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Ogwashi-Uku obiship tussle rages,as royal family tears self apart

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Coronation of HRM Obi Dubem Okonjo, younger brother of Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iwuala, and son of Prof. Obi Ben Okonji, immediate past monarch of Ogwashi-Uku


The tussle for the rightful occupant of the Ogwashi-Uku royal throne left behind by Obi Obahai, 139 years ago, is drumming up worrisome beat for the Okonjo Royal family. The royal battle, which was occasioned by the passage of Prof. (Obi) Ben Okonjo, took a new twist, as the most senior member of the Okonjo Royal family, Prince Nathan Okonjo, armed with court judgment, is set to move into the Palace, as ‘His Royal Majesty, Nathan Okonjo, Obahai ll.’

Already, the new king has since September 2 concluded his mandatory seven-day seclusion and spiritual cleansing before being crowned by the Umu Onihe Adimoso kingmakers.

That decision has apparently pitched him against his nephew, HRM Ifechukwude Chukwuka Okonjo, a younger brother of the former finance minister, Ngozi Okonji Iweala, who has also concluded his own chalking by another group of kingmakers, eleven days after that of his uncle. He is already looking beyond his uncle, as he warms up to move into the contentious fortress.

The two combatants for the Obahai throne, in separate interviews with The Guardian, proffered reasons they should occupy the seat vacated by the late Obi Felix Izeduno, whose family seized the throne as regents for 127 years, before it was truncated by a court judgment with suit No. 0/5/1985.

The legal battled initiated by five princes from Umu Obi Obahai royal family, led by Prince Moweta lasted 22 years before judgment was delivered by Hon. Justice S.C. Oseji on January 24, 2007.No sooner had the Okonjo royal house breathed a sigh of relief after retrieving their throne from the Dieyi family, than an internal crisis erupted, leading to another round of legal fireworks that lasted 12 years between two prominent first cousins— the late Obi Ben Okonjo and Prince Nathan Okonjo over the crown. At the end, Prof Obi Okonjo prevailed in what Nathan Okonjo insisted was politically manipulated against him.

Speaking on how he would rule in the circumstance that has led to the emergence of two monarchs in a kingdom, Obahai II promised to end the tyranny that has engulfed the leadership of the once flourishing kingdom.He said: “This kingdom had been controlled in the past 139 year by tyrannous elements, and they want to continue, which will not happen. The gods of this town have spoken and are working, chasing anybody who intends to undermine this cause, and they do not want to care, because of the money they have taken. They left money for their cronies to fight this battle. I do not have a dime to fight them back, but my God and the gods of this land are fighting on my behalf. Happily, my relations are with me in this battle for my stool.

“After the protracted legal battle with my late cousin, I made a vow not to allow a repeat of the mistake that encouraged politicisation of the throne. Intelligent people do not make noise. You don’t stir up anything. 

“In 2018, we foresaw this type of contingency, of people wanting to continue with the regency arrangement, so we went to court. That in the event that my cousin, the late Obi died, none of his children would ascend the throne. We know those creating this confusion in Ogwashi-Uku. I will tell you by virtue of court orders, the late Prof. Ben Okonjo was not an Obi, but a regent.

“Three mistakes have been made again with the recent pronouncement that my nephew is the new Obi. First is that the man that purportedly chalked him came from the wrong house, which was banished by court order. Second, the ascendancy is by seniority, and Chude is number four in rank among Prof. Okonjo’s male children. The Onihe Adimoso Family, who are the authentic family that chalks a king, chalked me.

“I am the right king, based on all these facts and the court pronouncements. Forget the political rigmarole, as Ogwashi-Uku kingship is not and will never be decided politically again. Then, eleven days after, another set of people woke up and decided to fight the gods. I was at the sacred shrine to perform all necessary rituals as expected.

“They have tried all within their powers to shut me down, but all have come to naught. On the third day into my incubation, which restricted my movement for seven days, as tradition demands, the entire community was here in celebration mood. The same class of people that tried to hoodwink the Area Commander to arrest me for performing an illegal traditional exercise, which led to my signing an undertaking for peace the previous day, also got the SARS at Asaba to this place the next day with three vehicles, and heavily armed officers, at about 7pm, to arrest me.

“Their claim was that criminals had converged here. When they got here, the gods prevailed, as they met me, heavily chalked. These are Nigerians who also understand what culture is all about. They took their pictures and reported back to their superiors that it was wrong information they were fed with. I could have pressed charges, because we knew those behind the fabricated lies. But we have decided to let the sleeping dog lie, as we forge ahead with plans to move into the palace, which nobody has entered, as they were not the rightful Obi.” 

