By Chris O. O. Biose (The Ode-Uri)
July 30, 2020
HRM, Obi Chukwunonso Nwoko lV, Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko, Agwu,
Umu Obi Nwoko, Nwadei nu,
Iyase Onowu, Odogwu Abi,Ndi Olinzele Idumuje Clan, onye na nkee.
POLICE NIGHT INVASION OF IDUMUJE-UGBOKO ROYAL PALACE
It is with utmost concern for good neighbourliness, peaceful development as well as dignity, survival and continued relevance of the culture and traditions of Idumuje Clan that I address this Open Letter to the King, the Royal Family of Idumuje-Ugboko, chiefs and elders of Idumuje Clan in general, hoping that it will meet you all in excellent health and open-minded disposition towards its content. I am Christopher Biose, an indigene of Idumjje-Unor in Idumuje-Clan. I am a connoisseur of Anioma culture and traditions, an elder in my community and strong believer in the relevance of cultural prescriptions to resolve disputes arising in traditional contexts.
Elders at various levels of the community such as kindred (idumu) village or quarter (ogbe) and town (ani) are not expected to speak often but when things seem to be going wrong, they have a duty to speak out. If they keep mute in such situations, they are shirking their traditional responsibilities. An aphorism in Idumuje Clan states: “Afu ekwune egbu ndi ichie, ekwu anuna, egbu ikolo.” This means that an elder who sees bad things going on and keeps quiet stands condemned; a young man who refuses to abide by wise counsel of elders stands condemned. This is my locus in addressing this Open Letter to you.
May I also seek your understanding in presenting this as an Open Letter, principally because the Nwoko Family is one of the largest families, not only in Anioma nation, but probably in Nigeria as a whole. Due to the inability of the Nigerian state to conduct credible census, it is impossible to demonstrate this fact empirically. However, I have it on impeccable authority that HRM Obi Nkeze Nwoko ll (1894-1955) had 161 (one hundred and sixty-one) children. Since this is the third generation of that remarkable traditional ruler, the vast majority of his descendants sticking to the name of their royal patriarch, the Nwoko family tree could run into several thousand now.
For this reason also, and in view of exposure of hundreds of members of this large family to diverse cultural influences since their royal patriarch joined his ancestors in 1955, it should not be entirely surprising if some members of that extremely large family should have difficulty in seeing eye to eye with some of their siblings.
Purpose of this Open Letter
The purpose of this Open Letter is to throw light of historical facts on issues at stake in Idumuje-Ugboko with a view to assisting parties involved to achieve lasting peace in the town. It is letter is directly prompted by the unpleasant episode that played out at the Palace of the Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko in the early hours of Saturday, July 19, 2020. It was widely reported that a strong contingent of Police officers, arrived at the Palace in 15 vehicles, violently gained entry into the Palace building, arrested the incumbent king in a humiliating manner that is unprintable, but which I feel sure that nearly all of you might have learnt about and forcefully took him to the Police Headquarters at Asaba. This episode was an embarrassment to the entire Nwoko Royal Family and to chiefs and kings of Anioma nation, to say the least.
For the avoidance of doubt, let me state clearly that this letter is not about the conduct of Police officers on that fateful night, as they were performing their constitutional duties in the manner they thought fit. It is also not about roles of specific individuals in the events that prompted the police invasion of the Royal Palace. This letter is not about apportioning blames on any of the parties involved in the series of episodes that culminated in the ugly incident.
This Open Letter is about roles expected from all members of such a highly regarded Royal Family in Anioma that gave rise to the Police invasion of the Palace. The principal actors in the distasteful drama are members of the Idumuje-Ugboko Royal Family. It therefore becomes necessary to address critical issues of roles expected from princes and chiefs in Idumuje Clan.
Issues in Dispute in Idumuje-Ugboko
My information is that HRM Obi Albert Nwoko lll, the Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko, joined his ancestors on February 6, 2017 and was immediately succeeded by his first son, HRM, Obi Chukwunonso Nwoko lV. As a result of a disagreement in the Idumuje-Ugboko Royal Family, a gang of youths stormed the first Izu-Ani (General Congress) of Idumuje-Ugboko community) convened by Obi Nwoko lV after his installation. The unruly youths reportedly disrupted Izu-Ani and in the ensuing melee, several people were injured.
There is no doubt that Idumuje-Ugboko is traditionally an autonomous kingdom; it is equally indisputable that Idumuje-Unor is the parent kingdom of Idumuje-Ugboko and both communities share a common tradition and cultural heritage. Tradition means that which is transmitted from the past, from time immemorial and it is the foundation of community life in Anioma. Our people say, “Si ani bia ka wa afu; wa aya afu si enu bia.” This means that everything has a foundation; nothing hangs without foundation. The sum total of our tradition is enshrine in culture and customary laws which are enforced by means of various traditional echanisms. This is an aspect of social life in which chiefs and elders are presumed to be quite knowledgeable.
When I visited HRM, Obi Albert Nwoko lll, the Obi of Idumuje Ugboko on October 30, 2011, in the course of collecting data for my book entitled HISTORY AND TRADITIONS OF ICUMUJE CLAN (2019), the well-educated Royal Father made it abundantly clear to me that in all significant respects, both kingdoms in Idumuje Clan share the same culture and traditions in spite of the fact that Idumuje-Ugboko separated from Idumuje-Unor to become a distinct and authonomous traditional community over 200 years ago.
