By Emmanuel Onwubiko
The current administration has just intervened in the protracted human rights violations that have threatened the social fabrics of a notable agrarian community in the crude oil rich Delta state known as Idumuje-Ugboko which is approximately a trekkable distance from the political seat of power of Delta state of Asaba. The alleged masterminds terrorizing the peace of the community are to be charged before a Federal High Court Abuja division by the Federal ministry of Justice in what is surely the right steps to bring to a close this ugly chapter. This decision by the Federal ministry of Justice has also demonstrated the wisdom in the show of restraints by all the victims of the wanton human rights violations.
The epicenter of these crises is within the House of Nwoko which for centuries has headed the trado-cultural affairs of this reputable community known for producing distinguished lawyers, journalists, writers and keepers of excellent global tourism sites.
Hendrix Oliomogbe is a journalist who works for Nigeria’s media flagship – The Guardian and from his base in Asaba he summed up what he believes are the core issues tearing this once boisterous and peaceful farming community apart.
He wrote as follows: “On August 20th 2017, a house divided against itself can certainly not stand, so they warned. An impending implosion may just lead to the fall of House of Nwoko, which for centuries has presided over affairs of the small town of Idumuje Ugboko, Aniocha North local council of Delta State, should the feuding princes not entomb the hatchet. The cause of friction is who, between Prince Justin Nonso Nwoko, the eldest surviving son of the late King Obi Albert Nwoko III, and his younger half-brother, 18-year old Prince Uche Nwoko, is the rightful occupant of the ancient chieftaincy stool”. The contest is a three way race with the emergence of Solomon a claimant although not directly from the ruling house.
“While the elder Nwoko has since been coronated as king by a section of the palace, the teenager, a final year secondary school student, is not relenting in his march to the throne. He is so supremely confident that as the chosen one, that like the biblical Joseph, his elder brother might pay obeisance to him. The coveted kingship stool became vacant last February, when their father passed on at 91…”
The Iyase (traditional Prime Minister), Chief Chris Ogwu, alleged that anarchy is now the order in the town, a few kilometers from the council headquarters at Issele Uku, as the teenage prince’s supporters are now hounded by some village thugs.
Ogwu, a veteran journalist and pioneer editor of the state owned The Pointer newspaper, said his insistence on the truth earned him a severe whipping, while the windscreen of his vehicle was smashed and his house vandalized by thugs on the monarch’s orders.”
“He said: “Over 100 thugs now occupy the palace. They invaded the community, dragged people out of their homes and beat them up, and destroyed indigenes’ belongings. They invaded the market and chased away traders. They also invaded the secondary school, causing teachers and pupils to scamper into the bush, as they shot sporadically.”
“Prince Uche and his supporters contended that the choice of the elder half-brother couldn’t stand, as the people’s age-old customs were not followed in the installation. They are holding him out as more qualified, because his parents are from Idumuje-Ugboko.”
These narratives by the reporter are one amongst the many cases of human rights abuses which formed the fundamental points of attractions for the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) which about the same time of this newspaper publication embarked on an investigative visit to the community. The factional traditional stool’s claimant is accused of terrorism all the community elders who are not in support of his coronation that violated the laid down conditions precedent. He has also attempted to undo the land right that was granted to Prince Ned Nwoko for the building of a University which had since commenced establishment of facilities at the site allocated by the late traditional ruler and the council of elders. Claims were made about how persons who welcomed the idea of the University were terrorized by the factional traditional ruler and the eldest son of the late monarch.
Barrister David Ajaba, a very senior legal consultant to HURIWA headed the team which also included Barrister Sylvia Nneka Okonkwo, and two other activists namely Andrew and Yomi. They met and interviewed several victims of coordinated attacks which were blamed reportedly on the factional traditional ruler of the village aforementioned.
The team authored a report of the fact-finding mission of human rights writers association of Nigeria to idumeji ugboko community of delta state as follows:
In view of the disturbing story of human rights abuses in Idumuje Ugboko community of Delta State, we embarked on a fact finding mission to the community on 21st August 2017. This was preceded by an application for police protection which was personally submitted to and immediately approved by the Delta State Commissioner of Police. In the company of some armed police men, we proceeded to Idumeje Ugboko community where we had interaction with a good number of persons who were affected by the rampage and did a house to house assessment of the situation.
