…Elders want Obiano to intervene
By Onyedika Agbedo
The sleepy town of Ojoto, the headquarters of Idemili South Council of Anambra State, has been embroiled in crisis for sometime now over who occupies the royal stool of the community. But rather than abating, the wedge between the two parties in the dispute has been waxing as they both insist on having their way.
The issue at the centre of the dispute is whether or not the operational constitution of the community and its Town Union leadership feature in the selection of the new monarch. The two camps are so sharply divided on the issue that even leaders of the community admit that it would take the intervention of the state government to bring the dispute to an end.
The crisis in Ojoto started with the demise of the former Igwe Augustine Obidiwe of Ojoto, from Ojoto Uno, which comprised Ezieke, Ojor, Ireh, and Umuchem villages. With his death, the lot fell on Ojoto Obofia made up of Enugo, Ndiabor, Umuezema and Ezema villages to present a replacement according to an age-long pattern and tradition. The selection process was enunciated in Article 26(1-3) of the community’s constitution.
According to 86-year-old Chief Daniel Ilonze, Ichie Isimili Ojoto, a revered knight and highly respected community leader, who incidentally was the President General of the community when the operational constitution was drafted and adopted in 1977, it was the same constitution that was used in the selection, installation and crowning of both the late Igwe Abel Adirika and Obidiwe. Ilonze noted that the same constitution was also used in the selection of the Igwe-elect, Chief Dennis Adindu Okafor.
He said: “This operational constitution which we used in the selection and enthronement of Igwe Dennis Adindu Okafor was drawn in 1977 when I was the President General of this community. It became effective from 1979 till date without any problem whatsoever.
“It was this same constitution that guided us in 1979 in the crowning of Igwe Adirika and it was the same constitution that we used to crown Igwe Obidiwe. So, why should persons who were mere toddlers when these issues were extensively deliberated upon and agreed by their fathers show up today to foment crisis where none actually exists.
“I forgive them, including those who have been calling me on the phone to threaten my life on this issue. I know such persons really have no good intentions for Ojoto and her people.”
Ilonze, who called for the state government’s intervention to restore peace in the community, emphasised that abiding by the community’s constitution and established laws, custom and tradition remained the only way to resolve the crisis.
Another top palace chief and community leader, Chief Samuel Nwafor Ezimo, the Ikenga Ojoto, also told Sunday Sun that the crisis was uncalled for if the community’s constitution was allowed to prevail.
He pointed out that he was fully aware that the incumbent President General of the community, Edwin Umeghalu, who had formally written to the Asato Ojoto (traditional prime minister), Chief Gerrard Mbamalu as stipulated by the constitution to assume the regency when the news of the demise of the last Igwe was made formal, had also written him to vacate the seat as the constitution demands on the emergence of new Igwe-elect.
Ezimo also adduced that the traditional prime minister and the Igwe cannot come from the same place. He appealed to those opposed to the Igwe-elect to tread with caution and listen to the elders’ wise counsel saying, “Because they are our brothers and sons, we will not sanction or recommend punishment against them. But they ought to have a second thought and ask how many elders were in their midst.”
Nevertheless, the Regent-in-Council sitting at the home of Mbamalu, had faulted the process through which the Igwe-elect was selected and declared it would not support or accept him. The council, it was learnt, was opposed to the use of the community’s constitution for the selection of a new Igwe, as well as the involvement of the Town Union leadership in the process. As the crisis persists, there have been alleged attempts by the Regent-in-council to curry the support of some top officials of the Anambra State government in their bid to actualise their objective.
But the Okpala Ojor (Ojomo Ojor), Chief Godwin Chukwumezie Efoagui, however, stressed that their plan would not succeed, saying the Igwe-elect was chosen in accordance with the community’s constitution and was later presented to the community and accepted having been found fully qualified in every respect. Efoagui, who also wants a quick resolution of the matter to pave way for peace and development of the community, added: “When these few individuals rose up like an afterthought, we called series of meetings and made peace, including Mbamalu (regent) who also wants to be Igwe. Part of their argument was that they did not accept the operational constitution of the community. Surprisingly, it was this same constitution that guided in making each one of them whatever they claim to be in the community today.
“This same constitution has been in operation for decades without any problem. Same constitution also forbids a regent from contesting for the throne. So, having apparently discovered they would face an uphill task in amending the constitution now, they then added the Town Union leadership in their battle line. That’s why when Igwe Okafor was finally presented they rose up again. But our strength is that the constitution was strictly followed to the letter,” he stated.
Another community leader, Chief Uwandu Uzoagbala told Sunday Sun that Ojoto has a time-tested constitution. According to him, “our constitution is celebrated across the state as a master piece and panacea to communal development and peaceful coexistence. It has been our guiding principle for decades without any issue anywhere. How can any sincere son of Ojoto claim he is not aware of it? So, in such person’s view, what has been guiding the affairs of the town?”
Speaking shortly after an emergency general meeting of the community held at the Town Hall recently, during which they endorsed Governor Obiano’s re-election bid, the Town Union president-general, Umeghalu, accused those opposed to the selection and presentation of Okafor as the new Igwe-elect as being economical with the truth.
He bemoaned that despite the active role the community has continued to play in Anambra politics, Ojoto had not got the deserved attention from successive administrations in the state. He, however, noted that the Obiano administration has shown them a sense of belonging, saying that was the basis for supporting him for a second term.