From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Awkuzu is one of the communities in Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State.
The community is surrounded by other communities like Umunya and Nteje in Oyi Local Government Area; Ifitedunu, Ukpo and Ukwulu in Dunukofia council; Nando and Igbariam towns in Anambra East LGA and Abba in Njikoka council.
Awkuzu is divided into three parts, Ezi, Ifite and Ikenga, according to seniority or birth order.
According to information gleaned from Wikipedia, each of the three sections of the community is further divided into sub-villages with Ezi having Iru-Anyika, Aka-Ezi, Igbu and Ozu sub-villages.
Ifite section is made up of Amabo, Isioji and Ifite-Umueri sub-villages while Ikenga has Ezi-Nkwo, Nkwele-Awkuzu, Umuobi, Ukpomachi and Dusogu.
As a community, Awkuzu is famous because of its large population which gave it the sobriquet of Ibilibe Ogada (the swarming locust), a title that stemmed from glorified local disputes with neighbours but now attached to the traditional stool.
Awkuzu community parades an array of influential people both in the religious circle, academia, business and corporate world, but presently there is lull in the activities of the community.
Sheep without shepherd
For the past 11 years, the community has remained like a sheep without a shepherd – no traditional ruler or town union president.
According to history, the traditional leadership in Awkuzu predated the entry of the colonialists into the Igbo heartland and Niger Delta in the 1800s.
The people had recognized primateship religious priesthood authority which was exercised by the Eze Ana who holds the Ofo-Awkuzu.
This was the scenario until about the 1700, when one of her powerful men, Mgbako was initiated into the Ozo-Atulu-Ukpa-Okala by his Umunya warrior friend, Igboegbunam Odezuligbo.
After Nigeria’s independence and the request by Col. Atom Kpera, then governor of the East Central State for government recognized traditional institutions in Igbo land, Awkuzu people drafted a constitution and selected Anaegboka Odife in 1967 from Ezi sub-village, who was the community’s monarch till his death in 1982.
Anaegboka ‘s death created a vacuum which was later filled by Chief J. C Ogamba who was crowned the traditional ruler till he abdicated the throne and relinquished his position under controversial circumstances to the late Chief John Nebolisa in 2002.
Chief Nebolisa who ascended the throne even when an elected monarch was still alive, was not challenged by the people until he passed away in 2005.
Ironically, Igwe Nebolisa’s death that was supposed to bring sanity to the traditional stool system in the community has not brought the desired new hope because internal squabbles, selection criteria, among other factors have succeeded in enthroning a culture of “no Igwe and no PG” in Awkuzu land.
Government intervened in vain
On September 12, 2015, the much publicized announcement for a town union election that would have been a prelude to the search and installation of a new traditional ruler ended in fiasco as the election exercise was aborted by a group of people who attacked the Anambra State government delegation that came to supervise the election, making other guests, including invited journalists, to run for dear lives.
When Daily Sun visited Awkuzu community last week, the bulk of the villagers went about their normal businesses as if nothing was amiss, but a cursory look at the town critically tells the picture of a community suffering the pains of not having a proper navigator to sail its ship.
The Awkuzu village hall was was locked while there is no sign of active programmes going on in the village presently.
Though the statue of the late Hon. Lazarus Ezeani, a son of the soil and former House of Representatives member, who represented old Anambra Division in the 1959 legislative house but died in a ghastly road crash in 1962, is still at the popular Check Point junction in Awkuzu, there is no other monumental project which would have been undertaken by the town union if there is one in place.
Oriental News had an encounter with Chief Michael Ozua-Okoye, the Onowu Igbo and traditional prime minister of the community, who has seen it all since the emergence of the first traditional ruler of the community till now.
Onowu, a colonel in the defunct Biafran Army who was first crowned as Ichie Agu, then Osuofia before he became the traditional prime minister of Awkuzu, went down memory lane, emphasizing that the present squabble over who becomes the traditional ruler or the town union president is an unhealthy development which has adversely affected the development of the community.
“At almost 77, I have seen it all, during the Jusctice Agbako visitation panel in 1976, we drafted a constitution and chose Anaegboka Odife to be our traditional ruler. I was asked to be the Igwe then, but I declined and that was when I became the Onowu (Traditional Prime Minister) , When Igwe Odife died in 1982, I was based in Kaduna then and we came home, did all the requirements for his funeral.
“The traditional stool was zoned to my village, Ifite and my people also came to my house with several gifts, urging me to take up the stool again, but I still declined. Then I was already the Chairman of Old Onitsha Local Government comprising today Onitsha North, Onitsha South and Ogbaru local governments. That was how an Aba-based businessman, Chief Ogamba became the Igwe.
“As the traditional prime minister, we watched in dismay and helpless demeanor when Ogamba relinquished his throne to John Nebolisa. I was in my house one day when Ogamba came and requested that I should accompany him to go and thank Nebolisa for all he has done for him. He told me that Nebolisa gave him a white horse and lots of money and after much persuasion; I agreed and followed him to go and see Nebolisa. But till today, I don’t know what actually transpired between him and John Nebolisa that made him to act that way. But the long and short of the whole story was that John became the Igwe and Ogamba was alive till John later died though both of them are late now.
“After the last Ofala of Nebolisa, the struggle for a new traditional ruler ensued instead of having one voice to choose a new one. But our constitution of 1976 made it clear that the traditional stool should rotate among Ezi, Ifite and Ikenga 1 and 11 villages. That is the reason when something happened in the past, the four village quarters produced four Ndichies each making it total of 16 Ndichies. My position is that the initial rotation agreement should be followed.
“During the time of George Echesi town union executive, a committee was set up that included Archbishop Maxwell Anikwenwa. In the course of their deliberation, disagreement ensued because the contention was that Ezi, Ifite, Ikenga 1 and Ikenga 11, but because some are saying that there is nothing like Ikenga 11, they will go to Iruanyika to produce the next king. The committee split into two groups, out of 18 people, seven persons signed the other document and surprisingly called it majority decision.
“I insisted that I was privy to an agreement in 1976 and the implication is that Ikenga 11 will take their shot at the traditional stool after that, the community can decide again whether the status quo will be maintained or discarded,” he said.
Ozua Okoye, therefore, urged all relevant stakeholders to join hands to ensure that all the vacant stools are filled, noting that the president general election should come first so that they will prepare the table for the emergence of the traditional ruler.
A town in limbo
Also commenting, an aspirant to the president general’s seat, Wendell Ozor Odutche, described Awkuzu as a town presently sitting in a limbo, but expressed hope that a new day will soon come.
He said that communication in the town has been at its lowest ebb for some time now while social functions have depicted very wide divisions amongst their people.
Odutche disclosed that several meetings have been held, including the one convened by Eze Echesi, former Commissioner for Finance in Anambra State and Uchenna Wiper Okafor who is now Special Assistant to Governor Willie Obiano all geared towards making a headway in the whole thing.
Further enquiries by Daily Sun revealed that if things works out according to plan, the community may likely conduct the town union election before July while moves to get a new traditional ruler has commenced since the majority members of the community have all agreed that Ikenga area should shop for a candidate for the Igweship who may emerge before the year runs out so that he could perform the first Ofala festival by December.