Expectedly, the other faction of the royal family of Ogwashi-Uku monarchy has faulted claims making the rounds that the newly crowned Obi, His Royal Majesty Obi Ifechukwude Chukwuka Okonjo, was crowned in error.This was contained in a statement jointly signed by the Acting Diokpa, Umu Obi Obahai Royal family, Prince Emmanuel Nwokolie Ohei, Ozoma of Ogwashi-Uku, Prince Okolobi Nkemjika Lawrence and Palace Secretary, Prince Ifeakanachukwu Emordi (PJ) and made available to The Guardian.
 
In it, they urged the general public and the people of Ogwashi-Uku “to disregard any misinformation currently being peddled by some disgruntled individuals, who are determined to bring the community’s royal institution to ridicule.”  A family member, Prince Patrick Okonjo, who reportedly said he was speaking for the Umu Obi Obahai Royal family, claimed that the September 13 ceremony was a wasted effort, as their own faction of the family did not recognise the new Obi’s ascension.
 
The undersigned stated that he is a serial petition writer and as usual does not speak for the family.Accordingly, they urged their “people, the public, media and all stakeholders to ignore the reckless comments Patrick Okonjo has been issuing; such frivolous statement and filing frivolous court cases in pursuit of his selfish interest for over a decade.
 
“The Umu Obi Obahai Royal family is united in its decision, which produced Obi Ifechukwude Chukwuka Okonjo. And this decision has been endorsed by Agidiehe and Ikelike, the kingmakers. The successful installation, enthronement and the joy of the people last Friday, September 13, 2019, knew no bound and goes to show that the people of Ogwashi-Uku are happy with this decision.”Telling his side of the story, the most senior Okonjo alive, HRM Nathan Okonjo, Agbogidi Akachukwudebe Obi Obahai ll said:“It would be nice to recap our history, so that it will help you to understand why I am the legitimate Obi of Ogwashi-Uku.

Obahai II is the oldest surviving Okonjo of the Obi Obahai royal family. Obahai was the eleventh Obi of Ogwashi-Uku. Upon his demise over a century ago, his son, Nwawume, was a minor. As it is with the tradition here, his uncle was asked to look after his throne, as a regent, until he comes of age.

“When the young man came of age, he went to his uncle and announced his readiness to mount the throne. But rather than giving him the throne, he was clubbed to death. His younger brother, Emordi, later went for the throne and was asked to come back seven days later, but died mysteriously before the seventh day.

“Before Emordi’s death, he had given birth to a son, named Okonjo, who insisted on having the crown. The regent conspired against him with the British colonial masters and labeled Okonjo Emordi Obahai a troublemaker. He was arrested and taken to Calabar and kept in the same prison cell with the revered Oba Ovoranmwen of Benin kingdom. They both died there together about 139 years ago.

“The Binis have moved on, and we are still here. You can see where Ogwashi-Uku is, because our own regency did not work out well. As at today, we have had regents that ruled for 139 years. First was Dieyi Regency, which lasted 127 years by the Dieyi family.

“The succession to the throne in Ogwashi-Uku is by primogeniture. Before Okonjo was taken away, he had six children— three male and three females. His three sons were Abraham, Adigwe and Gabriel. The first son of Okonjo did nothing about his father’s throne, while his younger brother, Adigwe died in 1963. He was the father of the late Prof, Ben Okonjo, who claimed to be Obi of Ogwashi-Uku in the last 12 years, but never stepped into the palace of Obi Obahai.

“Even though the first and second sons did not bother about their father’s throne, the third son, who was Gabriel Nwawolor Okonjo, and heir apparent by our tradition, with the death of the two elder brothers, in 1985 went to court as Diokpa of Umu Obi Obahai, to ask for the crown.

“He remained steadfast during 22 years of legal battle, and 127 years after the judgment came with a directive for us to go and trace the line, and whoever that is the next should wear the crown and not a regent. But rather than go by what the judgment said, they decided to go by election, although they know that the throne is not ascended through election.

“When the travesty of justice was perpetrated 12 years ago, we went to court again in September 2007, when we were supposed to be celebrating our victory. But the government of the day undermined the judgment, which clearly stated that nobody should present himself for chalking until the case is over. That was how the Prof was made the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku.

On why Abraham’s children were not considered, if succession was from father to son, he said: “Abraham had children. His first son, Prince Sam Okonjo, predeceased his father in 1969, which was why Abraham’s line was terminated. By our tradition, if he was not dead, the son that would have succeeded him was dead already, and it does not extend beyond the first son. Prof’s case was even worse, because his father predeceased his elder brother. But here, once money changes hands, once influence is peddled and once there is decision to thwart court order; that is what you get.”
On why it has been difficult for the families to reconcile, he said:

“If he had emerged accordingly, his children would have succeeded him. The judgment that was not obeyed factionalised the Umu Obi Obahai. Those of us in this insisted on line tracing, while the other faction who has all the money decided to go against the court order. That is why today, the man that came through election is dead. Luckily, the man that should have been the Obi 12 years ago is now happily on his throne. As it is, nothing on earth, based on this court judgment will stop this.