From the point of view of the culture and traditions of Idumuje Clan and given good faith, the two contentious issues of communal allocation of land and succession to the throne in Idumuje-Ugboko are fairly straightforward.
Allocation of Communal Land
The central bone of contention that introduced discord in Idumuje-Ugboko was allocation of communal land to a prominent son of the community, an issue that predated the reign of the present king.
The customary law concerning land in Idumuje Clan is that all undeveloped land in the Clan belongs to each community in common. The king is said to hold land symbolically in trust for the community (eze-new-ani). He does not hold it as personal property which he can dispose at will.
Land dispute has high potential to lead to avoidable bloody clashes that will not do Idumuje-Ugboko community or the Royal Family any good. This is because most people in the Clan rely on communal land for farming and their livelihood. Idumuje-Ugboko is not Sambisa Forest which has a size of 518 square kilometers according to Wikipedia and encompasses vast tracts of uninhabited land, stretching across Borno, Yobe, Gombe and Bauchi states up to parts of Kano State.
The land area of Idumuje-Ugboko is quite small. If one person or a small group takes over a sizeable portion of communal land, where will the teeming masses be expected to earn their livelihood? What happens to generations yet to come? Therefore, allocation of large tracts of communal land in the community is not a matter to be rushed. It is wise and proper for the king to exercise utmost caution in supporting allocation of communal land particularly when the portion of land involved is huge. I honestly believe that this is not a matter over which undue pressure should be exerted to force the handof the king. This a very sensitive issue and the cautious approach of the king to the issue deserves support of all reasonable elders in the community.
Stories of bloodshed in some communities over land should not be allowed to replicate in Idumuje-Ugboko.
Succession to the Throne of Idumuje-Ugboko
Every honest indigene of Idumuje-Ugboko will agree that the dispute over succession of the incumbent king, Obi Chukwunonso Nwoko lV, to the throne left by his father is directly linked to the land allocation tussle which the former king did not resolve before he joined his ancestors.
It is common knowledge that lineage in Anioma is traced through a father or genitor. This constitutes the framework of political organization in Idumuje Clan.
A lineage is a group of persons united by genealogically demonstrable line of ancestors of at least three and at most six generations back. It is a corporate group and has perpetual continuity – members die and new ones are born into it. Qualification for membership is birth into the lineage.
From the inception of monarchy in the parent kingdom of the Clan in the early 15th century AD, succession to the throne is by primogeniture and this was adopted by the founder of Idumuje-Ugboko when it branched off from Idumuje-Unor in the later years of the 18th century AD. The principle of succession to the throne is known in Idumuje dialect of the Igbo Language as nwa sote okwulu, This means that the first (natural) son of the king grows up to inherit the throne of his father.
Indigenous Mother Hypothesis
A faction of the Nwoko Royal Family that disputes the right of HRM, Obi Chukwunonso Nwoko lV to the throne claims that for the first son of a king to ascend the throne, the mother of such first son must be from the same town as the king. With all due respect, this argument is untenable because it is not founded on the traditions and customs of Idumuje Clan. The Nwoko Royal Family is very large and earlier kings had a habit of marrying many wives. It therefore becomes expedient for any claimant to the throne to throw up new ideas to support his claim. This line of thinking is not open to claimants because the guiding principle on such issues is historical precedent and custom of the community. It does not avail a claimant to canvass novel ideas borrowed from nearby communities whose historical roots do not derive from the same sources as that of Idumuje Clan.
As already stated, paternity in Idumuje Clan as in all parts of Anioma, is traced through the father and not through a mother and right of inheritance of the throne is not an exception.
Second, Obi Nkeze Nwoko ll, the patriarch of the Nwoko Dynasty of Idumuje-Ugboko was a Judge of Idumuje Clan Court which adjudicated cases based on Idumuje customary law. At page 121 of the 9th edition of his book entitled Osborn’s Concise Law Dictionary edited by Sheila Bone, Osborn defines custom as “a rule of conduct, obligatory on those within its scope, established by long usage. A valid custom must be of immemorial antiquity, certain and reasonable, obligatory, not repugnant to statute law though it may derogate from the common law.
“General customs are those of the whole country, e.g., the general custom of merchants. Particular customs are the usage of particular trades. Local customs are the customs of particular parts of the country.”
During his presidency of the Idumuje Clan Court, in the 1940s, there was a protracted dispute in which the right of Obi James Ikechukwu Anyasi ll, the Obi of Idumuje-Unor was vigorously challenged. Obi Nkeze Nwoko ll knew that the mother of Obi James Ikechukwu Anyasi ll was the daughter of Obi Molokwu of Ukwu-Nzu. I also know that as a fact, not only because I wrote the biography of Obi Anyasi ll but also because my grandmother hails from the same kindred as the mother of Obi Anyasi ll. I accompanied the revered king to Ukwu-Nzu during the funeral rites of his mother.
