It has been a peaceful agrarian community now filled with tension as two individuals are laying claim to the traditional throne of the community. OKECHUKWU ONUEGBU writes on the mood of the community.
In Ogbunka, Orumba South local government area of Anambra state, two persons are laying claims to the traditional stool. The duo, Blueprint gathered are Igwe JohnMark Anyaoha and Igwe Forster Ihejiofor, all yet to receive certificate of recognition from the state government.
How the tension started
Anyaoha, it was learnt, was crowned on December 2, 2020 by few persons in a traditional rulership election observed by a team from the Anambra State Ministry of Local Government, Chieftaincy and Community Affairs, while Ihejiofor was crowned on December 5, 2020 and reportedly enjoys the support of almost the entire populace including the youths, elders and ruling class of Ogbunka.As a result, the agrarian community endowed with both human and material including iron ore, granite and clay deposits, has not known peace as the crisis has degenerated into protests and counter protests with pressure on the state government to or not recognise any faction.A community leader, Chief Mathew Ezeabiakwa, who introduced himself as the traditional prime minister of Ogbunka, told Blueprint that JohnMark emerged through a peaceful process that is in line with the chieftaincy constitution of Ogbunka and the Anambra state traditional rulers law.“Ogbunka has a constitution and Anambra state has traditional rulers law. You can find out the truth from the commissioner for local government, town union and chieftaincy matters or the special adviser to the governor on town union matters. We followed the Anambra state law and the constitution of Ogbunka before crowning our king, Igwe Johnmark Anyaoha. “There is no problem in my community. The Igwe’s cabinet crowned Igwe Johnmark according to the constitution of Ogbunka and the constitution of Anambra state law,” Ezeabiakwa added. According to him, “We wrote the village that was supposed to produce the next Igwe and they sent two persons, Dr Forster Ihejiofor and Chief Johnmark Anyaoha and two of them completed forms before the Igwe’s cabinet. They paid N250,000 each and appeared on January 22 and 25, 2020 respectively.” The community has five villages of Awuka, Isiokpu, Umunebo, Agbana and Akwaoba.
Setting out the records
But the chairman, Ogbunka Cabinet Chiefs, Chief Chris Ifeanacho, disputed Chief Ezeabiakwa’s claim, noting that the faction went contrary to Ogbunka traditional ruler’s constitution (1985) as amended by electing JohnMark.“We just heard that few individuals gathered at night 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 Johnmark is now the Igwe Ogbunka but the Igwe Ogbunka we know for now is Igwe Dr Forster Ihejiofor and for peace to reign in Ogbunka, we are begging Governor Willie Obiano not to issue any certificate of recognition to the wrong person,” Ifeanacho stated.He said that Dr Forster was installed by the representative head of the most senior village which, according to him, is Isiokpu in Ogbunka who incidentally is the custodian of Ogbunka traditional symbol of authority, the ofor Ogbunka, Chief Samuel Ikedi whom he said convened the meeting for the installation on December 4, 2020.“Our method of selecting a traditional ruler is enshrined in the Ogbunka Chieftaincy constitution of 1985 as amended. The constitution stated that Igweship in Ogbunka should be rotational, starting from Awuka village and in total obedience to this constitution, Ogbunka has given Awuka village the opportunity to select Igwe Ogbunka in line with what the constitution says .“The constitution also stated that the eldest family in the eldest village would install Igwe Ogbunka and in line with the dictates of the constitution, the Isiokpu village has the staff of authority of Ogbunka (Ofor) and that was where the HRH Igwe Forster Ezenwa Ihejiofor emerged and installed to the knowledge of all elders and stakeholders. I have not seen the kind of crowd that trooped out the day he was crowned. He danced from Orie market to his father’s house and to his own personal house.“All the Ogbunka people, old and young, men and women, the youth, children were all present. The eldest family in Ogbunka, Umudiala, represented by Chief Felix Ike performed the installation ceremony. So we did not in any way derail from the constitution. We had another good person, Prof Promise Okpala who also indicated interest but stepped down for Dr Foster,” he added.
