From Magnus Eze, Enugu
The people of Umualum, one of the 14 villages of Enugu Agu Achi autonomous community, otherwise called Umumba, in Oji River, Enugu State, are poised for a major showdown with their traditional ruler, Igwe Godwin Madu, Mbaogu II of Mbaogu Kingdom.
Their grievance stems from what they said were attempts by the traditional institution working hand in gloves with the president-general of the town union, Romanus Chukwu Udeoji, to trample on their right of freedom of worship. They accuse them of deciding where, when and how they practice their faith.
To show their total rejection of any form of abridgement of their right to worship, Umualum people took to the streets and marched to the palace of their Igwe in the early morning of Saturday, June 5, 2021.
But Igwe Madu said his actions were to forestall further escalation of crisis in Umualum village. According to him, he had “decreed that Umualum citizens are free to attend crusades anywhere on earth at their own costs; no crusades nor programmes will hold in Umualum and the entire Mbaogu Kingdom without a written approval from His Royal Majesty and the president-general of the town union; no land in Umualum and the entire Mbaogu Kingdom will be transferred to any visitor as gift or purchase without the written consent of HRM and the Nze of the village; Umualum citizens are enjoined to embrace rule of law, peace and love for one another for the progress of the village and the entire community.”
Investigations by Daily Sun revealed that trouble started December last year when a two-day crusade staged by Umualum village was reportedly disrupted on the orders of the traditional ruler.
The people of the area were said to have been disturbed by their seeming backwardness, which led them to seek spiritual solutions after one of their general meetings. It was in the process that a certain Prophetess Ginikachukwu Esomonu (Ada Zion), general overseer of Solution Prayer Charismatic Ministry, at Oji River Urban, was recommended to them. They then dispatched an emissary to the woman of God and followed it up with some of their people attending various programmes of the ministry at Dodo Layout, Oji River.
During Easter last year, Prophetess Ginika, on the invitation of Umualum people, visited the area and staged prayer session for them. We were told that her visit ushered in some positive things in the village and “opened doors.”
According to an indigene of Umualum, Ephraim Oluedo, aka Powered by God, the bone of contention was an attempt to disrupt their liberation crusade, tagged “Bless Me O Lord,” organised between December 29 and 30, 2020.
In his widely circulated letter to Umumba people, Ephraim Oluedo, treasurer of the town union and publicity secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Enugu State, said: “Before that crusade of December, we had already done the mini-crusade sometime last May/June, which was graced by the Archdeacon of Emmanuel Anglican Archdeaconry, while the Rev. Father in charge of St. Therese’s Catholic Church apologized for not being able to attend the programme the day we went for church thanksgiving to round off the mini crusade at St. Theresa’s, as we had done so at Emmanuel Anglican Church, Enugu Agu. He explained that he had already been engaged at Bishop’s Court, Awgu.
“It was after the crusade that we discovered that we recorded very great achievements, which now prompted and spurred both our people at home and Diaspora to this last one that generated these crises.”
He accused a prominent indigene of Umualum, whom he alleged had vowed not to allow the crusade take place, to have brought in Igwe Mbaogu just to perpetuate his actions.
His epistle, titled “Before I Die,” warned that leadership by oppression was a recipe for anarchy.
Disruption of crusade
It was alleged that while the crusade was in progress on December 29, 2020, a Hilux van, loaded with local and conventional security operatives, stopped at the Umualum venue. They allegedly descended on attendees at the crusade, beat them up and destroyed a lot of things there, including the amplifier, equalizer, one loud speaker, plastic chairs and canopies, among others.
The intruders were confronted and immediately rounded up, and they allegedly confessed that they were acting on the orders of the traditional ruler.
Before they were released, the woman of God prayed for them. Later that night, the divisional crime officer of Oji River Police Station, who had raced to the venue of the crusade, said they were alerted that an angry mob was planning to invade the home of the Nze of Umualum (cabinet chief), Dr. Eric Oluedo.
Ephraim Oluedo stated that the DCO, after seeing that the police were given false alarm and that the crusade was orderly, at that juncture, took the microphone and did a 37-minute sermon on the theme of the programme. He then left, promising that nobody would disturb them again.
According to Ephraim, he was told by PG Udeoji the following morning that the Igwe wanted to see him and Prophetess Ginika.
Though still aggrieved by the attack on the attendees of the crusade the night before, Ephraim said he decided to pay a surprise visit to the monarch with his village chairman, Kenneth Nnukwe (Kendo).
He said: “The meeting with Igwe Mbaogu and some of his highly placed chiefs was like a martial order not allowing me to explain anything to them. So, after their orders, I left Igwe’s palace with two statements: that my coming back in the evening with the woman of God, as their order appeared, depended on when she returned from Awka that evening and that ,whatever happened, I would fully support my people’s decision to opt for prayers as a resolve to solve our problems of backwardness.”