Third, HRM, Obi Albert Nwoko lll is the product of a marriage of Obi Nkeze Nwoko ll with one of his wives, named Agnes Bardi, daughter of Chief Bardi of Idumu-Agba in Ugbodu in Odiani Clan of present day Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State. In spite of his mother being from Ugbodu, Obi Albert Nwoko lll was duly traditionally installed and his kingship was not vitiated by virtue of the fact that his mother was not from Idumuje-Ugboko or other considerations extraneous to Idumuje Culture. If theory of indigenous wife was not sustained during the reign of Obi Albert Nwoko lll, why should it be entertained in the instant case? What is at issue is Traditional Ruler founded on the tradition of the community concerned, not political appointment which may be based on the discretion of the appointer. Those who argue that Obi Albert Nwoko lll was given a condition are in error because the present generation cannot validly reverse traditions which are based on past events rather than future desires. Tradition is not speculative or futuristic; it is founded on past events
Fourth, Section 3 of the Chiefs Law of Delta State requires a Traditional Ruler to make a declaration in writing stating the customary law, which regulates the selection of a person to be the holder of a traditional ruler in its area.
In the case of hereditary traditional stools, “the declaration shall contain a sufficient description of the method of succession to the traditional ruler title.”
In my capacity as Ode-Uri (Recorder of Truth) of Idumuje-Unor at that time and based on what Obi Anyasi ll told me in his lifetime when I was writing his biography, which is also in tandem with the tradition of Idumuje Clan, I wrote a document entitled “DECLARATION MADE UNDER SECTION 8 OF THE TRADITIONAL RULERS AND CHIEFS EDICT, 1979, STATING THE CUSTOMARY LAW REGULATING SUCCESSION TO THE TITLE OF OBI OF IDUMUJE-UNOR”. I submitted the document to the Onihe (kingmaker of Idumuje-Unor) and relevant traditional chiefs entitled to sign the document in accordance with Idumuje tradition. The document states in part:
“Succession to the Obi of Idumuje-Unor is hereditary, by primogeniture. The position passes directly from father to the eldest surviving male child who inherits the throne. Females are absolutely barred from the Obiship stool in Idumuje-Unor”.
The document was thereafter submitted to the Chieftaincy Affairs Directorate, Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Asaba, as a condition precedent for the recognition of Obi Charles Anyasi lll, the incumbent Obi of Idumuje-Unor.
I do not know what Obi Albert Nwoko lll must have filed or deposed to but I believe that it would not be different from that of Idumuje-Unor. If no deposition has been made up to the present time, the Directorate of Chieftaincy Affairs of Delta State must exercise extreme care to ensure that vested interests do not alter the tradition of Idumuje-Ugboko in the matter.
Dynasty Diversion Claim
Another argument advanced by opponents of HRM, Obi Chukwunonso Nwoko lV is that colonial masters diverted the throne from the true heir to the present lineage because the true heir was an activist of the Ekwumekwu Resistance Movement in Idumuje-Clan. In this regard, Idumuje Clan was for a time, the Headquarters of the uprising against whites. Referring to these events in his Intelligence Report submitted to the British Government in 1937, Mr R. B. Kerr, District Officer, Asaba Division, stated that “Idumuje-Uno was at this time the Headquarters of the Ekumeku Society, which was a bandit society which spread over the Division but was suppressed by the year 1905.” It is also pertinent to note that white missionaries arrived Idumuje-Ugboko precisely on January 7 1902, according to one of the missionaries that pionerred Christian evangelizing in the area, Mrs Frances Hensely (nee Dennis), in her book, THE NIGER DAWN. The uprising against whites known in Idumije Clan as Agha Ekwumekwu (Ekwumekwu War) in the area came to its height between 1904 and 1905. It involved destruction of symbols of white presence in the area. The pejorative terms used by colonialists to describe patriotic Ekwumekwu militia supports the aggressive elimination of all those who were in support of the militia.
The diversion of kingship lineage in Idumuje-Ugboko is alleged to have taken place during the reign of Obi Omorhusi 1 whose reign coincides with the arrival of white missionaries in Idumuje-Ugboko. The only authentic written record which I have seen in my research was written by Mrs Henseley, the leader of the CMS missionaries that arrived Idumuje-Ugboko in 1902. She described Obi Omorhusi 1 as “a simple youth”. Obi Omorhusi 1 was the king who received the missionaries with open arms and gave his son, Nkeze, to be trained by them.
It is also noteworthy that Obi Nkeze Nwoko ll was first known as Obi Omorhusi ll before he changed his name about 1945. See Appendix ‘3’ entitled VILLAGE COUNCIL MEMBERS IDUMUJE-UGBOKO, being list of those who attended a meeting with Mr R. B. Kerr District Officer, held at Idumuje-Ugboko on February 21, 1936. This was part of the Intelligence Report which Mr Kerr sent to the British Government in 1937.
Based on credible historical evidence, there is no denying the fact that British colonialists engaged in deposing or suppressing kings opposed to their violent entry into various kingdoms in what later became Nigeria. They were also adroit in installing stooges that were amenable to their exploitative designs.
It is however absolutely necessary to move beyond a generalized account of British atrocities in Anioma land during the Ekwumekwu uprising and present verifiable facts to support any contention of dynastic change in Idumuje-Ugboko Even at that, it is doubtful if that claim can be sustained in view of the lapse of time. The alleged diversion of the throne took place over 100 years ago during the tenure of Obi Omorhusi 1 who joined his ancestors in January 1923.
