For long, Chief Austin Ndigwe, the Traditional Prime Minister of Awka, the Anambra State capital has been parading himself as the monarch of the town. That is even as the real Monarch, Igwe Gibson Nwosu is still alive and on the throne. OKEY MADUFORO, reports from Awka on how what would have been a disaster was averted last Saturday, with the state government coming out strong
The sound was loud enough to jerk the earth crust of Awka land. Residents of the ancient town became apprehensive of their presence.
Many thought that it was yet another cult war that had in the time past painted the city red while some fled to their homes for fear of the inglorious unknown gunmen. Far from these, it was an evening of celebration at the palace of Ozo Austin Ndigwe, the self-acclaimed Traditional Ruler of Awka Kingdom, who addresses himself as Eze Uzu the 3rd.
The sounds that had jolted the Awka landscape were those of fireworks to herald the New Yam Festival slated for the following day Saturday. It was gathered that some traditional rulers had arrived that evening and many more were being expected on the D-day.
While Ndigwe pulled all stops on that fateful day, setting the stage for the mother of all festivals, little did he know that the unthinkable was about to happen.
At about 7.30 am that Saturday morning, a platoon of soldiers and policemen stormed his palace and blocked the Umukwa Road, leading to the venue of the festival, directing road users to other routes with a stern warning that the palace of Ozo Austin Ndigwe is a no go area and that the festival cannot hold.
An eyewitness before the arrival of reporters said that some guests were sprayed with teargas when they refused to leave the venue for the New Yam Festival, which caused a stampede at the entrance of the palace.
An elder in the village told reporters that, “they woke me up this morning telling me that police wants to seal off the palace and I told them that there are Traditional Rulers from the South East and beyond that are already inside the palace and the one that is more disturbing is that the security operatives were firing live bullets at the people, mostly youths, who came to find out what was happening” “I am not sure if anybody died but there were casualties, those who got injured and I think about five persons were injured during the stampede, “he said He further explained that he made contacts at the Police Command and that the order came from the Government House, Awka and it was also confirmed at the Zonal command.
When reporters spoke to one of the policemen, he said that he is carrying out an order from his superiors, adding that he is not in the position to provide details. This recent development seem to be connected to the lingering crisis over who is the substantive Eze Uzu of Awka Kingdom, which has pitched cabinet Chiefs against each other following the emergence of Ndigwe, who claimed to be Eze Uzu, the 3rd.
The alleged dispute was said to have started when some Ozo title holders accused Igwe Gibson Nwosu of trying to compromise the constitution of the title holders, adding that he was taking stands that were against the customs and traditions of Awka people in respect of burial rites.
They contended that a widow, according to Awka tradition, is prohibited from throwing sand into the grave of his late husband, contending that he is mocking her husband’s death.
But another camp of the Ozo title holders disagreed with them, alleging that should a widow throw sand into the husband’s grave, she still sustains that marital relationship with her husband hence prospective lovers or those who have been nursing a relationship with her cannot take her over after the burial rites.
They saw the denial of a widow throwing sand into the grave as a selfish motive to gain canal knowledge of the widow without waiting for the mandatory months for her to mourn her husband.
At the peak of the crisis, Igwe Gibson Nwosu, told reporters that he is a Knight of the Catholic Church, of the Order Of St. John, hence, he is a Christian and that the tradition did not specify the penalty for the widow or family that allows the widow to throw sand into the grave of the late husband. He also wrote an official letter to his inlaws in Zambia, where he married his wife while working as a military pilot to late President Kenneth Kaunda about the processes for his eventual funeral when he dies staying that his wife must throw in sand into his grave.
“This practice has been there before Christianity came to us and you know that this is a Biblical injunction and it is not an Igbo practice generally. “That I am the traditional ruler of Awka doesn’t prevent me or members of my family from doing the needful.
“The fight against the throne of Eze Uzu is as old as the first Eze Uzu because the Ozo title holders were stoning him whenever he was passing and even when I became the traditional ruler, some people fought me and this Austin Ndigwe has been with them”, he said.
Despite the position of Igwe Gibson Nwosu, a faction of the community led by some Ozo title holders, after a meeting, announced the dethronement of Gibson Nwosu and enthroned Ozo Austin Ndigwe as the Eze Uzu the 3rd of Awka Kingdom.
This has lingered for about six years now and at some point, a popular philanthropist and politician, Engr Arthur Ezeh, gave Ndigwe backing following rumours that Gibson Nwosu was dead. But Nwosu was abroad on a medical treatment for about two years and on his return, last year, he celebrated his Ofala festival, which saw the conferment of Chieftaincy title on Arthur Ezeh and the Minister for Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, among others .
However, Ndigwe whose position in the Royal Cabinet was Traditional Prime Minister before now, continued in that stead and even when Nwosu petitioned the then Police Commissioner during the Anambra Council of Traditional Rulers , he explained that his duty does not include issues that has to do with Chieftaincy matters .
This, indeed, emboldened Ndigwe, who continued to pride himself as the Monarch of the town to a point that traditional celebrations were done by factions. Basking in the euphoria of the then moment, Ndigwe may have had a safe haven as it were until the incident of last Saturday and Governor Charles Soludo had to stem the avalanche of crisis over the Monarchy of Awka Kingdom. It was even reported that he was forewarned against the celebration of the New Yam Festival by the powers that be but Ndigwe when reporters put a call across to him, said that he was in a meeting and could not speak.
That may have led to the Public Service Announcement by the state government that Ozo Austin Ndigwe is not the monarch of Awka Kingdom. In a release signed by the Commissioner for Information, Mr Paul Nwosu, it stated that Ndigwe is not the monarch of Awka town. “It has come to the attention of Anambra State Government that one Chukwuezube Ndigwe aka Uzu Awka is still parading himself as the authentic traditional ruler of Awka..
“Not only that, he is also taking steps to perform one of the major harvest season traditional rites know as New Yam Festival or Iwa ji of Awka people and thereby threatening the peace and tranquillity of the town. “The state government will not tolerate this.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the state government wishes to state emphatically that the only recognized traditional ruler of Awka is His Royal Highness, Igwe Obi Gibson Nwosu, the Eze Uzu 2nd of Awka, whose recognized by state government has not been withdrawn and he is the only one empowered by Section 15 of the Traditional Ruler’s law of Anambra State 2007 to preside over such festival or carry out any of the functions of traditional ruler in Awka. “It is a criminal offence for any other person to do so by virtue of section 20 of the Traditional Ruler’s law of Anambra State 2007.
The said Austin Ndigwe is not recognized traditional ruler of Awka and should henceforth desist from parading himself and portraying himself as the traditional ruler of Awka or attempting to usurp the right of legitimate and duly recognized traditional ruler, His Royal Highness, Igwe Obi Gibson Nwosu.
“Any such unlawful act in any part of Anambra State will not be condoned by the Anambra State government and the state will not hesitate to sanction such an impostor according to the relevant laws of Anambra State,” he said. The recent position of the government of Prof Charles Soludo has indeed opened a new chapter in the tussle for the Monarchy of Awka Kingdom.
At the moment, most of the supporters of Ndigwe appear to have been stranded as Soludo has come with the strong stick .
Similarly, the position of Soludo has been seen as being firm and resolute to ensure sanity ,rule of law and order in the Capital City, hence the tranquil that has enveloped Awka after the failed coup.