Enugu community struggles to breathe after monarch’s murder stirs chaos

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Raphael Ede

Traders and property owners in Oruku community in the Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu State have continued to rue their plights after over 27 houses, vehicles and 16 shops including a supermarket and the only pharmaceutical shop in the community were completely razed down by rampaging protesters. The youths were protesting the killing of the community’s monarch, Emmanuel Mba.

Chairman, Neighbourhood Watch, Oruku, Emmanuel Ani, told our correspondent that he lost over N5m to the crisis.

Ani who had yet to figure out his offence which warranted the burning of his supermarket regarded as the only of such market in the community, said, “My shop was burnt on December 27, 2020, around 9pm by boys recruited by those who masterminded the killing of the monarch.

He said, “Police have arrested those responsible. They looted the supermarket before setting it ablaze. Some of the items looted before setting it ablaze included laptop, sound system, three generators, 57 android phones and 79 buttoning phones; phone accessories, deep freezer and hundreds of cosmetics among other items.

“I feel bad that everything I laboured for over the years was looted and destroyed overnight. I am married with children. Since the incident I find it hard to take care of my wife and children. I don’t have any other means of survival because that business was my job employment, my workshop and everything. I am appealing for assistance from the government and well-meaning Nigerians. I don’t know the offence I committed to warrant this kind of treatment from the people I called my own.”

Another victim whose pharmaceutical shop was burnt, Onyebuchi Okenwa, told our correspondent that the drugs he bought running into millions on credit were completely burnt down.

He noted that N2.1milion that he wanted to use to purchase a vehicle by this month was burnt inside the shop.

Okenwa stated, “My shop was burnt on January 4, 2021 around 1am by the same group of armed boys who terrorised the community. I am a patent medical dealer. My pharmaceutical shop was heavily stocked with drugs. It is the only drug shop in the entire community. I kept N2.1m which I want to use to buy a car this month but all were burnt down. I am married with four children, a wife, two aged parents and siblings to take care of. Now how would I cope with everything lost? This shop was the mainstay of my survival.”

Speaking on the murder of the traditional ruler, he said that it would be difficult to replace him “because he stood for peace. He added that the slain monarch wanted an end to the war between Oruku and Umode that was why he returned from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, after 12 years of sojourn, alleging that he was murdered by those who didn’t want the communal war to end.

December 26, 2020, will remain indelible in the history of the Oruku community in the Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State. It was the day its traditional ruler, Igwe Emmanuel Mbah, was murdered by some officers of the newly-formed special weapons and tactical squad from the Police Force Headquarters, Abuja, who invaded the community town hall where the monarch was addressing his subjects.

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The meeting christened ‘annual general return meeting of Oruku community’ is held annually to discuss the progress and problems of the community and suggest a way forward. The particular meeting was to address how to resettle members of the community affected by the peace accord between the community and Umode community which had been in communal war for over 35 years before the Enugu State Government with the effort of the late monarch brokered a peace deal between the two warring communities.

The cops who killed the monarch were reportedly led by three natives of the community, who allegedly pointed at the traditional ruler for the policemen attired in black uniform with face masks, stormed the hall and allegedly opened fire on the attendees.

One of the attendees, Mr Onaga Ani, told our correspondent that everybody in the hall including the traditional ruler ran for their lives as nobody knew the mission of the assailants.

Ani said, “Not knowing that some people who were in the meeting had been debriefed by those who brought the assailants. One of the cops pursued the traditional ruler in tow with one of the natives who identified him. The collaborators pursued the monarch until they grabbed him and brought him to where a cop shot him twice in the thigh and he fell down bleeding. The assailants also manhandled other members of the community while policeman mocked the community.’’

Genesis of the crisis

The current crisis started as a result of the government 30/70 per cent peace initiative, the Caretaker Committee Chairman, Chief Martin Nwatu said.

Speaking about the killing, Nwatu stated that the government had arranged for seven persons each from both Oruku and Umode to agree on the peace deal.

The 14 men were said to have agreed that Umode should have 30 per cent of the land while Oruku will have 70 per cent. But after signing the agreement, three persons from Oruku allegedly declared that they were no longer in support of the pact. They alleged that they were forced to sign it. It was gathered that as part of the peace initiative, the government further divided Oruku into two autonomous communities – Aguikpa and Umode. Sunday PUNCH further learnt that because the subsisting monarch was from Aguikpa, part of Oruku before the division, the Igwe moved to his part and became their traditional ruler leaving Oruku traditional stool vacant.

Head, “The existing town union was also dissolved by the state government after creating the Aguikpa community. The government in order not to create a leadership vacuum in the Oruku community created a caretaker committee and appointed the late Igwe Emmanuel Mbah to head it. Meanwhile, the late Igwe was not among the seven persons that represented Oruku at the peace committee with Umode that signed the 30/70 per cent agreement. Some people who are in the community said that the caretaker committee members inaugurated by the governor to oversee the affairs of the community were not acceptable to them. They organised some boys and told them to ignore the peace accord made between Oruku and Umode that Umode should vacate their land and government cannot do anything or stop them.’’