When Obi Nkeze Nwoko ll was officially installed to succeed Obi Omorhusi 1 as the Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko on February 15, 1928, being the first son of Obi Omorhusi 1, nobody is on record to have raised objections. When Obi Nkeze Nwoko ll joined his ancestors in 1955, he was succeeded by his first son, Obi Albert Nwoko lll, who was allowed to enjoy his tenure until he too, joined his ancestors in 2017. It is curious that those advancing the theory of diversion of the throne waited for nearly 100 years to present their claim.
Legal experts would have to examine the propriety of raising such a fundamental issue after about a century of the cause of action, and whether the claim is not rendered nugatory due to lapse of time, Whatever sympathy one may entertain about the claim it certainly presents insurmountable difficulties in providing relevant evidence with a modicum of exactitude, bearing in mind also that the story tellers rely mainly on oral accounts. Meanwhile, Idumuje-Ugboko cannot wait indefinitely for speculative propositions before having their king duly recognized by Government.
A Historic Intervention by Royal Fathers
As noted above, land matters are extremely sensitive and are best settled through traditional dispute resolution mechanism. In this regard, kindly permit me to inform the younger ones about one successful Peace Resolution by our traditional rulers that averted imminent bloodshed in our area sometime in the 1980s. I was in my office in Benin City early in March 198l when a chief from Idumuje-Unor came to tell me that HRM, Obi (Dr) James Ikechukwu Anyasi ll, the Obi of Idumuje-Unor (of blessed memory) wanted to see me immediately. When I asked, the chief said that he did not know why the king wanted to see me. I was in a quandary about how to say No to the king or to suspend urgent issues on my desk at the office. I was then First Commissioner, Teaching Service Commission of the defunct Bendel State which was charged with implementing a key aspect of the Four Cardinal Programmes of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the state. I am a fastidious stickler for strict adherence to work schedules even as one of the top executives of the Commission. But as a title holder in the Palace, who is sworn to absolute allegiance to my king and service to my community, how could I ignore or postpone an urgent invitation from the king? I informed the then Chairman of the Commission, Rev. Cannon Eboreime, that the king of my town sent a chief to call me. He asked if there was a problem, I said I did not know. He advised me to honour the invitation. I tidied my desk immediately and followed the chief to the village.
When I arrived at the Palace, the king informed me that there was threat of imminent bloodshed in two neigbhouring communities where some youths on both sides were prepared to go to war over boundary dispute. He said that he did not want to see bloodshed among his neighbours. He disclosed that he had been mandated by his fellow Traditional Rulers at a Meeting of the Traditional Council at Ogwashi-Ukwu to step into the matter. He said that he had decided to constitute a panel under the chairmanship of the Obi of Ewulu to investigate the dispute and settle it. He further said that he had selected me to be the Secretary of the Peace Committee and that my work started immediately. I said, Obi Agwu.
He then dictated a letter which I typed for him at once. I did not sleep that night. At that time, as a budding political activist, I never travelled anywhere without a portable typewriter, typing sheets, carbon paper and some white envelopes (never brown) in the boot of my car and my king knew me very well. The leader of my party in the area at that time, late Dr. Isaac Madubuogor Okonjo, also knew me. In case of any issue in any place that we visited, Dr. Okonjo would say, Biose come. He would dictate a letter and we would respond in writing on the spot. My car was a mobile office. At that time (1981), there were no cell phones in Aniocha, no laptops and no e-mails.
Those invited were HRH, Obi Ezechie, the Obi of Ewulu (Chairman), HRH, Obi Izediunor, the Obi of Ogwashi-Ukwu, HRH, Obi Anyasi, the Obi of Idumuogo, Prince Humphrey Ochei, Regent of Ugbodu, HRH, Obi Ngadaonye, the Obi of Ubulubu, HRH, Obi Justin Nkebakwu, the Obi of Ugboba, Chief Timothy Nwambuonwor, Iyase of Idumuje-Unor, Chief Ufoegbune, Iyase of Issele-Uku, Chief Odibe Mmakwe, Iyase of Idumuogo, Chief Philip Chiazor, Uwolo of Idumuje-Unor, Chief Johnson Offor, Isama of Idumuje-Unor, with Chief Chris O.O. Biose (myself) as Secretary and he signed the letters. I summoned courage to respectfully remind the king in case he forgot to include the name of HRM, Obi Rufus Osemene lll, the Obi of Issele-Uku, whom I knew, was very close to him. He told me that the mother of the Obi Rufus Osemene lll is from Ukwu-Nzu, one of the contending parties, and he did not want any of the parties to accuse any of the participants of bias. He told me that for the same reason, he would not participate in the Peace Committee because his own mother, Akwamuzo, is from Idumu-Okakwu in Ukwu-Uzu.
After I had typed the letters, each addressed to specific persons, the king asked his aides to deliver the letters to all concerned the next day. I returned to Benin City early the next morning.
Ukwu-Nzu community appointed two spokespersons, namely, HRH, Obi Christopher Ogoh 1, the Obi of Ukwu-Nzu and Chief Mission Jebose, Isama of Ukwu-Nzu. When the Peace Committee commenced its work, three observers were also co-opted into the Peace Committee, namely, Chief P.O. Nwadimuya, Ezomo of Ukwu-Nzu, Chief Nkenchor Uwadia, Oligba of Ukwu-Nzu and Mr.Johnson Dunkwu.
