A community in Orumba South local government area of Anambra state has become the latest to be torn-apart by traditional rulership tussle following recent controversial emergence of two candidates for the vacant position. OKECHUKWU ONUEGBU reports.
When the traditional ruler of Ogbunka, Igwe Charles Esiobu joined his ancestors in August 2008, expectations were high that his successor would emerge through a peaceful and transparent selection process. Esiobu’s 32-year reign had seen the town blessed with rich human and material resources.
Although the community had envisaged a quicker and seamless transfer of the crown, 12 years and six months after the monarch joined the ancestors, the community is still enmeshed in internal strife.Investigation shows that even as the community had in line with its kingship rotational policy mandated Awuka village to produce Esiobu’s successor, power-play by some Igwe’s cabinet members had culminated in the emergence of two candidates.
Controversies trailing the constitution of factional Ogbunka traditional cabinet, led by Chief Chris Iheanacho and Chief Mathew Ezeabikwa respectively eventually led to the selection of Dr Forster Ezenwa Ihejiofor and Chief Johnmark Anyaoha now laying claim to the crown. While Ihejiofor has the backing of many villagers, including the youths and women, Anyaoha is said to be riding on his connection with some cabal within the state government.
Investigation shows that Chief Ezeabikwa’s status as chairman of Igwe’s cabinet and traditional prime minister of Ogbunka was challenged in court in 2014 by a former president general of the community, Obed Ilodigwe and four others.
The plaintiffs had prayed the court, among other things, to declare that parading himself as the chairman of the cabinet of Ogbunka town was unconstitutional and a declaration that the then PG, Obed Ilodigwe, be allowed to control the activities of Ogbunka community.
While Iheanacho described Ezeabikwa as impostor, the defendant insisted that his claim of chairmanship was legitimate.
Ezeabikwa however recalled how he became chairman. “Engr Ogujiuba was the traditional prime minister while Chief Esiobu was the chairman of Igwe’s cabinet. Both of them died in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Their demise made the positions fall on me with letters of authentication to back it up.”
However, investigation revealed that contrary to Ezeabikwa’s letter, Ogbunka community constitution states that it’s only a traditional ruler that has the powers to appoint a traditional prime minister for the community and not Igwe’s cabinet or Palace Secretary.Ezeabikwa’s claim was also contrary to the Ogbaru High Court Judgment of July 16 2019 presided over by Justice A.O. Okuma ruled that there was no evidence that he was appointed the vice chairman.
The crown tussle
The process leading to the selection of Esiobi’s successor took a controversial turn in January 2020 when a factional group known as ‘Ogbunka Igwe-in-Council’ wrote a letter to the state government dated January 27, 2020 and signed by Chief Mathew Ezeabikwa, notifying it of readiness to conduct a traditional ruler election on February 15, 2020.The following day, another faction which recognised Chief Ernest Onyekarusi as chairman, Chief Ephraim Emebo as secretary and Chief Godson Obi as Owelle of the community also wrote to the state government declaring their intention to conduct a traditional ruler election on February 22, 2020.
After receiving both letters, the state government in a letter to the president general of the town cancelled those proposed elections.
The letter reads, “In view of the two different dates from the two groups, the state government has cancelled the election for the new traditional ruler of Ogbunka community. Government would invite the affected stakeholders to a meeting on a date to be communicated later on a way forward as well as agree on a unanimous date and mode of the election.”
Ogbunka indigenes were still waiting for the government’s proposed new date when news flittered in on December 2, 2020 that Chief Anyaoha had emerged the new traditional ruler of the community, a development that didn’t go down well with the supporters of Dr Ihejiofor. Although Anyaoha’s controversial selection was witnessed by officials of the state Ministry of Local Government, Town Union and Chieftaincy Affairs, security personnel among other stakeholders, the exercise was largely viewed by a section of the community as a betrayal.
