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Igweship: How 43-year-old law tore Anambra community apart

The sleepy community of Umuoji town in Idemili North council area of Anambra State has been enmeshed in intra community crisis arising from the election of a traditional ruler of the town recently.

 

Sunday Telegraph authoritatively gathered that trouble started on the May 8, 2021 after the town union election keenly contested by three aspirants. They include Barr Simon Mogboh, Chief Kanayo Okoye and Chief Obi Onwuachu.

 

The three contestants, according to the President General of the town, Chief Sly Onyima, a.k.a Ogidi Umuoji, hail from the same quarter, called Dimechem.

 

“Umuoji has four quarters namely Eziora, Ifiteora, Dimechem and Akala. Umuoji is very peaceful but in every crisis there must be some element of political interest. My job as the President General is to work for peaceful coexistence and the development of our community.

 

And in the process of doing that, when some issues crop up, there are other government agencies to fall back on for solution but I think why my people are protesting was because of some vested interest, who want to ventilate their grievances over the outcome of the election.

 

The crux of the matter was that Umuoji has a constitution made in 1977, 43 years ago on the selection and election of Igwe .We also have our community constitution and the constitution is very clear. The constitution provides that the Igweship in our community rotates among the four quarters according to seniority.

 

Now Eziora and Ifiteora had produced and it is the turn of Dimechem. Dimechem has eight villages Agumelom, Idioma, Dimboko, Dianiukwu, Uruaneke,Urumkpu, Umuechem and Umuoma.They are supposed to present a consensus candidate to the community but couldn’t because of inter-quarter political interest in the town. So, our last Igwe passed on and was buried on April 2021.

 

We commenced the process of coronation because Section 295 of the Constitution states that the central executive committee must conclude everything about the election of new Igwe and announce the new Igwe elect within 28days or seven native weeks after the burial of the late Igwe.”

 

The President General went ahead to explain that Dimechem produced three candidates that indicated interest and the Anambra State government, through the office of the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters and the office of the Special Adviser to the Governor on Chieftaincy Matters in collaboration with the community agreed that the election be conducted on the May 8, 2021.

 

On that day, the election was conducted and the result announced as follows, Chief Anoyo Okoye, 473 votes; Chief Simon Muogboh, 459 votes and Chief Obi Onwuachu, 359 votes. But Section 234 of the constitution states that where two candidates qualify but none had 2/3 majority of the votes cast, they should go for ratification to produce a winner.

 

The authority to ratify the selection of the Igwe is the Umuoji Improvement Union, UIU. “As far as I am concerned, I am following the constitution but the problem is that those supporting Chief Kanayo Okoye insisted that the 28 days must be followed and because of that, they went on a protest to Awka , the Anambra State capital, to ventilate their grievances.

 

But the community, after the election of the May 8 , didn’t produce any of the candidate with the required 2/3 majority. The report of the election therefore demanded for a re-run and government ordered for a re-run to hold on June 8, 2021.I don’t have power to declare anybody the winner.

 

The problem was also compounded by the constitution which ought to have been amended since 43 years.” On why they have not amended the constitution the President General said: “We amended the town union constitution in 2021.

 

We also had plans to amend that of the Igweship, especially that part that says 28 days.It is faulty because 28days is too short to conclude arrangement for a re-run where there are contention arising from the result of the election like in the instant case.There was also provision in the constitution that president General should set up a special committee within 30 days to look into such contention.”

 

He argued that their late traditional ruler was buried on the April 10 and most stakeholders as well as other majority are resident in Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Sokoto, Enugu and even outside Nigeria and when a situation like this arises, some may not have patience to stay or come back within a short period.

 

He said that after the election, they had no alternative than to hold the re-run on June 8, which coincided with the 28 days and a rerun election was conducted and Chief Simon Muogbo emerged with the highest number of votes.

 

On further inquiry, it was revealed to this correspondent that the first runner up in the election of May 8, Chief Anayo Okoye and his supporters boycotted the re-run election of June 8.

 

When contacted on the telephone, Chief Okoye said he didn’t participate in the re-run because the agreement the community had with the government was that the election should be conducted one day and secondly, the day of the purported re-run fall exactly on the 28th day within which the constitution say the new Igwe elect must be announced.

 

He contended that he won the election and he came from Dimechem quarters, whose turn it was produce the next Igwe, which he contested and won with a land mark margin.

 

Arguing further, he said that the issue of re-run was an afterthought because the Anambra State government said the community didn’t pay for 2 days as it is required by government on such election and probably based on the government’s directives due to Covid-19 pandemic.

 

He said he is waiting for the Anambra State government to issue him his certificate even as he called on the people of the town to be calm and not take laws into their hands.

 

However, the winner of the re-run election, Chief Simon Muogbo and his supporters had also thronged the Anambra Government House with placards.

 

The spokesman of the group, Barr. Ifeanyi Mbanusi, said they were at the Government House to show appreciation to the governor and people of Umuoji for standing firm on the truth and constitution of the town.

 

He said that they were for peace and they have asked the people to join hands with the Igwe elect to bring lasting peace and development in the town.

 

While addressing journalists on the petition titled: “A letter from Dimechem Intelligentsia, the legal luminary went down the memory lane to trace the history of Igweship in the Umuoji community and how some clique of interested parties tried to scuttle the mandate of the Umuoji Improvement Union.

