Ben Dunno, Warri
The agrarian community of Idumuje Ugboko in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State, has been plagued by communal crisis, kingship tussle and land dispute for more than two decades. To put a permanent end to this, notable sons and daughters of the community have made frantic efforts to ensure peace but to no avail.
Chief Christopher Ogwu, Iyase (Traditional Prime Minister) of Idumuje-Ugboko, told Daily Sun: “We were living in peace until some people came in 2015 and decided that we should not have done what we did. In March 2015, our son, Prince Ned Nwoko, founder of Linas International came with an application asking to be given land for the establishment of a university and a golf course.
“As it has always been the case, when the Obi receives an application for land allocation, he sends it to the Onotu, which is me and a few other higher chiefs including Odogwu and Isama. We thought it was a good idea to start a university, a community that has been badly affected by economic distribution in Nigeria.
Now, Nwoko came up to say he wanted to build a university here and give people the opportunity to earn a living right at home. We were all happy and we cooperated with the king.
“We signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Linas that we (community) have 40 per cent equity in the project while Linas will take 60 per cent because we invested our land, 90 hectares. This is all on good records. Everybody was happy. As the Iyase, I believe due process was followed in the allocation of the land.
“The kingship tussle started in 1955 or even earlier. It has been whispered among the elites in the community that the royal family, originally came from the neighbouring village of Idumuje-Unor after an Odogwu title tussle because Nwoko was vying for that title in Idumuje-Unor and he lost that contest. The same Odogwu aspirant was a hunter and thereafter, he moved his hunting team to Idumuje-Ugboko and was here hunting.
“The tradition then was that, if you killed a big animal, you would give all of the parts it fell on as a present to the king. But because they were often on lengthy hunting tours and might not go back home for about six months, they dried these animals and took them in bags to the king.
“But then, there were other stories making the rounds that the king got married to a new wife. The new wife who was familiar with the story of the Odogwu title contest, advised the king against accepting the homage of Nwoko.
The king considered her advice and suspected that Nwoko might have some ulterior motives and might poison them. He agreed to the suggestion of his new wife.
“When Nwoko returned from his expedition and gave meat to the king he refused it. Instead, he said, ‘E gbue, e li,’ translated, ‘when you kill, you eat.’ The man (Nwoko) got out and began to shoot, celebrating his independence.
“Thereafter, he came to this place to establish a kingdom. Of course, there were other people here. But he was chosen as the most qualified man to rule having contested for the Odogwu title in Idumuje-Unor. There was nobody who had all the titles that he (Nwoko) had and so he became King.
“The story also has it that, after some time, there was a crisis here, the Ekumeku crisis, and some of them participated in that crisis. When the British came, he (Nwoko) escaped. Some persons came and supported the British against the reigning monarch.
“He and others were hunted down and taken, first to Ogwashi-Uku and then to Calabar. While they were there, these strangers who had occupied the palace established their own reign.
“Things went from bad to worse. The king, upon his release from Calabar prison, died en route home, under suspicious circumstances as people would say. And so, this new kingdom ruled by strangers continued to thrive.
“In 1955, the community decided that it was not good enough to be ruled by strangers. The people demanded that the title be made indigenous, as you cannot have strangers becoming king in your land. It was reasoned that it was best to have a native to be king.
“Since then, there has been this crisis but it was not popular. At a time, if you told this story, people would question your state of mind because the regent at that time died in 1955 and because of these questions asked, we did not have another king until 1981.
“In 1981, Obi Albert Nwoko became king. He became king because they had changed their name from Omorhusi to Nwoko. People grew up believing that it was the same Nwoko family but incidentally, it really was not. It was just a change of name from Omorusi to Nwoko, that was what happened and we have been talking about that.
“Today, we are in the middle of divisions, segregations, banishments to protect the interest of those who want to be king. When Obi Albert died in 2017, his son, Prince Chukwunonso Nwoko declared himself king contrary to our traditions. He declared himself king on the same night that his father was buried. People disagreed because things were not done that way and this was the genesis of the crisis.
“After five years of crisis, some peoplewere murdered in the process others were maimed. I walk with a limp as I was beaten by touts, hired by those opposed to the truth and justice. Many others were less fortunate than I am. The homes of many were burnt. My cars were destroyed. It is the same for all 29 persons who were victims of that crisis.
“The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) initiated peace. Unfortunately, it broke down because the people in the palace refused to do what they were asked to do which was to summon everybody who they banned. You cannot banish people from their community; you cannot say that one is no longer an indigene of Idumuje-Ugboko.
“Delta State Traditional Congress (Aniocha-North) led by former deputy governor, Benjamin Elue, tried to make peace for us but it fell apart because they also asked for the same equity. The Obi of Idumuje-Unor, Charles Chukwunweike Anyasi 111, tried spiritedly to mediate. On the day that the peace process was supposed to commence, the Crowned Prince, Nonso, wrote to inform him that he would not attend.
“The AIG (Zone Five, Benin) invited all the princes. He advised Nonso call a peace meeting but he never took that step. The Owa Oyibo, Emmanuel Efeizomor, who is the chairman of Delta State Traditional Rulers’ Council also called a peace meeting to no avail.
“In all this, Prince Ned Nwoko is speaking for equity and justice. He does not belong to any side; he does not even want to take sides. All he wants is to build a university and a golf course in his community, Idumuje-Ugboko. All the groups are his brothers, he has known them for a long time, grew up among them.
“The STARS University he is building is for everybody. It is the reputed as the first sports university in sub Saharan Africa. It would boost popular prestige for the community and attract progress, employment and unprecedented development for Delta and Nigeria in general.
“One thing to do is for us to purge ourselves of bitterness. Even the Scriptures say that we should forgive ourselves. I think that we will make better progress under the banner of peace and unity instead of a divided, war-torn community. If there is unity, we can plan together to advance the interest of Idumuje-Ugboko.”