Posted by ThisDay Online on
Since the events of July 10, 2003 when Governor Chris Ngige narrowly escaped an abduction attempt plotted by his enstranged godfather, Chief Chris Uba, Anambra State has always been in the news. From one revelation to another, the state has been moving in a circle. Yet, it was Ngige who first inadvertently pointed fingers at the goings-on in Okija shrine. Now that Okija shrines have become public knowledge, is it merely a coincidence? Joseph Ushigiale asks
In the first few days after the news of the Okija shrine discovery broke, details of the what transpired within the shrines' enclave were simply horrendous. This was to get worse when video footage of corpses and human skulls were beamed to several homes across the world.
Suddenly, Okija, a once unknown, small and rural town shot into instant stardom. Today, it stands unchallenged among its peers in the fetish kingdom. It would be a long time before those pictures and video footage would be obliterated from the consciousness of people both at home and abroad.
... In the Beginning
At the height of the July 10 saga, when Chief Chris Uba, the self anointed godfather of Anambra State with his henchmen closed in on Governor Chris Ngige to remove him unconstitutionally from office, Uba said his godson, Ngige had signed a letter of resignation before he was sworn in as governor. It was the attempt for the resignation to come to pass that Uba resorted to the attempt to abduct Ngige. He and his co-travellers failed.
In the follow-up to the failed abduction attempt, Ngige railed his estranged godfather for adopting unothodox means to guarantee his loyalty. One of the strategies Ngige said Uba adopted was to take him before to a shrine to swear.
According to Ngige, when he was confronted with the dilemma, he consulted his Bishop who advised him to accompany them with a Bible and anointed oil. He went further to explain that at the shrine, he opted to remain in his car instead of going before the chief priests for the traditional oath administration.
At the time Ngige made this revealing disclosure, few people bothered to question the role of the shrines in the socio-political and economic affairs of Anambra State, the characters behind such mundane practices and their motives.
People carried on as if nothing had happened until about a fortnight ago when the bubble bust. It took the information provided by a police informant, Chukwumezie Obed Igwe for the police to unshackle the people of Okija, Anambra State and the entire South-east zone from the spell and stranglehold of a commercial traditional institution that held them hostage for decades.
Obed had informed the police that some form of ritual killing was in progress in Okija, a town within Ihiala local government area. The Commissioner of Police, Mr. Felix Ogbaudu said he arranged a team of mobile policemen who raided the shrines arresting about 30 chief priests and recovering about 50 corpses, some in decomposing condition, 10 registers of its patrons and about 20 skulls.
Since the arrests, opinion has been divided over the propriety or otherwise of the raids carried out by the police. However, fresh disclosures from around the zone indicate the prevalence of such practices and patronage by a clientele that cuts across race, religion and calling.
It has also exposed the reasons why certain developments especially in the zone come about and also why politics has descended to its present level. For instance, members of the Anambra State House of Assembly as requested by the Majority Leader, Hon. Humphrey Nsofor admitted that 21 lawmakers were alleged to have been forced to take oaths before the shrines by Uba.
According to Nsofor "Uba assured us that if we remained loyal to him, he would ensure that President Olusegun Obasanjo does anything he wants him to do for us in the course of our duty. He also told us at the shrine that if we fell short of being loyal to him, the deity would take our lives." He pointed out that "Uba wanted to use the shrine to hold us in bondage. You can't have access to the grassroots, no matter how strong you are. They used it to ambush Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju and in the process hijacked his government.
They also introduced it at the beginning of the present government, but failed when their abduction attempt on Ngige failed." ... Implications The Okija shrine expose represents a major headache for the political class and elite in Igboland because of its far reaching implications now and in future. The pan Igbo socio-cultural and political organisation, Ohaneze Ndigbo in its reaction by the national publicity secretary, Emmanuel Ajoku said "we believe that the Okija discovery is a major tragedy that calls for serious reflection by all right thinking Nigerians."
