•Ebonyi community inaugurates chief with fanfare 16 years after being disgraced out of office

From Wilson Okereke, Afikpo

Life is full of ironies. This was displayed on Saturday, January 28, 2023, when the people of Umuka Okposi, in Ohaozara Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, gathered in their numbers to install Chief Irem Okorie as their village head (the Ogwumaeze VI.)

Ironically, Irem, who was also the Ogwumaeze III, was somewhat disgraced out of office in 2006 in controversial circumstance.

In January 2006, a year for Umuka mass return to the village when a new chief would be elected, and the incumbent was to retire and receive thank you message from the community, unfortunately, the worst happened as some unpatriotic, self-centred and ungodly elements from the community carefully plotted and concocted allegations of witchcraft against Chief Irem, whose tenure was ending as the village chief then.

They called him out to the centre of the ancestral playground (Ogwe) and rained all manner of insults on him: spat on him, slapped him, took away his shoes and hat.

According to the story, a particular self-acclaimed prophet from the area had claimed that Chief Irem took the destiny of all Umuka people and gave to his son, which enabled him travel overseas.

This brought great dishonour and shame to the Irems. It almost brought the community to its knees as some people rose up to challenge why a man who had served his people meritoriously should be so scornfully treated by the same people he laboured for, at the end of his tenure.

But, as fate would have it, with time, Umuka people came back to their senses. And with the effluxion of time, too, the law of retributive justice visited those who hatched the wicked plot.

So, it was heart-warming and a clear vindication of the just as the people of Umuka inaugurated Chief Irem again as their village head.

The well-attended event was the Umuka Unity Day 2023, which held on Saturday, January 28. It brought together people from the three component kindreds of Umuka community, their in-laws, friends and well-wishers.

It was a week-long programme of activities, including wrestling competition, football matches, peace walk, art competition, launching of Umuka Voice Magazine and fund-raiser for boreholes and streetlight projects, among others.

Setting the tempo for the day, president of Umuka community, Emenike Okorie, said that there were many other activities rolled into the major event, which included the inauguration of the community head, Ogwumaeze VI.

“When Chief Irem served for the first time, he was the Ogwumaeze III but now upon his assumption of office for the second time, he is now the Ogwumaeze VI,” he explained.

He further explained that the re-election of Chief Irem for the second time after the first tenure of eight years was in tandem with the people’s constitution and the zoning arrangement.

Okorie said: “Based on our arrangement, Umuka is democratic such that, if Nigeria can emulate, there will be peace in the country such as rotational presidency and the positions of the traditional rulers because, in these three families that make up Umuka, each will rule for eight years before it will get to another and in this case, Chief Irem who had led before now has been elected again, courtesy of the consensus choice of Umuenyi kindred.”

He charged his people to be united to enable them attract progress and development in the community adding that with such undaunted understanding, the indigenes would be able to surmount whatever challenge that might arise.

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Former Attorney-General of Ebonyi State, Dr. Benjamin Igwenyi, who chaired the event, said that Umuka was one of the component villages of Okposi Autonomous Community but because of its numerical strength, the people are seeking autonomy.

He described the programme as a unifying factor in the sense that it brings everyone together and makes the people always conscious of their place of origin.

“It helps some people to pick their partners, someone who may be thinking that he has not found the type of girl that he wishes to marry can easily get such person in his own village during an event of this kind,” Igwenyi said on the significance of the event. 

The just inaugurated village head, Chief Irem was highly elated, recalling that he served as the Ogwumaeze III around 16 years ago and perhaps because of his performance then, coupled with their constitutional provision, he has become the Ogwumaeze VI.

He mentioned the chain of the leadership of the area from the creation to include their forefather, the Ogwumaeze I,  the late Chief Awoke Obasi (the Ogwumaeze II, himself as the Ogwumaeze III, Chief Ude Nwobaji, being the Ogwumaeze IV, the late Chief Job Onuoha, the Ogwumaeze V, and himself again as the Ogwumaeze VI.

He stated that during his first tenure, he anchored his leadership on God and by such virtue he was able to maintain absolute peace in the area and love among the people. 

“Besides, I have achieved some physical development and it might be on this premise that the people re-elected me, at the tail end of my first tenure, some persons out of the reason best known to them accused me falsely and the matter was taken to the law court and after three years, it was found out that those people’s allegations were baseless as such things which they accused me of did not happen and as God would have it, the people having noticed my innocence in the issue and my achievement then, deemed it necessary to elect me for the second time,” he narrated.

Chief Irem appealed to his people to always allow themselves to be guided by love as that would go a long way in fostering peace and unity in the community. 

Speaking on one of the things that make Umuka thick, Chairman of the chief’s cabinet, Chief Nwugo Ihebunandu said that the cabinet is unique because it comprises all the elderly persons with proven integrity. He also said that all the component kindreds are properly represented in the traditional institution.

Other indigenes of the area further spoke on the significance of the event. A pastor with Assemblies of God Church, Rev. Ogbonnaya Obed, said he was part of the celebration because it was aimed at the development of the community.

He enjoined other Christian faithful to align with the leaders of the area since such activity does not negate their belief.

One of the elders of the place, Okereke David Odii told Daily Sun that the event was targeted at giving honour to both their ancestors and others who had ruled the area starting from the founder known as “Ogwumaeze I” and his successors including Chief Okorie Irem, the Ogwumaeze VI. He added that the occasion also offered them opportunity to plan for the future of the entire Umuka.

Odii said: “We thank God who had thwarted the problem earlier caused by some persons by restoring an unmitigated peace and love among us, presently, we as a people have found Chief Irem worthy of leading us again after his first eight years.

“On this note, I am urging everyone to work towards peace and unity of the community so that there will be progress among us.”

One of the special guests, Chief Ifeanyi Odii who is the governorship candidate of People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) in Ebonyi State, said that before now, he had gone round all parts of the state and spotted each place’s peculiar problem which would be adequately treated, including the needs of Umuka people, if he is sworn as governor on May 29.

“Once I am elected, the request of the people involving road construction and streetlight will be given attention and the type of light that I will install will serve both in the streets and the people’s houses, the Eke Okposi Market Square will also be built to standard, I am not issuing promises as a politician rather as someone who have been into the business of development,” Odii stated.