“We have sent letters to the appropriate bodies regarding his recognition. He was crowned on September 2. In Ogwashi-Uku, there is a quarter that has the sole right to crown an Obi. By the application of the primogeniture laws in installing Obi, the young man’s position is a nullity, having not followed the law and the tradition. I am not in government, but I anticipate that government is run by very intelligent set of people who want peace and progress in Ogwashi-Uku.

“I am sure the current government won’t play politics with this one. The judge insisted that the case ran its full course and it was delivered, which is government’s duty to enforce. “It ran its full course until judgment was delivered on January 15, 2018. It was a non-suit. But a significant aspect of the judgment was the counterclaim of N10m suit that damaged his reputation as the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku, which was dismissed by the judge. While dismissing his claim, the judge also said he wouldn’t recognise Prof Okonjo as the Obi or pronounce me as Obi either.

“We were thereby returned to square one, to the 1985 suit and eventual judgment. It is up to the government to do the needful, since it knows that disobeying court order will not bring peace.”ON his part, HRM Ifechukwude Okonjo said his mission was to unite Ogwashi-Uku, which used to be the headquarters of Asaba Division during the colonial days.

He said: “Unfortunately, the position of Ogwashi-Uku has been rather retrogressive, due to internal conflicts. So, during my reign, I intend using my office to unite the indigenes. The idea is to bring everybody together. This is our town, and each of us has a role to play in making Ogwashi great again. 

“To achieve this, I shall convoke a summit that will bring all sons and daughters of the kingdom, including those in the Diaspora to find solutions to the problems that have bogged the kingdom down.“Through this forum and dialogue, we shall create a framework for unity, collaboration and progressive ideas that will move this town forward. My reign will witness total unity. We have never sat down to discuss our differences and problems in details.

“I know that the process to reconciliation is not going to be a walk in the park, but as we work on it, from a genuine position, trust and believe in ourselves, I think we will be able to solve many problems.“Part of the programmes I have lined up to strengthen my reign is the renaissance of Ogwashi-Uku values and culture, which have been eroded in the past couple of decades.

“Technology has allowed people to import foreign cultures and values that are alien to us. So, we will promote those aspects that are cardinal, such as education, proper healthcare for our people and things like respect for our elders and self. 

“We intend to set up certain institutions here like the Ogwashi-Uku Cultural Centre that will deal with teaching of our dance and our language, as the youths can hardly communicate without diluting with English language. We will have competition that will promote our culture extensively. We will also have an institution that will look at all these areas holistically, through an institutional framework.”

Ifechukwude Okonjo studied Economics, Statistics and History at the University of Maryland College Park, USA. He has his MA in Business Admin from the University of Edinburg, Scotland, and is presently completing his PhD at the Paris Business School.He has been working in the finance sector in Nigeria in the past two decades. He specialises in raising capital for development projects.

He said: “There is so much that Ogwashi-Uku can do, thinking from the bottom to the top. There are things we can do in Ogwashi-Uku that can change the atmosphere, especially as we have arable land. So, we have to return to those things that made Ogwashi-Uku great— palm plantations, cocoa plantations and processing.

“At Olodu, the land is suitable for rice production. There are so many different things we can achieve here economically through small cottage industries.“My idea is to transform the kingdom into a business. There are different things we can do to spur the youths. I do not see why we cannot have distillery and a brewery here. It doesn’t have to be on a mega scale, but scaled down to create employment for the teeming youths. Agriculture and animal husbandry are achievable here. But all of these are not achievable where there is insecurity and distrust.

“We must sit down to look at the resources we have here and leverage on them. There are institutions that will be ready to fund these projects, if the right structures are in place to guarantee profit. I have been talking to lots of institutions that are ready to fund plantation agriculture. If you have 5, 000 to 10, 000 palm plantations, you will be generating $20m to $30m yearly. You do not have to rely on government to do anything. We have to explore our internal capabilities.

“Yes, we need the government to create an enabling framework, but most of the development and quest for development must come from the people of Ogwashi-Uku.”Meanwhile, the regents, Dieyi family are still occupying the Ogwashi-Uku palace, contrary to the information that they have complied with the court order, directing them to vacate the palace.

It has not been carried out 12 years after the landmark judgment that took the Umu Obi Obahai Royal family to accomplish after 22 years. This was the reason Prof Obi Ben Okonjo reigned for 12 years from his house, instead of the main palace, last occupied by his family 139 years ago.

That, Nathan will not welcome, as he has, through his younger brother, Prince Clement Okonjo, vowed to break by first approaching the Commissioner of Police to ensure the alleged illegal occupiers are finally evacuated 139 years after.However, the Nathan group remains relatively not as popular as his nephew, Chude.


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