Idumuje-Ugboko is a sleepy, rustic but peaceful and idyllic town nestled in a heap of lush vegetation in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta state. The town is home to prominent Nigerians, and notable among them is Prince Chinedu Munir Nwoko, popularly known as Ned Nwoko, a businessman and politician. The quietude and sacrality of Idumuje-Ugboko was assaulted on May 25, 2017. In the dead of night, a group of violent men belched from the bowels of hades unleashed destruction and death on the elders and members of the community. By the time the hoodlums were done, they left tears, sorrow and blood.
And here is a prelude…
THE LAND-GRABBING HOAX AND TERRORISM CHARGE
Owing to the mayhem of May 2017 in Idumuje-Ugboko, some alleged prime actors, arsonists and assailants were arrested by the police and charged to court on the order of Abubakar Malami, attorney-general of the federation (AGF). They were charge for terrorism and murder by the federal government – not over a land dispute. Among those arrested, according to court records, were Prince Chukwunonso Nwoko, who is contending for the throne of Idumuje-Ugboko; Okey Ifejoku, and about 25 alleged assailants.
The charge as filed by the federal government read: “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”.
‘AUTHORITIES EXONERATE NED NWOKO OF LAND-GRABBING ALLEGATION’
According to Premium Times, ‘’a review of land documents and investigative reports by relevant authorities has confirmed that a former lawmaker, Ned Nwoko, duly acquired the land on which he is building a golf course and a university in his hometown in Delta State’’.
The acquisition of the 90 hectares of land in Idumuje-Ugboko by Prince Nwoko has been an immutable subject of controversy. But the palace and the local authorities all say Prince Nwoko followed due process to acquire the property.
For clarity, here is how Premium Times reported the matter:’’ Ned Nwoko was a member of the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2003. On March 16, 2015, he applied to the then king of the town, Albert Nwoko, for allocation of 90 hectares from the land set aside by the community for development projects. In the application he made through his company, Linas International Ltd, Ned Nwoko, who is also a member of the ruling family of the community, said he wanted to build a golf course on the land. He also requested another two miles by two miles parcel of land to build the permanent site of his private university. The former lawmaker has started developing the temporary site of the STAR University on a part of 33 hectares of land the community had earlier allocated to him in 2001 to start a dairy farm.
‘’In his response to the fresh application, through a letter addressed to Mr Nwoko and dated April 10, 2015, the king conveyed his approval of the application. In the letter titled ‘Request for Additional 90 Hectares of Land for Golf Course Development and Land for Sports University’, the king said “the town will go into partnership with your company by investing the capitalised value of the land at the appropriate rate in the golf course. The land for the university will be donated by the village.”
‘’Ned Nwoko then paid one million naira to the community to cover the administrative cost of land cutting and allocation, as confirmed by a handwritten receipt signed by the community secretary, Somanyina Nwoko, and dated June 2, 2015. He also compensated residents who were farming on the land before it was allocated to him by the community.
‘’This was followed on July 16, 2015, by a “Letter of Allocation” also signed by the community secretary. On July 8, 2015, Mr Nwoko through his said company applied to the Aniocha North Local Government for a Customary Right of Occupancy (CRO) for the 90 hectares of land. In line with the law, the local government council published a Public Notice on the application on December 14, 2015, seeking any objection that might discourage it from granting the CRO. Seven months later on July 20, 2016, the local government issued the CRO for the land through a letter addressed to Mr Nwoko.
‘’Chuks Oseme, the chairman of the local government at the time, said after Prince Chukwunonso and his camp raised objection over the allocation of the land to Mr Nwoko, he made a fact-finding visit to the late king.
“As a result of an objection, I decided to pay the Obi a visit for further clarification in which I discovered that Prince Ned’s claims were genuine in which the then Obi confirmed issuing the approval letter following the recommendation by the land allocation committee,” Mr Oseme said. “The Right of Occupancy was therefore issued with all the necessary procedures followed.”
