Raphael Ede, Enugu
But for the timely intervention of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, Chief Martin Chime of Agbezi, Opi-Amasiri autonomous community, in Afikpo North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, and his wife, Nnenna, would have been lynched for allegedly saying that the women in the community have offensive body odour.
It was gathered that for a married man to say that women smell is a taboo in Amasiri and the ‘crime’ attracts the death penalty. The tradition of punishing such offenders is described as Eyiyegeje, which involves striping and parading of the accused by women. Thereafter, he would be drowned in a river.
Daily Sun gathered that the incident, which took place on February 19, began when Chime refused to take sides with his kinsmen to divorce one Mrs. Mary Chukwu, as suggested by the husband, Mr. Chukwu Okuji. Mary was accused of insulting her husband and not cooperating with the members of Agbezi clan in Ihie, Opi-Amasiri autonomous community. The women in the community were said to have asked Chukwu to divorce Mary but Chime was interfering.
It was further gathered that because of Chime’s vehement refusal on sending Mary away, the women began to suspect that he might have been having an affair with her. A quarrel ensued between him and his kinsmen during which he allegedly said women in the community stank. The remark was said to have irritated the women of Agbezi clan. They reportedly fined Chime two cartons of beer and three crates of soft drinks, and threatened to apply the customary death penalty if he failed to meet their demands.
For fear of attack, Chime complained to the traditional ruler of Ndukwe autonomous community, Ezego Patrick Aja, who oversaw the traditional activities in the community since the death of their monarch about five years ago. But no respite came his way as the traditional ruler directed him to appease the women with five cartons of drinks. The monarch, however, appealed to the women not to invoke the Eyiyegeje custom against Chime and his family.
However, after the verdict of the monarch, the women insisted that Chime must provide the appeasement the same day, but he could not, citing lack of money and pleading for time to get the drinks.
Having run out of patience, the women, in the early hours of Monday, February 19, invoked the Eyiyegeji on Chime and his wife. The women stripped them half-naked, tied a rope around their waists, smeared them with faeces and dragged them towards the river. The hapless couple was about being pushed into the river when SARS operatives cane to the rescue and took them to Afikpo Police Station, where they were cleaned up and clothed.
When Daily Sun visited Opi-Amasiri recently, the community, though calm, was still battling for peace as the police have threatened to arraign the women and their husbands in court.
Journey to Golgotha
The victim, Chime, who narrated his ordeal to Daily Sun, said they were yet to recover from the shock. He accused his family members of instigating the women to invoke the dreaded Eyiyegeji on him and his wife.
According to him, the hateful act started on December 24, 2017, when his family members shared some beef and excluded his family. He said trouble started after he inquired why he was excluded but one Mrs. Margret Amadi, allegedly asked him, “are you still thinking that any share of anything from the clan will reach you again?”
Three days after, some money was shared and again he was excluded and, upon inquiry, a community member, Elder Thompson Amadi, reportedly reprimanded him, saying: “Haven’t you been warned not to ask for anything from the clan again?” He also claimed that he was warned that, in no distant time, they would show him something he had never seen since he was born.
“On December 28, 2017, they gathered, called me and asked why I was questioning their orders,” Chime said.
At that meeting, Chime claimed that his kinsmen asked him to vacate his apartment and move to the neighbouring compound, which he resisted.
He said: “I told them I cannot leave my father’s compound and, on January 5 this year, they called another meeting, where they told me that I have been warned to leave the compound, if they come again they would show me hell.
“Following the threat, I ran to our traditional ruler, HRH Ezego Patrick Ajah, and reported the matter. He invited us to his palace on February 18, 2018, where, after hearing the matter with the palace ruling council, he decided that I should give them three crates of soft drinks and two cartons of beer, as they had demanded. I agreed to give them the drinks but not that day because I didn’t have money. I appealed to them to give me till Saturday, February 24, 2018, to make the drinks available.
“The following morning, the entire women of Agbezi clan stormed my house in a mob action. They pulled my wife and I outside and ransacked my house and took us away. They tied me with a big rope as well as my wife. Then they smeared us with faeces, murky cassava water and dragged us round Amasiri before taking us to Esu River between Amasiri and Okposi where the SARS operatives intervened and rescued us.
“They took us to Afikpo Police Division, where the gentle police operatives gave us water to clean ourselves. They equally gave us clothes and provided us with food.”
On the allegation that he killed some members of the community with charms, Chime said he was a herbalist who cures diseases, stressing that he had never killed anyone.
Also, speaking to Daily Sun, Ezego Ajah described what happened to Chime and wife as “an abominable act that should be condemned.”
According to him, Chime reported that his kinsmen were after his life.
“We are three autonomous communities. I belong to Ndukwe Kingdom, Chime belongs to Opi autonomous community and the third one is Ezike or Amasiri autonomous community, from where the Opi and Ndukwe were created. The community accused Chime of using charms to kill some people and they invoked what we called eyiyegeje and I told them that the tradition has become archaic.”
He explained that he had written off the tradition in Amasiri, stressing that such obnoxious acts portray the community in bad light: “It shows that our people are barbaric. I invited the women of Amasiri, those we call Osunkpu nwanyi, fed them and we declared that the tradition was no longer part of our custom but, regrettably, when they went back to their various communities, they still indulged in it.”
