- …Eldest man, Okenwa, village women tell sad stories of late Igwe
- …It’s not kidnap – Police
By Dennis Agbo
Before Rev. Okafor was abducted, he had made several efforts to wade into the community crisis which had started before he started Episcopal work in the community in 2014.
When South-East Voice visited the community six days before his abduction, Rev. Okafor said he had met with different parties in the dispute and advised the government to make haste to restore peace in the community since many properties have been destroyed after the late monarch died and most indigenes fled because of random arrests by police.
Okafor, however, did not spare the police in saying that the police was a major factor in incidences leading to the monarch’s death because the police gave the late monarch protection in all he did up to the point he was mobbed by his subjects before he died in the hospital.
Rev. Okafor who was billed to appear before the judicial panel of Inquiry set up by the state government over the crisis was allegedly picked at the Church premises around 12.45 pm by three heavily armed security operatives and whisked to an unknown destination.
The unidentified operatives who were said to be accompanied by one of the leaders of the community had on grabbing the Priest, seized his mobile phone and dragged him into their waiting van to the chagrin of few church members at the scene who took to their heels.
The Methodist Bishop of Agbani Diocese, Bishop Udo Mmeregini, who confirmed the incident said: “I got a call from the Presbyter in charge of the circuit this afternoon that Rev. Okafor had been arrested by some persons with police inscription. The people that arrested him did not state the reason why they were arresting him. They took him away like a common criminal from the church premises and took off.
“We have called his phone several times and it’s been off. We don’t know where they have taken him to. But I have serious suspicion that it must have a link with the crisis in the community. I have sent my Priests to the Divisional Police headquarters in Agbani; they came back and reported that the station said they know nothing about the arrest. We are still searching for him and making inquiries at various police stations to see if we can track him and also to know why they arrested him.”
Enugu State Police Public Relations Officer, who said he did not know about it told South-East Voice that it was not kidnap since no ransom was demanded but denied the priest was in police custody. A man who claimed he was the DPO Agbani Divisional Police station also called South-East Voice, asking for details of the abduction.
Before his kidnap, when South-East Voice visited the deserted community, Rev. Okafor said: “The community has been in crisis since that June 11, 2018 when Igwe died of mob action because he did not die on the spot, he was rushed to a hospital where he gave up the ghost and which led to destruction of houses on the June 11. At some minutes past 1:00am, we started hearing gunshots. In the morning when I came out, I discovered that many houses had been burnt and this made people to desert the community. Up till now, we don’t know the whereabouts of some of our church members.
“I don’t know those who were shooting, I was just hearing the gunshots but I know they came with a lot of vehicles because they passed through my area. In the morning, police started arresting some people which made more people vacate their houses to run for safety.
“We have not heard anything from the panel of inquiry although they published an article that people should submit their petitions, those their houses were burnt; instead, police has been arresting people which made people afraid to return home. The action of the police did not help matters because Igwe was coming home with a lot of policemen, threatening some people’s lives and since then, government has not done anything.
“I’ve been in this Ogbozinne Parish for three years and 11 months and I met with the Igwe and told him what the people were crying for but Igwe said he can’t do anything about it and that they have to obey him. The issue of forcing people to work for him, a bereaved family is made to pay a huge amount of money to Igwe and other obnoxious laws.
I told him they were not good, that he should listen to the cry of the people but it didn’t yield any fruit. The people behind the obnoxious laws were the cabinet members who advise him wrongly but the cabinet members said that what Igwe was doing was okay.
“I met with the Divisional Police Officer in charge of Agbani but it seems the police were bribed from what I have seen and from my investigation because each time I complained to the police, they refused to take action, rather, the Igwe was coming to the village to threaten people with police and the DPO told me he could not do anything, that the matter was beyond him.”