Essentially, the crisis in Idumuje-Ugboko is more of a contention over kingship than a variance over land. Prince Nwoko is said to be backing Solomon Eziokwubundu Nwoko, the current Obi-designate, for the throne of the town. Obi Solomon is said to be favoured for the throne by all the three principal tiers of selectors — the Umu-Nwoko Royal family, the kingmakers, and the Aniocha North Traditional Rulers Council. However, Prince Chukwunonso is making claim to the throne without relent. On February 24, 2022, a Delta State High Court in a suit between Chief Christopher Chukwuka Ogwu & 2 Ors and Chukwunonso Justin Oreze Nwoko, restrained Chukwunonso from ‘’performing or further performing the function(s) of the Obi/traditional ruler of Idumuje-Ugboko kingdom or allowing himself to be held out as such’’. This squabble over kingship snowballed into velitations over land – which naturally is not connected to the remote and the immediate cause of the current disputation.
Kingship feud is the core of the Idumuje-Ugboko unease, and the noise over land is to get back at Ned Nwoko who is openly supporting one candidate for the stool over another.
MY TRIP TO IDUMUJE-UGBOKO
I took a trip to the locus in quo of the 2017 communal crisis in Delta state. My trip was nostalgic, travelling through forgotten but familiar paths in the south-south/south-east. From Asaba, I began my journey into the hinterland, traversing hamlets, red earth and fertile vegetation. It took about 45 minutes for me to get to Idumuje-Ugboko, a town that became a news staple owing to that bedlam. The atmosphere was sullen and a cumulus of uncertainty hung in the air. It appeared the community was yet to heal from tragedy. Led by a guide, I visited the ravages and victims of the bloody incident. The victims, some of whom still nurse grave injuries and severe health complications, told me their story, demanding justice.
I will let them tell their stories here – in their own voice.
WHAT IDUMUJE-UGBOKO PEOPLE SAY
Peter Mbama (head of the vigilance committee):
‘’The whole mayhem started in my place. I was the first victim. The beating… they dragged me through the community in my sleeping garment. They visited all the vigilantes, collected our working tools with them. In that process, I was taken around the community naked. My place was looted. The house was vandalised. Every reasonable thing in the house was removed.’’
Faith Nwoko (Queen of Idumuje-Ugboko) (Wife of the late king Albert):
‘’In 2017, Nonso Nwoko and his guys came to my house to break my house. (I am the wife of the late Obi). They damaged my house, break my things and even seized my property. On January this year, Okey Ifejoku and one of my uncles, Nwike Ayanse came and drove me out of the house that I am living.’’
Chief Christopher Chukwuka Ogwu, Iyase of Idumeje-Ugboko (the traditional prime minister of the kingdom):
‘’Nobody expected it. Nobody worked for it. I was just in my house one morning. I had been to a neighbouring town bought a newspaper and I was just reading in front of my house when suddenly some youths just stormed into my house and the next thing I knew, they were accusing me of supporting Prince Ned Nwoko. We were trying to make an argument, they started beating me. They dragged me to the palace, then occupied by Obi Albert Nwoko, being managed by Prince Nonso who was then presiding over matters. They started beating me, beating me, beating me. I was hit with guns on my back, on my leg. You can see my leg; I’m using a crutch since 2017, from that event. Since then, it has not been easy for me personally or for the community as a whole because there has been no peace.’’
Gladys Koguonye (Woman leader, Idumuje-Ugboko):
‘’It is the saddest day in the history of Ugboko. It has never been heard or done before that your own blood brothers will come and demolish your house. My house was demolished. I have five windows and three doors. They were demolished and they stole from me too. Why they did all these things, nobody was able to say. They just came to destroy because we are asking for development in our community. That our own brother, the son of the soil. Our brother which is Prince Ned Nwoko wants to bring investment into the community to reduce hardship and people will make money, farming and other things.’’
Okereke Ginawa (member of the vigilante group and provost of the Iyase in council)
‘’I want to start as far back as when I was attacked on the road around 8 pm in the night, that was in 2017. That was when I got all these wounds, you can see I don’t have teeth anymore. They attacked me at night and remove my teeth from beating.’’
Victor Omezi (UK-based Nigerian from Idumuje-Ugboko):
‘’I was badly affected by that incident. On that faithful day, I went to Asaba. I had security men in my house, all of them beaten. In the early hours of that day, they called me that a group of people came to the house sent by Nonso. That they came to get me dead or alive. They broke the fence; they were destroying everywhere. When he came out (my security) they said the Obi sent for me dead or alive, that they should bring me to his house. My offence was that I am supporting the university project. That I spoke to indigenes about the issue. You know I wasn’t living in the country. I and Ned grew up together. And I know him from my hometown as well as from living in London and back to home, so I accompanied Ned to Obi to discuss the issue of the land. I accompanied him when we went to Izu Ani where the land was approved. And Nonso was seated beside me. We were together in that Izu Ani. So maybe seeing my role that I was so close and very outspoken, everybody loved the way I supported Ned. That was his reason, that was my offence. They destroyed everything in my house, even set fire in one of the rooms.’’
