… Members run to neighbouring communities for safety
From DOM EKPUNOBI, Onitsha
For the once peaceful Umueri kindred of Nkwelle-Ezunaka in Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State, peace and tranquility are now strange experiences. This is following what some family members say are the activities of land speculators within its fold. The family, with about 250 adult members, has been living in fear since January this year, when of some them started selling the family land, without the consent of other members.
The family is said to have a large portion of land that spans up to three and half kilometers. Land, as in most parts of the country, is a priced asset in Igboland. The eldest member of Uwueri kindred, Pa Ezepue Achede Onwuanyi who narrated their ordeal to Saturday Sun at Nkwelle- Ezunaka said that their vast area of land which their forefathers bequeathed to them has turned into a curse, rather than a blessing. He specifically pointed to one Mr. Chigozie Onwuanyi and some other members of the kindred as the source of their trouble.
Pa Onwuanyi said that trouble started with Chigozie Onwuanyi, plotting to unseat one Ambrose Onwuanyi as the chairman of the kindred’s meetings. According to him, Chigozie had insisted that Ambrose must be removed as chairman if peace was to reign. The 84-year-old Pa Onwuanyi said that when Ambrose Onwuanyi could no longer stand the heat from Chigozie and his cohorts, he resigned as Chairman and the baton of leadership fell on Augustine Nwofia to the disappointment of Chigozie who thought he would have been the next chiarman.
He said that when Chigozie failed to achieve his ambition, he transferred his animosity to Mr. Nwofia, the new chairman, to the embarrassment of Umueri kindred. According to him, matters came to a head when the beacons used in demarcating the plotted family land were removed and nobody owned up to the act. He said that when persuasions and appeals to own up failed, some non-Christian members of the family decided to bring in traditional medicine men, who placed a curse on whoever that removed the beacons. That action, he said, angered Chigozie, who consequently threatened that unless the curse was revoked, he was going to deal with all members of the family. He said that Chigozie, who boasted that he has the support of the police and even the army in the area, operates with some other persons.
These, include, Mr. Paul Okechukwu, Mr. Ifeanyi Okegbo, Tochukwu Onwuanyi, Okoye Boniface Onwuanyi and Ifeanyi Okafor. Pa Achebe Onwuanyi said that Chigozie and his group had sold a portion of the vast area of the family land to Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Onitsha, for N100 million and had already collected N10 million before the organization realized that it was not dealing with the rightful owners of the property. Having realized their mistake, he said, the organization then approached the family and apologized. “But our stand is that they should collect their money from Chigozie and his group, because Umueri kindred was not part of the transaction and should therefore not be bound by any terms of agreement reached therein.”
The octogenarian took this reporter round various houses of family members, which he alleged were vandalized by Chigozie and his group. A vehicle, which was also allegedly set ablaze by the group, was shown to substantiate, according to him, “the extent of willful damage done to property by the group.” Pa Onwuanyi said that the most embarrassing aspect of the episode was that several reports made by the family over the activities of Chigozie and his group to the DPO at 33 Police Stations, were neither investigated nor was any arrest made. His words: “Up till now, Chigozie is boasting and saying that he would stage war against the entire kindred and burn down all the houses in the community.
Since Chigozie does not make threats without seeing them accomplished, everybody at home has now gone into hiding outside the town for fear. He alleged that Chigozie is not a member of the executive of the family meeting but has been using the money he realized from the illegal sale of family land to buy his way and form an empire around himself with thugs and killer squad. He said Chigozie has also been laying false allegations against members of the family and with the help of the police, he detains them at police stations.
In a letter they addressed to the Anambra State Commissioner of Police, dated February 7, 2012, copy of, which was made available to Saturday Sun, the Umueri Family wrote among other things: “Sir, we therefore humbly appeal that you use your good offices to intervene in this matter and save the peaceful community before Chigozie and his cohorts would put the entire village on fire”. The save-our-soul letter was duly signed by Augustine Nwofia – Chairman; Augustine Okakpu – Secretary, Ibe Okegbo – Treasurer; Nnamdi, Onwuanyi – Financial Secretary, Eugene Obiozor – Provost and Achebe Onwuanyi – Elder. When Saturday Sun contacted the Chairman of the kindred, Mr. Augustine Nwofia, he narrated his ordeal in the hands of Chigozie and his group.
According to him, the five-member group had beaten him up severally. Mr. Nwofia said that the problem of Umueri Development Union was compounded by the fact that the President General of the Town Union was lending helping hands to Chigozie because of Chigozie’s relationship with his family. Chigozie, he said, was the Personal Assistant to Hon. Chinedu Eluemuno, younger brother to the President General (PG).
He said that the PG even went to the extent of giving recommendation to Chigozie and his group to register an association that could have run parallel to the already registered Umueri Development Union, but for the intervention of some Local Government Staff who knew the history of their kindred. Mr. Nwofia said that the kindred had gone to the extent of staging a protest march to Oyi Local Government Headquarters over their plight. Reacting to allegations made against him by his kinsmen, Chigozie Onwuanyi said that trouble in the family started in May 2011 when some members of the family decided to bring three deadly medicine men against those who were not in support of the leadership of Mr. Ambrose Onwuanyi.
He said they recited incantations, placed curses on those opposed to Ambrose’s leadership and asked the juju to kill every one of them. Chigozie said that his kindred members performed rituals with one Arinze Onwuanyi whom he said was being sought by the police for an alleged kidnapping and murder. Arinze, he said, has been on the run in the last four years, but was often harboured by Augustine Nwofia and two others. He said that when he came back from Abuja and got information about what happened, he wrote a petition to Commissioner of Police, Anambra State and they were arrested by the Command Monitoring Unit, Awka.
According to him, as the police were making arrangement to prosecute the suspects, a Permanent Secretary in Anambra State Government from the kindred intervened and used government influence to effect their release on bail without further investigation. He said that after that incident, the Permanent Secretary began to use the police to attack and witch hunt him and his group. He told Saturday Sun that he wrote another petition to the Inspector General of Police, who sent a team of policemen, led by DSP Ado, from Federal SARS, Abuja to came to Nkwelle-Ezunnaka and made some arrest. He said that even as peace process in the family was going on, Mr. Ambrose Onwuanyi was impeached because he failed to account for the N45 million realized from sale of family land and Mr. Chike Udeonu was elected as Chairman.
According to him, Mr. Ambrose Onwuanyi refused to step down and Mr. Udeonu challenged him in Otuocha High Court. Chigozie told Saturday Sun that there had been parallel executive of the kindred meeting and that the Local Government was brokering peace to harmonize the two factions. He admitted that the Udeonu group sold an area of the kindred land for N100 million and had collected N10 million, adding however, that the other party had admitted selling a portion of land and collected N48 million. He said that the N10 million collected by the Udeonu executive was shared among all adult members of the kindred. When Saturday Sun visited the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) 33 Mr. Owan Ekang over the issue, he said that matters over the debacle in the Umueri kindred had been reported to his office severally.
He confirmed that there have been accusations and counter-accusations by the two warring groups and that Oyi Local Government Area is handling the matter on the directives of Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi. He confirmed that houses were damaged and some cars burnt, adding however that the two groups in dispute suffered the damages. From all indications, the fact is that whatever anybody is doing to restore normalcy in the kindred, it should be done fast before more damages are done and human lives lost. As it is, there is still acute tension in the area and members of the kindred are living in serious fear.