By Dr. Gabriel Ogbechie
We have all watched with deep concern the conflict that has engulfed our beloved community, Idumuje-Ugboko, Aniocha North Local Government Area, Delta State for the past three years. For the sake of posterity, I feel obliged to share my perspectives on the happenings and measures I have taken to make best efforts to resolve the conflict:
1. I am in full support of the quest by my brother and friend, Hon. Ned Nwoko, to build a University in Idumuje-Ugboko. I have always supported this project since he first mooted the idea to me. A University in Idumuje-Ugboko could easily attract four thousand students. If each student is spending an average of 20,000 naira per month or 240,000 naira per annum, Idumuje-Ugboko and indeed the neighboring towns, could see an injection of more than 960 million naira every year into their local economy. This shall have a multiplier effect on rent, food, transportation and all facets of the economy. I am excited about it and I believe the Idumuje-Ugboko community is happy to have the University in their domain. For good measure, he named one of the colleges in the proposed University after me.
2. I am fully in support of our King, the Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko, His Royal Highness Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko getting his Staff of Office. The tradition in Idumuje-Ugboko is that the first son of the King ascends the throne when his father joins his ancestors. In all the fifty plus years that I have lived prior to the passing of the late King, I have always known that HRH Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko shall take over as King when his father passes on. The immediate past King, HRH Obi Albert Nwoko joined his ancestors on the 9th of February 2017. On the same day, HRH Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko ascended the throne of his fathers. Members of our community called to condole with him on the passing of his father and congratulated him on ascending the throne. He has been in the Palace since that date. The throne is not in contention. The entire community of Idumuje-Ugboko know who their King is and where he is – firmly in the Palace. The issue at stake is when he shall receive his Staff of Office and NOT who shall be the King.
3. I believe both interests can and should co-exist. Hon. Ned Nwoko should build his University and HRH Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko should get his Staff of Office. Advocating for the King to receive his Staff of Office does not mean opposition to the construction of the University and vice-versa, which is what the generally misconstrued narrative suggests.
4. Our immediate past King, HRH Obi Albert Nwoko joined his ancestors on the 9th of February 2017. His first son, HRH Obi Chukwunonso Nwoko promptly ascended the throne and we looked forward to the receipt of his Staff of Office and Idumuje-Ugboko celebrating the coronation of a new King. However, word quickly spread that Hon. Ned Nwoko had some challenges with the new King which may pose a barrier to the receipt of the Staff of Office. We thought it was something that would quickly blow over.
5. The social burial ceremony of the immediate past King was held at the Palace on Saturday, the 13th of May 2017. I attended the event to pay my respects to the departed King. Immediately after the event I went to pay homage to the new King. He informed me that there was a petition against him alleging that he killed his own father who died at a very ripe old age of 91 years. The Police was inviting him to come over for questioning. I thought this was preposterous and that the matter at hand was taking a dangerous turn and needed the intervention of well-meaning indigenes of Idumuje-Ugboko. As I stepped out of the presence of the King, I promptly put a call to Hon. Ned Nwoko to arrange a meeting. I thought he was in the village, but he said he was in Abuja. Instead of flying back to Lagos the next day, Sunday 14th May 2017, I flew to Abuja to have a meeting with him.
6. I met with Hon. Ned Nwoko in his house in Abuja on Monday 15th May 2017. This meeting lasted four hours. In addition to Hon. Ned Nwoko and I, Mr Greg Chiazor, an indigene of Idumuje-Unor and a cousin to Ned, Mr Chris Udomi, from Onicha-Ugbo and Hon. Nwoko’s Principal Secretary who took minutes of the meeting, were in attendance.
I told Hon. Ned Nwoko that he is a very important and prominent son of Idumuje-Ugboko. I also emphasized the fact that the King, HRH Obi Chukwuomso Nwoko is his first cousin. I stressed the importance of allowing peace reign. He thanked me for calling the meeting as he believed I was in the best position to resolve this conflict. He listed his challenges with HRH Obi Chukwuomso Nwoko, stating that he needed 100 hectares of land to build a University and the King was neither supporting him to get the land, nor acknowledging his ownership as he alleged that the land needed to build the University had been allocated to him already by the immediate past King, HRH Obi Albert Nwoko. The disagreement therefore stemmed from the fact that Hon. Ned Nwoko did not have the requisite support of the new King, HRH Chukwunomso Nwoko, to keep his desired parcel of land.
Hon. Ned Nwoko acknowledged the fact that HRH Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko is indeed the rightful person to take over as the new King.
