….Police orders community chief to release N15m public funds
. ..as human rights group probes alleged abduction of 8 youths
… the money is intact waiting for agreement to be signed – monarch
By Nwabueze Okonkwo, Onitsha
IT has been a case of accusations and counter-accusations being the fallout of the communal crisis rocking the people of Eluama community, Lokpaukwu Umuchieze automonous community in Umunneochi Local Government Area of Abia State. At the centre of the crisis, which has so far split the community into two factions, are the traditional ruler of the community, Eze Moses Okwale and his younger brother, Dr. Borke Okwale and others loyal to them on one side.
On the opposing side is the other faction comprising the newly elected EDU executive, teaming up with those who identified themselves as concerned citizens of Eluama who claimed to have the support of about 90 percent of the entire populace.
Genesis of the crisis
The crisis which started rearing its ugly head as far back as 2011, climaxed on September 1, this year when the aggrieved concerned citizens convened a general assembly of Eluama indigenes home and abroad where about 90 percent of the entire populace allegedly passed a vote-of-no confidence on the Albert Izuegbu-led Eluama Development Union, EDU, executive and consequently conducted an election that brought into power, a new set of EDU executive led by Pastor Chukwudi Okoli.
At the moment, both the Mr. Izuegbu-led EDU executive which assumed office either in 2010 or 2011 and
Pastor Okoli-led newly elected EDU rival group are still laying claims to the town union leadership. While the Izuegbu-led group is insisting that the so-called vote-of-no-confidence passed against them and the September 1 purported EDU executive election that ousted them were null, void and of no effect, since their tenure still remained a year and two months to come to an end, the Okoli-led newly elected executive claimed to have assumed duty based on the fact that the tenure of the former had elapsed since the end of 2013.
During the election of the Okoli-led executive, during which Chisom Ahiaeke and Mrs. Rebecca Offor were also elected as youth leader and woman leader respectively, the general assembly also appointed Samuel Nweke as the new Traditional Prime Minister, TPM, of the community to replace Dr. Borke Okwale, younger brother to Eze Moses Okwale who, they argued, cannot be the TPM at the same time his elder brother is the king.
As soon as the Okoli-led executive assumed office, they claimed to have discovered series of financial improprieties amounting to about N50 million against the former executive but at the same time decided to start with the demand for the release of N15 million allegedly paid into the private account of Dr. Okwale, for the community, by Memochris Nigeria Limited, a quarrying company based in the area, as rent for a five-year land lease, between May and June, this year.
Following the alleged refusal of Okwale to release the funds to the community on time, the concerned citizens, in collaboration with the Okoli-led new EDU executive, petitioned the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, at Nkwoagu-Isuochi Division and consequently, the DPO, Mr. Uromi invited both parties for amicable settlement.
After some deliberations, the DPO gave them about a week interval to re-convene in his office for more deliberations. But before the new date, a team of armed men in military camouflage uniform stormed the area and allegedly arrested about eight members of the concerned citizens and their supporters, whisked them off to Lomara-Isuochi military camp, tortured them severely and took them to D7, Abia State Criminal Investigations Department, CID, Umuahia from where their relations and supporters went and took them on bail about five days later.
Undoubtedly, this development might not be unconnected with a counter-petition from both Borke and his group against members of the concerned citizens for daring to demand the release of the N15 million.
Petitions and counter-petitions
Borke had in the petition, to both the police and the Army, accused the concerned citizens of Indian hemp selling and smoking, trouble making, invasion and burning of Eze Okwale’s Palace, criminality and above all, conspiring to conduct a kangaroo election without due consultations. After their alleged abduction, aged and young women from the area whose children and relations were involved and who were in solidarity with the concerned citizens and the newly elected EDU executive, stormed the Palace of Eze Okwale and pleaded with him to assist in securing the release of the victims.
At the Eze’s palace, the eldest woman, Mrs. Angela Iroh who led others numbering over 100, knelt down before the monarch and pleaded with him to not only secure the release of the victims from the hands of the soldiers but to also wade into the town union leadership crisis currently rocking the community. Eze Okwale had in his response, assured the women that he would look into the matter with a view to reaching an amicable settlement.
However, after their bail was eventually secured at the D7 State CID, Umuahia, they turned round and wrote another petition to the office of Assistant Inspector-General of Police, AIG in-charge of Zone 9 Police Command, Umuahia complaining bitterly that up till then, Borke was yet to release the N15 million paid to the community by Memochris Quarrying company as rent for leasing of their land for five years.
