By Dennis Agbo
FOR some years, Nteje town, the headquarters of the Oyi local government area of Anambra State had been engulfed in a tussle over the traditional stool of the area. Nteje is the hometown of the popular Nollywood icon-Chief Pete Edochie, whose brother was among those arrested and detained in Abuja last year over matters traceable to the same chieftaincy tussle. It was a common feature in Nteje for the people to wake up and find policemen from outside the state arresting people and detaining them outside the state over their alleged stand on the chieftaincy dispute.
It was gathered that when the seat became vacant, Ikenga, which is one of the villages in Nteje, presented four candidates to the community to choose from. SaturdayVanguard recalls that due to a disagreement between the community’s political father, Chief Mike Nwakalor and the then Governor Peter Obi, the issue of who would become the traditional ruler of the community polarized the area. While Nwakalor preferred Chief Charles Aduaka, the state government recognized Chief Rowland Odegbo and subsequently issued him a certificate of recognition.
Thereafter, Aduaka and his supporters went to court and won. Odegbo appealed the judgment and lost again. He subsequently went to the Supreme Court where the suit is still pending. Because of his recognition by the Anambra State government and the support of many stakeholders in the community, Odegbo has been functioning as the traditional ruler of Nteje and has been celebrating the Ofala festival over the years.
However, things came to a head during the 2018 Ofala festival celebration by Igwe Rowland Odegbo when some people tried to disrupt the celebration.
Odegbo’s beautiful palace complex overlooking the Nteje-Otuocha highway was a beehive of activities at the weekend with men and women of all ages, highly placed government functionaries, national and state assemblies lawmakers, top politicians enjoying themselves when some protesters, mostly ainly youths, took over the busy highway, carrying a large white coffin and placards. Some of the placards read: “Odegbo is not our Igwe”, “Obiano respect the wishes of Nteje people” and “Odegbo this is illegal, you are in court”. They chanted songs critical of Odegbo and the Anambra State Government and marched and danced past peacefully, adding somewhat colour to the Ofala event.
Igwe Odegbo blamed the development on his rival to the throne, who, he said, chose to address himself as the Igwe-elect, as well as his sponsors. He also denied receiving any letter from the Attorney General of the Federation and the Inspector General of Police directing that the Ofala should be cancelled, arguing however that a civil case between two persons in court cannot stop an Ofala celebration.
According to him, chieftaincy matters stop with the state government and the state has Attorney General, adding that if there is any dispute in which the AGF had any interest, he should refer to the state Attorney General.
He said: “They (my opponents) are trying to use their connections to mar what we are doing here, but they cannot succeed. The governor gave an order that the Ofala festival should take place and it took place peacefully. The three –day event went well and the Bishop was here and he celebrated the church service as part of the ceremony. ”
Odegbo admitted that there was a pending suit he initiated at the Supreme Court, but was quick to observe that the Ofala did not in any way affect it. “The state government approved my Ofala because it is convinced that I am not doing anything illegal or unlawful.
“Yes some people are challenging me and we are in court. My main opponent is a very rich man in Nteje and we want him to use his wealth to develop and uplift the community.
“I was the President General of Nteje for years, went to United States of America and on my return many years after, I was elevated as the Igwe,” he said.
He described Ofala as a period when the Igwe and his subjects meet face to face to celebrate. He also explained that the choice of when to celebrate the festival differs based on personal choices, reasons, and resources, adding that while some affluent monarchs may organize same annually, he, out of convenience, chose to have his done once in four years around the Easter to share in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He significantly rounded off this year’s celebrations with a thanksgiving mass the next day.
He used the Ofala to honour about seven persons who in his view have distinguished themselves in their chosen areas of endeavours with special chieftaincy titles, which accords them the rights and privileges to sit in the Nteje Aborgu palace at meetings.
A businessman from the area who is based in the North, Mr. Greg Aduaka, traced the problem to July 25, 2009, when four contestants to the Nteje Aborgu throne emerged from Ikenga village, whose turn it was to produce the new traditional ruler. “We really need peace, love, massive development and someone to coordinate us to become one family once more,” he said.
Odegbo’s opponent, Aduaka, who chose to be addressed as the Igwe-elect, blamed the situation in the community on what he called non-respect for rule of law by Odegbo. He pointed out that Nteje like every other community and the state government has written laws on the traditional institution that was carefully followed in his selection and emergence as the Igwe-elect, adding that his installation and coronation was being delayed by the suits that followed the actions of the state government.
Aduaka noted that when the state government under the former Peter Obi ignored his choice by the community in furtherance of a personal ego trip with Nwakalor, a political leader in the area, the community went to court. The High Court in its verdict of June 18, 2012, he added, annulled the state government’s recognition for Odegbo. Odegbo then went to the Court of Appeal. He lost again.
“Right now he is in the Supreme Court. The courts had asked us to maintain the status quo. But he ignored it and now went ahead with this charade he called ofala,” Aduaka, an Enugu-based legal practitioner and lecturer said.
He said he would have celebrated his Ofala too, but because he is still a servant of the law, he would not go against the orders of the court.
In the opinion of Mr. Emmanuel Obika, Nteje is bigger than all these combatants, hence must be preserved. Odegbo and Aduaka are our sons and brothers. They must be called to order. At worst, we jettison both of them and choose a fresh face to lead the community.
He regretted that while other communities were making progress, Nteje was on the reverse gear engineered by outsiders. Again, it is not possible to have two monarchs in one community. Nteje cannot, therefore, be an exception. We should not allow outsiders wreck our community further.