He said they eventually went to see the traditional ruler around 8pm but were informed that the he had gone to bed, only for the Igwe’s personal assistant, Okey Nze, to call back when the activities of the crusade had commenced that the Igwe was ready to meet with them. At that point, he said it was not possible to abandon the programme to go back to the palace.
Ephraim, who alleged that there had been threats to his life, including burgling of his apartment in Independence Layout, Enugu, all in a bid to either dissuade or distract him, said the new vista offered them by the December crusade made them take some progressive decisions in the village. He listed their decisions to include, among others, having weekly midweek prayers at Umualum, monthly prayers every last Friday in Oji River and building a prayer centre in the village since their Nze could lock them out of the town hall.
They also called on people to donate land for the prayer centre, and inaugurated a committee for the building of the centre and another committee for the disbursement of trust fund for youth development in the village.
Our reporter gathered that indigenes of Umualum at home and abroad were pleased by the wind of progress blowing in their hometown after the various prayers, hence, they raised over N8 million for youth a empowerment scheme.
It was further gathered that the tense atmosphere in the area was caused by attempts to construct the prayer centre at a piece of land donated by an indigene for that purpose in Umualum village.
Youth leader of Umualum, Kingsley Oluedo, told Daily Sun that some relations of the person that donated the land came and claimed that the family had not shared that particular tract of land.
Ephraim also wondered why they did so “when in Umualum we know that the donor is the bona fide owner of the land, but for peace to reign we left the place and sought a new place.”
Regardless, he said, to avoid any form of encumbrance, the chairman of the prayer centre committee and five others immediately donated their personal land.
It was at the point of laying the foundation for the centre on June 1, 2021, that trouble started again. The same family that had contested the previous land donated resurfaced to lay claim to the new location.
Prophetess Ginika, who had come to witness and pray at the site, was allegedly assaulted by a member of the protesting family, Obiri. He allegedly slapped her, broke her reading glasses and also threatened to cut her with a machete before the youths disarmed him of the weapon.
It was alleged that Obiri had made a call that prompted the presence of the Umumba Neighbourhood Watch, led by Mkpume Mbaogu. On arrival, the security team said that the Igwe had given them orders to stop work at the site.
But the police later arrested Obiri for allegedly assaulting the woman of God, though he was said to have been released from custody by the local government area chairman, Frank Udemezue.
At the moment, Ephraim Oluedo is asking that Umualum people should be allowed to go about with their individual, family and village prayers without further molestation. He also urged that his people be left alone to solve their problems of backwardness through collective prayers and trust fund for youth development.
Aside from asking that they should be allowed to build their prayer centre on the land donated for that purpose by individuals, he added that “Umualum demands to see the constitution of Mbaogu were hosting a crusade is a crime and when we know that around other villages in Umumba the same crusade went on and we are already covered by the law of the federation.”
Corroborating the foregoing, Kingsley, the Umualum village youth leader, said that his predecessor, Chibueze Chukwu, had in 2017 led a delegation to their Nze, Eric Oluedo, while seeking solution to the backwardness in the area but the effort was futile.
He revealed that the attack on participants in the December 29, 2020, crusade would have turned bloody if their youths were around when the attackers came.
“What saved the situation was that our village youths did not meet those who came and scattered things at the crusade venue,” Kingsley said.
The youth leader, who alleged that their Nze had said that no prayer programme or crusade will hold in the village except one organised by the Emmanuel Anglican Church, was convinced that “somebody is influencing the Igwe against the peaceful moves of Umualum people.”
De-escalating religious crisis
In their separate accounts, the traditional ruler, Igwe Madu, and PG, Udeoji, stated that their actions were to forestal crisis in the community.
According to them, the prayer activity organized by Prophetess Ginika earlier in 2020 was already causing ripples in Umualum, so they needed to avoid the escalation.
The Igwe said that there were heavy allegations against the prophetess, including that she was “sacked by St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Oji River, and was also alleged to be involved in child trafficking.” So, it was when the Nze of Umualum reported to the palace that the organisers of the December crusade did not get approval from him, that he now asked the PG to write and invite them to the palace.
In fact, the traditional ruler emphasized that it was failure of the crusade organisers to meet with him for the approval “before bringing an outsider into the community in line with the constitution of Mbaogu community and the Enugu State Chieftaincy Law,” that ruptured the whole situation.
He cited a similar incident brought to his attention sometime ago at Abor Umuori by the then Catholic Priest in Umumba, which was also stopped following confirmation from the Nze of Ndibemgbe.
Aside from ignoring his directive to obtain approval, the Igwe noted that the Catholic and Anglican priests in charge of their various denominations in the community had declined to attend the said crusade.
Igwe Madu said: “Genuine prayers and crusades bring peace, love and unity in the affected area. However, in the case of Umualum village, the once peaceful village has become a theatre of reported land disputes, family crisis, death threats, destruction of buildings, rendering of citizens homeless and arrests and detention of Ichie Mbaogu for resisting the forceful takeover of his land by the Imo State woman, all happening since the crusades and church construction.”