On how to resolve the problem, Rev Okafor said: “The government should come in because two weeks ago, I met with Umuowaeze family, the people that have refused to allow peace reign, but they said there will be no peace until those that killed the Igwe are brought to book and I asked them whether they know those that killed the Igwe and if they were there when such a thing happened, they said they don’t know but that Igwe, before he died, had written some names and submitted to the Commissioner of Police, that those people are the suspects.
“Since then, I’ve been meeting with different parties but some said peace cannot reign until those suspects are brought to book. The community is not safe because at nights, you will be hearing gunshots, people are breaking people’s houses, carting away their goods, so the community is living in fear.”
The eldest man in Ogbozinne-Akpugo Community, Elder Samuel Okenwa, 94 years, who has sight challenge, narrated that the late Igwe Nwatu was already acting as a community leader before the state government decided to give autonomous community to Ogbozinne and Ugwuabor which later came to Ogbozinne and Nwatu was chosen to be the traditional ruler of the community made up of seven villages.
“After sometime we saw four flags which Igwe said would be hoisted in every dead person’s compound and that N4, 000 would be paid for any dead person with 2 gallons of palm wine, 1 cartoon of beer and food would be given to the vigilante that collects the levy. We said this was not good and kept quiet for a while before we went to tell him that it was not good but he was defiant and said he has already established the law.
“We continued to beg him while families with dead persons continued to pay with the palm wine and the beer. People continued to complain and begged him but he refused. Our youths said they were being mocked in the township because of this type of law in our community and we were wondering if he was the creator of our land, does it mean that God created haven and Igwe created the earth, where people are being buried?
“The matter was brought to Ogboetta, the village square, other Igwes, police, the whole autonomous community were there for the matter yet he refused to relax the law. Police told Igwe to take it easy with the community and cooperate with his subjects because they may decide to remove him. The entire community summoned another larger meeting where he agreed to nominate 2 slots out of 12 members of the vigilante watch but the following day Igwe came back and said he does not agree again with the 2 slots again. That was how we went to complain at Agbani before we were told to go to the governor.
“The same Igwe said that before any marriage takes place in any compound; all male adults in the compound will pay N6, 000 each. That’s how we went to Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and asked him to please help us. We went the first time that the Governor summoned us but Igwe refused to come, the second time he also refuse go until 11th June that he went and blocked our people from going to see the Governor. There he crushed my brother Josssy Okenwa with his car. Since then till today I have not seen my children.
“In the night of that June 11, I started hearing heavy pounding and breaking of the houses in front of my compound, I was the only one in my house, everybody ran away, I cannot go anywhere because I don’t have sight. I waited for the worst. Since then I’ve prayed and begged for peace to no avail. I don’t know where my children are, only me is here. My proposal for peace is that our Igwe was unopposed but I didn’t understand the draconian rulership. The way to peace I beg government is to unfreeze our children’s bank accounts; bring back all the people being held by the police and in prison. Government should please help us.
One of the village women, Mrs. Chinasa Nnamani, who was interviewed, said “All is not well with us. My anger is what has been happening in our community which we have been begging the Igweuntil it resulted to his death and now they are after our children. Some days ago I got information that my Son, Onyekachi, who serves as an apprentice in Lagos was being pursued. I was told he fled and they arrested his friend, Chinedu Nwodo. These were the things we were begging Igwe to please avert.
“I, as a witness, was subjected to compulsory grass weeding for Igwe, which if I refuse to go, I will pay N2,000 but each time I went, I will only be given one Okpa (Bean cake). I will continue to weed the farm till harvest time. He charges us N1,000 levy for the stones we gather with our heads else we will pay N10,000 fine or they will come and harvest all the palm produce in my husband’s house. If there is death in my family, I will pay N6, 000 for all my male children; if it is traditional marriage of my daughter, my son-in-law will pay the same N6,000 each for all my male children.
“That my son who is 23 years has not stepped into this community for over one year and was not around when the Igwe’s death took place. So I don’t know why they are looking for a small boy who doesn’t belong to any meeting and is under somebody in Lagos. Since then I’ve not eaten because I don’t know where my son is.”