VILLAGE AT WAR: EZESHIP TUSSLE SPLITS ODILI'S IN-LAWS COMMUNITY
Indigenes of Obizi in Ezinihitte town, Mbaise Local Government Area of Imo State, are at daggers-drawn over the appointment of a new Eze (king).
Four contenders to the throne in the hometown of late Sir B.S.C Nzenna, the father of Justice Mary Odili, wife of the former governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili, are jockeying to outwit one another for the exalted office.
The town's union former chairman, Chief Ebere Iroapali, who resigned to contest for the position is alleged to have manipulated the process last December and hurriedly presented himself as a consensus nominee.
Upset that due process was not followed, another contender, Chief Kingsley Njoku, a businessman and politician, headed to the High Court at Aboh Mbaise Judicial Division and filed for an injunction to restrain four former executives of the town's union from presenting the name of Chief Iroapali as candidate for the stool.
Those joined in the suit are Chief Ebere Iroapali (former chairman of Eziala, Obizi), Chief (Sir) Dave Osuagwu (former secretary of the same union), Chief (Engr) Ignatius Okeahala (former president- general of Obizi Autonomous Community) and Barrister Okey Njoku (former secretary-general of the union).
Chief Kingsley Njoku's lawyer, N.B.E Nwige, on February 9, 2010 sought a court order to restrain the former executives of the union from presenting and acting on Iroapali's name as Ezeship candidate.
The court under Justice U.D. Ogwurike granted Njoku's wish and stated that: 'No further step will be taken in this case that is in respect of matters, the subject of this suit until this suit is disposed of.'
But while the case was still in court, Sunday Sun learnt the names of Chief Iroapali and Barrister Obinna Azubuine have been presented to the community as candidates for the vacant throne. And on July 31, a fourth candidate emerged.
But, a large number of indigenes of the town from the Abuja branch of the union returned home and presented Engr Charles Orji as their preferred candidate. The man, Sunday Sun learnt, is a retired director in the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing.
Obizi is made up of five villages – Eziala, Umudi, Umuosis, Umuire and Ekwereazi. Going by its tradition, the Ezeship is rotational. After the death of the last Eze, Engr Walter Uwakwe Obizie IV, the stool was zoned to Eziala, which is made up of three major clans namely Umueze, Umuchima and Umuokehi.
Sunday Sun gathered that they were mandated to present three candidates to Obizi community for screening. The notice, we learnt was not adequately publicized in December 2009 after the traditional mourning period for the late monarch, a retired top executive of the Nigerian Coal Corporation, who passed on in 2008.
In a 16-point sworn affidavit by Chief Kingsley Njoku in support of his case in court, he complained that he and other prominent sons of Eziala were improperly excluded by 'techniques and manoeuvres' of Chief Iroapali, who at the time was Eziala community chairman. He further stated that Iroapali was head of the selection panel and number one contender to the throne.
'He manipulated me and other prominent sons of Eziala out and now he wants to foreclose our complaint by quickly sending his name to the parent body as the successful candidate,' he told the court.
But when contacted on the telephone, Iroapali said the process of selection followed due process.
'There is no court injunction anywhere. Barrister Obinna Azubuine is also in the race. The man you mentioned (Chief Kingsley Njoku) is not in the race. We have taken the matter to the local government and the state. It is now left for the state to decide who will become the Eze,' he said.
Barrister Azubuine also told Sunday Sun that Obizi has already submitted his name and that of Ebere to the government. 'We are only waiting for the outcome,' he said. Asked what the action of the Abuja branch of the union portends, he dismissed it as 'belated.'
Describing the development as shameful and disgusting, Njoku, a former local government chairmanship aspirant, said even if he doesn't win the Eze stool, he wants a credible person to emerge. 'I want Obizi elite and government to intervene in the matter and nip the looming crisis in the bud,' he said.
The town is not a stranger to violence and anarchy.
On July 28, 2007, youths of the community clashed with the vigilance group and precipitated the death of some of them, burning down of the town's civic centre and the destruction of properties worth several millions of naira. It took the state government and the Imo State House of Assembly to restore normalcy in the area. Fear is now rife that if the Ezeship tussle is not carefully handled, the town may erupt again in violence.