Chief Bennet Okoh (member of land allocation committee and member of Obi-in-council):
‘’May 2017, they visited me at about 2 am warning me to stay out and that they are coming back again. They started breaking bottles at my doorsteps. Some of my louvres were broken at my boys’ quarters. What they said was that I signed land for Ned to build a university which is very normal for me as a retired school head. I won’t see anything that has to do with something good and say no. That is why I signed for it. I was a member of the committee that was asked to go and check the land. We surveyed it and discovered that we have enough land for the university then we signed for it. That was why I was attacked.’’
His Royal Majesty Solomon Nwoko (Obi-designate of Idumuje-Ugboko Kingdom):
‘’2017, the son of the soil, my junior brother, Honourable Prince Ned Nwoko after going through… he has travelled many places and discovered that a university is needed in the town and in the environment. So, he followed the normal process, he applied for the land through his company — Linas International to the late Majesty Obi Albert Nwoko III. The normal process is that when you need land, you put in applications and when you put the application, the King will now refer your application to the appropriate quarters; what I mean is there’s a committee known as the land allocation committee, they will now send your application there.
If the committee and the Onotu – Onotu is headed by the Ehieze, if they now discover that there’s a land, enough land for that purpose, then they will now report back to the King. And in case of this Ned’s issue, yes it was discovered that we have land, even more than are required. So, the committee recommended the approval for Ned, the land to be given to him. But the community now said, what is our gain? What is our profit? What do we now gain by handing over this land to you for this university? And a negotiation was made. MOU was signed. Drafted by the son of the King, the lawyer to Nonso, Barrister Mbanefo and it was agreed that 40 percent equity share be given to the town, while the company Linas International would have 60 percent which we agreed. So, the MOU was signed and the project started.
‘’There are many of these people who are attacking Ned now who applied more than 15 years ago up till now they have not done anything. But look at the young man that applies, within six months has started building. So, it has not caused anything, the building has not brought any problem. And I’m happy that my tenure that this particular project is coming to reality for development, not only for the town, not only for the community but for Anioma as a whole.
‘’On that very particular day the thing started, I was in Lagos, I was not here in the town. But I speak from what I’ve gathered from both sides. Now, just there, they stopped the Ehieze, the prime minister, the second in command, from attending the meeting, they stopped the Odogwu, they stopped many of the high chiefs. These touts that he gathered. They stopped them. They started shooting. They scare people away. That night, they now went and organised themselves in the palace, start going to houses, those who are supporting the university, those who are supporting the kingship of Solomon, those who want the project to continue, they start destroying their properties.
So, people ran away for complete two weeks. They drove them away from the farm. They brought down people’s houses, remove the roof, remove the doors and so on. The Ehieze, the prime minister was brought out from his house, beaten, his house looted, destroyed, dragged naked around the whole town. They brought him to the palace, laid him down, started flogging him. The other man, Kennedy Ilo, the same thing. The injury Kennedy sustained from that beating led to his death.
‘’We are asking the government to come so that what happened in 2017 will not happen again. I want to state further, these things happening have nothing to do with the university, it has nothing to do with the land, people are speculating that land this, land this, it is a lie, it’s made out of jealousy and hatred.’’
Chief Anthony Edemodu, Odogwu of Ugboko (defence chief of Ugboko land):
‘’They came destroyed my house, removed the roof. I have had stroke since that attack (he said trembling).’’
Sunday Auna (Obi-in-council member):
‘’They attacked me at 12:30 am. They destroyed my house, my ceilings, my machine, the whole windows were damaged. I can name so many of them. I asked them: who sent you? They said Obi Nonso as of the time. That if I need anything I should come to them and collect anything whatsoever. I said for what? What I have done. They attacked me because I’m supporting Ned and the university in the community.’’
I tried to reach other actors named in the melee, but all to no avail.
By Fredrick Nwabufo; Nwabufo aka Mr OneNigeria is a writer and journalist.