Appeal for calm
On his part, the special adviser to Governor Obiano on community liaison, Owelle Godson Obi, appealed to the two factions and their supporters to remain peaceful while imploring the governor to hearken to the people’s cry not to issue certificate of recognition to the wrong person. Obi, who is the former chairman, Orumba South LGA and former state assistant treasurer of the All Progressive Grand Alliance ( APGA), said they were never against the government they have benefitted from but only want the people’s choice to prevail over the minority.”We are still pleading with this government to do the right thing and the right thing is to give the certificate of recognition to our Igwe-elect, Dr Forster Ezenwa Ihejiofor. I am speaking on my personal capacity as Owelle Ogbunka and a foremost king maker in this town. Nothing is confusing about the Igweship stool of Ogbunka. I ruled with the late Igwe and we ruled very well.“If there is a place where they gather and said that Chief Johnmark would be Igwe of Ogbunka, I, Owelle was not there and would not be part of such discussion. “So, there is no how Johnmark would be an Igwe of Ogbunka without the chiefs and king makers. One person does not make a king. So, my appeal to our amiable governor is very simple because Ogbunka community is a lover of peace and all the things we do including this Igweship thing. We anchor it on peace because without peace, there would be no progress. The government should recognize Igwe-elect Dr Foster Ihejiofor (Igwe Ohazurume )as the choice of the people of Ogbunka, “ he noted.
Youth association sues for peace
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Also, Ogbunka Youth Association in a communiqué issued at the end of its emergency meeting held on January 15 2021 upheld the election of Ihejiofor and asked the state government to abide by that.The communiqué was signed by general president of the association, Comrade Ezendu Chisom Ifeanyichukwu and the leadership of the five village youths namely, Awuka youth leader, Comrade Okoli Chinedu; Isiokpu youth leader, Comrade Umeh Nnaemeka; Agbala youth leader, Comrade Anula Micheal; Umunobe youth leader, Comrade Anyacho Ignatius; and Akwuoba youth leader, Comrade Ezeabikwa Chidozie.A part of it reads, “Ogbunka has been without a traditional ruler for the past 12 years after the demise of our late Igwe Esiobu. On 5th of December 2020, the traditional leaders of the entire five villages of Ogbunka, the Amala, titled chiefs, red cap chiefs and kingmakers of Ogbunka, gathered in a general ceremony in the presence of Ogbunka Development Union and the general public to elect the true King of Ogbunka, HRH Igwe Ohazurume Chief Dr Forster Ihejiofor, Nka 1 of Ogbunka. “The ‘offor’ or symbol of authority was also publicly handed to our new Igwe.“In addition, on the 7th of January 2021, the heads of all traditional authority in Ogbunka ancient Kingdom, the individual heads of all five villages in Ogbunka and holders of the village symbols of authority also gathered to present HRH Igwe Dr Forster Ihejiofor, with a formal letter of recognition as the Igwe of Ogbunka Kingdom. Today, we the general body of Ogbunka Youth Association, also publicly declare HRH Igwe Dr Forster Ihejiofor as the duly-elected and constitutionally-recognized Igwe of Ogbunka kingdom.”“We want to use this opportunity to alert all legally constituted authority, including the police, the military and all security operatives, Anambra state government, traditional rulers in Anambra state and all peace-loving citizens of Anambra state that we the youths of Ogbunka would not sit by and allow one man try to truncate the will of the people of Ogbunka. We plead with the government of Anambra state and security operatives to support us and work in line with the will of Ogbunka people.”Contacted, a public relations officer in the Ministry of Local Government, Chieftaincy & Community Affairs, Mr Henry Nwasike, exonerated the ministry from the crisis rocking Ogbunka, maintaining that they were only invited to observe the selection of Chief Anyaoha which they did, but the other camp that elected Dr Foster Ihejiofor failed to invite the ministry to observe what they did.He, however, assured that government would not issue any certificate to any of the two traditional rulers elect in Ogbunka until the issue is amicably resolved.