Okey Sampson, Aba
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” This was Jesus Christ’s injunction as captured in the Good Book, Mark 12:17. In most, if not in all cases, defiance to this divine dictum always attracts catastrophic repercussion. Take this: the traditional ruler of Ipupe autonomous community, Eze Chima Bob Ubiaru, a retired army captain, with the combination of military and royal gaiety, played into the hands of this divine dictum and he presently has an unpalatable tale to tell. For those who do not know, Ipupe is a sleepy community along the Umuahia/Ubakala highway of Abia State and nature in its free will, did not allow it enjoy many men of opulence and it was for this reason that when compensation money came their way from the NIPP and their monarch went for a cock-and-bull story, they never took it lightly.
Eze Ubiaru’s road to jail began in 2007. According to Pastor Ben David, secretary general of Ipupe Autonomous Community, it was the year the National Independent Power Plant (NIPP), working in consonance with Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC) came calling in their community. NDPHC/NIPP was constructing electricity transmission lines from Enugu through Umuahia to Ikot Ekpene in Akwa Ibom State. It happened that the lines would pass through a sacred forest at Ipupe where the community’s 16 shrines were housed. For the lines to pass the sacred forest, the community insisted the shrines must be relocated. Based on this, the community’s monarch, Eze Ubiaru wrote NIPP, demanding N126, 152, 800 to aid the relocation exercise.
After several discussions, the company on January 14, 2011 paid Ipupe community N60m compensation which was paid into the monarch’s First Bank account number 3302010011611 (before the NUBIAN account number was introduced). This was said to be based on the advice of the then governor of the state, Sen. Theodore Orji, a move that was later described as an unwise advice by a state High Court judge.
David revealed that as soon as the N60m from NIPP hit the account of Eze Ubiaru, he refused to let anybody in the community know about it; instead he allegedly went about spending the money as if it was his.
“When the money was paid, the traditional ruler did not tell anybody in the community”, David started. Going further he said, “Rather, it was through people from a neighbouring village we got to know that NIPP paid some money to the community for the relocation of her shrines”.
Not happy with their monarch, Ipupe people confronted him with the issue. Eze Ubiaru reportedly agreed with some air of reluctance of receipt of the compensation money, but lied to his people that the amount was N20m.
When the community according to David got information of the true amount, they again summoned their traditional ruler and tabled the fresh information before him. It was then Eze Ubiaru upped the amount to N30m, but claimed he used N10m to settle some unnamed people who facilitated the payment. “When the heat was on for the traditional ruler to tell us the actual amount NIPP paid to the community, instead of doing that, he decided to use his connections as a retired army captain to harass our leaders. He succeeded in taking 15 of them to Abuja under the spurious allegation that they threatened his life. The men were later brought back to Umuahia where they were tried in court and set free”.
The ICPC connection
Exasperated by Eze Ubiaru’s actions, the community petitioned the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). Based on the weighty nature of the petition, officials of the Commission carried out detailed investigations, which showed that the monarch became a “Father Christmas”, unilaterally gave part of the money to his friends and relations including his son based in Lagos, the Clerk of Abia State House of Assembly, John Pedro Irokansi and one Lekia from Ogoniland in Rivers State (a juju priest said to have been given N40m). While Irokansi was said to have cashed and given back the N10m to the monarch, the same could not be said of the money Ubiaru gave to his son.
No shrine relocated
During investigations, it was discovered that despite the fact the traditional ruler claimed he paid N40m of the NIPP compensation money to Lekia, the juju priest, none of the 16 shrines in the sacred forest of Ipupe was relocated as investigations showed they would not have been relocated without the knowledge of the community’s chief priests who are the ministering priests to the shrines. When this reporter visited the sacred forest, the shrines were still there, but David said the transmission lines passed through it as a result of temporary appeasement made to the gods. After the investigations, however, ICPC came to the conclusion that the monarch had questions to answer. For instance, it was discovered that Eze Ubiaru put N10m of the amount in a fixed deposit account in his name and bought shares worth over N1m from Dangote Cement, FCMG, Guinness, NBL and Nestle. He nonetheless sold out the shares on August 26, 2015.
Monarch in court
Having been reasonably convinced that the monarch put his hands in his community’s till, ICPC on March 31, 2016 dragged Eze Ubiaru and his younger brother, Iyke Patrick Ubiaru who served as the secretary of the Eze-in-council before Justice Agwu Umah Kalu of the Abia High Court sitting at Umuahia on a three-count charge that bordered on fraud. In court, officials of NDPHC/NIPP testified of paying the same money to the traditional ruler, while staff of First Bank admitted the bank received the N60m from NIPP on behalf of the monarch and disbursed same as he directed. Lastly, representatives of the Ipupe community denied they received the compensation money from their monarch. The court based on facts before it found Eze Ubiaru guilty of diverting money meant for the relocation of the shrines in the sacred forest for his personal use.
Plea for leniency
Before the court’s hammer fell on him, Eze Ubiaru, in his late 70s, pleaded for leniency. He said, “My Lord, I plead for leniency. I am aged and I have a lot of duties to carry out in my family and community. I pray you temper justice with mercy”.
In delivering judgment, Justice Kalu said: “I cannot express my disappointment enough at the convict who as a retired military officer and currently a traditional ruler, was expected to demonstrate the highest level of discipline and probity in all his dealings. He betrayed the confidence the indigenes of Ipupe autonomous community reposed on him as their traditional ruler. Rather than protecting the interest of his people, the convict allowed shameless greed to turn him to a life of crime”.
Going further, the Judge reminded that: “Always, it is important to pass the message that corruption does not pay. In this situation, we have the need to justly punish the offender and deter him and other people in future from committing offences of the same or similar character and censure the type of conduct engaged in by the offender”.
Perhaps, moved by Eze Ubiaru’s plea, the court however sentenced him to a fine of N3m or in default, go to jail for two years.
Appeal against judgment
A rattled Eze Ubiaru picked hole rightly or wrongly in the court’s judgment and appealed against it. In June this year, the Owerri Division of the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling of the court of first instance.
Ipupe community’s reaction
Ipupe community appears excited about the conviction of their monarch and has appealed to Abia State government to remove him as their traditional ruler. In a letter to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu through their lawyer, Chief A.N. Okezie titled “Kindly remove HRH Eze Bob Chima Ubiaru,” the community requested for the removal of the monarch as the traditional ruler of Ipupe community because he is now an ex-convict.
Lending credence to the letter, one of the community leaders who gave his name simply as Oguzie said the community wants Ubiaru to go. According to him, “Our people are not happy that this type of man should be allowed to continue to sit on the throne of Ipupe”. Already, the community has apointed a Regent in the person of Chief Anthony Atubo saying that nature abhors vacuum.
When Saturday Sun got Eze Ubiaru on his mobile phone, the monarch was not forthcoming on whether he will proceed to the Supreme Court to challenge his conviction.