THE sleepy agrarian community of Agunese in Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State has been thrown into needless crisis following the attempts by the traditional ruler, Igwe Cyprian Maduabuchi Nevobasi, to emasculate the Town Union.
Matters came to a head on December 30, 2021, when the community prepared to elect new town union leaders. For the greater part of the term of the President General, Mr. Laz Udeh, the people of Agunese were surprised by the lack of accountability and developmental initiatives in the community and made to attempt to impeach the PG.
The PG, Udeh, was alleged to have constituted himself as a Personal Assistant to Igwe Nevobasi, such that all monies accruing to the community from the state government, including the N5million monthly contingency funds could not be accounted for.
However, wise counsel prevailed and some eminent citizens of the community, comprising young professionals and business owners decided to set up an independent account to warehouse funds from free will donations to complement the strides of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and expedite development projects in the community.
Spurred by this new impetus the youths decided to embark on development projects to open up the community, particularly through the renovation of schools and road construction with the hope that a new Town Union would be elected to carry on with the programmes.
But, on the very day of the election after delegates from the villages namely, Enugu Affam, Uhuoghe, Ibite Agbo, Ibite Ugwu, and Eziajanu, gathered at the community town hall to hold the election, Igwe Nevobasi stormed the venue.
By the time the Igwe arrived the venue, the member representing the community in the Enugu State House of Assembly, Hon. O. J. Chukwuobasi, was commending the delegates for comporting themselves peacefully.
However, no sooner had the lawmaker finished his remarks than Igwe Nevobasi announced the suspension of the election, claiming that he received a signal from the security agencies that the election be put off so as to avoid a replay of violence that transpired in another community when they were holding a similar town union election.
At the Igwe’s declaration, there was an uproar of resentment as the order to postpone the election did not go down well with the people, who noted that there was no threat to peace or any violence in the entire exercise.
The Igwe, having noticed the public outcry told the people to come back in three days’ time and a decision would be taken on the matter. On the third day, instead of holding the election, the traditional ruler announced the setting up of a caretaker committee to be headed by the same former PG, Udeh, whose tenure had elapsed.
To perpetuate the illegality, Igwe Nevobasi wrote a petition to Enugu State command of Department of State Services (DSS) alleging that some indigenes of the community, who invariably were the ones spearheading self help development projects in Agunese were sponsoring unknown gunmen into the community.
When challenged by the lawmaker, both the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) and DSS denied that they made any call to the Igwe regarding the cancellation of the Town Union election.
Ever since the Town Union election was botched, Agunese community has remained in a state of apprehension and fear as mutual suspicion reigns, just as the Igwe who has relocated to his South Africa base continues to instigate the arrest and detention of members of the 16-member Way Forward Committee sponsoring the self-help development projects in the community.
When our reporter visited the community, the ongoing school renovation projects and road construction had been stalled while the people urged the Igwe to hands off the Town Union and concentrate on the traditional governance institution.
In an interview, one of the candidates in the botched December 30, 2021 election for the post of President General, Mr. Simeon Okeke said, the community has never been associated with violence of any sort prior to the petition by Igwe Nevobasi to the security agencies.
Okeke narrated: “The genesis of the crises in our town is that some 16 young men came together, saw that things were not moving smoothly in our town, and decided to see the way they can move the town forward.
“They pledged to contribute the sum of N6million to make sure that things start moving well. This did not go down well with the self-imposed Igwe, who swore to deal decisively with them. He, in a voice note leaked from his palace said that those people who pledged to contribute N6million to support Agunese community’s development, when they do, he will bring N16million to make sure that he deals with them and that if they are able to bring N15M, he will raise his own to N30M. And that he is prepared to bring out N100M to muscle down every force that is trying to lift Agunese up, because he has sworn to deal decisively with the community.
“In fact, in one of his videos, he was seen saying that Agunese is conquered and that as a conquered community, they have no right to choose who rules them and that he has conquered them. He likened the town to Igbo of (today’s) Nigeria and said that the Igbos of Nigeria have been conquered by Nigeria during the civil war and as such cannot contribute anything in Nigeria. That is what he said in a video.
“Then, on the 30th of December 2021, when he saw that it was impossible for him to install a new government, he came up with the excuse that the DSS called him that there is security issues in our town. We all know that no other person is capable of causing a security breach in our town, except the Igwe who has an amoury and armed thugs in his house. No other person in the community could have done that.”
Okeke continued, “What actually happened is that the Igwe wants to be a paramount ruler. We scheduled a town union election because the previous President General, everybody knew him as the Igwe’s PA. As a matter of fact and from what I understand, Igwe is a signatory to the town union’s Account. And every money that comes in, he sees the alert.
