By Chinonso Alozie, Owerri
Following the Ezeship tussle in Ihitte-Owerri community, Orlu Local Government Area of Imo State, some community leaders from the area have cried out that they were being ostracised for speaking the truth. Some of them who spoke to South-East Voice in Owerri, lamented that they now live in perpetual fear while members of their families are being publicly disgraced and mocked by agents of their traditional ruler.
Investigations revealed that many other villagers have also been excommunicated as a result of the tussle in the community. Many were said to have been attacked, injured and their houses destroyed. One of the victims, Prince Chamberlin Ezerioha, is claiming that the traditional stool of Ihitte-Owerri community currently occupied by Eze James Ezerioha, belongs to his family. Some members of the community who spoke on the issue echoed the same claim stating that the throne, from time immemorial, was hereditary. They argued that after the deaths recorded in the family, Prince Chamberlin ought to have been crowned as the next traditional ruler of the community.
Victims open up
The Secretary of a group called Dim 1, comprising Dimobiejeze, Ezenwabachiri, Ezeanonuii and Ezeanochie in Ihitte-Owerri community, Mr. Ephraim, narrated his ugly experiences since the tussle started. “When Eze Celestine Ezerioha of Ihitte-Owerri ancient Kingdom died, as we were busy preparing for his burial, some prominent sons of the community brought out Mr. James Ujumadu Ezerioha to take over the throne. I advised that traditionally, such a thing will come after the Eze’s burial.
“The case later went to court and plans to sideline one of the parties to the dispute were thwarted by me after I suggested that all the contestants should benefit from the money contributed by the community. They started meeting against me and they never allowed me to sign papers as the secretary of the community. Their reason was that they no longer trusted me because I was not supporting their candidate.
“One day, I attended a burial of a friend to one of the contestants and this same group of people said that I should pay N20,000 for attending that burial because I was communicating with those that they had ostracised from the community. The next day, I attended a meeting; they forcefully collected the minute’s book from me and told me to go that I was working with somebody they had ostracized. I was angry and as result of that, I decided to resign from the position as the Secretary of Dim 1. This was how I resigned from my 13 years as the Secretary of the community.
“At a point also, they came up with a claim that their opponent, Loveday, was not a biological son of the late Eze Celestine Ezerioha. So, when Loveday died, I accosted them over their earlier statement. I also made it known to them that now Loveday is dead, it is proper that another son of the late Eze Celestine Ezerioha, who is Mr. Chamberlin Ezerioha, be allowed to take over their late father’s throne. This angered those supporting the other group and when they saw that I was not agreeing to their demands, they invited some elderly men and decided among themselves to ostracise me from my village. Some prominent supporters of Eze Ezerioha are those who disagreed with the late traditional ruler. They are aware of the truth but they hid the truth from the generality of Ihitte-Owerri people. The funny part of the whole thing is that when you speak the truth, they will conspire and ostracise you from the village.
“I keep telling them that the rightful person that should be the traditional ruler is Prince Chamberlin Ezerioha. The trouble we are facing right now in the village is that anybody that comes out publicly to support Prince Chamberlin Ezerioha, will be ostracised. As I am talking to you now, many have been ostracized from the village for speaking the truth. Initially when the truth was hidden, I was in the camp of James Ujumadu Ezerioha, so somehow along the line, I got to know the truth.
One of the victims, Kenneth Emejuru narrated his story to South-East Voice. “I got to know the truth through the papers I read. These documents preceded my father’s birth. It was written as far back as 1930. Most of the signatories to the documents are dead. Most were the fathers’ to these detractors. When I saw these documents and went through them, I had to step aside. I made my position known and I acted according to my conscience. I am not being guided by anybody.
“Ever since that decision to change camp, I have been facing challenges, some kind of trauma with my family. There is this emotional torture that these people keep giving to us. We are not just talking of the excommunication. The worse of it is that my kids are being cajoled in school. You can see that the pains are too much. But on the day in question, which is causing this whole problem, we went into the palace compound with my brother, Prince Chamberlin Ezerioha, to celebrate his new vehicle; unknown to us, they had already made plans to attack us. One of them gave orders and the youths descended on us. They attacked us with knives, clubs and many other dangerous weapons. I lost a rib to the beating. I was just discharged from the hospital.”
Another victim, Comrade Callistus Emejuru, former National Financial Secretary, National Youth Council of Nigeria, Orlu chapter, Coordinator, Imo Youth Coalition, Orlu chapter, presently, Ihitte-Owerri Youth Vanguard in Orlu Local Government Area of Imo State also narrated his plight. “When the issue of the Ezeship tussle rose, the story given to me then was that Prince Chamberlin Ezerioha and his family members were making an illegitimate demand. They gave me the impression that the late Eze’s children do not want peace in the community. I was told to organise the youths in the community to restore peace. I thought what they were saying was the truth.
“I organised the youths of the town in support of their quest. I personally led the youths to stop Chamberlin and his family members from burying their father in December, 2013. After the move failed, the youths were against Chamberlin and his family members but along the line, the truth started emerging. We started seeing documents from the opposition side, that is Chamberlin.
Truth at last
“I looked at those documents and found out that those men who told me that Chamberlin was making an illegitimate demand, most of them appended their signatures in those documents. Their fathers were signatories to the said documents. Those documents were authentic documents proving that the late traditional ruler, Eze Celestine Ezerioha, was the sole rightful person to be on that throne. And he was not holding the throne for anybody as they claimed. So, when I confronted the traditional ruler, I told him that they gave me wrong information about the tussle. They saw my action as a betrayal. That was why they attacked me inside the palace. Armed thugs they hired drove into the compound in five motorcycles and started beating all of us there. By the time I saw that they were hired to kill us, I escaped from the compound.
“As I was on my way to Orlu, to report to the Police and to treat the wounds as a result of the beating, five of them used their motorcycle to come after me. They abducted me after I pleaded passionately for them to spare my life and took me back to the palace where they detained me and my brothers after beating us severely. It was the arrival of some policemen that saved us that night.
“While we were still in the police station that morning, we got an information that the residence of Prince Chamberline Ezerioha, was being destroyed. They threw some of his property outside the compound and damaged some parts of his building. My fear is that, as it stands now, our families are being threatened. These thugs said that they did not kill us on that day because people were watching them as they were beating us, and that their plan was to kill us but due to the presence of women and children, they decided to have mercy on us. The thugs also warned us that if we continue to support Chamberlin, they will wipe us and our families out.”
However, in a terse reaction to the allegations, Eze James Ezerioha stated: “I do not have the powers to excommunicate anybody. I am not a chairman of any organisation, so I don’t have powers to excommunicate anybody. I am the Eze of Ihitte-Owerri community. These people you are talking about are my subjects. All these people you are mentioning are my sons.
“I am an Eze, nominated, presented and elected by my people. I have over 20,000 people under me. In my community, we have leaders, we have presidents, there are chairmen of other villages, we have traditional prime minister; palace secretary and other stakeholders. We have also what we call Community Government Council, they are government at the grassroots.
“It is just that they are opposing a throne given to me by God. Ask them out of the over 20,000 in my community, how many are in their group? They should tell you their positions in Ihitte-Owerri. Now, is it the reason why four of them waylaid me at my car pack at night to assassinate me? They said I invited thugs, so how will I invite thugs. They wanted to go away with me and I started shouting, my neighbours came out and rescued me. Two persons out of those four people are not members of the palace, so what are they doing there at that time of the night. I will like you to come and ask of the characters of these two people. If I don’t have good relationship with my people, they will not come out that night to save me from their hands. I want to tell you, my people love me and I love them too.”