditionalists and the youths were working together, he told me, yes. While I was expecting to meet with my chiefs as pre-arranged, I was told the youths were advancing to the palace, I was told the traditionalists informed the public that it was the Hausa I allowed to stay in our community that were causing the problem.
They invaded my palace with cutlass, battleaxe
At the end of the day, the police succeeded in making them to leave because they came in their hundreds brandishing cutlass, battle-axe and throwing stone at the palace. That was Monday, after they had been beaten back; this incident of Tuesday came as a surprise. It came as a surprise because one least expected, they knew the efforts I had put in to ensure that the suspect was arrested, but that being what happened, as a student of history, I know for an event, there must be an immediate and remote causes.
Wicked plots against me
For the past two months in the community, we have been hearing rumours of the king receiving a bribe of N30 million from SEPLAT. They say they will kill him, they will do that, we will burn his house, etc. Therefore, on November 5, I invited the leaders and representatives of the community to the town hall and briefed them on the correct situation of things. I showed them correspondences to the government and what I had done in respect of the flow station, on which they alleged I had been compromised and I told them it could not be. I set up a committee to look into the areas of the oil that was found in our kingdom and to advise the community on the way forward in meeting with SEPLAT. The committee submitted their report on June 23. On June 24, I articulated a letter to Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, informing him about a company that was working in our area and confirmed finding oil, but our people want the flow station to be built in our kingdom, not piping our oil to any other place, which the company was contemplating at that time.
Uduaghan summoned a meeting
I told him that my people would not want that, but, by the time this thing happened, government was just trying to act on that letter. Upon my letter, the governor invited the community to meet in Asaba on November 7, but that was not before a lot of harm had been done. All the talks were that the Ovie have been compromised, this and that, even though I set up a committee as demanded by the MoU to look into the issues. The committee I set up had not even reached any agreement with the oil company, but people were already carrying rumours that I had been settled, whereas, there was no iota of truth in the claim.
There is also this Ajavwini community palaver, where somebody was nominated as the chair and the minutes of meeting, where the person was nominated was forwarded to me. A delegation came to brief me for my endorsement. I endorsed the person but some young men, led by one of their leaders and a suspended chief, started to propagate falsehood that the person who was chosen was not a native of Ajavwini and could not act in that position. I felt that they would not know the Ekpe (eldest man) in the community and the elders’ council that introduced him to me.
At the end of the day, those youths said they deposed the eldest man, removed his insignia of office and sent them to somebody else to act as Ekpe . Eventually, this eldest man died and the man they took these things to became the defacto head of the community. After sometime, this successor now said it was difficult to brush aside what his predecessor had done and asked that the man who was previously elected as chair should come for his blessings to run his term. The same group came again to depose this old man and appointed a puppet head of community. This brought a big problem, as the community was factionalized. There was a clash, some were taken away by security agents and, as a kingdom, we felt we could not continue to fold our hands and I summoned a meeting of palace chiefs, where we took some resolutions. We wrote to government to intervene and deal with the persons who were disrupting our age-long traditional process of doing things from the village head to the king, etc.
We were expecting to hear from the government on this letter when the police invited the two factions and directed them to mend fences. On October 1, a few of them from both sides met me in the palace and told me that they were working on the advice of the police and were going to their village to work out modalities for peace. However, after some days, what I saw were women from the community, who claimed they came over the leadership of the community, but it was a smokescreen, as they resorted to demonstration, singing songs and putting up shows that were associated with burial rites of somebody who had passed away. In addition, such an exercise is a taboo in the palace and they did that against all advice, setting up fire and all that. They did a lot of abominable things, I called my chiefs, who appealed to them, but they still refused. I called in the police; they came in around 5.00 pm – 6.00 pm, the women were there for more than five-six hours. Police succeeded in dislodging them. Therefore, it is apparent that some people were using the youths and women to stoke fire in the kingdom.
What I lost
It is difficult to quantify my loss. I have decided to take it philosophically because I came to this world empty and I do not want to brood over property. I was a civil servant for 36 years and the civil servant, even though they do not have anything, I have assets, I have souvenirs, which, when I see, I feel satisfied. I have many things I inherited from my grandfather, my father, etc, which I cannot regain. In fact, many things I have acquired as a king, treasures, gifts from people and all that. I built my house when I was a civil servant. To be able to build that house now, you will be talking about N30- N40 million. I lost two SUVs and other vehicles, properties, documents, my children certificates. As I said, I am taking it philosophically because I know that what I did, I was on the right path and those properties I lost, whatever happens, God is there to provide for me; once there is life, there is hope. Otherwise, what I lost in that place, including my visitors, we are talking about N300 million.
I forgive those who burnt my palace
For those who burnt my palace, I have forgiven them and I pray that God forgives them too. My major regret is that people lost their lives in this incident, which was avoidable. I pray that God gives their families the fortitude to bear the loss.