“Dissatisfied with the performance of the former PG, and everything was attributed to the influence of the Igwe, we were supposed to hold an election on the 30th of December last year. As a matter of fact, the former PG knows that his tenure has expired, and we properly notified both the rural development ministry and sent out a circular to that effect and also appointed an election committee that carried out screening and the rest.
“I was a candidate in that election and unfortunately on that day, when we came, the PG was just giving his address when the Igwe came in with a member of the State’s House of assembly who happens to come from our place. And the House member talked to us and thanked us. Supposedly, we were assuming that the election was still holding.
“So, when Igwe came to address us, he told us that what he was going to say was not going to be palatable for many people. He said that the election was no more going to hold. That the DSS called him, and the Commissioner for Rural Development also called him and told him that the election will not hold. And there was no letter to the PG who was supposed to be organizing the election because it is a town union election. There was no information prior to that to the PG whatsoever. At least they didn’t make that known to us.
“Fortunately, we talked to our people that this is an internal election just to develop our town, because people were now yearning to develop the town and the status quo was no more acceptable because people did not trust the past executive with their money. And it was because the little money that came in, they could not account for it. So, they were looking forward to an executive that is going to be trustworthy.”
Hinging the Igwe’s interference on the demand for accountability on the Town Union leaders, Okeke stated: “In the 2020 annual meeting, the issue was raised, but the PG, Laz Ude could not render account. A year before that, people wanted to impeach the PG in that December 30th 2020 annual meeting. And many people also talked to him individually so that he could render an account and then clear his name, but he never did it until the last day. All he kept saying is that he will handle it.”
Another stakeholder, Prince Linus Okoli, also spoke to our reporter in Agunese. Okoli, who said that Igwe’s mother hails from the same village with him stated: “What I know about the issue is that it started on the 30th of December last year and that is the day we were supposed to have our town union election. And according to our constitution, the then President General of the Town Union, his tenure expired on the 30th of December, 2021. And that was the day we were supposed to have another election. Then we gathered at our square where we were supposed to have the election.
“Behold, our Igwe came and made a pronouncement that there will be no election. Then, everybody was surprised to hear that from him because from every indication there was no problem going on in the community. So, that is why the announcement that there will be no election shocked everybody. Then, our boys wanted to know why the election will not hold from him. Then, he made mention that the Commissioner called him that the election will not hold, that he should call it off and that there was one town in Enugu that wanted to have their town union election and there was crisis.
“So, because of that, he doesn’t want our own to hold. We told him but there is no crisis at all within Agunese and that the Returning Officers, the contestants and all those involved in the process were ready and we believe that it will be the freest and fairest election. But when he made that pronouncement, everybody was surprised. When the boys wanted to rise, he now asked them to give him 72 hours. Then, people started going home one after the other.
“Then before you knew it, he started appointing people on his own. We have six villages in Agunese. He now started picking people from each village, saying that there was going to be a Caretaker committee. Then we now asked him; why? Is that how it was supposed to be? For you Igwe to be in your bedroom and pick somebody as a member of the Caretaker Committee? Then we said that it is not done, it’s unacceptable to us.
“We now called for Agunese general meeting to know why? Only for him to come up again to say that he saw some uniformed men and unknown gunmen. We now asked him, who are those armed men and who are those unknown gunmen? He now called some of our boys unknown gunmen, because those are the boys that said that what he did was wrong. That you are not supposed to be in your bedroom and pick people.
“That if you want to have a Caretaker committee, you should ask each village to pick somebody. That is the way it is supposed to be.
So, what is going on now in Agunese is that the way the Igwe is handling everything is uncalled for, it’s unacceptable. You have no business in town union affairs.”
On what could be done to resolve the crisis, Okoli said the Igwe should steer clear of the town union’s issues, because he has no business with town union.
“All he is expected to do is that after the election, the Presiding Officers will now bring those elected and present to him. Let him steer clear of the town union.
“Again, he labelled our boys criminals. If you come to our village, you see a lot of projects that are being carried out by those boys. So, he should withdraw the petitions he made against those our boys. That is what everybody is demanding of him in our village. In the first and second meetings we held, he didn’t mention soldiers and any unknown gunmen until the third meeting. Our people insist that he must withdraw that petition immediately.”
On his part, the member of the state House of Assembly, Chukwuobasi said during the chieftaincy dispute the town was divided into two groups; those who felt that the process was being truncated and those who felt the process was right, because they have their ambition of clinching the Chieftaincy title.
“So after a long legal battle and challenge to the process, Sullivan Chime, I think in 2007 or 2008, certified the Igwe and he became the traditional ruler. And a peace committee was set up by our people who eventually asked for the withdrawal of all the cases and requested a harmonization of leadership, especially the town unions so that those who have won the Igweship title can concede the town union leadership to those who lost the Igweship position. They believed that it will foster integration.
