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Is this Traditional Ruler a Kidnapper?

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Rochas Okorocha sacks Cosmas Onyeneke, traditional ruler of Lagwa over his alleged involvement in a kidnapping syndicate

The dust raised by the recent dethronement of Eze Cosmas Onyeneke, Ekwueme IV of Lagwa Okwuato in Aboh Mbaise local government area of Imo State, is yet to settle. Onyeneke was dethroned by the Imo State government a few weeks ago following the recommendations of the State House of Assembly ad hoc committee led by Emeka Nwofor, member representing Ngor-Okpala constituency.  The House of Assembly had on December 14, 2011, approved the dethronement of Onyeneke.  The decision of the dethronement of the traditional ruler was sequel to the adoption of the five-man ad hoc committee set up by the House to investigate the matter on the petitions levelled against the monarch by his subjects.

The House had adopted the recommendations of the committee and promptly forwarded it to the governor to implement. According to the report, the traditional ruler was found guilty of complicity in an alleged kidnapping incident committed on September 21, 2011, in a Nail Factory situated at Eziala Enyiogugu, Mbaise, owned by him. Matthew Osuagwu and D.O. Amadi, factional president-general and secretary of the town union had petitioned both the House of Assembly and the governor on the atrocities allegedly  committed by Onyeneke, including kidnapping. The petitioners, therefore, said that the deposed traditional ruler did not command any reputation again from the subjects and the state in general. They also tendered evidence of certified true copy of the verdict of the Aboh Mbaise Magistrate Court,  presided over by U.S. Uba, dated March 25, 1988, in which Onyeneke was indicted.

Osuagwu claimed that the case “Commissioner of Police versus Onyegbule Onyeneke and Cosmos Onyeneke” was an eye opener to the people of Lagwa community on the nefarious activities of the traditional ruler and urged the government to dethrone him.

Onyeneke was first suspended in October last year following the shocking discovery that his factory premises had been turned into a safe haven for kidnappers.

Anthony Anwuka, a professor and secretary to the State Government, SSG, directed that the traditional ruler be suspended as recommended by the current leadership of the State Council of Traditional Rulers.

The statement added that Onyeneke would remain suspended until the outcome of a thorough investigation into the matter. The Imo State Command of the State Security Service, SSS, successfully smashed a kidnap gang that has been using the moribund Nail Industry owned by Onyeneke as a safe haven for its nefarious act.

One Ndubuisi and Emenike Toogu, two of the five-man dare devil kidnap gang that has been terrorising the Emekuku-Mbaise axis of the state were apprehended in the operation. They were caught in a warehouse where they had hidden the two women they kidnapped. They demanded for N100 million as ransom before they met their waterloo. It was later revealed that they were from Osisioma Ngwa in Abia State.

Ever since the incident, Rochas Okorocha, governor of the state, has left no one in doubt about his government’s decision to deal with the royal father.   The government’s position was made public by the governor when he addressed a cross-section of Imo people on September 27, 2011, at the Concorde Hotel, Owerri.

Reading the riot act, Okorocha reiterated the readiness of his administration to decisively deal with any traditional ruler found to be harbouring armed robbers, kidnappers and social misfits in his domain.

“For now, this administration is thinking of what to do with the traditional ruler in Mbaise, whose factory was harbouring kidnappers. Government will surely deal with him,” Okorocha said.

Mixed reactions have trailed the dethronement of Onyeneke. Some of the royal subjects were jolted when news hit the entire state.  Apprehension has also enveloped the community as a result of the presence of the fierce- looking security operatives.

Nath Onu, a lecturer at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, FUTO, and a prominent indigene of Lagwa, said there was celebration among the people when the dethronement of Onyeneke was announced. “This is because his purported enthronement never enjoyed the support of the people. He was the most unpopular Eze among his peers in the state who ascended the throne fraudulently. Everybody is happy about the turn of events,” Onu said. The university don told Newswatch that the community would decide between Anthony Elugwaraonu and Eugene Onu as the next traditional ruler of Lagwa community.