 

The petition, which was addressed to the Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, through the Commissioner for Local Government, Chieftaincy and Community Matters, Hon Gilbert Obi ,reads in parts: “Umuoji Chieftaincy Constitution 1977, easily the best ever in any community, was given to Umuoji by two highly respected technocrats and wise men – Chief J.B.C Anyaegbuna (Nwanonukpo) and Chief Augustine N. Nwachukwu (Oranyeleze), both former Presidents-General of Umuoji, and seasoned administrators in the civil service of Eastern Nigeria/East Central State.

 

From time immemorial, Umuoji had Eze with Ichie Ukwu as his cabinet until the uncontested Umuoji Chieftaincy Constitution 1977 replaced Eze with Igwe and a Council of Ndichie comprising representatives of the 23 villages as his cabinet.

 

This change was sequel to demands of modernisation and increasing interest and involvement of government in traditional institutions, via the Local Government system.

 

Akum Michael Nweze from Eziora Quater became the first Igwe in this new dispensation, after the death of Eze Okonkwo Ifeakibie in 1969. “When Igwe Akum Michael Nweze joined his ancestors, it was the turn of Ifiteora quarters to produce the next Igwe.

 

None of the other three quarters of Umuoji interfered. Ifiteora had two major contenders, Dr. Orakwe and Cyril Enweze. Within themselves, they played a peaceful role and Cyril Enweze of Ifite Village emerged as their consensus nominee without an election or any contention.

 

“Now, when Cyril Enweze died, and it was the turn of Dimechem quarter to produce an Igwe, five nominees came up and after screening, there was no sole candidate or consensus candidate.

 

Two allegedly stepped down leaving three contenders, which the Executive Committee of the UIU approved in accordance with Section 2.3(a) of the Umuoji Chieftaincy Constitution 1977.

 

This therefore called for elections in Dimechem-quarter only, in accordance with the provisions of the same Constitution which expressly and unambiguously provided the guidelines in Section 2.3(a) to (g). Section 2.3(f) specifically, technically and unambiguously defines the modus operandi: “Where only two candidates qualify for the election, the one securing a simple majority by secret ballot shall be declared elected.

 

Where ‘more than two candidates qualify, the candidate who scores two-thirds of the votes cast at the first ballot, shall be declared elected. In the latter case, where no candidate scores up to two-thirds of the first ballot, a run-off election shall be arranged for the two candidates scoring the highest votes.”

 

This arrangement, in the present circumstances, is purely a Dimechem affair, where the role of the UIU is supervision. The Electoral Committee appointed by the UIU with Chief Sir Emeka Joe Nsika as chairman planned and made full provisions for the elections to hold on May 8, 2021 and May 9, 2021 (in the case of the need for a runoff in accordance with Constitution).

 

At the end of the May 8, 2021 elections, the Electoral Committee Chairman(The umpire) announced the results: Kanayo Okoye 473 votes; Simeon Muogboh, 459 votes; Obi Onwuachu, 359 votes and categorically declared that there was no winner in the election. None of the three scored a two-thirds majority as required.

 

The umpire therefore declared emphatically and unequivocally that “a winner did not emerge from that election” and that his Committee was prepared for a rerun the following day May 9, 2021 for the first two leaders Kanayo Okoye and Simeon Muogboh – subject to a go-ahead from the President-General (PG).

 

“This noble arrangement was scuttled that night by the PG, who claimed that the Special Adviser to the Governor on Chieftaincy and Community Matters, Barrister Mrs Veraqueen Ebele Okonkwo, cancelled the election plans on the grounds that payment was not made at Awka for two elections.

 

It would be held at a later date to be approved by her after payment. No doubt, this was to give room for perfection of a conspiracy to derail the Constitution.

 

“Unfortunately, a few days later, the social media went viral with a frenzy of announcements and congratulatory messages to Kanayo Okoye as Igwe-elect. Ndichie Eziora quarter lined up in their regalia to pay solidarity visit to their purported Igwe-elect followed by Ndichie Ifiteora quarter shortly afterwards. Dimechem and Akala were not involved in that show of shame, which ostentatiously tried to rubbish the valid Umuoji Chieftaincy Constitution 1977.”

 

He added: “Not too long after, on 1st June 2021, a letter purportedly from the Igwe in Council to the Governor of Arambra State was circulated in the social media with 26 signatories, out of which 11 were fake i.e. non members of the Igwe in Council. An analysis of the signatories revealed quite a few anomalies: Constitutional Council of Ndichie members – 10 (many not aware of the letter).

 

Honourary non-statutory members of Igwe in Council – 3 Village Chairmen/representatives (non-members of IIC) – 0 Eziora quarter -5; Ifiteora quarter – 4 Akala quarter – 3; Dimechem quarter – 1 All these purportedly signed for Igwe in Council (TIC).

 

This letter was written on the invalid letter headed paper of a demised Chairman of the TIC who for long has traveled on a journey of no return. It is all obvious, therefore, that some despicable elements and cabals essentially from the other three quarters of Umuoji (Eziora, Ifiteora in particular) under the auspices of a biased and compromised President-General in connivance with a perverted Igwe-in- Council, a highly compromised, power-wielding Special Adviser to the Governor on Chieftaincy and Community Matters in Government House Awka, Barrister Mrs. Veraqueen Ebele Okonkwo, that incidentally hails from Akala quarter of Umuoji, appear to have collectively taken an inflammatory decision on who the Igwe of Umuoji should be awarded to.

 

Eventually, the President General announced that the government had eventually given approval for a rerun election on Tuesday June 8, 2021 as provided for in the Constitution. As the time approached, President General became ambivalent, claiming he could no longer guarantee that the elections would hold since it all depended on directives of the government.

 

That he was under intense pressure and remote control was no longer in any doub

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