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Anxiety as Ogbunike Traditional Rulers Council stops Igwe Umenyiora’s burial

The Traditional Rulers Council of Ogbunike, popularly called Ogbuefi in the Ogbunike community has said the community will organise a befitting last Ofala for their late traditional ruler, Igwe John Umenyiora, who joined his ancestors last year.

Igwe Umenyiora, the first traditional ruler of Ogbunike in Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State, died on April 28, 2020, after a brief illness. The council of the traditional council led by Ogbuefi Nwafor Francis Onyezea, said the traditional ruler deserves a befitting burial since he was buried in a hurry because of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the entire world at that time. He said the community after several consultations and meetings resolved to give him a befitting burial because of his landmark achievements throughout his 43 years on the throne.

He, however, noted with regret that the efforts of the community towards this gesture are being thwarted by some few individuals who are interested in the throne without following the traditional laid down custom and tradition of the town. Our correspondent gathered that what has been brewing in the tourism town where the popular Ogbunike Carve is situated in Anambra State is the appointment of a traditional Prime Minister (Akaeze) who now allegedly assumed the position of the Igwe of the community. But in its quick intervention to ensure that peace reigns, the Anambra State Government appointed a caretaker committee to see to the affairs of the town even though, the presence of the appointed caretaker committee is yet to be felt due to the complexity of the spiral crisis which Ogbunike never witnessed for the past 43 years.

At the centre stage were two prominent members of the inner council of the traditional council. They are the President of the Traditional Rulers Council, Ogbuefi Nwafor Francis Onyezia and former Palace Secretary, Chief Anene Osadebe now Akaeze.

The Caretaker Chairman, the President of the Traditional Rulers Council, and the former NLC Chairman Anambra State, Chief Godwin Ibekwe, and former Vice-Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Professor Ilochi Okafor (SAN) insisted that the appointment of Akaeze didn’t follow the tradition and customs of the community. While Prince Ogoegbunam Umenyiora and his other siblings and chief Anaenne Osadebe claimed that their late father left no stone upturned, bequeathing to Ogbunike a sustainable legacy that would be remembered forever.

Another issue of concern was the stripping of titles by the late traditional ruler on eight member titled men in the community before he died. Our correspondent learnt from the major stakeholders that the lgwe’s last Ofala would generate an unprecedented crisis which might be very difficult to manage if the peace process being initiated by the state government and some good spirited individuals, friends and Government of Anambra State failed to yield the desired result in a very near future. Chief Chigozie Ikegulu, chairman of the caretaker committee of the town said, “l was appointed the caretaker chairman by the Anambra State Government after the town had a crisis within the Ogbunike Progressive Union OPU.

We have six villages, namely Amawa, Osile, Ifite, Azu, Ukallor and Umeri. We decided recently that it would rotate among the villages in order of seniority but before now a particular village can produce a president as many times as possible. “This arrangement was put in place to ensure equity, justice and fair play.

But what has compounded the problem was the appointment of Akaeze. In Ogbunike, each village has their own title. For instance, Ukallor village has the title of Akajiani, Osile has the title of Akaeze, Azu has Ichelle, Umueri has the title of Ekwueme, Amawa has Ojielo, and lastly Ifite has the Njiko. “Each of the villages will produce four members of the traditional council.

Then from that 24 member council, the traditional ruler will select two each from each village as members of the inner cabinet while the rest will be members of the council. He said the traditional ruler caused the problem because he knew the village and their title entitlement.

“Why should he then make an Ifite man Akaeze instead of Osile and the Osile people rejected the appointment. So the community rejected the imposition of Akaeze from another village. They contended also that the appointment and installation didn’t follow due process.

The constitution is that the appointment and selection of Akaeze will be done in connection with the town union and the traditional ruler council but he was too autocratic and based on that the infighting continues.” Furthermore, the acclaimed Akaeze is imposing himself on the community and issuing statements and endorsing it as Acting Igwe. This aggravated the crisis before he was told that he was not from Ogbunike but from Ezi Ogidi, a nearby town.

The traditional rulers in Oyi LGA also wrote to him to stop parading himself as Acting Igwe. And the Anambra State Government through the special adviser to the Governor on Chieftaincy Matters Barr Mrs Veraqueen Okonkwo wrote him to withdraw the statement forthwith. On the last Ofala ceremony, the constitution of Ogbunike provided that the last Ofala, the selection and coronation of the new traditional ruler of the town would be performed simultaneously, within six months of the demise of the traditional ruler, but in the instant case it is more than two yrs and the town is running out of the patient.