“But, this never happened in reality because those that won the Chieftaincy title felt they needed the town union leadership to sustain their reign. So, the other group after the withdrawal (of the matter in court) became disgruntled and backed down on participation in the activities of the town union.
“So, it lingered till around 2017 or 2018. And we came together to say that we cannot remain like this and that there was need for us to heal and move on. A committee was created, of which I was the Secretary then and one Mr. Abel Ani was the Chairman of that Committee. The terms of reference were to overlook whatever happened during the Igweship tussle and look at how we can have a viable town union, set up an electoral committee and set up the modalities for electing town union executives.
“We all gathered and the Igwe was asked to inaugurate that committee which had his representatives. So, we came up with the terms of reference and modalities for electing a new leadership for our town union, zoned the position to the six villages that constitute Agunese community. The document is in the public domain. That was how Mr. Laz Ude emerged as the President General of Agunese. Though the process was not fully completed, we had concluded our committee’s work and came up with a report.
“They adopted that report and that was the report that elected Mr. Laz Ude whose tenure ended on 30th December 2021. His tenure was supposed to end on the said date and he constituted an electoral committee. And people became interested in who governs them and the activities of the town union.
“Ordinarily before now, a lot of people were not interested in how the town was being run and who runs it. But, some of our people who felt that they have been contributing in one way or the other either by charity, philanthropic gestures and all what not, including supporting indigent students, contributing to educational development wanted to know how the process will go.
“So, a lot of people became interested in the town union election. It was so intense and the Igwe himself also became interested. The remote cause of this current problem is the town union election, while the immediate cause is the involvement of the Police and petitions to DSS and others that some of those people who became interested in the town union are members and sponsors of ESN and IPOB which, I don’t think was necessary at that point in time.”
Interview with Chukwuobasi went as follows:
Did the DSS also seek your input or suggestion at that point?
I met the DSS after the whole thing. They never told me they were going to cancel the whole thing. The DSS now came to my house few days after and cited where another community in Awgu Local Government had their own election truncated by violence. But they didn’t tell me it was going to affect our own too. So, people expected them to either write them or come in person because of the Igwe’s interest. Even if he (the Igwe) had told them, our people wouldn’t have accepted it because they know that the Igwe has interest.
So, they would have done us better if they had officially written to us with their letter head or appeared in person, none of these two agencies; the Ministry of Rural Development or the DSS contacted me.
Does the Igwe play any role in your community’s election?
No, it is a democratic process that will bring about electing a leader who will preside over the union for the next four years. Ordinarily, the Igwe has no role in that. But as an influential person in the community, he has an interest and that interest will affect things by and large. And because he has people who are loyal to him, he can influence things in his capacity as the Igwe. He is not ordinarily supposed to interfere both constitutionally and by Enugu State’s law. The town union is under the Ministry of Rural Development while the Traditional ruler is under the ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters.
Even though people were angry, they never acted in a way that it can breach public peace. The Igwe when he noticed that people were angry said he was going to get back to us in 72 hours. The people dispersed and after 72 hours, a new town union executive emerged with the immediate past PG that was being challenged being made the interim Town Union Chairman. So, that really angered the people about the electoral process. The whole villages went their separate ways trying to communicate that to the Igwe who had cancelled the election.
Until when we left the place, there was no threat whatsoever that would warrant the petition to the DSS that some people were members or sponsors of IPOB and ESN. There have been no issues or problems of IPOB or ESN in Mmaku throughout this period of insecurity in the South East. And because the people mentioned in the petition are known to the community and to the community leaders, most of them are Chairmen of business outfits, who are living outside the State. Our people had expected that thereafter, what was supposed to follow, which was ordinarily not supposed to be driven by the Igwe is for the outgone town union executives, whose tenure had expired to have convened a stakeholders meeting involving the aspirants and maybe some other stakeholders who are interested in the process and that would have resolved when next the election will hold, the modalities and how things will go.
But, this didn’t happen and instead, the Igwe unilaterally appointed those he believes would protect his interest to be in that position of authority. So, they became disgruntled. I had already gone back to Enugu when I heard that police was rampaging in my community, trying to arrest people who are believed to be (alleged) members and sponsors of IPOB. And when I called the Police to know where the petition emanated from, they said it emanated from the palace of the Igwe. I said what for? They said it was as a result of activities leading from the town union election and all what not.
I said but there was no threat to peace even until we left that place because I called the DPO and he drafted men into the community to ensure peace during the election. And when we left, I left with the police and the Igwe and there was no issue of threat to public peace both during and after the cancellation of the election. So what is warranting them to do this?