According to the organisation, "we will continue to work with other Nigerians to eliminate all those factors that create and sustain the kind of society that harbours the negative factors, which impede our transition to the modern nation of our dream." It pointed out that "the existence of the said shrines and their procedures as described in these reports are totally alien to Ohaneze as a body and Ndigbo in general; and neither the present leadership nor those before it seemed to have any knowledge of such a shrine." Governor Sam Egwu of Ebonyi State, in his reaction, blamed the security agencies for failing in their duties to unearth the shrines all this while, adding that "why did it take them all this while to know that shrines, operated by dubious men exist in Okija?" Egwu said it was rather amazing that it took the information from Igwe, for the police to become aware of the existence of shrines in Okija when people have over the years been dispossessed of their belongings by dubious shrine priests, adding that the full wrath of the law should take its course on the culprits. On the political front, the Okija revelations have played a spoiler role for the zone that is already reeling from the distrust trailing its quest for the presidency in 2007. If other zones, 34 years after, still distrust the zone for its prominent role in the civil war, the Okija debacle has further dampened the hope of future support.
The impression today is that the Igbo are fetish and are incapable of earning honest living except with the assistance of an Ogwugwu shrine. While this may not altogether be true, a parade of some of the men of power in Igboland would tend to lend credence to this position. Yet, there are still a large percentage of Igbo intellectuals, captains of industries and accomplished entrepreneurs who have earned a reputation not through Ogwugwu deity but sheer dint of hardwork and resilience. ... Ngige/ Uba on the Cross It would only take divine intervention to ascertain whose idea it was to introduce the administration of Okija shrines' oaths into politics and governance in Anambra State and its environs. But it appears those powers behind godfathers in the zone have been routed. Shortly after the scandalous discovery, Senior Special Adviser to Ngige on Media and Publicity, Fred Chukwuelobe denied that Ngige ever went to the shrine for whatever purpose. He also washed the government's hands off raids that swept off the shrine.
Uba on his part had denied ever patronising the shrine. In a statement issued by Hon. Chuma Nzeribe, a key actor in the July 10 abduction saga, Nzeribe said it was Ngige's and not Uba's idea that the Ogwugwu deity should be patronised. Nzeribe said Ngige made the suggestion out of desperation to become governor. .... Is it Liberation Day ? Certainly, events leading up to when the shrines were raided indicate that Ngige would hardly feign ignorance of the development. Those conversant with the unfolding drama point at the July 10 saga and Ngige's recent celebration, tagged "Liberation Day", to mark the anniversary of his failed abduction as a mere coincidence. It is believed that Ngige's insistence on celebrating the anniversary was to underscore his survival from the likely wrath that was expected to befall him as punishment for reneging on the oath taken to remain loyal to Uba.
Those conversant with operations of the shrine are of the view that, the laws of the shrines are that the deity strikes down a defaulter within a time frame of either three to four months or approximately a year. Ngige had survived both and that is why he is believed to have summoned the courage to call off the bluff of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) secretariat which threatened to sanction him if he went ahead with the planned rally.
There is also the thinking that Ngige's survival has equally given him the temerity to confront the Okija shrines, according to Chukwuelobe, "to remove the last vestiges of bad governance." He noted that "the government of Anambra State sees the development as a good riddance to bad rubbish and at the appropriate time, government will come out with a proposal for the acquisition of the said large expanse of forest land which the shrines had occupied for various governments." Now attention has been shifted to the Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, so far the police has done a commendable job in this direction. Only recently, Balogun said the police would publish the details of the contents of 10 registers recovered from the shrines.
The whole world appears expectant and attention has shifted in the direction of Balogun to make good his promise. Balogun should know that the time for grandstanding and uttering of vain words is all over. Of all the accusations against Balogun, an ample opportunity has presented itself for him to redeem his image.
The challenge posed by the Okija investigation has also presented a leeway for him to correct some wrong impressions about the police. This is Balogun's own River Thames Case. It is then that Nigerians and especially to borrow the words of Chukwuelobe, "Anambra people will know who the real patrons of the shrine are and the likes of Hon. Nzeribe are only diverting attention with the hope of escaping the doomsday."
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