Mike Ihejieto, a Benin-based industrialist and a citizen of the community, also commended the state government for the action. He told Newswatch that the government has restored sanity in the community because there was never a time the community accepted Onyeneke as its traditional ruler, because of his dubious activities. “There was never a time we wanted him to be our Eze. We rather wanted him to be a political heavyweight in the zone, but he insisted on becoming the traditional ruler to enable him become the overall Eze of Aboh Mbaise. He got the crown through the back door. We complained about his criminal activities in Mbaise, but nobody listened. I am a victim of his criminal activities. I escaped being assassinated by the whiskers when his gang stormed my residence. The Ezeship tussle has disrupted development in the area. Now that the bubble has burst, we are grateful to the state government for taking such a bold step,” he told Newswatch. 

Ignatius Akagha, an indigene of the area, said Onyeneke was a terror while his reign lasted.  “His agents were everywhere, intimidating people perceived to be in opposition. In fact, his dethronement will bring peace. We can now present our choice to the government,” he said.

But Vitalis Ekenedo, a commercial motorcyclist in the area, believes that the dethronement of Onyeneke would rather complicate the crisis in the community because due process was not followed before it was done. “As far as I am concerned, government did not conduct thorough investigation on the matter before taking the action. Did the kidnappers mention the Eze’s name? These are pertinent questions that will address the issue. Lagwa will boil the more if the government fails to invalidate the decision,” he said.

Onyeneke has consistently claimed that some members of his community, who were against him, were doing so out of jealousy. “You see, no matter how good you are, some people must go against you. All the allegations being levelled against me by some disgruntled members of my community are as a result of my popularity and prosperity over the years,” he said.

There has been tension in Lagwa Okwuato autonomous community in the past 10 years over the Ezeship tussle. Discord over the stool led to bloody clashes in June 2003. The crisis in the community escalated following the alleged imposition of Onyeneke, a contestant for the Eze stool on the people. The Lagwa Development Union, LDU, had protested to Achike Udenwa, then governor. In the letter dated February 17, signed by Osuagwu and Athanasius Eleba, president-general and secretary-general of the Union, respectively, they stated that Lagwa people rejected such an imposition.

In the wake of the crisis, the state government instituted a judicial panel of inquiry headed by Davidson Onyema, a high court judge. The tribunal produced a report and the Imo State government issued a white paper. According to them, the white paper was clear in its recommendation that there shall be a plebiscite in Lagwa to determine the person preferred by and acceptable to the community as the Eze.

In response to the demands of the white paper and to remove acrimony, the community set aside the two combatants in the tussle, Onyeneke and Anthony Elugwara. An Eze selection committee headed by Charles Njoku was mandated to screen and put forward a new Eze-elect. At the end of the exercise, Eugene Akalefu Onu, a prominent son of the community allegedly emerged as the new Eze-elect with the title Agwa I of  Lagwa. Okwuato Onu was formally presented to Best Njoku, then chairman, Aboh Mbaise council on December 23, 2005. The council chairman then forwarded the name to the state government. 

However, while the people of the community were waiting for the recognition of Onu, Onyeneke was issued a letter of recognition by the state government. The leadership of the community warned against the danger of such action in a protest letter.

Apart from the protest letter, the community also filed a suit at the Aboh Mbaise High court to halt the alleged imposition. In the suit filed on behalf of the community by Chris Ahumibe, the community sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the state government from recognising Onyeneke as the traditional ruler of Lagwa, Okwuato. It also prayed the court to issue an order asking the state government to conduct a plebiscite to ascertain the Lagwa people’s choice of Eze as recommended by the Judicial Commission of Inquiry. But the case was allegedly dismissed by the court. In the  past 10 years, many lives have been lost and property worth millions of Naira destroyed in the crisis that engulfed the community.


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