The Ogbozinne Community in Akpugo, Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu State is now a ghost town as most indigenes of the area have fled their homes for safety in nearby towns and communities following the crises which led to the killing of the traditional ruler, Igwe Stephen Obumneme Nwatu by his subjects last Monday.
The natives fled their homes following the indiscriminate arrest of over 50 people from the area, over the death of Nwatu at Amodu – a neighbouring community in Akpugo. Like in the Bible (1 Kings) where King Rehoboam’s people stoned their taskmaster, Adoram, to death for his atrocities, causing Rehoboam to flee to Jerusalem, Nwatu’s people have fled his community, leaving old men and women, who can no longer run behind. Nwatu who had been having a running battle with most members of his community over alleged high-handedness, was said to have met his death at Amodu, when he reportedly tried to stop members of his community from trooping to the Government House, Enugu, where both parties had been invited for a peace meeting with the Chief of Staff to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Dr. Festus Uzor. Nwatu, a retired police officer, died at about 9pm at the Enugu State University Teaching Hospital, Park Lane, Enugu, where he was rushed to, after a first aid treatment at the nearby Orient Hospital, in the early hours of the day. Before his death, the traditional ruler, like most of his colleagues in Enugu State, was said to have been engaged in a running battle with most of his subjects. According to sources, the conflict between Nwatu and his subjects was said to have started over three years ago, but escalated recently when the Enugu State Government disbursed N5 million each to all the 468 autonomous communities in the state for the state government’s ‘One Community, One Project’ scheme. It was learned that, although the cheque for Ogbozinne was ready, it was not handed over to Igwe Nwatu, following the conflict between him and his subjects. As a result of this development, Nwatu reportedly walked out on Dr. Uzor and other government officials in anger, as the cheques were being given to other communities. At an earlier peace meeting between the late Igwe Nwatu and one of his subjects at the Police headquarters in Enugu, the deceased was also said to have rejected an apology tendered to him by Chijioke Okenwa, now declared wanted over his death, as directed by the police authorities. The incident reportedly took place in the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police. It was alleged that the deceased had been using the police to intimidate and harass his subjects, as he reportedly imposed illegal levies on them at regular intervals. About two months ago, the deceased reportedly petitioned the police at Nkanu, accusing his adversaries falsely of allegedly murdering an unknown commercial motorcycle (Okada) rider, whose bloated body was found in the bush about five months earlier, thus triggering demonstrations by the youths, women and men across the community against the late monarch. The demonstrators invaded the police station at Agbani, demanding the release of all the detained village heads and community leaders. The demonstrators also threatened to burn down the police station if their leaders were not released, prompting the release of the accused town union leaders. But this was after the state Police Commissioner, Danmalam Mohammed, had dispatched a woman Assistant Commissioner of Police and Area Commander for the area, Zainab Belbi, to Agbani to calm frayed nerves. The crises, however, reached a climax when some natives of Ogbozinne dragged the late Nwatu to court, challenging his powers to appoint both the town union president and the head of the town’s Neighbourhood Watch, a local vigilante group, without reference to other stakeholders or the general assembly. However, it was gathered that the state government invited the traditional ruler and his aggrieved subjects to a peace meeting on the fateful Monday afternoon. Before Nwatu’s death, both parties had attended a court sitting at Agbani same day, over the contentious issues. Nwatu was said to have arrived at the high court premises in the company of policemen, when the court had risen for the day, and decided to look for one of the litigants who sued him along with others in his house for possible arrest and detention. One source said that it was while looking for Chijioke Okenwa that he met his untimely death, while other sources said that he was killed on his way to the peace meeting, at the Government House, when fight broke out between him and some of his subjects at the neighbouring Amodu community, Akpugo. The traditional ruler was said to be with four policemen assigned to him for protection when he reportedly blocked the major road to Enugu metropolis in a bid to stop his subjects who were in over 20 chartered buses from attending the peace meeting in large numbers. In the ensuing fracas, Nwatu was said to have been stripped naked and beaten to a pulp by his subjects and abandoned at the scene of the incident, while the policemen who were with him fled. It was said that one of his police escorts was overpowered and disarmed before he ran away but the rifle was later recovered from the attackers. The Divisional Police Officer, DPO, for Agbani who got wind of the development later rushed to the scene of the incident at Amodu and took Nwatu to the nearby Orient Hospital. It was from the Orient Hospital that he was referred to the Park Lane Hospital where he gave up the ghost later in the night. Sources said that after beating the late Igwe Nwatu to a state of unconsciousness, his subjects abandoned him and proceeded to the Government House, where they reportedly displayed one of their colleagues whose two legs were crushed by Nwatu’s driver in a bid to stop them from proceeding to the Lion Building, the seat of power, for the botched peace meeting. It was while the Ogbozinne people were at Government House, that news filtered into the community that Nwatu had been killed. Pronto, some leaders of the town’s vigilante group, which Nwatu put in place went wild and started burning down the houses of the suspected opponents of their late King. At the last count, over 20 houses had been burnt. Presently, the man whose two legs were crushed by Nwatu’s driver, is receiving treatment at the National Orthopedic Hospital, Enugu, while Nwatu’s lifeless body has been deposited at the Park Lane Hospital mortuary, as police continued their investigations into the matter. The Enugu State Government and the police should learn some lessons with the Ogbozinne debacle. The state government should institute a commission of enquiry to investigate the multitudes of cases between traditional rulers and their communities in the state with a view to rectifying the anomalies before they get out of hand like in the case of Ogbozinne Community, because as they always say: a stitch in time saves nine. The Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Ebere Amaraizu, said that “operatives of the state Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Department, CIID, had started full-scale investigations into the incident with a view to finding out the circumstances surrounding the matter as well as those involved among other things.”
Reports from Emeka Mamah