It was conceived to bring development to the community. But the people of Idumuje-Ugboko in Delta State are now in disarray over the land involved and chieftaincy matters. Dominic Adewole reports from Asaba
Peace appears a distant guest at Idumuje-Ugboko in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State.
The prevailing age-long atmosphere of growth and development that the community was known for, has dovetailed into anarchy as youths’ restiveness suddenly became the order of the day.
Presently, in the agrarian community, there is enough money to buy beds but there is no money to buy sleep. The hearts of parents have turned against their children and children against their parents.
The root of bitterness is the proposed Stars University and Golf Course, which a former House of Representatives member, Hon. Ned Nwoko, a lawyer and Prince of the Kingdom, has planned to cite in the community. But little did he know that some of his kinsmen were against him.
Prior to the mayhem, youths, under the aegis of the Anioma Youth Forum (AYF), have heightened the clamour for the take-off of the University, which was targeted at establishing a legacy of sporting life, boosting the human capital development agenda of the state and transform the social economic lives of people of the area.
The National President Mr. Felix Ifejiokwu and his Secretary, Barth Inneh, who wondered why land disputes has become a clog, said the sports’ institution would boost the physical and intellectual capabilities of youths and discourage criminal tendencies, if allowed to be.
While they called on the indigenes of kingdom to stop fanning embers of discord to scuttle the project, they condemned the speculation that the proposed University was a ploy by the initiator to amass land space, and thereby deprive original owners of their heritage.
“These kind of projects are craved for in other climes. This is a project that has already been estimated to employ over 2,000 indigenes with other multiplier effects. It should be embraced by all discerning minds and supported by indigenes of Ugboko, the entire Anioma ethnic nationality and Delta State in general.
“Today, Ogwuashi-Uku, Abraka, Auchi, Ekpoma to mention but a few are sports’ hubs with booming socio-economic activities because of the Polytechnics and Universities that were cited there”, Ifejiokwu said.
South South Focus learnt that Nwoko had perfected all necessary requirements, including the Certificate of Occupancy (CoO) for the required 200 hectares of land, signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Land Allocation Committee (LAC) of the community and acquired the land through the late monarch of the Kingdom, who happened to be his elder brother, HRM Obi Albert Nwoko III, who died at the age of 91 years, for the take-off of the University, with the National University Commission (NUC), before trouble erupted.
Ned’s cousin, Prince Nonso Nwoko, who allegedly usurped the throne after the demise of his father, soon declared war against him, claiming that, one, the acquisition of the controversial large expanse of land did not follow due process; two, that the land in question was acquired by Ned for selfish interest and not for the intention for which he was given, hence the need to regularize or recover it all cost from him, especially now that he is in-charge.
The forceful means of recovery soon became dreadful three weeks ago as over 20 houses were torched, cars vandalized, properties and motorcycles burnt and lives were lost in the process.
South South Focus further gathered that the Iyase (traditional Prime Minister) of the Kingdom, Chief Chris Ogwu, fled the community for fear of the unknown after his house was invaded by irate youths, allegedly led by one Achioma Omezi, a.k.a Aikomu.
The hoodlums attempted to set the Iyase’s residence on fire but could not succeed, owing to some unknown reasons, but they thereafter pounced on members of his household, beat his wife and children before vandalizing his Camry car, with registration number Delta ASB 742 SF.
As if that was not enough, the hoodlums moved from there to houses of their perceived enemies, especially key members of the Land Allocation Committee, who were signatories to the MoU on the take-off of the University and whom they suspected to be backing Ned for the acquisition of the controversial land.
They vandalized their residences and burnt their belongings before their very eyes.
Although, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa distanced himself from the kingship tussle and the crisis which has led to killing, raping and threat to life, rocking the Kingdom during his visit to the council area for Town Hall meeting last week, the Iyase, supported by the former President-General of Kingdom, Chief Walter Esischi, said the desperation by Nonso to become the substantive monarch of the kingdom after the demise of his father was the bone of contention.
According to him, Nonso drew battle line with Ned because he suspected that the latter was supporting the choice of his younger brother, Uche, to the throne, hence anybody seeing to be supporting him and anything pertaining to him must be destroyed.
He lamented that all entreaties to Nonso to apply sense of reasoning to the matter, concerning the University and allow customs and tradition of Ugboko to take its course, fell on deaf ears.
He said:”Nonso has desecrated the traditional procedure of monarchical transition in Ugboko kingdom. He imported thugs to invade the palace, beat up the elders-in-council. He broke into my house, snatched and vandalized my car, and chased me into the bush. He ordered his thugs to beat me, my entire household up. He set the properties of any indigene he perceived to be associating with Prince Ned Nwoko, whom he suspected to be sponsoring Prince Uche.”
