An order by Justice J.I Nweze, restraining Igwe Rowland Madukolu Odegbo, as the Aborgu II and traditional ruler of Nteje community in Oyi council Area of Anambra State appears to tear the once peaceful community apart, writes Charles Onyekanmuo
A one time visitor to Nteje, a serene community in Oyi council area of Anambra State would definitely wonder what has gone amiss. This is because the once vibrant, friendly people appear to be a shadow of themselves discussing in groups with hushed voices, wearing forlorn looks as it were. This observation actually inspired this correspondent who was in the community penultimate week on a personal visit to try to discern what was happening.
THISDAY checks revealed that the actions of citizens this agrarian community lying some two kilometers from Awkuzu junction on the busy Onitsha –Enugu express way had been thrown into confusion following a ruling of a high court of Anambra State holden at Otuocha in neighboring Anambra East council area of the state, which on June 18, 2012 ordered among other things that the recognition given to their Traditional Ruler, Igwe Rowland Madukolu Odegbo, Aborgu II of Nteje about a year and six months ago when he mounted the Igweship throne of the community be set aside pending the determination of the substantive suit challenging his selection.
One Chief B.S.C Muofunanya, who stood in for people he claimed are the 15 (Akadiana’s committee) or Kingmakers of Nteje community, Dr. Charles Emenugha Aduaka, Chief Clement U. Obi and Mr. Jideofor Okuh had as plaintiffs in suit No: 0t/35/2010 sued the Town’s Traditional Ruler, Igwe Rowland Madukolu Odegbo, Aborgu II Nteje, Mr. A.B.C Onwuagana, Hon. P. C Nweke, Mr. Gabriel Isidienu, and Oyi Local Government administration joined by the order of court in December 14, 2011, (All defendants) praying the court presided over by Hon. Justice J.I Nweze to declare that it is the Nteje Community under the auspices of Nteje Development Union(NDU) that has the right to select one of its members as Igwe –elect to be presented to the secretary of Oyi local government for the ultimate recognition by Anambra State Government.
They had also prayed the court among others to declare that the Nteje Development Union had exercised this right of selecting an Igwe-elect in the person of Dr. Aduaka, and in keeping with that issue a restraining order of injunction restraining the four defendants their servants, agents, privies and or cohorts from parading themselves as members of the Executive Committee of NDU or as persons entitled to select and or present a new Igwe for the Community.
There was also a prayer to restrain the first defendant from parading himself or presenting himself or allowing himself to be presented as the person selected as the Igwe elect of Nteje Community either to the Oyi local government or Anambra State government to which similar prayers were made against not to recognise the Igwe Rowland Odegbo listed defendant as the traditional ruler of Nteje.
But Justice –Nweze had in his ruling noted that the plaintiffs claimed that after the constitutional exercise for the selection of traditional ruler of Nteje, the second plaintiff Dr. Aduaka who they claimed was duly elected as the Igwe-elect, who was also later presented to the Head of Administration of Oyi local government, but that the government of Anambra State not withstanding this selection, in concert with the head of administration of Oyi local government propose to wrongfully install the first defendant as the traditional ruler of Nteje.
It was because of this, the court said that the plaintiffs commenced the action on July 12, 2010, seeking the afore-written reliefs.
But the court noted that before the suit was filed, the first defendant was presented to the Governor of Anambra State for recognition as the traditional ruler of Nteje by a letter dated July 27, 2009. The action of the plaintiffs on July 12, 2010, it held was to prevent that and while the case was pending the Anambra State government issued the first defendant with a certificate of recognition, and consequently his coronation was performed and he has been acting as the traditional ruler of Nteje since then.
