BY GABRIEL ENOGHOLASE
*Age group festival cancelled
*Community leaders, youths speak…
AGENEBODE — IVIUKWE community is one of the communities in Agenebode clan, headquarters of the Wepa Wano Kingdom of Estako East Local Government Area of Edo State. It is an agrarian rural community with majority of its inhabitants being peasant farmers.
Members of the community wore mournful look, weekend, when Vanguard visited over the abduction of one of thier illustrious sons, High Chief Michael Ozekhome.
Chief Ozehkome was abducted between Ehor and Ekpoma, penultimate Thursday, on his way to his home town while four policemen from the Ehor Police Division, who were on rescue mission, lost their lives as they were ambushed by the kidnappers.
During the visit, Vanguard gathered that the kidnap saga has brought the different religious groups in Iviukwe together as they have embarked on fasting and prayers, appealing to God to touch the conscience of the abductors and release him to them unhurt and unconditionally.
Since the abduction, places of worship in the town have been unusually jam-packed during such exercises and this was noticed yesterday as the St. Mary Catholic Church and other Pentecostal churches in the community were filled up as they offered prayers to God.
Age group festival cancelled
Sadness was clearly written on the faces of children, youths and elderly as they wondered what Mike Ozekhome might have done to warrant his kidnap.
The community also cancelled the biennial manhood festival and insisted that it cannot hold without Chief Mike Ozekhome who they all acclaimed has been their major benefactor. The aged group festival called, “Out-age Group” was usually celebrated to initiate young men into manhood.
Everybody spoken to by Vanguard agreed that Chief Mike Ozekhome is their greatest benefactor, leader and philanthropist.
They said in the past years, he had awarded scholarships to students in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions running into millions of Naira, apart from giving interest free loans to women to embark on petty trading and other ventures, as well as sewing machines, dryers and motor-cycles to the youths.
Community leaders, youths speak
The following are the views of members of the community including his elder brother, Chief Pius Ozekhome, on what they felt about the abduction and whatMike Ozekhome meant to them.
CHIEF PIUS OZEKHOME (Elder brother):
“I will like to appeal to those who are still holding him to please release him to us because he is the only man here in this part of the country that cares for the common man,ordinary people, for the jobless people.
“That is Mike Ozekhome for you whom the masses declared Senior Advocate of the Masses (SAM) even before he was conferred with the prestigious honour of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
“This is a man who has been going to the prisons to look out for detainees who were detained unjustly for one reason or the other. He would go to court and release them, spending his money after he found out the reasons they were detained.
“Here is a man who fought for this country during the military regimes and he was detained severally. He joined several protests including the one organised by the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi for the return of the country to civil rule.”
SUNDAY MOMOH (CHIEF EXECUTIVE, CONOIL, IVIOGHE):
“It is sad that Chief Mike Ozekhome is one that has fallen into the hands of kidnappers. It is just unfortunate that this is happening to him because he cares for the people, the entire community and the country at large.
“As a human rights activist, he fought for the down-trodden and the common man in the street.
“I join his family and all Nigerians to appeal to those holding him to look at his antecedent in the society and please, release him. He has no such money that he is being asked to pay as ransom and there is no way the community can raise such an amount.
“We, therefore, appeal to their conscience to release him unhurt and unconditionally and this is the time all Nigerians should join his family to pray for his release.”
CHIEF PATRICK OKEGA (VILLAGE HEAD, IVIUKWE):
“Children, youths, men and women in Iviukwe community are sad about the kidnap because he is the only helper that we have.
“He feeds us, gives scholarship to our children, builds our community hall, provides electricity for us among other social amenities.
“As the village head, I appeal to the abductors to release him to us because we are tired of weeping and our tears are running dry. We are appealing to the Police and those concerned to do their best to secure his release.”
EMMANUEL UJAH (YOUTH LEADER AND COMMUNITY CSO):
“We are very sad and helpless. We have declared mourning periods until he is released and we are still mourning because we have not seen him within our midst.
“What Chief Mike Ozekhome has done for us is unquantifiable. He is the life wire of this community and when you talk about the progress and development of this community, Chief Ozekhome’s name is written in gold.
“He is the one who has raised the community from the dust to grace. He is the man who has been caring for the entire community. He bought motorcycles for the youths including the one I am riding now free of charge.
“Every year he earmarks large sum of money to buy sewing machines and dryers for the women, awards scholarships to our children.
“As a result of the incident, the age group festival that was supposed to hold has been cancelled. We called it the Out Age Group which we normally celebrated every two years. That festival prepares young men for the manhood functions in the community.
“So, when we heard that he had been kidnapped, we decided that the festival should no longer hold. So, for now, there is nothing like celebration in the community until Mike is released to us.”
CHIEF PIUS NASAMU, IVIUKWE COMMUNITY CHAIRMAN:
“Everyone of us in the community is in anguish as a result of the abduction. He is a man of the people, he is a man of the community, and he is a man that takes good care of the people of Iviukwe and apart from Iviukwe, all other villages in Estako East.
“There is no where in Edo State and the country as a whole where his philanthropic gesture is not felt. We are feeling very bad about the kidnap incident.
“We are begging those who have taken him away from us to please release him so that he can take care of us as he has been doing. This is our appeal.
“I also pray to God Almighty to touch the hearts of the abductors to release him because he is not just somebody that should be taken away just like a small fowl. We want to see him released unharmed and unconditionally.”
HABEBO OZEKHOME (COUSIN):
“Chief Mike Ozekhome, a community leader, philanthropist is my uncle. We received the news of his kidnap with rude shock and nobody in Iviukwe community is happy about it.
“He is a grassroots man who cares for the people and apart from being a human rights activist, he has been the bread winner of our family.
“My appeal to those still holding him is to release him because we love him so much, we don’t want any harm to be fall him.”
HIGH CHIEF STANLEY ODIDI, FORMER CHAIRMAN, ESTAKO EAST LGA:
“I am pleading and appealing to the kidnappers to please release him. Again, there is no way anybody can possibly raise the kind of money that they are demanding for to get him out. It is not possible.
“I am pleading with them to release him, he is our illustrious son and somebody that we hold very dearly.
“He has a family, friends and other well wishers who missed him.
“So, I plead with them to release him so that he can continue to do the work that God has sent him. I also commiserate with the families of the policemen that were killed. They should be very proud that they died serving this country and I pray God to give them the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss of their bread winners and loved ones.”