Our finding revealed that Chief Chris Ogwu, the Iyamasi (Prime Minister) of Idumuje Ugboko is one of the victims of the attack. The window glasses of his cars: a Camry Le and a Mercedes-Benz 230; house windows, wardrobe were destroyed. He informed us that other household items like television, dstv decoder, mobile phones were stolen from him after had been personally beaten and dragged to the palace on the night of 24th May 2017.
All the elders of the community were affected by the attack. Chief Chucks Kennedy Ilo relayed that on the 19th of May 2017, some aggressive youths came to his shop and informed him that Prince Nonso had ordered that they bring him to the palace. They grabbed him and carried him to the palace where he was terribly manhandled and told that it was only a warning. Afterwards on the 24th of May 2017 at about 12midnight, they came back destroyed his living house (which we observed) and took away his dstv and Star Times decoders, TV, cooking gas, serving plates, ogbono seed stored by the wife. This second experience caused him to flee his home to Asaba where he has been till the time of our visit.
Chief Moses Chisanda (Bukano) who is the President of the Udumuje Ugboko Development Union had his house’s 12 windows destroyed and said his mobile phones, dstv, motorcycle were taken by the armed youth.
Mr. Peter Mbama (Head of Vigilante)
said on the 24th day of May, 2017 at 12:30am, some armed thugs said they were sent by Prince Nonso Nwoko to recover the property of the community from him and despite that he handed the properties to them, he was mercilessly beaten almost to death but was only rescued later where he was abandoned.
Same treatment appeared to have been meted out to Mr Uche Nwoko. The windows, doors, kitchen cabinets of his new house were all destroyed. He informed us that
some friends had earlier advised his family to leave their house because they would be attacked. And true to the threat, on the 25th of May 2017 at 12midnight, His 2 GP tanks were equally destroyed while his well water was poisoned. We observed all the properties destroyed.
We also observed that Emma Kobonye (youth leader) sustained gunshot injury on his leg which he said was due to attacks by the same youth. At the house of Chief Sunday Edimode (the Odogwu of Idumuje) Ugboko), we observed that of the 16 windows of his house, 14 were smashed exposing the house to cold. We met him shaking terribly like one with partial stroke. He informed us that all were a result of the attacks of some armed youths who informed him that they were sent by Prince Nonso Nwoko due to his association with and support for Prince Ned Nwoko.
Another person affected by the attacks is Mr. Victor Omeyi: he fumed as relayed his ugly ordeal. His five air conditioners, conveniences, windows were all smashed with the following items (according to him) carted away: boxes of utensils, return ticket to UK, landed property documents, $3,500, E500, N200,000, generating set, etc.
Mrs. Gladys Koguonye also suffered similar fate. Her two doors, 5 windows, dish and decoder were all destroyed. She reported that her Nokia phone was taken away by the armed youths who threatened her with gun the night of 25th June 2017 at around 11 pm when they came to her house.
This is by no means a complete coverage of those affected by the attacks due to time and resources.
Life and property in Idumuje Ugboko community right now are not safe. Some people have fled the community for refuge at some other towns, while some others who cannot afford to leave the community have left their homes. The emotions are very high. It is a situation which requires urgent attention to prevent further attacks or retaliatory attacks which will greatly worsen the life of the community.
On the return of this investigative team to the community, the Rights group wrote to the National Human Rights Commission and asked that the commission constitute a team to visit the community to see for themselves what the team saw on ground and the displacement of so many of the people of this community who then took refuge within the imposing and expansive mansion of the former house of representatives member and a leading senior maritime lawyer in Africa Prince Ned Nwoko.
HURIWA told the Human Rights Commission why it has become necessary for government to intervene as follows: “We write you this letter to urge your good offices to urgently assign a team of investigators to visit the above mentioned community to provide remedial mechanisms to the large number of alleged human rights violation victims. Our attention was called to the brewing crisis in this community and we are concerned that a great percentage of women, children and elders of this community who were allegedly attacked by armed thugs are now internally displaced and denied their constitutionally guaranteed human rights”.
As one of the credible civil society stakeholders, we decided to visit the community on Monday 21st August 2017 to take a critical assessment of the allegations but the presence of your tem would make a world of difference because of the capacity of your good offices to deploy institutional mechanisms within the context of the enabling law to resolve the growing trends of human rights violations especially against vulnerable members of this community.
