By Tony Nwankwo
Ancient communities in Abia North, especially, Abam, have always been at home with maternal lineage. If an Abam man marries from outside his own community, the wife inherits his estate. In most cases, the estate is the man’s farm lands. In times past, the men engaged more in deforestation, a task they performed with raw strength.
They went into a forest, chased off or killed wild beasts, fell trees and thereafter acquired the space. They farmed the land and when not solvent, they leased the land and used the funds to solve their problems. This method allowed younger or more prosperous members of the family to retrieve such land from their creditors in future.
They were honest people and honoured their commitments to their neighbours. So, outright selling of family lands were never contemplated. It goes without saying that in the course of these deforestations, many were killed by wild animals, falling trees, sharp machetes that ricocheted or veered off the strike of the farmer. So the blood of these ancestors flowed on the lands where they fell.
But things have changed. In Idima Abam, in particular, farm lands for cultivation mature in eight years, but as people grew weaker, young people left for greener pastures abroad, and farmlands started maturing at five or seven years. When land is due, family members assemble at the eldest male, here, plans are concluded to share and cultivate.
The women, from the senior daughter of the family (usually, a direct female descendant of the ancestor) has the first choice. In many instances, her own mother must have farmed the specific portion of the land. When all the umu ada have taken their allotments, the rest is shared to people of other families who pay a token.
But things are changing. Poverty stricken young and middle aged people, particularly people who consider themselves failures, now look out for buyers for these farmlands. They seem unconcerned about the blood their ancestors shed on the lands and the benefit for their own off springs who are expected to inherit and farm these lands.
For instance, a family in Idima Abam, could consist of about two to three thousand men, women and children. Yet, two or three hungry folks now corner the family inheritance to enrich themselves. Shamelessly, they are no longer interested in the leasing their forebears engaged in, they now go for outright sales.
By this, they not only forfeit their birthrights to further farm these lands, they deprive their own children, the entire family, and those unborn, of the legacy their ancestors left behind. The issue is that those who sell refuse to consult widely, particularly bona fide members who expect to inherit. In their shame, they engage in these negotiations at night. They sell to outsiders, particularly, politicians, vagabonds who take advantage of their destitute condition.
As a subsistence farming community, Idima people depend on these lands for survival. These folks sell their birthright not minding what their own children would become. But this time, it is different. They are now selling to a politician who would ban them from trespassing into the lands, or even ban them from fetching firewood for their domestic use.
And if you sell off your family lands, from whose land would you collect firewood for your own use? It will be difficult to expect your off springs to be allowed to enter into other family’s lands to fetch firewood when you have sold off your own. The vicarious consequence is that by selling off your lands to the politician, farmlands would cost more as it will no longer be sacrosanct for the community to fix farm fees.
It would not have been this bad if many poor indigent families were not following the bad example of the Wor Wor land sales, still in the courts, where illegitimate usurpers are selling lands of a family that took in Obasi, their ancestor, after the former committed murder in his own land of Ihiechiowa, before seeking sanctuary in Idima as a fugitive.
One could have called for sanity, had it not been that corrupt elders are on the throne, and are quick to pocket any funds that come from illegitimate transactions.
It is hoped that the courts would decide on such matters in the very near future. So, Caveat Emptor!
- Nwankwo is of Vanguard Newspapers, Lagos.