His condition for peace to reign was straightforward – the King, HRH Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko, should acknowledge his ownership of the 100 hectares of land so he can build his University and he, Hon. Ned Nwoko, shall give his support in the King’s quest to receive his Staff of Office.
I told Hon. Ned Nwoko that HRH Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko is NOT against him building a University nor getting 100 hectares of land. I relayed to him the feedback I received from the HRH Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko which was that he is dealing with an issue of trust deficit. During our engagement, HRH Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko alleged that Hon. Ned Nwoko approached the past King in 1999/2000 with a request for thirty-three (33) hectares of land to build a Cattle Ranch and Dairy Farm. The late king excitedly allocated the 33 hectares of land to Hon. Ned Nwoko for free, to use for industrialization. HRH Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko then alleged that Hon. Ned Nwoko took the land and built his personal house on it. Seventeen years afterwards, no cattle ranch nor dairy farm has been built on the land. Therefore, his request for an additional 100 hectares of land to build a University was received with skepticism. The King then said that Hon. Ned Nwoko should start building his University on the 33 hectares of land he already possesses which remained largely unutilized; promising that he would be open to dialogue for the allocation of additional land, only if he sees considerable progress.
Hon. Ned Nwoko declined, stating that he requires the 100 hectares of land as this is a pre-condition to get National University Commission approval. This was understandable. Regardless of these differences, I impressed it upon Hon. Ned Nwoko that we want peace in the community. I made the following proposals:
A. I suggested we go on the road between Idumuje-Ugboko and Ewohimi, after Ogbe-Ofu, where there is a large expanse of land from which he can acquire an alternative 100 hectares of land for the construction of his university. He declined. He was insistent on his desire to get the 100 hectares of land contiguous with his current residence in Idumuje-Ugboko as he wants his residence to form part of the University.
B. I reminded him that the land around his residence is either developed or owned by other people. Regardless, for the sake of peace, I asked him how much he was willing to pay for the parcels of land around his residence so I could go into town and beg the owners of the land to give up and sell their land to him so peace can reign. I offered to use the goodwill I have in the community to help him achieve his quest to acquire these 100 hectares of land. Initially, he insisted he already owns the land as he claimed the land had been allocated to him by the previous King. When I persisted, he offered to pay 20 million naira for the 100 hectares of land. It was a long shot and I told him so. Regardless, I was ready to give it a shot in my desperate quest to bring peace in the community and between the two brothers.
7. A short few days later, on the 19th of May 2017, before I could get an opportunity to intervene with the landowners, the King, HRH Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko called a routine meeting in his Palace. The meeting is called IZU ANI. This is a meeting between the King and the leaders of the community; mostly old men and elders. I was informed that while this meeting was just starting, thugs came and destroyed the canopies, chairs and all the meeting materials and chased all the people away.
8. The meeting reconvened at the Palace on the 23rd of May 2017. Thugs and hoodlums came, yet again and stopped the meeting from holding and dispersed the old men with violence. This time, there was a push back. Some youths in the community defended the Palace, chased the thugs away and allegedly attacked those they perceived were fomenting trouble in the village. A few days later, two young men were arrested by the Police on an alleged charge of murder. In my engagement with Hon. Ned Nwoko on this issue, he insists that an Okada rider from Onicha-Ugbo who he mentions by name was killed in the fracas. The other parties to the conflict insist no life was lost, no body was found, and no autopsy was conducted. They say they are the victims as it was the other party that allegedly sent the thugs to disrupt the meeting. Between these two divergent claims lie the truth. Regardless, these two boys who are indigenes of Idumuje-Ugboko have been in detention and in Agbor prison since 2017; three years now and counting. The case is not being diligently prosecuted; they are not having their day in court nor an opportunity to defend themselves. They are simply left to rot in jail. Also pursuant to the push back and the fight that ensued, a petition was written accusing the King and some individuals of terrorism. Those named in the petition besides the King include but are not limited to, Mr Agiliga Onwochei, Mr Aikhomu Omezi, Mr Okechukwu Ifejokwu who is the President General of Idumuje-Ugboko Development Union. Sometime in 2019, Mr Agiliga Onwochei and Mr Aikhomu Omezi were arrested and taken to Abuja on the alleged charge of terrorism. As at May 2020, they had spent more than seven months in jail at Kuje Prison, Abuja.
9. The prolonged detention of these four indigenes of Idumuje-Ugboko, especially the lack of diligent prosecution was exacerbating the tension in the town. To defuse this tension and engender peace in the community, I made an effort in December 2019, through a member of the Royal family, to get proper legal representation for these four people. Unfortunately, this effort was frustrated.