The Iyase, who briefed journalists in Asaba last week, told South South Focus that trouble started after two sons (Princes Nonso and Uche) of late Obi Albert, but of different mothers, started contending for the throne, and Nonso was reminded of history and tradition.
He explained what the tradition of Ugboko stipulated on the succession crisis thus, “although Nonso is the elder son but customs and tradition of Ugboko kingdom does bequeath the throne to him. Why? His mother is not from Ugboko, and tradition says the mother to the heir to the throne must be an indigene of the land. Monarchical succession in Ugboko is not by seniority and he (Nonso) knows. This he didn’t want, hence he was doing everything within his power to resist.”
He alleged that the school of his younger brother (the heir to the throne) was also attacked by the hoodlums, who after causing commotion, chased teachers and students of the school away.
While he called on Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and the Commissioner of Police in the state, Zanna M. Ibrahim, to intervene in the crisis before more lives are lost, Ned, who was uncomfortable that Nonso had taken the law into his hands by using thugs to vandalize over 20 houses and assassinating his character, raced to the Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG), Zone 5, Benin City, Edo State, to seek redress and probably get justice.
The AIG immediately deployed a squad of detectives to the community for on-the-spot investigations of the damages done to lives and property. The detectives were however shocked that over 50 youths had relocated to Ned’s house for asylum for fear of further attacks.
At this, Ned, who lamented that two of his cousins, namely, Nonso and one Mbanefo, peddled falsehood against him, unleashed carnage and terror on their next-of-kins, turned the heat of hatred for him against the community, told the displaced youths to be prepared to return to their homes.
He said: “The purpose of coming home with detectives from the AIG is to restore peace and return you to your homes. AIG has spoken very well on the matter and has threatened to deal decisively with anyone that foments troubles pending the determination of the case. After this, anyone that comes after you will pay dearly for it; then we will return fire for fire. We cannot continue to be strangers in our own place.”
Displaying the accreditation papers, which included the Masterplan, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), C of O granted by the LGA and the Allocation documents of 100 hectares of land, which contains an agreement that 40 per cent of the gains would accrue to the community, Ned explained that everything has been concluded by the NUC for Ugboko-Ofia, meaning Land of Forest, towards becoming a full-fledged University in the future.
“It was part of the MoU that if I don’t develop the University within five years, the land would go back to the original owners, the farmers. But blinded personal animosity against me by my two cousins has led to loss of life, destruction of properties, stealing of vital documents, beating and disarmament of the registered vigilante group in the community by thugs”, Ned lamented.
The Youth President of Ugboko, Emmanuel Kogwuonye, supported by the Secretary to the Land Allocation Committee, whose house suffered the worst hit, Mr. Kennedy Chuks Iloh, who said the University was a welcome development as it would spell good omen for the community, lamented that the hoodlums that were imported to wreak havoc, ransacked his house and carted away relevant documents on land allocation.
A victim of the attack, one Mrs. Gladys Kogwuonye, supported by other victims, including a 73-year-old farmer, Pa Moses Chinihdi, Bernard Okoh, Chukwueze Maduabu, a 65-year-old Chief Sunday Edemodu and Iloh, all confessed that one Victor Omezi, Uche – alias Appear, Omefe Nonso -alias Mandela, Nwanbisi Chima, Ndudi Chimdu and 19 others, led by Achioma Omezi – alias Aikomu, carried dangerous weapons while vandalizing the house in sequential order.
“I was inside sleeping and all of a sudden the youths invaded my house. They said I was supporting Ned to steal the community land. They said that I was among those that signed the MoU for the land he is planning to convert to his University, that as the chairman of Land Allocation Committee, I should have known that the land was for his selfish interest, hence I should be punished. That was how they started vandalizing my house, before my wife and children ran for their dear lives”, Chief Sunday Edemodu said.
Corroborating him, the youngest wife of the late Obi, Queen Faith Nwoko, also wept that she was thrown out of the palace with her three-years-old daughter amidst the crisis shortly after his husband’s death.
Now that Nonso has remained unperturbed in the palace about police involvement and wanton destruction of home-places of his subjects, he seems to be undisturbed that his supposed Council-of-Chiefs are in disarray as the Iyase and his family have fled the community, and the chairman and Secretary of the Land Allocation Committee have been rendered homeless, Ned is threatening fire and brimstone should the reign of terror continues, even as he insisted that “the wasted land that is lying fallow in Ugboko cannot be fully put to use in the next one million years. So why are they against the University?”