Spokespersons for Onicha-Ukwu community were Chief Okohue, Iyase of Onicha-Ukwu and Mr. Sylvester Moemeke. The observers from Onicha-Ukwu were Chief Okafor Anthony, Uwolo of Onicha-Ukwu, Chief Mohanye, Oza of Onicha-Ukwu and Mr. Onyeshinye Azike.
On the day that the Inaugural Meeting of the Peace Committee was held at his Palace, Obi Anyasi ll introduced the objective and terms of reference of the Peace Committee. He announced that the Obi of Ewulu would serve as chairman and that I would serve as Secretary. He said that he was offering his Palace as venue of meetings and host but that he was not a participant. He then recused himself from proceedings of the Committee which he empanelled and never showed up at its proceedings until the completion of the work of the Committee.
The Peace Panel sat at the Obi’s Palace, Idumuje-Unor on March 21, March 28 and April 4, I981. The peace process involved hearing oral evidence from both sides as well as physical inspection of the area in dispute.
During the inspection in the forest, the Kings inspected historical landmarks to which each side to the dispute was free to call attention. I learnt on that occasion that not all trees or unusual features in the forest indicated landmarks or boundaries; they are defined by tradition and not be current opinion. I accompanied the Royal Fathers as they painstakingly visited and navigated the entire stretch of the boundary between Onicha-Ukwu and Ukwunzu which was then a thick forest, ‘That was about forty (40) years ago and some of the area visited was still virgin forest because no one was allowed to enter or farm in those parts. Only some brave hunters ventured those parts. On one occasion, the team was attacked by wild bees but the kings were unruffled and unhurt. The bush inspection was tedious and it lasted a whole day. The kings moved along majestically and resolutely. At some points, one of them would call attention to an observation. And I was personally afraid for the health of the kings because some of them were quite advanced in age at that time. But they demonstrated unusual stamina and resilience.
Based on oral evidence that had been given and their observations in the bush, the Kings consulted among themselves in the bush and then made a detour along the areas they earlier visited, and in that process, marked out boundaries for the two sides in the traditional manner. The Kings then returned to the Obi’s Palace at Idumuje-Unor and fixed a date to announce their findings.
After taking evidence from both sides and visiting the area in dispute, the kings called the kings of feuding communities to a meeting and pronounced a verdict. Before pronouncing its verdict, the kings constituted themselves into an ume (akin to a jury). The contending parties, their spokesmen and observers were asked to leave the hall. After about 30 minutes, all parties were called back to the Ogwa-Obi Idumuje-Unor and the chairman of the Peace Committee, Obi of Ewulu, pronounced the verdict. Each of the kings expressed concurrence.
All parties accepted the verdict of the kings and even provided drinks to appreciate the kings for the unusual sacrifice which they made in traversing vast tracts of virgin forests and visiting Onicha-Ukwu, Ukwu-Nzu and Idumuje-Unor on several occasions. There were no good roads in the defunct Aniocha LGA at that time, particularly to Ewulu and Ubulubu.
The relevance of this historical account is that both Ukwu-Nzu and Onicha-Ukwu had highly influential persons who could easily have said: who are these old men to be dictating to us. But they trod the path of restraint and respect for traditional institutions. Somebody like Mr Sylvester Moemeke, who was then a public relations guru of international repute, could have mobilized national and world media in a campaign against anybody he desired. I took particular note when Mr Sylvester Moemeke rose to speak. He smiled controllably and delivered a response which calmed all frayed nerves, thanking the kings profusely and assuring them that peace had come to stay in the communities as asked by the kings. I was relatively young then and the response of “men of timber and caterpillar” on both sides (apologies to Dr. Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe) on that occasion, remained a lasting object lesson in humility to me.
The kings prayed for peace and progress in the two communities and in the defunct Aniocha LGA as a whole. All the kings that took part in that peace process have joined their ancestors except Obi Christopher Ogoh 1, the Obi of Ukwu-Nzu while Chief Johnson Offor, the Isama Idumuje-Unor are the surviving chiefs. Although most of these great men have since gone, their good work remains indelible because peace and progress have reigned supreme in both Ukwu-Nzu and Onicha-Ukwu since and there has been no instance of land dispute between the communities since the resolution of the boundary dispute in 1981.
The resolution of the dispute in Idumuje-Ugboko would be even simpler because unlike the example just cited, it does not involve communities in different clans. Given good faith and honesty of purpose, the twin issues of succession to the throne and rights to land are defined by tradition.
Lethargy of Elders in Living Up to Their Traditional Responsibilities
It is obvious from all indications that chiefs and elders of Idumuje-Ugboko abandoned their sacred duty to maintain peace in the community on the basis of truth and fair-play but chose to take sides and thereby aggravated the conflict situation in the town. The disagreement over allocation of communal land flowed over to unnecessary kingship tussle.
Another evidence of the failure of chiefs and elders of Idumuje-Ugboko to live up to their traditional responsibility is their feeble or no response to the introduction of unruly youths into the disagreement in the town. It is totally unacceptable for anybody to bring violent youths to disrupt Izu-Ani at the Obi’s Palace.