10. On the 21st of January 2020, Mr Okechukwu Ifejokwu, the President General of Idumuje-Ugboko Development Union was arrested by the Police at Issele-Uku on charges of terrorism. He was taken to Abuja and locked up in the cell. In one of my trips to Abuja I went to visit him in detention to ascertain the facts and circumstances surrounding his arrest. I learnt his case in court was fixed for hearing on the 11th of March 2020, which was more than a month away and for all that period he was going to remain in the cell. I called Hon. Ned Nwoko and told him we needed to meet. The next day, we met over lunch. Again. I reminded Hon. Ned Nwoko that he is a very important son of Idumuje-Ugboko and that it is important he allows peace reign in Idumuje-Ugboko. I reminded him yet again that the King is his cousin and accusing the King and members of the community of terrorism is not helpful. I impressed upon him that Okechukwu Ifejokwu is the President General of IUDU and arresting him is tantamount to arresting the entire community since Okechukwu Ifejokwu acts on behalf of the community. I let Hon. Ned Nwoko know that he cannot accuse Okechukwu Ifejokwu of terrorism and I also informed him that I was going to engage the services of a lawyer to get Okechukwu Ifejokwu out of the needless detention. For good measure, I called my lawyer and asked him to talk to Hon. Ned Nwoko on my phone. I wanted all of us to be on the same page. Hon. Ned Nwoko shrugged his shoulders, he did not put much stock to what IUDU stood for. He, however, understood my need to get Okechukwu Ifejokwu out of the detention. Okechukwu Ifejokwu was eventually arraigned on the 11th of March 2020 and was granted bail afterwards. Due to the COVID-19 lockdown and stringent bail conditions he was eventually released from Kuje Prison on bail on the 12th of May 2020, almost four months after he was taken into detention.
11. On Sunday the 26th of January 2020, the Chairman, Delta State Council of CHIEFS and the Obi of Owa Kingdom, the highly respected and revered Obi Efeizomor II called a Peace Meeting between Hon Ned Nwoko and HRH Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko, the Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko. This meeting was called at the Palace of the Obi of Owa at Owa Oyibu. I was elated when I heard of the meeting. Hon Ned Nwoko accepted to attend the meeting but HRH Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko had concerns about leaving his Palace and going to Agbor for the meeting. There is a needless terrorism charge hanging on him and the President General of IUDU had just been arrested on the streets of Issele-Uku. I called him and prevailed on him the need to attend the meeting. I offered to come to the Palace at Idumuje-Ugboko personally and drive with him in my vehicle to Agbor. After the meeting at Agbor, Idumuje-Ugboko was agog. The women were dancing; the King had met with Hon. Ned Nwoko. Peace had come. Everyone was happy.
It has been four months now since that meeting and despite all the enthusiasm, the implementation of the peace initiatives as enunciated by the Obi of Owa has been bogged down by those who are bent on ensuring the community does not have the peace we so desperately crave.
12. My primary objective has always been to help our King get his Staff of Office. Severally I have engaged the Authorities in Delta State and impressed upon them the need to give the Staff of Office to our King, the Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko. The throne is not in contention. The King is on the throne and in the Palace. To the best of my knowledge, the Authorities in Delta State are more than willing to give the Staff of Office to the King. It, however, must goes through a process. The Council of Chiefs in Aniocha North need to make a recommendation to the Authorities to give the Staff of Office to the Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko. We shall continue to engage the Council of Chiefs in Aniocha North Local Government and the Local Government Chairman to ensure this recommendation is made. I believe that at some point, reason shall prevail, and the Obis of the various neighboring communities shall help facilitate the process of HRH Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko, the Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko getting his Staff of Office.
13. Idumuje-Ugboko, a largely agrarian community has been developed largely by self-help driven mostly by the Idumuje-Ugboko Development Union and the generosity of her indigenes. The Comprehensive Secondary School Idumuje-Ugboko was built by 100 percent communal effort in 1978. The only primary healthcare center /hospital in the town was also built by the community. The Police Station was built by the donation of a few generous individuals for the community. And many more too numerous to mention.
