By Emma Amaize
Okpanam Kingdom in Oshimili North Local Government Area, Delta State has not known peace for some years now following intra-communal headship and land disagreements, but the matter came to a head when some gun toting police officers from Abuja stormed the community, December 19, last year, seized and whisked the Ugoani (traditional ruler), HRM Mbanefo Michael Ogbolu, to Abuja.
The obnoxious chapter in the homeland of Nigerian military and revolutionary officer, who played a leading role in the 1966 coup, the late Major General Chukuwma Kaduna Nzeogwu, was sacrilegious and like the height of infamy.
The audacity of it was that the police operatives from the Special Tactics and Weapons Division, Force Criminal Investigation Department, FCID, Abuja, rushed the monarch in a Gestapo style on his way back from an early morning service at the Saint Michael’s Catholic Church in the town, and drove him in a bus to Abuja, negating his plea to be allowed to pick his medications from home.
As expected, the kingdom was thrown into disarray, as villagers smelt a rat over the treatment of their monarch. Secretary to Delta State Government, SSG, who is the Akatakpo Enyi of Okpanam Kingdom, Chief Patrick Ukah, did all he could to stop the policemen, who appeared inflexible in their mission, from proceeding with the monarch by road, opting for a flight from Asaba to Abuja, but his mediation proved abortive.
However, the monarch was released on December 19, 2021 by the police in Abuja after obtaining his statement.
Two parallel blocs
Sunday Vanguard gathered that there are two blocs involved in the Okpanam debacle. One is led by Ogbolu and the other steered by the Iyase of Obodogba, Okpanam, Dr. Sylvanus Ebigwei.
While the traditional ruler knocked Ebigwei, a former Vice-President General, Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide, consultant and dental surgeon, and alleged trespassers on Obodogba family land for the sad turn of events in the kingdom, the Iyase slammed the monarch for alleged land-grabbing which spewed the mess.
Ebigwei is the architect — Ogbolu
Ogbolu contended that Ebigwei masterminded the allegations of land speculation against him to the police in Abuja, but, in a sharp reaction, the Iyase controverted the Ugoani, saying the monarch should deal with the termites he attracted to his house with woods.
The monarch, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard at his palace, said trouble started in Okpanam soon after the presentation of staff of office to him, as some community leaders dragged him to the High Court, Akwukwu-Igbo, over the status of Ugoani and Ugoani–in-council and adornment of red cap by chiefs in the kingdom, which they lost, but had gone further to the Court of Appeal.
He explained that the issue of land in Okpanam was a simple matter in which, as the monarch, he suggested that the right thing be done by expanding the membership of the Audit Committee on Lands to include representatives of the quarters that constitute Obodogba but Ebigwei refused.
The monarch, in a letter to the state Commissioner of Police, dated December 28, 2021, accused the Iyase of shunning the community’s tradition during the burial of a Diokpa-Isi by “introducing bulldozer into Obodogba land.”
In a resolution adopted at Obodogba general meeting, May 27, 2021, the community, while thanking Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for de-acquiring part of its land earlier acquired by the state government, accused Ebigwei of selling the access road and part of the land housing Ogwugwu-Akpu and Ani Uzo shrines and imposed a fine of N500, 000 on him.
The community resolution was signed by Chairman, Obodogba community, Dr. P.O. C Nwayalani, and Secretary, Ezegbu Patrick.
In another communique issued at the end of Obodogba General Assembly held at the residence of Diokpa-Isi of Obodogba village and Okpanam Kingdom on Tuesday, November 16, 2021, signed by Diopka Isi of Obodogba, Ogbueshi Fredrick Ugbene, Diopkpa of Umuousme, Ogbueshi Ben Dunkwu, and Diokpa of Umuomahe, Gabriel Okoaze, made available to Sunday Vanguard: “The meeting agreed to increase the number of representation from each quarter of Obodogba from seven to ten and consequently adopted the names of persons as presented by each quarter.
“But to the chagrin of majority of members, Dr. Sylvanus stood up to announce that item three of the communique shall join his already existing Obodogba Land Audit Committee, which statement, was expressly turned down and condemned by the general assembly, as the house insisted that there no other land audit committee except the one established by the general assembly held on Tuesday, November, 2021”.
My hands are clean — Ebigwei
Speaking to Sunday Vanguard, Ebigwei said: “When some indigenes of the community came to ask for land to build, they told them there was no available land.
“But we said no and went to court, which ordered audit of our land.