If chiefs and elders of Idumuje-Ugboko are alive to their traditional role as custodians of the culture and traditions of their community, what did they do when some youths stormed the Royal Palace and disrupted a meeting of Izu-ani, violently disrupted the assembly and reportedly injured some persons? What did the elders and royal family do? Did they say in unison, “this is unacceptable”, and call the erring youths to order in the traditional manner (not police). If they did not do so, then by implication, they invited more desecrations of the sacred precincts of the Palace of the Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko. Our people say that if the owner of a calabash calls it mkpokugba, (broken calabash), neighbours will help him to use it to pack rubbish.
Rather than take action to call erring youths to order or sanction them in accordance with tradition, individuals and groups took sides with personalities due to various motivations. The arising factions polarized the town into two fiercely opposed camps. This has created enmity among relatives, chiefs, elders and more tellingly, among youths of the community.
On both issues (allocation of land and impudence of some youths), the Idumuje-Ugboko Royal Family, chiefs and elders failed their people. They failed to live up to expectation of preserving peace and good order in the community, a duty placed squarely on them by tradition. What forces could have taken away their ability to act with wisdom in the face of challenges to the peace of the community?
Government Commission of Enquiry Option
If traditional dispute resolution mechanisms seem insufficient, an option open to Government is to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the issue and make recommendations to government for implementation. The truth however is that even if the government does so, it would still rely heavily on traditions of the people and not on statute law. The objective of such a commission would be to determine what the customs and traditions of the people are. In this regard however, they cannot have superior knowledge than traditional rulers.
When I was writing his biography, first published in 199l, HRM, Obi (Dr) James Ikechukwu Anyasi ll, JP, the Obi of Idumuje-Unor told me that when some of his relatives challenged his right to the throne of Idumuje-Unor from the late 1940s, the colonial administration set up a panel of enquiry in 1955 to determine the facts of the case. One of the prominent lawyers that stood for his opponents was Barrister Dennis Osadebay but he won the case.
When the counsel to his opponents became Premier of Midwestern Region in 1963, his opponents resuscitated the case. The Premier, Chief Osadebay wisely appointed an expatriate civil servant in the Regional Government, Mr D. B. Patridge as Chairman of the Inquiry. This time, since their former lawyer had become the Premier, his opponents briefed another brilliant and prominent counsel to represent them in the person of Barrister Augustine Maidoh (who later became Hon. Justice Augustine Maidoh). At the commencement of sittings, Dr Isaac M. Okonjo, who was then a Permanent Secretary in the Midwest Region and Secretary of the Panel, advised Obi Anyasi ll to brief a lawyer to represent him at the hearing, but the self-confident king responded: “the issues involved border on traditional matters and therefore was not a case for lawyers.” See Chapter 9 under the heading “THE OBI’S FINAL TRIUMPH” of my book DAWN OF A NEW ERA which is available online at https://www.boldtimes.com.ng.
Kudos to Anioma Traditional Rulers
In my humble view, the best option to address the crisis in Idumuje-Ugboko is that which has been adopted by the Traditional Rulers in Delta North who rightly intervened to bring about the much desired peace in the town. The Royal Fathers formed a Peace Resolution Committee under the chairmanship of HRM, Dr Emmanuel, Efeizomor ll, OON, the Obi of Owa Kingdom, to look into the issues and resolve the dispute. The Committee invited the feuding parties to a Peace Meeting and heard from them. This is quite commendable and all Anioma people must appreciate the Traditional Rulers most sincerely for their effort in that regard. After several meetings, the Royal Fathers issued a Communiqué on January 20, 2020, entitled COMMUNIQUE ON PEACEFUL RESOLUTION OF IDUMUJE-UGBOKO DISPUTE, which was signed by HRM, Obi Dr. Emmanuel Efeizomor ll, OON, the Obi of Owa kingdom, (Chairman) and HRM, Obi Henry Afamefune Kikachukwu (JP) – The Obi of Ubulu-Unor (Secretary) on behalf of the Peace Resolution Committee. The communiqué clearly spelt out steps to be taken by parties to achieve peaceful resolution of the crisis in Idumuje-Ugboko.
It is quite bothersome to observe that more than six months after the communiqué was issued by our revered Royal Fathers, some parties to the dispute have failed to take necessary steps to implement the recommendations of the Peace Resolution Committee of Anioma Traditional Rulers.
I believe that issues arising from local traditions are most profitably addressed by elders and kings. With all due respects to all arms and agencies of government, elders and kings have an edge in the settlement of local disputes. They have a better grasp of local contexts in which such disputes arise.
If the objective of the legislature is to make laws for the order and good governance of the society, if the objective of security agencies is to maintain law and order and if the objective of the judiciary is to interpret laws to achieve the ends of justice, then I believe that traditional institutions could play a useful role in achieving these objectives of the state. Although statutory law specifically precludes traditional institutions from adjudicating on some crimes such as homicide, it is equally clear that where traditional mechanisms are effective, situations would result in such heinous crimes are nipped in the bud and reduced to the barest minimum.
Surely, Anioma boasts of kings that can match the most respectable jurists in the world. It bothers me when a class of elite seems to look down on our kings and prefer to patronize security agencies that are less equipped to understand or address some issues.
If any of the combatants in Idumuje-Ugboko thinks that he is wining in the disgraceful drama playing out in the town, such a person is mistaken. Our people say: Onye we nwanne je izu, wa amu nwanne, wa amua. (One who makes his brother an object of public disgrace (at a public gathering), as people are mocking at his brother, they would also be mocking him.)
