Monday the 7th of February, 2022, shall live in infamy in the annals of the history of our great town, Ogwashi- Uku. It was on this day that our community, Ogbe Nti-Obi Quarters, Umudei, Ogwashi-Uku, was visited with mayhem – brigandage, carnage and public humiliation by a gang of thugs and street urchins led by “Obi” Ifechukwude Okonjo and his brother, Onyema Okonjo – a duo with an emerging social negative pedigree. They were accompanied by a combined team of armed soldiers and Policemen who provided security cover as they descended on our community and unleashed untold violence on our people. Men, women and children were, without reason, subjected to physical beatings. Nobody was spared, not even the old women whose wares were scattered by the thugs at the old Olie market, as they scampered for safety in the face of the sporadic shootings by the armed security officers. Not done, the violence and mass arrest was extended to the entire Umudei Quarters and the neighbouring Ogbe-Ubu community. It was a huge “confusion everywhere” as a number of people were rounded up, beaten and loaded into a waiting van and placed under arrest by the security men. It was quite a grim and traumatic experience from which we are yet to recover from.
“Obi” Ifechukwude and his brother Onyema and their cohorts marched on to the Royal Palace, the seat of our traditional government and tore everything in view apart. Doors, windows, and all glass wares in the Palace were smashed to pieces with unspeakable recklessness. Palace relics were destroyed. Royal gold ornaments were stolen. Pictures of the past traditional rulers taken with some of their prominent visitors such as the Late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Late Oba of Benin, Oba Erediuwa, and the one taken by His Highness Obi Izediunor with the Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth the II were all smashed to the hard floor. Private rooms were burst open and palace items were desecrated with reckless abandon.
“Obi Ifechukwude and his brother, Onyema Okonjo emerged from the confusion, gloating with an air of triumphalism and brandishing a piece of paper we later came to understand was a Writ of Possession purportedly issued by an Asaba high Court authorizing them to take possession of our Royal Palace. It was dated the 4th February, 2007, a time difference of nearly two decades.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is necessary at this juncture to highlight the synopsis of events leading to this present ugly development, this will help us with a broader perspective on the entire imbroglio, as there are deeper layers of issues than they appear on the surface.
About a hundred years ago, Ogwashi-Uku was embroiled in an internecine war with the British Colonial administration. A petition which alleged human sacrifice and other crimes had originated from one Mr. Okonjo Emordi to the Colonial government against Obi Nzekwue, the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku. Issues were understood differently and the query served on the Obi by the Colonial government was perceived as an affront to his authority as the natural ruler of the great Kingdom. War broke out between the Colonial government and the people of Ogwashi-Uku who stood up to gallantly defend their Obi, their tradition and their land against the intrusions of a foreign government. Several lives were lost. The British suffered losses in the hands of headstrong Ogwashi-uku fighters led, in the main, by great Warriors as Nwabuzor Nwaiyogolo and Agbambu Anika together with Ogbe Ubu warriors. The hostility was called off in 1910 after the British Royal Family lost a very important member to death. Terms of settlement were made and Obi Nzekwue returned to his throne. The Colonial government however continued with the investigation of the allegations made against the Obi. Upon conclusion, it was discovered that Mr Okonjo Emordi fed the authorities with falsehood which brought about the civil war. He was subsequently arrested, tried and sentenced to life – imprisonment. He was taken to Calabar prison, where he served, and died and was buried.
The above narrative provides us with the background knowledge of events which has greatly shaped the issues of today. Mr. Okonjo Emordi was the progenitor to the present – day Okonjo family.
A Court process was initiated against the Obi Dieyi Royal Family by the Okonjo/Emordi Obahai family in 1985 with the claim to being the rightful inheritors to the Obiship position of Ogwashi-Uku. Thus began a long-drawn out legal tussle over the rightful heirs to the throne of Ogwashi-uku.
Although sullen and disaffected by the verdict of both the High Court and the Appeal Court, we, the Obi Dieyi Royal family, are determined to fully exhaust the process initiated by the Okonjo people. We have faith in the judiciary.
The issuance of the Writ of Possession by an Asaba High Court to Ifechukwude Okonjo and his brother is tantamount to a miscarriage of justice and an abuse of Court process as the matter is still a subject of litigation at the Federal Court of Appeal, Benin City, and the appellate court is yet to make a determination on it. Our Lawyers have been instructed to commence immediate actions with a view to setting it aside for its sheer incompetence.
Obtaining a Writ of Possession in February 2022 on a judgment made in 2007 betrays nothing but despair. It is an attempt at subverting justice, and it will not stand.
We understand that the Okonjo people have been seething with rage and subdued bitterness over the manner their forebear ended, we absolve all generations of Obi Dieyi Royal Family of the consequences of his treachery.
The violence meted out to our people by Ifechukwude and his brother Onyema will not be first of its kind. In their father’s time, several of such beatings were visited on our people from time to time. A particular visit had so much shooting by the security agents who accompanied him to our community leading to the death of one of our beloved brothers. We are yet to see his corpse till date. With a boast of having a global citizen in their kitty, we are always told by these people that we are hopeless and helpless as they will always overwhelm with their connections.
We condemn the so-called “recovery” of the “old Palace” and the violence and wanton destruction deployed in that exercise by the security officers. It needs be said here that the Palace in question was built by Obi Nzekwue. It has served as the residence of five generations of Kings who have reigned after him. Each of them bringing renovations to Palace structures. Obi Ezenwani, it was who built it to its present standard.
As we speak, several of our brothers are in detention and accused of things they know nothing about. We call for their immediate release or alternatively have them charged to court with full access to their Lawyers. We remain dismayed over the powers of an individual to use our military to intimidate innocent people in a matter that is purely civil.
Before concluding, we wish to clear the air on the substantive matter at the Supreme Court. It is a subsisting matter. It is yet to be heard and determined.
We enjoin our people to discountenance with the lies calculated to misleading them.
Our position is reiterated to the effect that nothing about the Obiship case has been finally determined.
Ifechukwude Okonjo’s failed attempt at a violent take–over of Ogwashi-Uku palace was to foist legitimacy and acceptance upon himself. Piqued by the people’s apathy at his claims to loyalty, it was a desperate move but a false one. It changes nothing.
We, the Obi Dieyi Royal Family, command the loyalty, acceptance and recognition of the people of Ogwashi-Uku as the authentic royal family. This is evident in the manner our people troupe out to observe our annual traditional festivities anytime it is announced by our family. Whereas, such cannot be said of the paltry lot of Obahai family who pay a mere courtesy visit to Ifechukwude in his father’s house during his own celebration.
We are a resilient people, strong, united, purposeful, passionate and resolutely committed to preserving our patrimony and royal heritage. We cannot be cowed or intimidated by the empty antics of a strange, little monarchy lacking in acceptance by the very people it purports to lead.
We thank the people of Ogwashi-Uku for their understanding, solidarity and loyalty. You have proved to be no different from your fathers who, in their time, defeated these imposters. We appreciate you.
And to the generality of Umu Obi Dieyi, let us remain steadfast as we have always been.
Uwa Oma nu.