…it’s cheap blackmail, says Igwe Nbamalu
The seeming love lost between Governor Willie Obiano and most of the nearly 177 monarchs in the state is a source of grave concern to the indigenes of the state.
What with the sweeping suspension of no fewer than 13 monarchs in the state for one year, and the speed with which the state government encouraged replacement of some of them so far, while more communities are rearing to replace theirs too.
These included Igwe Alex Edozieuno of Mkpunando Aguleri community who was replaced by the newly enthroned Igwe Johnson Onyeka-Mbanefo and that of Aguleri Otu who has since been replaced too. And the speed with which Obiano certified the Mkpunando-Aguleri and Aguleri-Otu subtly exposed the complicit role of the state government in the entire rat race.
It is curious that majority of these monarchs were personally certified by Obiano. Again, when they were merely placed on suspension, what was the reason for hurriedly issuing certificates of recognition for their replacements?
Some have also argued that since the rumpus was tacitly given backing to by certification of the new monarchs, the governor has indirectly encouraged communities with issues about their traditional rulers to come up once more.
A section of the indigenes of Alor, the home of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige did not waste time to key into the footsteps of Mkpunando Aguleri and the Aguleri Otu communities in selecting a replacement for their embattled monarch.
It could therefore, be same opportunity that the people of Ojoto community were trying to draw official attention to Igwe Gerald Mbamalu who has remained in the eye of the storm over his alleged tough administrative style and the manner he ascended the throne.
The simmering bubble however, appeared to have burst last weekend when the Ojoto Elders Council and Otu Omenana respectively took their concern to another level. In a documented seven-point petition, the groups jointly and severally took over the Anambra governor’s office to express despair over the series of alleged infractions on their customs, culture and tradition by Mbamalu.
Consequently, they prayed the state government to prevail on him to undertake the purification processes as reparation for the alleged abominations he committed and thereafter go through the traditional crowning process as customarily required of any would-be Igwe of the community.
They also said he should be compelled “to start showing some degree of respect to Ojoto people, her custom, culture and tradition, ” even as they requested that the state government compel him to disband an illegal task force which has been going about selling people’s lands and imposing levies on people.
They said these and many others not captured here have created tension and uncertainty in the community which may snowball into breakdown of public peace.
As a peace loving people, the Otu Omenana urged that Mbamalu be compelled to correct all the issues listed in their letter of November 8,2020 to Governor Obiano, including shelving his proposed maiden Ofala festival, until the issues are tackled peacefully.
However, Mbamalu saw it differently, stating that the stand of Otu Omenana and any such other group is as an act of disloyalty. He said a group suddenly commenced sand excavation in the community at a location that was constituting major threat to citizens and that he consequently wrote to complain to the state government and other agencies..
Sadly, he said, not much has been achieved in that regards. He said he was not relenting. Igwe Mbamalu also wondered what Otu Omenana has to do with collection of levies in the community.
That in his view, the group is merely rabble rousing as the content of their letters were cheap blackmail meant to give the world erroneous impression that there is crisis in Ojoto. Even the President General, Chief Anozie, during the briefing disclosed he has intervened in all the grey issues in the community and that the paramount, “…not any form of agitation or bickering like the ones by Otu Omenana.”
A traditional doctor, Anthony Uzokwe, Nnanyelofor of Ojoto, who is leader of chief priests that oversees the different shrines and deities in Ojoto, said, “Igwe Gerald Mbamalu has brought untold odious pains and agony to us as the custodians of culture/tradition of our community.
We are the spiritual compass that guides conducts of all citizens. We ensure that no one takes any action that would derail the positive life of Ojoto. “It is then heartbreaking when it turns out to be the Igwe who is now in the eye of the storm.
It’s such that as conscience of the community, my forebears come almost every night to demand from me what was going on. I was consequently mandated to speak up, else I will bear the physical, spiritual and social consequences. After sharing my predicament with my members, I know it was time to take the message to the Igwe so as to save myself and family from the repercussions.
“How can anyone excuse a situation where during our Ikpukpo festival held at Ire village one masquerade flogged someone and Mbamalu was notified; he stormed the venue along with his team of armed policemen and pounced on the masks. Despite all the pleadings by well meaning people present, he ignored them and engaged two masquerades in fisticuffs, gripping them by the heads until he succeeded in unmasking them there and then in public.