Advantages of Traditional Mechanisms of Dispute Resolution
Traditional approach to dispute resolution is superior to police and court process because the objective is to reconcile adversaries and not necessarily to punish one of the parties to a dispute. However, this should not be taken to be a weakness of tradition because disregard of traditional verdicts is also attended with sanctions.
Some prominent members of the Idumuje-Ugboko Royal Family seem to harbour greater regard for policemen and judicial officers in the resolution of traditional disputes. They seem to place police action over peaceful approach by traditional institutions.
In this regard, and with all due deference to security agencies and Judiciary, I respectfully submit that security services and judiciary cannot be wiser or more knowledgeable than Anioma kings in addressing issues arising from tradition in our area. It seems that some of the protagonists in the crisis at Idumuje-Ugboko want things to get to the Supreme Court where our children, yes our children, will sit on our issue.
The edge that the judiciary could be deemed to have over some of our kings is presumption of impartiality, to dispense justice without fear or favour, no matter whose ox is gored, backed by ability to enforce its decisions. Having regard to the traditional stature and exposure of kings that constituted the Peace Resolution Committee on the dispute in Idumuje-Ugboko, I cannot see any judicial panel in any part of the world that could command higher respect than that which sat under the chairmanship of HRM, Obi Dr Emmanuel O. Efeizomor ll, OON, Obi of Owa Kingdom, an octogenarian and current chairman of Delta North Council of Traditional Rulers. Who, in the world could doubt the credence of such a personality?
Imperative of Traditional Decorum in the Royal Family
I also want to remind members of the entire Nwoko Dynasty that what gives them the right to be respected as princes and princesses is their royal heritage, not their individual social statuses, education in British and American ivy institutions or famed wealth.
Kings enjoy primacy of place in traditional society, followed by traditional chiefs and other chiefs. Whatever the wealth or other position of an indigene, no one may take precedence over the king and his chiefs in the community. A person may be accorded special recognition for achievements but he is still subject to the king. In fact, to introduce a person as son or daughter of a king (nwa-eze or ada- eze) commands instant respect in the community, not to speak of the king himself.
All these derive from tradition, not whatever specific attributes an individual may possess. What then does it profit some royals to trivialize, and flout that tradition with impunity?
I want to say that more than any other section of the community, descendants of Nwoko have a bounden duty to protect the culture of the people because without that culture, most of them would not earn the general respect which is accorded them within the community and beyond. Nobility has obligations attached to it.
Furthermore, anyone who accords any modicum of respect for the memory of his parents would protect the good things that such parents stood for. That is the essence of nwa-ezi-madu (a child of a good person) which is a cardinal social ideal in Anioma civilisation.
As recorded in Chapter 8 of my book entitled DAWN OF A NEW ERA: Biography of Obi James Ikechukwu Anyasi ll, the Obi of Idumuje-Unor (2nd Edition) published in 2004, as far back as 1949, Obi Nkeze Nwoko was already a Judge in Idumuje Clan Court sitting in Idumuje-Unor. The judgment which Obi Nkeze Nwoko ll gave at Idumuje Clan Court in 1949 regarding prerequisite traditional process for installation of a king in Idumuje Clan as well as the rights of a king in conferment of traditional honour such as ichi-nmor, was upheld by the expatriate District Officer at Ogwashi-Uku. On appeal, the verdict given by Obi Nkeze Nwoko ll was sustained by the Resident in Benin City. The aggrieved party finally appealed to The Court of The Governor Holden at Ibadan, Nigeria (Native Courts Ordinance, Cap. 143, Sec. 31) before His Excellency, Sir John Rankine, K.G.M.C., Governor of the Western Region. In the final verdict of the case cited as Obi Anyasi II (m) of Idumuje-Unor – Plaintiff-Respondent Versus Okolie Ngeme (m) of Idumuje-Unor – Defendant-Appellant, which was delivered on January 31, 1955, the Governor of Western Region, Sir John Rankine, upheld the verdict of the Idumuje Clan Court on customary matters affecting kingship in Idumuje Clan. Well before that time, Nkeze Nwoko was an Interpreter and advisor to expatriate District Officers as they sat over traditional matters in the defunct Asaba Division. He was later elected to the Western Region House of Chiefs in Ibadan.
How then could any well-bred son or grandson of such a towering traditional personality as Obi Nkeze Nwoko ll, who was groomed and steeped in tradition, dare to disregard the culture and tradition of Anioma people?
It will be the height of disrepute if Idumuje-Ugboko Royal Family should go down in history as sponsor of social discord or nursery of youth brigandage in Idumuje Clan or Anioma nation.
Traditional Sanctions for Recalcitrant Individuals
I want to appeal to all parties in the dispute to hearken to the voice of the elders and wise counsel of our kings. Why would any well-bred indigene, speak less, princes and princess, ignore the wise words of kings. If kings do not have tear-gas, hand-cuffs and guns, they have traditional sanctions.