It also said that the plaintiffs brought an application on March 5, 2012 seeking an order of mandatory injunction setting aside the purported recognition of Odegbo as Igwe Nteje procured, received and or accepted by the first Defendant/Respondent, (Rowland Madukolu Odegbo) from the Anambra State government during the pendency of the action before the court and an injunction setting the purported acceptance of the certificate of recognition by the first defendant/respondent as the Igwe Aborgu II Nteje from the government pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
The plaintiffs had also in the application for the mandatory injunction sought for setting aside the purported coronation of the first defendant /respondent as the Igwe Aborgu II Nteje based on alleged recognition granted him by the government of Anambra State during the pendency of the action as well as an order restraining the Traditional ruler from parading, holding himself out, and for in what so ever manning acting as the Igwe Aborgu II, Nteje pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
The plaintiff said they had made the application under the principle that parties cannot acquire any right in any subject matter being litigated upon during the pendency of a suit in respect of that subject matter. Although there was no application for interlocutory injunction, but the court said the defendant knew that accepting government recognition and going ahead with his coronation will foist a fait acompli on the court. Consequently in the light of the fore going the application the Court said succeeds, adding that the purported recognition accepted and received by the first defendant from the Anambra State Government while the suit was pending had been set aside.
However, the court’s pronouncement, though not on the substantive suit had cast a gloom on the entire town with some of the citizens especially the youth becoming restive as according to them, there was no issue in contention about the Igweship of Nteje.
According to Dr. Emma Okafor from Ikenga Nteje, and a retired Director of the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), the issue of “Igwe” in Nteje is something that is baffling because there is nothing in contention. He said that article 3 of Part X of the constitution of Nteje Development Union (NDU) was explicit on the method of selection and installation of an Igwe for the town among its three quarters namely, Ezi Nteje, Ikenga Nteje and Ifite Nteje.
This section he said provides that the chieftaincy stool or office in Nteje is not hereditary but rotational, adding that, it is also not debatable. And because it is rotational, it therefore rotates among the three quarters of the town in order of seniority after the life time of any incumbent Igwe. At the initial stage of selection, a period of one month is given to a quarter that is due to select an Igwe and present him to the people of Nteje in the best traditional manner, custom and usage of the town.
He said that because it was the turn of Ikenga Nteje to produce an Igwe, that the quarter of the town went about it in a very sincere, decent and meticulous manner, asking those eligible who want to be the Igwe to apply.
“At the end of the day”, he said, “Only three people applied including Rowland Madukolu Odegbo. We screened them to ensure none had only criminal record. They were later taken to the Traditional village square where all people from Ikenga quarter of the town were asked to assemble, which they did and the three candidates were presented to them”, he said, adding that the people were asked to choose between the three through secret ballot.
“The loyalty of 99.9 per cent of Nteje people are still to their traditional ruler. In the preliminary objection we raised to the suit, we pointed out that this Charles Aduaka was not among the contestants. He is still a public servant working with the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and the 1994 law of Anambra State says that he who wants to be Igwe won’t be a Public Servant.
“They now brought a 2007 law made by the Anambra State House of Assembly in court saying it has provision that a Public Servant could be Igwe.
“The status- quo of the Igwe remains pending the determination of the appeal after wich the substantive suit would be heard,” he said.
Similarly, the Vice-Chairman of Nteje Development Union (NDU) and former Chairman of Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State, who hails from Ezi Nteje which had earlier produced the Igwe told THIS DAY that under the law, the court was not supposed to issue a restraining order until the substantive suit had been heard because Igweship is not a perishable item, describing the order as reckless.The point he said still remains that the Ezi Nteje quarter from where he hails has produced the Igwe for Nteje and that the Igweship stool is rotational hence it is not the heritage of any quarter.
He said that some agents of destabilisation are using the plaintiffs in the matter because they are willing tools who are doing what they are doing for either personal gains, political rewards or whatever.
The point, he however said remains that such a distraction occasioned by avoidable litigations is not good for the development, peace and progress of the community. He said he had once called on the combatants to sheath their swords and give peace a chance because the process had been completed and for any body to try to steer the hornet nest is like putting a tog in the wheel of progress of Nteje.
“Igwe Odegbo is a product of the process laid down by Nteje people. The court will not say it is restraining him because he emerged from a process his people use to select their ruler. We know that at the end of the day, the court will still uphold the decision of Nteje people now that the Igwe had gone on appeal”, he said.