Those who spoke to this paper on condition of anonymity said it was an injustice for government to ask them to suspend the selection process only to attend a declaration of somebody who the community did not choose as their traditional ruler. Hours after the controversial selection, hundreds of aggrieved villagers from Ogbunka stormed the Government House to protest what they alleged as self-installation of someone as the traditional ruler of the community. The commissioner, Ministry of Local Government, Town Union and Chieftaincy Affairs, Chief Greg Obi, who spoke through Chris Mmadu, assured the protesters that the government would look into their grievances and take proactive measures to ensure peaceful resolution of the impasse.
The crisis, however, took a dramatic twist two days later when on December 4, 2020, the members of Amala Ogbunka, title holders, red cap and cabinet chiefs, nominated Chief Ihejiofor as their new traditional ruler. His installation followed the next day amidst pomp and ceremony.
Ihejiofor, whose emergence was well attended, said he was confident that Governor Willie Obiano would respect the wishes of Ogbunka people who chose him as their new traditional ruler.
“Since my people have chosen me, the government would respect their wishes. As far as I’m concerned, there is no crisis in Ogbunka, only that some over ambitious persons want to plug the community into crisis but God would not allow that.”The factional chairman of Igwe’s cabinet, Chief Chris Iheanacho gave his perspective into the Ogbunka chieftaincy crisis. “In line with the dictates of the constitution, the Isiokpu village has the staff of authority (Ofor) of Ogbunka and that was where Dr. Forster Ezenwa Ihejiofor emerged and installed the knowledge of all elders and stakeholders. The eldest family in Ogbunka, Umudiala, represented by Chief Felix Ike performed the installation ceremony.
When asked about the emergence of Chief Johnmark Anyaoha, Iheanacho said: “We just heard that few individuals gathered in his house and made him igwe. It came as a surprise to us. I don’t even know where he was installed and how he was installed. There was no invitation to any person. We just woke up to hear that John Mark is now the Igwe Ogbunka but the igwe Ogbunka we know for now is Igwe Dr Forster Ihejiofor. For peace to reign in Ogbunka, we are begging Governor Willie Obiano to issue a certificate of recognition to him.
“In 2013, Ogbunka unanimously agreed that Chief Mathew Ezeabikwa won’t hold any elective or appointive position in Ogbunka through a no confidence vote because of his divisive tendencies and misdemeanor. We crowned Igwe Forster because of the good things he has attracted for our community.”When asked for his view, Ezeabikwa dismissed claims that he was sacked by the community. He equally insisted that Chief Anyaoha was selected as new monarch according to the chieftaincy constitution of Ogbunka and the Anambra state traditional rulers law.
Also speaking, another elder, Chief Donatus Okoro expressed surprise that Ihejiofor who submitted himself for screening before Ezeabikwa and other screening committee members is claiming that he (Ezeabikwa) is not the chairman of Igwe’s cabinet and our traditional prime minister. “He filled the nomination form and submitted himself to the Igwe in council/screening committee. He also paid the non refundable sum of N250,000, yet, he claims that chief Ezeabikwa is not Onowu”.
This claim was also verified as the nomination forms of Chief Johnmark and Dr. Forster proved that the two aspirants recognized the igwe’s cabinet that formed the screening committee.
Youths take stand
Meanwhile, the Ogbunka Youth Association has warned those behind the crisis to desist or face their wrath even as they declared Ihejiofor as the authentic traditional ruler-elect of Ogbunka. In a communique, the youth group declared that the election of Ihejiofor as Igwe Ohazurume, Nka 1 of Ogbunka last December was in accordance with the constitution of the town. “We declare HRH Igwe Dr Forster Ihejiofor as the duly elected and constitutionally recognized Igwe of Ogbunka kingdom. “Our problem is that Mr JohnMark Anyaoha crowned himself King. That is never done in Igboland.”
Gov’t assures of peaceful resolution
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In the meantime, Governor Obiano has dismissed speculations that his government has recognized Chief Anyaoha as the new traditional ruler of Ogbunka. Obiano who spoke through Mr. Greg Obi reassured Ogbunka people that he was committed to resolving the crisis. “It is communities that select their traditional ruler after which there is a procedure for recognition of who becomes the traditional ruler. From your complaints, it looked as if the government went to Ogbunka and enthroned one person to become the traditional ruler. It is not true and we don’t do such things. Government has not recognized anybody as the traditional ruler of the community.”