Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Igbariam community, popularly known as Okalakwu Kingdom, is a semi-rural community located in Anambra East LGA, Anambra State.
Blessed with vast arable land, the community hosts the popular Igbariam Farm Settlement established during the era of M.I. Okpara in Eastern Nigeria and the campus of Anambra State University, now renamed Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University.
Ironically, the very rich farmland of Igbariam had been some form of curse instead of blessing to it as the community had been embroiled in land dispute with their neighbours and others with vested interests since 1941.
However, Daily Sun learnt that some of the cases have been decided in Igbariam’s favour at one time or the other up to the Supreme Court but the aftermath had stalled peace and development there since the past seven decades.
Recently, after some painstaking efforts of the town union, led by Chief Jude Orizu, a wind of change started blowing in the area. This was part of the reason the town rolled out the drums recently to celebrate the return of peace and development.
Because landed properties appreciate in geometric progression, in a space of five years, the town became an emerging urban city with roads, schools, hospitals and viable markets springing up.
Narrating their experience over the years, Orizu recalled that, prior to his emergence as president-general in December 2014, the town had no relative peace, not to talk about development projects.
“It was like father against mother, children against parents and communities against communities. But as a responsibility is a burden to the proud and a challenge, we did not waste time to tackle the situation headlong.
“First was to reconcile all aggrieved parties, which propelled an enabling ground for the youths to be meaningfully engaged. The ban on the sale of land was liberated and individuals and communities now have viable source of revenue to cushion the effect of the economic crunch in the country.
“This singular gesture gave way for the old bottleneck administration and investors cashed on the opportunity to invest in our town, thereby creating job opportunities for youths who now have gainful employment in various companies doted across the community. Also, those who sold their land have something doing hence crime wave was reduced to the barest minimum in the town,” he said.
A stakeholder in the community, Chief Christopher Orakwe, from Irunabo village, said the community was celebrating over 32 projects built and presented to the people by the town union.
“These landmark achievements include peaceful sharing of 360.085 hectares of land returned to Igbariam community by Anambra State Government: in 1996, after an appeal by Igbariam Community through Prof. C.U. Ilegbune (Owelle), SAN, the then president-general of the town; Anambra State Government returned to Igbariam Community 15% of the total farm settlement land it holds in trust for her.
“This 15% measures approximately 360.085 hectares. Since that 1996 to 2015, a period of over 20 years, farm settlers in that portion of land refused Igbariam people easy entrance into the land through several court injunctions. This brought untold hardship to the indigenes who had hoped to use the land to solve their individual and collective problems,” Orakwe said.
He pointed out that Orizu went on his knees before the farm settlers and eventually settled the cases amicably through dialogue such that, by 2015, the community was able to share the land to its seven villages.
Orizu, while giving further insight into their achievements, said: “We also recognized and showed appreciation to some Igbariam great sons and daughters who demonstrated total commitment and even paid supreme sacrifice in the cause of this struggle. In an effort to recognize and give honour to whom honour is due, as agreed in Igbariam General Assembly, we gave five plots of land each to these personalities that have shown serious commitment and love for Igbariam town.”
Some of the beneficiaries were their traditional ruler, Eze N.N. Kelly, Prof. C.U. Ilegbune, and the late Igwe Henry Umeadi, the Ogalagidi I of Igbariam.
Orizu said his administration also built a 2,000-capacity civic centre with shops and offices, which they named “Unity Civic Centre,” to show that peace, unity, progress and happiness have returned to the community.
In separate speeches, Chief Egwuatu Ikwunne, Felix Nnana, the chairman of Ndichie and Ojiani Igbariam, the highest traditional ruling institutions in the town, respectively, said the community would ever remain grateful to the president-general and all those who had been instrumental to the return of peace and development in the town.
The octogenarian custodians of the town also poured libation of atonement and blessing to the president-general urging him to continue his leadership as there was no room for any election into his office.
They said the entire villages agreed and returned him unopposed to the office to complete the good work he had started in the community.