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A youth leader, Ugochukwu Nnaji, also said that the monarch was seized by those who accompanied the cops before a policeman shot him twice in his thigh.

He said, “When the gunmen who were masked invaded the community hall and started shooting, the late Igwe ran out like every other person. Unfortunately, some youths who were suspected to have been briefed by the invaders pursued him. They seized him and one of the policemen shot him twice at a close range while they held him. After shooting him, the policeman started making derision of him like ‘Igwe stand up; Igwe I hail you, Igwe stand and run” among other derogatory terms. He also kicked him.

“They waited and ensured that he was dead before throwing him into the trunk of his Hilux van and zoomed off.’’ Another source told our correspondent that they took his corpse to the National Orthopedic Hospital morgue.

Burning of houses, property

Sunday PUNCH gathered that immediately news of the monarch’s death broke, residents became angry, burning houses of the dwellers believed to have masterminded the act.

A man said to be the oldest in the community, Inyaba Nwani a.k.a Agbaraka, who spoke to our correspondent, blamed the monarch’s killing on government’s inaction.

He stated, “The late Igwe sent several petitions to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, drawing his attention to the development in the community. I as the eldest man living in the community had also written a letter to the government on the situation of things in the community but it was not attended to. Peace cannot be achieved by only saying ‘let there be peace.’ It needs concrete arrangement and enforcement to ensure that when you say let there be peace there would be peace.”

Another resident who gave his name as Ugochukwu Nnaji, commended the development.

He stated that the murdered monarch had on several occasions told the community he wouldn’t continue to be the traditional ruler but was persuaded to remain in the position.

Meanwhile, during the burning of houses and property in the community, the state government deployed a joint security taskforce to stop the violence. But interestingly, when our correspondent visited the community on Monday, January 11, 2021, no single security officer was seen around the community.

Some residents who spoke on condition of anonymity expressed fear of attack, adding, “Few days after security agents were sent to our community to stop the burning of houses, they disappeared.’’

They added that the absence of security emboldened some boys to take weapons used in communal war to terrorise and burn down houses and property.

Enugu government inaugurates panel

Meanwhile, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi inaugurated a judicial commission of inquiry to look into the immediate and remote cause of the incident.

The terms of reference of the panel constituted by Ugwuanyi, is in pursuant to Section 4(1) of the Commission of Inquiry Law, Cap. 24, Revised Laws of Enugu State 2004, and it included to ascertain the number of persons killed or injured, identify persons, group or institutions who either by acts or omissions were directly or indirectly involved in, or sponsored the crisis, and investigate any other matter(s) that may come to the knowledge of the panel in the course of the inquiry, not covered in these terms of reference.

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“Others are to make recommendations regarding persons whom the panel finds culpable and/or blameworthy in connection with the crisis, and generally make recommendations, in the light of its findings, on how to prevent similar crisis in future and make other recommendations which the panel may consider appropriate in view of its findings.”

However, the community protested the continued burning of their houses in the community and alleged police complicity in the crisis. The community members who marched to the government house, state house of assembly and some media houses in the state appealed to the governor to help in fishing out killers of their king for justice to reign.

The Chairman, Oruku Caretaker Committee, Chief Ikenna Nwatu, who spoke to journalists, said, “We, the people of Oruku are begging governor Ugwuanyi to assist us in getting justice for Igwe Emmanuel Mbah who was brutally murdered. We do not trust the police investigation into the killing of our traditional ruler.

“We plead with you to use your good offices to ensure that the Department of State Services is involved in the investigation so that justice will prevail. We are living in fear as the killing of our traditional ruler shows that nobody is safe in our community anymore. It is not a war between Oruku and Umuode communities but war within the community. It is an internal war. Our houses and other valuable property are burnt. It is sponsored by some of public figures who feel they must rule us at all cost.”

In the last five years under the current administration, three traditional rulers had been killed in the state. They are Igwe Peter Onuoha of Mgbanaocha Nkerefi, Nkanu East Local Government Area, killed on July 11, 2015; Igwe Stephen Nwatu of Ogbozinne-Akpugo, Nkanu West Local Government Area killed on June 11, 2018 and Igwe Emmanuel Mbah, Oruku killed on December 26, 2020.

Meanwhile, under the previous administration, Igwe John Nwangwu, traditional ruler of Orba community in the Udenu Local Government Area and Igwe Moses Ugwu of Umuode, Nkanu East Local Government Area were also killed.

However, three of the murdered traditional rulers, Ugwu, Onuoha and Mbah were from the same Nkanu East local government.  Apart from Ugwu and Mbah, others were allegedly killed by their subjects for sacrilege or high-handedness. Those who killed Onuoha didn’t spare his wife, and three members of the community said to be supporting him.

Many believe that the killings had exposed the challenges associated with the traditional institutions in the state having over 450 communities.

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