…as Eze Mike Okorie warns
Ndi Ememe: You can never take over Idima Abam lands
•Reports arbiter to govt, accuses him of taking sides
By Tony Nwankwo
Eze Mike Okorie is the monarch of Idima Ohaeke Abam, Arochukwu LGA, Abia State. He is among the youngest kings in Abam Onyerubi and ascended the throne in 2019. In this interview, Okorie says residents of their satellite community, Ndi Ememe, now lay claim to the land their ancestors allowed them settle in on compassionate grounds. Excerpts:
Sources say Idima Abam is in crisis with Ndi Ememe. What exactly is the problem?
Ndi Ememe is a satellite community of Idima Abam. Even during the time of my late father, Eze Okorie Ugbo, who joined his ancestors in 1973, our family was farming the lands of Ndi Ememe (nde mme-mme), people who came for celebrations and settled.
Now they claim ownership of Idima lands. Some families in Idima were collecting rates as landlords of the area. Ndi Ememe is not a village as defined in Abam. Even after the Biafra War, their landlords from Idima were collecting land rates. I remember one Chief Agbai Edu of Ndi Obo Compound who is late now used to administer Ndi Ememe.
The story of Ndi Ememe relates to Okike Izu which used to be a point of Abam people for meetings and celebrations. These are people who came from different locations within and outside Abam. They came for a festival at the nearby Okike Izu, a general meeting venue for Abam. They came from different locations like other guests, had so much to eat and drink and stayed behind and chose to remain after all others had gone back to their respective communities. Nobody bothered with their stay because Idima families who own the lands there were administering them, collecting land rates from them. Idima chiefs used to visit there and they paid homage. Traditionally, they have no ‘ezirali’, a symbol of autonomy in Abam. Idima administrators have not allowed them to erect any ‘ezirali’.
Every autonomous community in Abam has an ‘ezirali’ where indigenes felicitate with the gods of the ancestors during festivals like New Yam (Iri Ji). In Idima Abam, even compounds have ‘èzirali’ to authenticate independence, a decipherable boundary. Ndi Ememe has none and will never have, because the residents there just came from other autonomous communities and stayed like a plantation. Now, they even lay claim to lands stretching to Igwu River, Onuasu, bypassing Ndi Ekete, which are Idima plantations inhabited mostly by people of Arochukwu origin, who also pay land rates to Idima families as agreements stipulate.
Ndi Ememe has since been trespassing on our lands, they farm, they fish and even conduct and participate in elections as an autonomous entity. We let them, mindful that they know their status as people settling on Idima lands. Now, they want to contest boundaries with us. It must be clear to them that they can never take over our lands.
You said an arbiter appointed by government is vexed that Idima has so much land with boundaries far-stretched, running into kilometers from the city centre. Can you describe why Idima has so much land and why an arbiter, a government official, came up with such biased viewpoint?
We have already raised a petition dated August 31, 2020 against this individual, Sir C.N. Nwanevu, a surveyor, who led a team appointed by government to arbitrate on our land. In our petition directed to Abia State Deputy Governor, Government House, Umuahia, we are asking Nwanevu to recuse himself because we cannot accept whatever findings he comes out with, following his biased stance on a territory he knows absolutely nothing about. Anybody can go through records, ask anybody from Umuahia through Abam, Ohafia, Abiriba, Arochukwu, about Idima.
The notion that Abam is a warrior enclave stems from the warrior inclination of Idima people. We remember an Abam icon, a Nigerian statesman, the Ugwu Abam from Ndi Oji, Hon. Chief Smart Ndem Okpi (God rest his soul), who, in an interview published in Vanguard Newspapers, said Idima was a feared community. The elder statesman stated that at a stage in Idima, there existed associations or clubs which membership were reserved for individuals who were capable of severing a man’s head clean from his shoulders with a single machete strike. He was not talking about brave men; he was talking about groups of people. In the interview, he narrated an instance when Isiugwu Ohafia had to come to Idima to hire a man who had to travel to Ndi Oji to execute a man, an Ndi Oji man, who had innocently killed an Isiugwu man, their neighbour and brother.
The execution settled a dispute as Ndi Oji Abam people had agreed that their son had committed an abominable act by beheading the Isiugwu man. The age grade of the Ndi Oji man had said that though their colleague had committed an abominable act for which he deserved to die, but they (age grade) would not allow a further pain on him, so anyone who would execute him must do so with a single strike of the machete. Isiugwu could not raise such an executioner, so they were allowed 24 hours to provide one.
