Magnus Eze, Raphael Ede, Enugu, Okey Sampson, Aba, George Onyejiuwa, Owerri and Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
The warring communities of Eziagulu-Otu, Enugu-Otu and Mkpunando Aguleri, in Anambra East Local Government Area, Anambra State and their arch rivals, Odeke, Ihile and Echeno communities, Ibaji Local Government Area, Kogi State, sometimes last year, sheathe their swords thereby bringing all hostilities to an end.
The communities were embroiled in land tussle for over five years; which claimed many lives, but all that came to an end after a peace covenant was made.
Resolution of disputes through blood oath (Iko Mmee), it was gathered, is the most potent means of dispute settlement in the war torn communities and neighbourhood as death awaits defiant ones.
The peace covenant which was initiated by the Omabala Indigenous Youth Foundation, (OIYF) took place at the palace of the traditional ruler, Igwe Ifite-Ogwari, Alphonsus Ofuebe, in Nsukka, Enugu state.
At the venue, three people from each state, representing the three communities at war with their rivals, took the oath (Iko mmee) believed to be binding on all indigenes of the warring communities in both states. The three representatives from Kogi who swore to the oath included Chairmen of Odeke, Echeno and Ihile and they were Edwin Ajodo, Ezekiel Amajeh and Egwuna Gabriel while those from Anambra were, Chairmen of Eziagulu-Otu, Chief Obidike Eneanya, Enugu-Otu, Chief Joe Obiorah and Mkpunando/Agulu-Otu, Chief Igboanugo Ilochi.
In his post covenant speech, the OIYF Chairman, Comrade Simon Iyielioba said: “We salute you all and pray that this is the beginning of a new era in the history of the warring communities, as brothers reach out to their brothers for peace and lasting resolution to their differences in whatever form”.
The successful resolution of the land dispute between the neighbouring communities of Anambra and Kogi states has brought to the fore the place of blood oath in dispute resolution in Igbo land.
Many Ozo title holders believe that the traditional way was the best and most potent means of dispute resolution.
Traditional ruler of Umunneato Nguru autonomous community in Aboh Mbaise Council of Imo state, Eze Leo Nwokocha said that oath-taking has been one of the ways through which many communities resolved knotty issues especially land disputes.
Before this period, such traditional rites took place in shrines but he said that in recent times, many people go to the blessed sacrament of the Catholic Church for oath-taking; depending on their belief.
Although he noted that “taking false oath in a matter that you know very well is not true leads to death,” the traditional ruler said that blood oath had never been used to resolve family or land disputes in his area.
“Many people who have dispute which are mostly issues of land take their cases to Chokonaeze where you have the deity called Ala – ogbaga and the disputants will have the oath administered by the Ezemmuo of the deity (chief priest) and before he does that he would warn that any of them who takes a false oath should be ready to face the consequences including death,” he explained.
He further stated that, “One of the parties that had sworn falsely to claim the property would not live beyond a year after the oath. And when he dies the Ezemmuo would order that he must not be buried till the cleansing rituals have been performed in his family to forestall further deaths of any member of the family. Even those who supported him will also suffer the same consequences.”
Eze Nwokocha also disclosed that the man who eventually won would also have to thank the deity for what it has done for him. “If the man or woman who had been redeemed by the deity failed to show appreciation the deity will come for its pound of flesh so it a two-edged sword.
But these days those who have dispute instead of going for resolution at a shrine now go to the Blessed Sacrament at the Catholic Church where such oath takes place if they must do that”.
His counterpart of Ogui Nike, in Enugu state, Igwe Tony Ojukwu described it as an excessive determinant in issue resolution in that it is the final stake in an issue.
The monarch who is against oath taking encouraged anymore parties in dispute to go to court and settle their matter because the resultant effect of oath is death.
According to Igwe Ojukwu: “Those who are going to swear the oath are warned in their families to be mindful; some are even bared from taking the oath on behalf of any section because it is decisive. The final consequence is death. If you are guilty, you will die within a space of time. In some places, if you take an oath and you are guilty you are expected to die within a month or two; in some instances within four market days, depending on the seriousness of the matter. So, oath-taking is a decisive action on issues and people are very, very afraid or resist being pushed to oath-taking because it is final”.
The Ezeoko 1 of Ehere autonomous community in
Obingwa Local Government of Abia State, Eze Young Nwangwa, admitted that there took blood oath in his community before now.
A part from using blood oath-taking to resolve disputes, he said sometimes it is applied when someone wants to engage a wife. “The two parties used to go and take blood oath to affirm that none of them will divorce the other. This is done so that when any of the spouses remembered it, he would dare not think of marrying another person. In this regard, it became a kind of vow. The blood oath taking was in phases – ‘I am taking this blood for the fact I am saying the truth’ and the other is to show fidelity”, he said.
Has the monarch resolved any dispute in his community through blood oath? The monarch has this to say, “No, I am a Christian and as such, such things are not done in my domain; I don’t try that. It is against the Christian doctrine because if you take it, that means you are worshipping another god; you are inviting Satan into the system, that’s the meaning”
Eze Nwangwa said as at the time they were practiced it, it was a potent weapon for resolving conflicts because once anybody took it; it went a long way to show that the person was innocent of whatever accusation levelled against him or otherwise.
However, in Amagu Ikwo, Ikwo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, oath taking is used to settle disputes but the people said it does not involve blood. The traditional ruler of the community, Eze Dominic Alo told our correspondent that it applies to those who believe in it.
“Yes, we apply traditional oath. This is because a lot of people, when they are engaged in certain dispute especially on land matters, when it is becoming too difficult to resolve, the only way to settle it is to take traditional oath. And it is that person that claims he knew about it that will take the oath. That is how it is normally done”, he clarified.
Even as the monarch said that he has never administered traditional oath on any of his subjects given his Christian faith, he however revealed that some members of his cabinet who engage in traditional worship carryout the task when necessary.
He said: “I am a practising Christian. I am Knight of St. John International and of course, I am a catechist in my own parish; in fact, patron of the parish catechists.
“I believe it exists because those who practice it take it. For me, I have never administered oath on any Christian either on land (matter) or any other thing. I have never done it. I have never insisted on it but it is normally done to prove certain things in my community. Our own doesn’t involve blood. It is normal oath taking. ‘If I did this, by so, so time let so, so thing happen to him…’ It does not involve blood.”