The entire crowd erupted in despair and unbridled condemnation for his act. This is a taboo of the highest order in Ojoto community, hence the gods need to be appeased,” he said.
However, in his reaction, Mbamalu told journalists that as long as he’s the duly certified traditional ruler of the community, his decision stands head and shoulder above that of any other person or group.
In fact, he accused the Uzokwe-led Otu Omenana of playing to the gallery. “He sees me as mercenaries of his archtraducer, Dennis Adindu Okafor.
That this group apart from throwing all kinds of letters at him at intervals had never bothered to come to pay him the statutory homage as already done by all other groups and subgroups in Ojoto since 2018 when he mounted the saddle.
“Instead,” he said, “they had continued to run after Dennis Okafor as his entourage and errand boys and girls wherever he goes. Realistically speaking, I see them as members of a social club or political group due to the way they conduct themselves.
There is no one of substance in this community who is listening to them. “They are accusing me of committing abomination; what is an abomination? I am the chief custodian of all Ojoto laws, culture, tradition and values. Whatever I declare to be an abomination becomes abomination and when I said it’s not, then no one can say anything to the contrary.
After all, is it not curious and suspicious that all I did that they now categorized as abomination (alu) were recorded and presented to the world by me. “They were done in effecting the COVID-19 protocols as mandated on all traditional rulers and President Generals in the state.
More so, I carried out all the actions with the PG, so why have they now gone to visit him but refused to come to see me? My gates and palace have remained open to everyone round the clock.
“Some of their members have pulled away from Uzokwe, leadership and have been visiting me freely. A tour around Ojoto would show massive development especially roads construction by our citizens in the diaspora who have chosen to rally round my zeal and efforts,” Mbamalu said, pointing out also that no fewer than 30 citizens of the community were already lining up to be given chieftaincy titles by him during the coming Ofala.
Again, as the custodians of Ojoto culture and tradition, Uzokwe (aka Nnanyelofor) noted that they hold and determine the traditional calendar of events in the community. “But anytime we fix any festival based on the traditional calculations, Mbamalu will rather set another date and venue.
It was like he was oftentimes seeking for crises, confrontation and head-on collision. Dates and venues have heritage and were not to be uprooted or yanked off arbitrarily without consequences.
Uzokwe said that he and all stakeholders and communities around believe that a traditional ruler shall be working hand in gloove with other key arms of administration in his community, because his would engender robust understanding and development, regretting that this was not he case in Ojoto. He accused the monarch of imposing a heavy levy on the Pentecostal churches operating in Ojoto and was alleged to have sent out his taskforce to enforce same.
The task force chased the worshippers away and since then, they have not been holding services. Some citizens and victims in the whole bizarre experience include Chief Sunday Ifeanyichukwu Ikegbunam Okoye, aka Muomili; a longstanding sugarcane farmer at Mmili John riverside in Ojoto, a descendant of the Umu Agba clan -reportedly the first people to settle in Ojoto.
Mrs. Ngozi Okeke, 54, aka Ujuaku, high priestess of the deity, said as priests of the various deities in “Ojoto people are very disturbed about the brazen trampling of our age-long culture and tradition by the Igwe.”
Also Daniel Okeke Anyoku, 75years old whose brother’s son (Chukwuneke) committed suicide told journalists how Igwe Mbamalu was contacted and how he got involved in evacuation and funding the process. Chukwuka Nwajimgbede-Afor Biauwa, on his part said that as custodians of culture and tradition, “we believed we cannot sit on the fence.
We are worried that Mbamalu has not taken the different segments of the community into consideration. He has not deemed it necessary to carry every segment along. Chief Sunday Okoye said: “My family got a dose of the ugly incident in Ojoto during the burial of my late son – Chibueze Okoye, a 32-year old who recently relocated from South Africa to Calabar, where he became sick and eventually died during the peak of coronavirus pandemic.
It cost us above N2m to move his remains from Calabar to Ojoto at the time. During his burial, the monarch stormed here unannounced while the priest was praying and chased the mourners, the officiating priests, friends, relations and families away.”
Till date Ojoto has remained in turmoil as no other group could summon courage to approach the monarch with the issues, except Otu Omenana that decided to write him and asked that something be done to escape the likely negative effects.
When he ignored their letters and representations, the group then came public by taking the matter to the state government and all its arms, the police, the state House of Assembly and other security agencies, and then the media.
Already town-criers have been mobilised to all villages announcing that the Ofala would hold December 30,2020.