The town union and the late traditional rulers family led by prince Ogoegbunam Umenyiora, the president and members of the traditional rulers’ council which is the highest decision- making body in the community and all the stakeholders had a meeting where they explained to the family that it is the duty of the Ogbunike community to perform the last Ofala and not the family. “We all agreed to look at December or January 2020 but after some days the Prince wrote the town union that they are not in support of the agreed suggested month, and since then has been holding the community to ransom.”

Chief Godwin lbekwe former President of Ndiogbuefi called the traditional rulers council also told this reporter that the late traditional ruler HRM Igwe John Umenyiora imposed Anene Osadebe on Ogbunike community by conferring on him the Akaeze Ogbunike when he is not Ogbuefi as provided by the tradition and customs of the town. He said “l was the president of the traditional ruler’s council then and we wrote to him that his family said he is not Ogbuefi and should not be given such title but he went ahead and gave him the title.

On the last Ofala issue, the council drew the attention of the prince to the provision of the constitution but he was being misled by Osadebe. “He was duly informed that the late Igwe told the Ogbunike that his house is not the palace and that they should look for a place to build the palace. But contrary to the Igwe’s wish and aspiration, the Prince and Osadebe went and buried Igwe publicly in his palace.

It is an abomination to bury Igwe publicly against the tradition and custom of the Igbo people not only Ogbunike community Nwafor Francis Onyezia is the current president of Ndiogbufi Ogbunike called traditional rulers council and at a point, Igwe stripped eight of us our titles were given to us by our respective villages. “The tradition is that for you to be given any title in our community, you must be chosen by your village when you must have been found worthy of such title which you hold for them on trust. You also have to perform some traditional rights required and above all have done visionary development projects for you to merit the title.

For instance, I have built more than 15 houses for widows and the vulnerable in my village and other people from Ogbunike. “It was a big embarrassment not to me and others but to the community. Among those he stripped their title is former Vice-Chancellor of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, former Anambra State Chairman of Nigerian Labour Congress NLC and NULGE among other personalities but we put all those things behind us and sued for peace. “I personally offered to give him N1.2 million for peace to reign.

We are doing all these because we can’t afford to pay him for all his efforts to bring our town to the limelight. As the first traditional ruler of the town, we are duty-bound to give him a befitting last Ofala celebration but Anene Osadebe who is not even Ogbuefi in his village is misleading the children who are brought up overseas. My duty as the president of the council was to make peace and make sure it is sustained. I also try as much as I can to raise money for the community to do some projects like the palace under construction now. “However, what is like a rift now in the community is the wrong conferment of Akaeze by Igwe. I am for peace in Ogbunike, l am not also interested in the Igweship stool.

I am content with what God has given me. I am a builder and businessman, and God is blessing me. What l stand for is that due process must be followed particularly as it concerns our tradition and customs. “I am saying this because spiritually nobody can touch the Ofo, that is the traditional staff of office, except the Igwe’s son or the president of the traditional rulers’ council. So there can never be any shortcut to the last Ofala, selection, and coronation of a new traditional ruler for our town, so it must follow due process.”

But the heir apparent to the late traditional ruler HRM Igwe John Umenyiora dismissed all the allegations and claims made by the dethroned President of Ndichie insisting that the family is very civil that they can’t allow the last Ofala of his great father to be associated with evil. He said “His Royal majesty travelled at the peak of Covid-19 when the whole world was being threatened by the devastating deadly disease that had neither cure nor prevention. “I told my people that it would not be our wish to invite a crowd of people when the Federal Government has banned such a gathering. Secondly, the Ofala or selection of a new traditional ruler isn’t worth the blood of any living human being.

“The reason that the constitution provided for six months under this circumstances is neither here or there as it had been over by unforeseen development be you and anybody’s control. His Royal Majesty had all it would take to give him the befitting burial but we must trade with caution as we can’t do it at our own detriment.

“He was the first traditional ruler of our community and deserves nothing but the best. He was also a first-class traditional ruler known within and outside Nigeria and we shouldn’t be in a hurry after all our neighbouring community Ogidi was without a traditional ruler for almost 20yes and heaven didn’t fall. “They have not told you the truth. They are interested in the stool but want us to throw away our father as an ordinary person. We have passed that stage and whatever my community wants to do provided it was done in line within the ambit of the law and tradition of the community we will not oppose it.

“On the selection of Akaeze, I learnt from my father that most of them were in court fighting him, disrupting his order, encouraging brigandage and fanning the amber of disunity in the town and HRH had the right to choose anybody he would give the title and who got what among the members of the inner and outer council. Otherwise, each village would have been selected and coroneted and sent to Igwe. When we had a meeting l told them that the December or January proposed is not possible that we have to bury him traditionally and take time to plan for other things.

 

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