They further complained that instead of releasing the funds as demanded, Okwale wrote the counter-petition against them as a diversionary trend and invited the military to come and deal with the opposition. Reacting to the development on phone, Dr. Okwale confirmed that he reported a case of breach of peace against some trouble makers in the community to the police who arrested some of them, while others were still on the run. He stated that those on the run must be fished out and brought to justice.
Also speaking on the concerned citizens, the newly elected President-General of EDU, Okoli, noted that apart from the N15 million, there were others revenues accruable to the community estimated at over N50 million which is still under the custody of Dr. Okwale. They include annual royalties and lease agreement from two other quarrying companies in the area, proceeds from toll gates, proceeds from chippings allocations and medical allowances, among others.
Okoli lamented that over the years, Dr. Okwale had held the entire community to the jugular to the extent that he formed a group called Joint Action Council, JAC, which he used to harass, intimidate, terrorise and molest any one who dared to ask questions about his autocratic decisions in matters concerning the entire community.
Police wade in
At the Zone 9 Police Command, Umuahia, all the petitions and counter-petitions, including the alleged military invasion of the community and abduction of the eight youths by the soldiers, the alleged invasion and burning of Eze Okwale’s palace by the concerned citizens and that of the non- release of N15 million community funds were harmonised and are being investigated one after the other.
The Deputy Commissioner of Police, DCP in-charge of Administration at Zone 9, Umuahia, Joseph Agaji, found the petition on the demand for the release of the N15 million the most pertinent among them and after going through its contents and throwing some questions at both parties, he ordered Dr. Okwale to release the fund with immediate effect, adding that if the money is intact in his personal account in a bank, as he claimed, he should get a print out copy from the bank as an evidence on or before the next meeting date.
Agaji who confirmed to newsmen on phone that the AIG’s office is looking into the matter, also disclosed that the police would investigate the alleged invasion, abduction and torture of the eight youths in the community. The youths according to the petitioners are Samuel Nweke, Obiabuchi Iroh, Isaac Alakwe, Chidiebere Okoli, Madu Kelechi, Onyebuchi Okoye, Augustine Okoroafor and Ekeledirichukwu Origbo as contained in their petition.
The Divisional Police Officer at Nkwoagu-Isuochi, Mr. Uromi who also spoke to newsmen on phone, said he is aware of crisis in the area. Although he admitted hearing about the alleged invasion of the community and abduction of some persons by armed men, he explained that he neither saw the armed men nor the abducted persons.
Army, monarch react
In his own reaction, Captain Nwali, one of the Army officers attached to Lomara-Isuochi Junction military camp, claimed to be ignorant of the alleged invasion and abduction by soldiers. He told newsmen on phone that he was not competent to speak to the press. According to him, it is the responsibility of the Commander of 44 Battalion to issue press statement regarding military affairs.
The royal father, Eze Okwale also reacted to all the allegations against his younger brother, Borke. He said he has reported the matter to the chairman of Umuchieze council of traditional rulers, Eze Patrick Okafor who has volunteered to mediate in the matter with a view to bringing lasting solution to the dispute.
The monarch who spoke to newsmen on phone said the crisis was caused by some disgruntled elements who are fanning the embers of discord. He maintained that he did not appoint his younger brother, Borke as the Traditional Prime Minister, TPM, of the community. According to him, Chief Bernard Nweke is the incumbent TPM.
On the non- release of the N15 million community fund, Eze Okwale claimed that the money is intact but can only be released when the lease agreement is signed between the company and the community. He claimed that the money is still being held on trust pending the signing of the agreement. The monarch also denied any knowledge of the alleged military invasion and abduction.
NHRC seeks full investigation
Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, has called on the Chief Of Army Staff, COAS and the General Officer Commanding, GOC 82 Division of Nigerian Army, Enugu to order a full investigation into the allegations with a view to bringing the perpetrators to book. The Commission acting on the petition sent to it by the concerned citizens, said until this was done done, no legal action can be taken against the masterminds of the alleged military invasion and abduction.
The human rights body in a memo to the COAS and GOC dated October 2, 2015 and signed by its lawyer, Mr. Chidi Ujoatumba, described the alleged invasion as a gross abuse and violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens which can lead to community unrest.