When contacted on phone, Igwe Nevobasi, who operates in South Africa as Cyprian Maduabuchi denied that there was any crisis in his community, noting however that what is being peddled in the social media was fake news.
However, when informed that our reporter visited Agunese as well as his palace, the Igwe stated: “The only development is that some people were wanted by the police. They should stop using newspaper, they should go and report to the police. They have gone to the court, so why are they writing? Let them wait for the court to finish. People went to court and they are still going to newspaper, which one are they taking?
“There is no single development, you’re free to go to my village tomorrow, to my community and see there is no development. I left there five days ago.
“The two people that were arrested were bailed on Tuesday, so the rest should go and report, nobody is killing them, let them go and report, it is a simple thing, go to the police and answer.
“These people brought unknown gun men to my community, I want you to understand every side of the story. They brought unknown gun men on the 30th of December. I told them who are these people on military fatigue? Everybody denied it and I wrote a petition to the governor, I wrote to the police. These people, I can give them your number they will show it to you, the platform where they contributed N6.7million to destabilize the community. So when I saw there was problem on the election day, I postponed the election to April so that they could be calm because they are fighting each other, not me. I have been the Igwe for 20 years, so am not an Igwe of yesterday. I have been on that throne for 20 good years.
“So I wrote a petition to all the security agencies in Nigeria, and they invited them and they have never gone to answer the invitation and the next thing they did is that they went to court. Since they have gone to court, why are they still complaining, why are they still going to newspapers, what else do they want, they have gone to court. There is no single problem, it is between me and 16 people. The 16 people are not the whole community.”
The people are complaining that you want to be a paramount ruler by interfering in the town union matters…
A: Listen I am the Igwe already, my position cannot be changed till I die, I am the Igwe, I am the king, that is who I am. The person I replaced died. He stayed 40 years on the throne.
But does your position as Igwe give you access to proceedings in the town union.
That is where you are making a mistake. I said there was supposed to be a town union election on the 30th of December but on that day they brought in armed men, each faction, they had stationed some people, these ones are fighting these ones, these ones are fighting these ones, not me, they are not fighting me the Igwe.
The constitution said wherever there is such a problem I should postpone the election. So what I have done is that I had seen they were going to kill each other, so I postponed the election till April and the constitution said I should put an interim government and that is what I have done.
But the problem is not even postponing the election, the problem is why should they bring military or unknown gunmen to the village square for a town union election? That is my problem. It had never happened in the 20 years that I have been the Igwe. It happened for the first time.
So I want to know why they should bring armed people to the village square. I am the chief security officer of my town like Buhari is the chief security officer of Nigeria.
So what I have done is that I wrote petition to all the relevant security agencies in Nigeria because I need to know who brought these people on military fatigues and with guns. I need to know.
So I don’t know how it is bad that the Igwe said people should go and answer for bringing unknown gunmen to his community, assuming they killed somebody on that 30th December, you know I am the one to be arrested?
The 16 people are those people that contributed money on a platform, because I never knew that they were contributing money. But I saw their names on a platform contributing money, so 16 people is not the entire community.
The community is (made up of) thousands of people, so these 16 people must go and answer to the police and tell them why they brought in gunmen that is my argument, that is all I am asking for, it is not too much. I am saying, let them go and explain to the security agencies who these gunmen are.
But is there any other person in the community that saw the gunmen?
Everybody in the community saw them and that is why I told you, you can go to the village, don’t ask me, ask any other person in the community and don’t ask them because they will tell you it is a lie.
What made me to postpone the election is what I have told you now, they brought people with guns to the community for the election, I postponed the election. It is a simple thing, they should just go to the police and explain themselves, tell the police this is what has happened. And why can’t they wait for the court? They went to the court, not me. So why can’t they wait for the court?
They should wait for the court or best bet they should go to the security agencies, explain to them, this is what happened that day that is all I am asking for. You know the situation in Igbo land.
So the Igwe is asking that they should explain to the Igwe who brought those gunmen. The gunmen that came in broad day light. It is not hidden. The villagers saw them.
Those 16 people, the better advice for them is to go and answer the police and explain themselves. Nobody is being chased. After all, their friends that went there last week, they didn’t kill them, they released them, so why can’t they just go and answer, why are they in Lagos making noise? They should come back home. They should come to Enugu and go and answer to the police.
But the truth of the matter is that I am happy you said it is 16 people. I am not a member of town union, but my duty is if I see a problem in the community I should step in, that is my duty as the Igwe.
I don’t need any problem with anybody, I am not fighting with anybody, I am not quarrelling with anybody. Don’t forget they are still my subjects, I haven’t killed them for 20 years I have ruled them, is it now I am going to kill them?
We have been doing town union election for a long time, why did they bring thugs into this one or whoever they are. I am only worried about the future of my people.