14. A town that has developed largely on her own effort shall be too glad to get a University. Majority of the people in the town support the idea of a University and are ready and willing to give our brother, Hon. Ned Nwoko, all the support he needs to actualize his dream for the University. He needs 100 hectares of land around his house to build the University. The challenge is the violation of the due process required to acquire the land. If the land belongs to the Community, my advice will be for him to engage the leadership of the community properly to acquire the land. If the land belongs to individuals, he needs to identify and engage the individuals properly, make them offers, acquire the land and build the University. That is what common-sense dictates. Building a University in any community is a noble gesture. But regardless of the nobility, it is still a private enterprise that belong to those who subscribe to the shares of the enterprise. If you therefore insist you must convert your backyard into a University, simply engage your neighbors properly and acquire the land. You cannot expect them to simply roll and genuflect before you simply because you are building a University which is good for the community. Vilifying the entire community of Idumuje-Ugboko and presenting Idumuje-Ugboko as being anti-progress is wrong. The challenge is not the University. The challenge has never been the University. The challenge is simply the mode of acquiring the specific land in the specific location for the University. It is important we all put things in proper context.
15. Hon. Ned Nwoko wants to build a University. HRH Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko needs his Staff of Office. Both are noble objectives, and both are mutually achievable and should be achieved. What I believed was a storm in a teacup has been allowed to snowball into needless crises that mischievous people have spun out of control. We have needlessly allowed the narrative to be skewed and made to appear as if supporting the University project means being against the King or supporting the King means being against the University project. Nothing is farther from the truth. All well-meaning sons and daughters of Idumuje-Ugboko should work towards achieving both objectives because both are very good for the Community. Hon. Ned Nwoko needs to engage with the Community and the owners of the land and acquire it through proper means. This was what I suggested to him in our meeting in May 2017. It is still achievable and remains the veritable path to peace. It is largely a fait accompli at this point. But regardless it still needs to be done so people can heal and everyone can move on in peace. Hon. Ned Nwoko is a Prince of the Community and a very prominent son of the Nwoko family. HRH Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko is the King and also a very prominent son of the Nwoko family. I expect Hon. Ned Nwoko to protect and preserve the throne and the family heritage and not drag the throne, the Nwoko family and indeed, the Community to disrepute.
16. All I want is peace in Idumuje-Ugboko. I have always approached this needless crisis from an altruistic point of view. I am not a member of the Nwoko family. I am, however, a member of the Idumuje-Ugboko community and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that peace returns to the community. I have no dog in this fight. Hon. Ned Nwoko remains my friend and my brother. We both visit each other when we happen to be in Idumuje-Ugboko and I shall still visit him in Abuja post COVID-19 lockdown.
17. I note with regret how mischievous peddlers of lies and malicious comments have been fabricating all kinds of falsehoods against prominent sons of Idumuje-Ugboko, under fictitious names, fake accounts and fake pictures of themselves on social media, all in a bid to obfuscate the issues and distort the narrative. I can only appeal to them to cease and desist immediately. I say this is the time to stop hiding behind a finger. Baseless allegations and accusations only deepen the chasm that threatens to divide us. I urge everybody to pull back. We should not make Idumuje-Ugboko a laughingstock in the state.
18. I encourage my brother and my friend, Hon. Ned Nwoko to address Idumuje-Ugboko and unequivocally state in his own words what his interests and objectives are. We need clarity. We have heard enough of third parties claiming to speak on his behalf and obfuscating what the issues are.
19. Idumuje-Ugboko has always supported Hon. Ned Nwoko’s political career. The community deserves a reciprocity of the support and loyalty accorded to him for more than two decades.
20. Ultimately, the difference between Hon. Ned Nwoko and HRH Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko shall be resolved through dialogue. All sons and daughters of Idumuje-Ugboko should work towards achieving this dialogue and bring an amicable resolution to this needless crisis.
21. The Chairman of Delta State Council of Chiefs and the Obi of Owa, HRH Obi Efeizomor II has intervened in this matter. It has been four months now since he set out a clear pathway to peace and Staff of Office for the Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko. His fatherly and Royal advice have been observed largely in the breach by some parties to the conflict. Regardless, I shall continue to appeal to HRH Obi Efeizomor II not to relent in his quest to ensure peace returns to Idumuje-Ugboko and to also ensure that the Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko receives his Staff of Office and take his rightful place in the committee of Traditional Rulers.
22. I also appeal to the Council of Traditional Rulers in Aniocha North Local Government Area to allow reason prevail and to do the right thing to make the necessary recommendation so the Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko can get his Staff of Office.
23. I appeal to the Chairman, Aniocha North Local Government Area, to act as an impartial arbiter and allow common sense prevail in Idumuje-Ugboko so the Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko can get his Staff of Office.
The Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko, HRH Obi Chukwunomso Nwoko needs his Staff of Office.
May God bless us all
DR. GABRIEL IFEANYI OGBECHIE
21st MAY 2020