He stated that he had already ruled on this matter on February 18, and asked them to accept only drinks from Chime: “After the ruling, both parties agreed to make peace. Chime also agreed to give them the drinks. I urged them to make peace that I don’t want to hear the kind of music that, if you hear in Amasiri, you will know that there is trouble, and they left my palace.
“Later that evening, I heard the eyiyegeje song. Immediately, I sent my palace messenger to go to their community to know what was happening. When he returned, he informed me that the Agbezi clan said they would punish Chime and his wife, who is from Mpu in Enugu State.
“The people of Mpu, Akeze, Igberi and Amasiri had a covenant that we don’t harm each other. The palace messenger told me that they said they would carry out that eyiyegeje because Chime refused to provide the drinks.
“I had to invite SARS to intervene because that action is barbaric. They quickly went and blocked them on the road and rescued the victims. Had they killed them, it would have resulted in a calamity in Amasiri because Chime’s wife is from Mpu community in Enugu State and we have a covenant of peace with them. The police have referred the matter back to me even when I told police to take the matter to court because the women lied against me.”
In her reaction, Mrs. Margret Amadi, denied all the allegations, stressing that she was not around when the meat in question was shared: “I don’t know the people that shared the meat as I was not around. But what I know is that meat was shared among a particular age-grade.”
Margret, however, admitted to have participated in the plot to lynch Chime and his wife for allegedly refusing to honour the community’s demands.
She said: “We told our men what transpired between us and Chime at the Ezego’s palace. He directed Chime to give us two cartons of beer and three crates of soft drinks but he refused to do so.”
On Chime’s offence, she said: “He was taking sides with a woman who was not always cooperative in the compound. She defied the custom of the community and the woman in question is the wife of his brother. That woman and Chime abused our women, saying that we smell. How could a man, who lives with a woman, say such an abominable thing?
“It is regrettable that Chime took sides with a woman who vehemently refused to divorce him as demanded by his kinsmen. That was the genesis of this matter.”
Chief Thompson Amadi described the incident as “a fabricated story,” stressing that he was not in the community when the incident took place.
“With the level of my education, I could not have condescended to telling people not to give him a share of meat or money. Somebody collected my own share of the money on my behalf because I wasn’t around. I never for a moment or a day denied Chime his share in the Agbezi clan. So, his allegation was informed by his hatred for me,” he said.
Amadi stated that Chime was fined because he provoked the women by saying that they smell.
The man in the eye of the storm, Mr. Chukwu Okuji, the husband of the said Mary, confirmed to Daily Sun that he actually wanted a divorce but Chime continued to interfere in his family matters.
Chukwu accused Mary, whom he said had two kids for him, of disrespect, stressing that she had no regard for any member of the clan: “Since we had the problem, the extended families in Amasiri came to settle the matter but she boldly told them that she was not going marry me anymore. Before then, the kindred had intervened to no avail. She insisted that she would not marry me. So, I decided that since she said she would not live with me, she must go back to her parents. I cannot be living in the same house with her while I continue to cook my food and she would equally be cooking separately in the same house.”
The head of the Agbezi clan, Ichie John Ediam, told Daily Sun that Chime brought the unfortunate incident upon himself. He added that Chime was lucky that the police intervened early enough.
Ediam said: “How could he have emboldened the wife of his kinsman to insult and disrespect the husband and the entire clan? What was his interest? Worst still, when the women stepped in to discipline her in a traditional way, he became an obstacle, which resulted in him allegedly calling the women ‘dirty-smelling-pigs’.
“The remark is a taboo in the entire Amasiri and when he was asked to provide three crates of minerals and two cartons of beer to appease their anger, he threatened members of the clan. That was the main reason eyiyegeje was invoked on him.”
Mrs. Mary Chukwu, in her response, told Daily Sun that she did not want to join issues with family members, noting that only God would judge them.
Also speaking, Chief Francis Ike, who said that eyiyegeje was handed down to any person that commits a heinous crime like murder in the community in 18th and early 19th century, described it as inhuman and it should be abolished.
According to him, “We have not had such incident or act of eyiyegeji in the recent past and we are doing everything humanly possible to abolish it. We have what we call Amasiri WhatsApp forum and in that forum everybody, including those in Diaspora, have condemned this act because what our people did to Mr. Chime and his wife is unfair.”
He stressed that the supposed crime didn’t merit such atrocious punishment and that was why everybody was kicking against it. Ike, however, alleged that someone (name withheld) was behind so many atrocities against poor people in the community.
“He is one of the people that always fabricate stories against poor people in our community,” he said.
He said that the evil mastermind was already coming to beg Chime to let the matter go because many people were taking an interest coming in the matter.
“Our people in Diaspora are coming into the matter. We want those involved to be punished according to the law of the land. What they did to Chime and wife was inhuman and against natural justices.
“Those in Diaspora in the forum have told us that they are going to send delegations to come down here to inquire why this should be happening at this 21st century. The video of what happened to Chime and wife have gone viral on the Internet and it is portraying our people as animals and primitive people.
“We don’t want to hear of the eyiyegeji again in our community and government should use this opportunity to ensure that is finally stopped. There is nobody that passed through eyiyegeji in Amasiri who is still living today. Those ones that they didn’t kill at the end of the exercise died within one year,” he said.
He claimed that it was always carried out against those that had nobody to speak for them and it was against fundamental the human rights of the people, “We want this obnoxious act abolished in Amasiri.”
Ike said those found culpable should be charged to court to serve a deterrent to others.