From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
RESIDENTS of the sleepy community of Umudike Uzoakwa in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State are now living in anxiety and fear over a chieftaincy tussle, which has pitted some prominent indigenes against one another.
The tussle is over the rightful occupant of the seat of Ezealadike, a prominent position whose custodian represents the community in the palace of the traditional ruler of Ihiala known as the Oluoha-in-Council.
Daily Sun gathered that Umudike is made up of clans, comprising Ojinkeme, Anabi, Eleke and Akwaozo, who were originally children of the same father. Each of the four clans is headed by Ezeala, out of which the oldest Ozo titleholder among them becomes the Ezealadike, who then represents the community in the palace of the traditional ruler, Igwe Dr. C. I. Okechukwu.Though the process of choosing the Ezealadike appears simple, the community is no longer at ease and if nothing is done urgently to call the principal actors to order, the community might soon be engulfed in an unprecedented crisis, as some people who are not qualified are allegedly bracing up to occupy the seat. In a desperate attempt to settle the matter quickly, a source told Daily Sun that the Umudike General meeting was summoned on April 1, 2016. At the meeting, Chief Uchenna Nsofor was chosen as the Ezealadike because he is the oldest Ozo titleholder of the three contestants to the throne. The meeting, which was held at Mbaokpara, was attended by every section of the community, except the two younger clan leaders. The chairman of Umudike General Assembly, Chief Augustine Okafor, told journalists that it took the community a very long time to arrive at the choice of the Ezealadike, adding that all the contestants are rich and stable in their businesses and are also very useful to the community in many respects.“The contest was fierce and tough, which is not unexpected. But to handle it properly, we set certain criteria, like who the oldest Ozo titleholder is, the personality and character of each aspirant and what each of them could do for us.“The two oldest Ozo titleholders attended the meeting. The other two who are relatively younger Ozo titleholders did not attend the meeting. The reporter learnt that they were disqualified at an earlier meeting of two representatives from each kindred, which held on March 28 Chief Okafor said that the two Ezeala in attendance addressed the meeting and at the end of the day, the Ezealadike was chosen based on general consensus, noting that the second most senior Ozo titleholder was equally given a specific responsibility by the community.He, however, pointed out that the other two junior ranking Ozo titleholders, who are Ezeala of their clans would also be called upon at the appropriate time and be given certain responsibilities because all of them are needed to move Uzoakwa forward. Chief Okafor recounted that the animosity and acrimony that preceded the emergence of the new Ezealadike was monumental and expressed satisfaction that the issue was done with peacefully at the end of the day. “We cannot manipulate the process, there are laid down rules and regulations and I want to tell you that if anybody gets to the throne through fraudulent means, such person can be killed by Aladike. People normally go to the shrine in the olden days to swear to an oath that they are the oldest Ozo titleholder, but we removed that aspect of taking oath so as not endanger the lives of all the contestants. “I must also tell you that the Ezeala, who emerged the Ezealadike cannot afford to misbehave so as not to attract the wrath of Aladike. This is part of the reason we had to be very careful about who mounts the royal stool of Ezealadike.” The newly chosen Ezealadike, Chief Uchenna Nsofor, while commenting on his emergence, noted that he got the Ozo title in April 1968 while some of the other aspirants got the title in 2004. He noted that Ezealadike must be clean in and out and must also not have any case hanging on his neck. “The process of selection is simple but the entire community was subjected to an unprecedented tension because some of the candidates attempted to politicise what is purely cultural and traditional,” he said. Chief Nsofor alleged that the principal actor, a former member of the National Assembly was struggling to take what does not belong to him out of pride, sheer aggrandisement and ploy to manage the community’s vast and unique heritage. “The former member of the House of Representatives, if I must say, is even an Ezeala by proxy and if he must contest for the position of Ezealadike, he must wait until all the other nine villages in Uzoakwa say they are not interested in the exalted position.” When the reporter visited the community, there was still so much tension in the air. Even though a substantive Ezealadike had been chosen, there were allegations of threat to security, attempted kidnap and other intimidation plots against those who did not allegedly support the aspiration of the strong politician to become the Ezealadike of Uzoakwa. At the residence of the former member of House of Representatives (name withheld) to hear his side of the story, he was said to have travelled. When the reporter spoke with him on phone, the former lawmaker said emphatically that he was a young man and was not contesting for the disputed position.
But one of the community leaders, Chief Eugene Izuora, who also spoke with the reporter on the telephone, described the appointment of an Ezealadike, as mere rumour. He confirmed that two of the contending Ezealas were absent at the last general meeting. Chief Eugene stressed that he took the Ozo title in 1968 and that his opponent Chief Uchenna Nsofor’s father had not even taken the Ozo title at that time. Onowu Cornel Ohaneri advised that the rightful process was for the four contending Ezealas to get together and choose the most qualified among them to go to Oluoha’s palace. He said the title was not one to struggle or campaign for, explaining that the custom of the community was that whomever that struggles for the exalted stool would pay the supreme sacrifice. He said emphatically that the oldest Ozo titleholder is expected to mount the stool of Ezealadike, no matter his age. The reporter also visited the palace of Oluoha of Ihiala, Igwe Okechukwu, to know his position over the chieftaincy tussle in Uzoakwa. But an attendant at the palace said the royal father was only recently discharged from an undisclosed hospital and was not disposed to granting any interview at the moment.