In an interview with President-General Udeoji, he explained that the community was being careful in handling religious matters as it could trigger big crisis. He claimed that over 50 families were currently at daggers’ drawn over accusations and counter accusations of tying people’s destinies.
Though Daily Sun could not sight the community’s constitution where issues of worship and others were allegedly captured, but the community leader said their actions were part of measures to have peace in the area.
He said that the decision of the Igwe-in-Council was neither against the woman of God nor the Umualum village.
“Our decision is that anybody is free to go to where the woman is doing programme at his own costs but if she wants to do a programme in any part of our community, she must come and we discuss and we will give her conditions. The condition is that there will be peace. What they are doing is a thing of the spirit. We don’t want a situation whereby she would come for a programme without approval and people will ambush themselves. No, there’s a village square in that our community, where we have a big deity called Okekpalakpala. People come there with cows from different walks of life.
“In spiritual matters like this, a programme might be on and before you know it, spirit enters somebody and it is set ablaze. What do you think would happen? So, we want to avoid religious-induced crisis.
“There are 17 Christian denominations in our community and we hold monthly meeting with them; we monitor them and they support whatever we do.
“But one problem we have in the community is prophesy. This has caused crisis in the place. So, if we don’t regulate them, we would have problem. The two dominant denominations in our community are Catholic and Anglican. In fact, the religious leaders in our community are on our community WhatsApp platform,” Udeoji said.
He washed his hands off the allegation of child-trafficking levelled against Prophetess Ginika, adding that there was already an internal crisis in Umualum village before the community’s intervention.
“We said we will not allow them to kill themselves; we want to resolve the issues. So, nobody is after the woman and her church; no one is after the people,” the PG said.
Peace efforts by council boss
However, following the intervention of the Oji River council chairman, Udemezue, a peace meeting was held at the palace on Saturday, June 26, with the Divisional Police Officer, Prophetess Ginika and some elders from her town in attendance.
According to the Igwe, the meeting followed called by the council boss and the DPO for the case reported against Ichie Ejike Obiri by the prophetess in which the LG boss took the suspect on bail to be resolved once and for all.
Daily Sun learnt that, at the meeting, Prophetess Ginika said that some people were bent on smearing her name with ridiculous allegations of child trafficking and that she was “sacked” by a Catholic parish. She insisted that the traditional ruler should prove the allegations or make a written apology to her since the issue had circulated in the social media. Igwe Madu reportedly apologised to her, promising to do a rejoinder.
In addition, as part of the settlement, the council boss paid for part of the damages claimed by Prophetess Ginika and promised to offset the remaining in July.
However, after the meeting, the Igwe made an addendum to his original directives. For emphasis, he added that there would be “no building of church or churches by Princess Ginika or her agents in Umualum or Umumba; no more Wednesday programme by Princess Ginika in Umualum or Umumba, no more crusade in Umualum or Umumba, unless with written approvals of His Royal Majesty.”
The traditional ruler further restated that “the existing rule that all land transactions in all the 14 villages of Umumba must have the approval of the village Nze and His Royal Majesty and that the law is still in force.”
Our investigation showed that the issue was far from being over. In an interview with Prophetess Ginika, she accepted any decisions taken by the community, vowing not to go to a place where she was not wanted.
The woman of God, who hails from Awa in Oguta LGA of Imo State, said she has run her ministry for over 25 years without any problems with anybody, adding that she never had any issue with anybody or community since 2016 when the then Parish Priest of St. Anthony Catholic Church, Oji River, Rev. Fr. Celestine Eze, brought her to the area.
The prophetess also dismissed the rumour that she was “sent out of St. Anthony Catholic Church,” saying that she left the parish on her own.
However, she insisted that the allegations against her must be proven or she would approach the court for redress.
“I had two successful programmes at Umualum before people went and told the Igwe some wicked things about me, including that I am into child trafficking. This came up when some persons donated land for us to build our ministry there. The local government chairman, area commander and DPO have all intervened. I am okay with whatever decision that’s taken but I want them to clear my name. The Igwe has begged me to forgive but that’s not enough. How can somebody tarnish my image and ask me to forgive? My name is at stake, so they must retract what they had written and circulated against me or I will sue them,” she said.
Meanwhile, some persons in Umualum have faulted what was circulated as the outcome of the peace meeting of June 26, at the palace. One of the representatives of the village, Ngozika Ogu told Daily Sun that the purported decision that they should get written approval from the Igwe before holding any religious programmes would not stand.
When contacted, the council chairman, Udemezue, was disturbed that the issue still lingered after his intervention. He declined to make further comments until he spoke with the DPO of Oji River. But he failed to keep to his word of getting back to us after speaking with the DPO.