In the interest of peace in Idumuje-Ugboko, it is time to enforce the resolutions of the Peace Resolution Committee. In this regard, I respectfully submit as follows:
(a) That all relevant actors in the dispute be given a maximum of two weeks to express or renew their unqualified support for the Traditional Rulers in their effort to resolve the protracted dispute in Idumuje-Ugboko because the Anioma nation is disgusted in seeing children of a foremost king in Anioma dancing naked in the streets of Idumuje-Ugboko, Asaba, Anioma, Abuja and in the World Wide Web.
(b) The Peace Resolution Committee may wish to invite the parties once again and give them a deadline to implement the resolutions of the Peace Committee or face traditional sanctions. It is not open to a party to dispute to flout the terms of settlement of a panel to which he submitted himself or give himself the indulgence of delaying implementation indefinitely. It amounts to making a mockery of the Peace Resolution Committee and hat is unacceptable.
A verdict without alternative of sanctions is not worth the paper on which it is written. It is time to impose traditional sanctions on any party that flouts its resolutions. This is within traditional process of justice and dispute resolution in Anioma culture.
Furthermore, I suggest with every sense of responsibility, that any son of a king in Anioma who is not prepared to abide by the culture and traditions of the community from which he derives that status, is honour bound to drop the title of “Prince”. A chief or king that is not prepared to abide by the culture and traditions of the community that made him a chief or king is honour bound to drop the appellation and the position. Words should have meaning and statuses should have obligations attached to them. Anioma does not need fake princes, fake chiefs and fake kings, who answer names but fail to play roles which they assume. Such an act is not merely contradictory; it is dishonest in the extreme. The corruption that has overtaken the wider Nigerian society, whereby most public office holders compromise their oaths of office, legislators function mainly as contractors, political parties operate as platform for imposition of virulent rulers through electoral perfidy, should not be tolerated by traditional institutions whereby some individuals appropriate traditional titles in order to achieve status or earn emoluments while trivializing, and in some cases, demonizing the culture and traditions that made them chiefs and kings.
Idumuje-Ugboko Youths Must Be Circumspect
A bitter quarrel between princes almost always leads to wide social conflict due to the ability of each prince to mobilise large body of supporters. But it is found that after a war, princes almost always return home while some of their supporters inevitably suffer casualties. This fact is sent home in one of the war song made popular during annual oggbanigbe festival in Idumuje Clan which runs in part:
Odi mma nwa-eze, odina mma nwa-eze anaa…. This means that good or bad, the prince must return home (after a war)
Nwa-eze-na-akpali ibe we, odi mma nwa-eze, odina mma, nwa-eze anaa… (When princes insult their fellow princes (to instigate a war), good or bad, princes must return home).
The admonition convey by this war song is not an invitation to cowardice. It is a counsel to those who jump into a fight to be cautious and circumspect. If one must support a prince, it must be for a worthy cause for the good of the community, not a senseless bravado actuated by drug abuse, financial inducement or other unworthy influences.
I must therefore counsel all those fabricating lies against their relatives as well as those who have taken up arms to fight a proxy battle that is not their own, to down-tool. I want to remind them that “it is only the foolish fly that follows the dead body into the grave.” Sheath your swords and let peace and progress reign. Constant resort to Police and law courts only saps energy, drains resources and pits youths against their fellow youths, breeds enmity among brothers and sisters and sowing seeds of future discord the consequences of which are unpredictable and cannot produce lasting peace between members of the community.
Away with Mercenary Interlopers
All members of Nwoko Royal Family and Idumuje-Ugboko in general must be wary of mercenary interlopers who are fanning the embers of discord in Idumuje-Ugboko to feather their private nests. I also want to appeal to all those feeding fat on the dispute in Idumuje-Ugboko Royal Family to hands off and let the people be. All said and done, none of these brown envelope journalists will answer the name Nwoko or leave their states in South-East Nigeria to come and live in Idumuje-Ugboko. They are just helping to sow seeds of mistrust among future generations of the Nwoko Family and Idumjuje-Ugboko in general while feeding fat in the process.
Let Peace and Concord Reign in Idumuje-Ugboko
Our kings in Anioma have set peaceful resolution of the crisis in Idumuje-Ugboko in motion. It behooves all and sundry to give them necessary support so that peace and concord may reign in Idumuje-Ugboko and Anioma. The Holy Writ decrees generous rewards for peacemakers as well as men of goodwill who promote peace.
“Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5: 9, KJV)
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5: 6, KJV)
I hope that all royal families and chiefs in 91 kingdoms distributed in 65 clans in Anioma nation will find in this letter, useful hints for the good of their areas.
Long Live Idumuje-Ugboko Royal Family,
Long Live Idumuje Clan,
Lond Live Delta North Traditional Rulers Council,
Long Live Anioma nation.
Long Live Delta State.
Chris O.O. Biose (The Ode-Uri),
HRM, Obi Dr Emmanuel Efeizomor ll, OON,
The Obi of Owa Kingdom,
Peace Resolution Committee on the Dispute in Idumuje-Ugboko,
Ika North-East LGA,
HRM, Obi Chukwunonso Nwoko lV,
The Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko,
Aniocha North LGA,
Delta State, Nigeria.
Hon. Prince Ned Nwoko,
Aniocha North LGA,
Delta State, Nigeria.
The Permanent Secretary,
Directorate of Chieftaincy Affairs,
Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs,
Asaba, Delta State.
Dr Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa,
Governor of Delta State,
Asaba, Delta State.