“The audit was to start, according to court order, but they are stopping it because of their vested interest on the land they had appropriated.”
On the allegation that he broke into the community land, he said some people illegally interfered with the land duly given to him and he went to fence off the portion and filed an action in court to challenge the intruders.
Ebigwei swore that he had no ulterior motive and only wanted the monarch and his group to hands off the community land, allow proper, not manipulated stocktaking of community land and proper allotment to bonafide indigenes that require land to build.
OCDM alleges deceitful sale of land
Another Obodogba cluster, Obodogba Community Development Union, OCDM, Okpanam, responding to the claims of the monarch in a communique, November 17, 2021, said: “Due to the fraudulent sale of land, the community, championed by the Lagos branch of Obodogba Community Development Union, went to Akwukwu Igbo High Court and obtained a court order, AKU/57/2013, for the audit of Obodogba land.”
The union, in a letter by the Chairman, CWC, Comrade Joseph Onochie, and Secretary, Mr. Christopher Ebigwe, said: “The court ordered the complainants and defendants to team up and carry out the audit.
“The total number of complainants representing the community was five while the defendants were 31 until Chief Peter Ndukwu and Chief Stephen Okonta appealed to the court to join the defendants in 2019, bringing the total number of the audit team to 39 members.
“The audit team, led by six lawyers, has been meeting at Excel Suites, Asaba, later to Copperfield Hotel, Asaba.
“Two meetings were held in Ugoani palace hall. The planned third meeting there could not hold because he locked them out. So his denial of knowledge of existing audit team is a farce.
“The combined team of the complainants and the defendants has been involved in the physical exercise as ordered by the court.
“Roads have been created and charts of virgin, built-up and fenced plots of land produced in the ongoing exercise.
How crisis started
“The seemingly community crisis emanated from the anti-audit group under the umbrella of Ugoani.
“They do not want to hear the word audit. On two occasions, they chased the contractors and the court-recognized audit team out of the audit site using security agents.
“Both Ugoni Ogbolu and Dr. Ebigwei, MON, held two private meetings leading to certain agreement, one of which was that the audit team should be beefed up so that new members will be married to the existing audit team.
“Both of them agreed to hold a general meeting of the family of the 16th of November, 2021.
“The meeting was peacefully conducted. A list of 30 members of the family was selected to join the existing court approved audit team.
“However, crisis started when the meeting was at the point of appointing a three-man committee to draft a communique.
“To the surprise of all, the Ugoani extracted from his pocket a note and started reading a purported communiqué…”
They’re all land speculators – Obiemenyeho
Publisher of Zion Nationale newspaper, an indigene of the community, Chris Obiemenyeho, told Sunday Vanguard: “The issue why the Ugoani was arrested was because of land matter, alleged illegal acquisition of community and people’s lands and alleged illegal sale of same.”
On the alleged involvement of Ebigwei, he said: “Yes, the Iyase of Obodogba, Dr. Sylvanus Ebigwei, and his group are believed to be behind it.
“Ebigwei’s faction and Ugoani’s faction have been at war over land matters.
“They have been to court and police. The outcomes were in favour of Ebigwei’s group.”
Obiemenyeho said the police were investigating the alleged land sales.
The allegations leveled against the monarch and eight other sons of Obodogba were criminal conspiracy, unlawful possession of firearms, malicious damage, forgery and conduct likely to cause breach of public peace.
Back to Abuja, January 10, 2022, when the Ugoani and eight others returned to the police on invitation for the other side to substantiate its allegations, the petitioners were reportedly absent.
Ugoani-in-council probes affairDeliberating on the matter, Friday, January 21, the Ugoani-in-council inaugurated a seven –man ad-hoc committee, comprising Chief Dominic Anyasi (Chairman), Patrick Okenyi (Secretary), Chief Nduka Ogwuda, Ogbueshi Abua Ntoka, Ogbueshi Clement Ukah, Ogbueshi P. O. C Nwayalani and Chief (Mrs.) Maria Mordi to probe Ebigwei.
The council also charged the committee to liaise with the Diokpa of Umumale community, P.C.E Dunkwu, “to work out the mechanism for the restoration of our historical antecedents at Afor Market, Okpanam.”
Passing a vote of confidence on the monarch, the council commended the people of Okpanam for the unity of purpose they exhibited in searching for the king “after his abduction on Sunday, 19th December, 2021 and the tumultuous reception that heralded his return to Okpanam on Tuesday, 21st December, 2021.”