They ran to Idima where head hunting was a sport. They got a man who did the job, a single strike and the head was off. The two communities lived peacefully ever after. For a moment, just forget we are in a civilised era, and picture the level of intimidation including landmass such a community could have. Who dared challenge them in their lands. This question came up sometime, when Bende tried to contest land borders with Idima.
The saviour that time was that Idima sons had built physical structures like residential houses in the stretch of lands they came to contest. In the stretch before Ndi Ememe from Idima, you have the Beach (Onuasu), Ndi Ekete, Ndi Ememe, etc. as satellite communities. We would warn Ndi Ememe to be very careful how they provoke Idima people. That we let them be for years, is not an act of cowardice. Idima have always come to harvest their palm trees, which is traditional indication of ownership by us. Individual families have the land, we harvest palms in all Idima territory. It is proceeds from the palm fruits that the elders use to administer this warrior community from time immemorial. Surv. Nwanevu, completely spoke outside the realms of his mandate as an arbiter of government.
His statement shows bias, and Idima would no longer tolerate him as an arbiter in the boundary issue. We have totally lost confidence in him. It is the prowess of our people that our forebears had blood covenant with Arochukwu people. It is a taboo for an Aro person to shed the blood of an Idima person, and vice versa. Eze Aro, Eze Ogbonnaya Okoro, told journalists as much in an interview at his palace in Arochukwu, a couple of years ago. Ours was a unique community with a unique people. We had lands and we are never going to give up lands we inherited from our forefathers, not now, not ever.
The Abam War Dance, now celebrated worldwide was created in Idima Abam as the people went to Ibeku in Umuahia to avenge the killing of Ojingwa, a palm wine tapper from Ndi Ukaforegbe, Idima. It was a victory dance in celebration of the revenge mission at Ibeku. There are other powerful kingdoms with large land masses, like Abiriba, Arochukwu and Benin, in Edo State.
You said some politicians in Abam are prompting Ndi Ememe people to cause this rift so they can bankroll them in the ensuing crisis?
Exactly, the rumours are rife now that some politicians, particularly from Ozu Abam are trying to take advantage of an uninformed Ndi Ememe elders to fight for Idima lands and afterwards acquire such lands for their personal use. Those involved must vanquish such ideas. We remind that those who were head hunting those days have offspring who can protect Idima lands. We know our lands, our ancestors acquired them with their blood, and there are boundaries and we know our neighbours. Ndi Ememe is our satellite community. They will do well to respect the hospitality our ancestors extended to them and not abuse it by claiming our land. If you desire land, approach your own community, don’t come to Idima, our lands are not for sale.
You speak as if you want visitors to be afraid of your people?
Incidentally, we are a very hospitable people. We accommodate people and there are many strangers who live and do legitimate business in our community without fear of intimidation or molestation. Ndi Ememe is not alone. We also have Ndi Inya, another satellite community created by a family from Ndi Iroha Compound, Idima Abam. They have since been wrestling with their own separate existence.
What is the level of government presence in your community?
There is no government presence whatsoever in Abam generally, not Idima alone. We have no federal, state or local government presence in the area, whatsoever. We are abandoned to our fate. We lack good roads, we don’t have steady electricity supply, there are no government hospitals. If you consider the population and resources of Abam, we should have a General Hospital, but none exists. We have since been campaigning for a local government of Abam, and even Idima had applied and provided all that is required to have a police post, all to no avail. There are no industries, small or medium scale industries for our community. Yet, we are the food basket of the East.
Information is that you are under Arochukwu LGA, and Arochukwu is several kilometres away. Abam, our sources say, is made up of about 24 villages. Anywhere else in Nigeria, this must have qualified for a local government of your own?
The situation is pathetic. There are some statutory functions in the Constitution that is exclusive to the local government headquarters. Meanwhile, from Idima to Arochukwu, you pass through Ohafia, through Ihiechiowa, Ututu to Arochukwu, a distance of about 32 kilometres. You need to devote a specific day if you have anything to do in the local government headquarters. However, in the past, efforts had been made by our leaders that in a petition of January 9, 1996, Abam asked for a local government of their own after fulfilling the requirements stipulated by government for the purpose. As I speak to you, the documents must be gathering dust in government offices in Umuahia as nothing has so far been done. We are ready to provide the infrastructure, the personnel, yet government seems uninterested in our plight. We would really appreciate a local government of our own as this brings government closer to the people.