We were also informed that after the violence that recently erupted in Idumuje-Ugboko, an agrarian community in Aniocha North LGA of Delta State, the tale is such that could be described as evidence of sorrow, tears and blood. The gory sight of the point where a young man was murdered, the injured youths, the displaced and homeless, the wanton destruction of properties, all this attest to the wreck left behind by the royal family entrusted with the custody and destiny of the community of Ugboko and her people. Even the team of police from the offices of the AIG Zone 5, Benin, the CP Delta State Command and the DPO Divisional Police Headquarters, Issele-Uku could not resist an intermittent facial expression of surprises at the level of mayhem unleashed on a community by her own immediate ruling family and their cohorts, so reports the media.
Before conducting journalists round the town to families whose houses were destroyed, one of the actors, Prince Ned Nwoko had briefed the media representatives before the OC Legal from Benin, the outcome of the meeting of parties in the Ugboko crisis with the AIG Abubakar.
From the whole scenario, it appears that the bone of contention between Prince Nonso Nwoko and Prince Ned Nwoko is the 90 hectares of land allocated to the latter for the setting up of a sport university, which was sparked off by previous personal acrimony. The documents shown indicated that the land was duly approved to be given to Ned by the former Obi Albert Nwoko prior to his demise, before the coming up of Prince Nonso Nwoko to oppose the approval and attempting to disrupt the ceding of the said land for the establishment of a university of sports.
The Odogwu of Ugboko, Chief Sunday Anthony Edemodu, who is also a victim of the crisis, confirmed as the Land Allocation Chairman that Obi Albert duly approved the allocation of the said land to Ned as agreed by Ugboko community. He exonerated Ned of any wrong doing, adding that his family was attacked for standing on the truth.
The Secretary of the Land Allocation Committee, Mr. Kennedy Iloh also affirmed the claims of the Odogwu, maintaining that Prince Nonso Nwoko is opposed to development in the community even when his qualification for the next Ugboko king remains in doubt. He said a handful of elders in the community were beaten up and rendered homeless by thugs loyal to Prince Nonso Nwoko, just for speaking the truth.
Meanwhile, every other victim spoken to, including a 75 year old Mrs. Maria Nwoko alleged that one Ashioma Omezie led Chiejume Ndudi, Kachi Nwoko, Nnamdi Ochei, Nonso Omeife a.k.a Mandela, Iyke Moemeke, Ifeanyi Chima, Nwabuisi Chima, Ndudi Chibu and over 25 other alleged thugs from the palace to beat them up and destroy their houses at night. She pleaded with the police to be in constant operation in the community to protect them, claiming that their lives are in danger as the entire community has been engulfed in fears.
However, it was later learnt that over 150 youths and elders, including the Iyase of Ugboko, Chief Chris Ogwu and the last wife of the former Obi, Queen Faith Okwukwe Nwoko now live at the Mount Ned Nwoko as refugees, even in their own community.
The now frayed looking Iyase of Ugboko, Chief Chris Ogwu, a veteran journalist himself and pioneer Editor of the Pointer Newspaper stressed that only God can help them from the hands of a tyrant who would do anything to become king. He said ever since the incident where his house and brand new car were destroyed he had sought refuge in tightly secured Ned Nwoko’s house.
Chief Ogwu had earlier briefed the press in Asaba after the carnage in his community. With this on the spot assessment of damage in the community of Ugboko, it could be deduced that all what he said was true.
The Rights Commission immediately commenced investigation even as it later recommended to the Federal Attorney General and minister of justice Abubakar Malami (SAN) to intervene urgently which the office of the Federal Attorney General immediately took over the entire process which has now culminated in the imminent prosecution for terrorism of the indicted factional leaders of the community.
The Federal government’s intervention has now resulted in a pending suit before the Federal High Court, Abuja Division and one of the ingredients of the allegations is thus:
Conspiracy punishable under section 17 of the Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act 2013
Nigerian government alleged that: “That you, PRINCE CHUKWUNONSO NWOKO, DENNIS UWADIEGUM NWOKO, NDUDI CHIEJIUME, NWOCHIE AGILIGA LIGHT, RAYMOND OMESIETE, ADIM NWAFOR, OKEY IFEJOKU, AZUKA MUKOLU, EJIMOFE NWOKO, OMOYE ESONYE, AIKHOMO OMEZI of Idumuje-Ugboko Community, Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State on or before the 18th to the 25th of May 2017 at Idumuje-Ugboko Community, Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court conspired to commit Act of terrorism and you thereby committed an offence punishable under section 17 of the Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act 2013”.
An arrest warrant has already been issued.