Banishment of Woman with Masquerades in Anambra: The Story Behind the Story

May 25, 2023
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By Izunna Okafor, Awka

It is no longer news that a group of villagers, with the instrumentality of two masquerades, on Sunday, April 30, banished a woman from a community in Anambra State over allegation bordering on food poisoning.

The incident was said to have happened at Umunankwo Community in Ogbaru Local Government Area of the State.

Notwithstanding the virality of the videos and the publications of the said banishment, there was no adequate relevant information in the media concerning the incident, especially with respect to the full identity of the said banished woman, the people behind the said banishment, and other essential information about the circumstances surrounding her banishment.

Most importantly, there was no clear information on the nature or kind of food poisoning committed by the banished woman, where, when and how it was committed; and neither was anything said on whom and whom died as a result of the said food poisoning. The views and the purviews of the parties involved in the matter were also unknown, both to the media and to the public.

Howbeit, in the midst of all these information scarcity and relevant questions begging for answers on the incident, reactions and counter reactions have continued to rage on the social media for and against the said banishment, while daily publications also continue to sprout from different angles on the incident —all in vagueness, as the nitty-gritty of the incident remained un-accessed and un-assessed.

It was in the quest to unravel this nitty-gritty of the incident that this reporter, Izunna Okafor, took an investigative dive into the incident.

Umunankwo is one of the fifteen communities that make up Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State. The community has two sides, divided by river. It was also the same community where over sixty persons died in a boat mishap during the 2022 flooding in Anambra State state.

The town operates a presidential leadership structure, with Hon. Tochukwu Udeze as the current president general; while the community’s monarch heads the traditional institution of the community.

The family of late Chief Charles Anene Uzor and Mrs. Catherine Uzor is one of the families that make up Umunankwo Community. How the names of this couple came into this report is a matter of of necessity, because they are the parents of the woman, Nneka who was banished with masquerades in Umunankwo Community, as was seen in the viral videos. Her full name is Nneka Uzor, but, she will henceforth (in this report) be referred to as Nneka, for clarity sake. She is one of the twelve children of Chief Charles Uzor, their father (henceforth referred to as Mr. Charles). While their father is late now, their mother, Mrs. Catherine Uzor (henceforth referred to as Mrs. Catherine in this report) is still alive, and will be eighty years old by September this year.

It happened that one of the children of late Chief Charles, Mr. Anozie Uzor (henceforth referred to as Mr. Anozie) planned to host a ceremonial banquet in the honour and memory of their late father. The event was slated for April 24, while guests, including the community members and people from outside the community were invited to come and merry with them. Different delicacies, including goat meat pepper soup, and others were prepared and garnished for the event, while assorted drinks were also available for consumption at the occasion. The host of the ceremony, Anozie, had said that their late father appeared to him in a dream and told him that he was hungry, while some fortune tellers also told him the same thing concerning their father, which, he said, made him plan to host the ceremony in his memory.

However, something transpired before the event: The host, Anozie, who is a younger brother to Nneka, was said to have repeatedly accused her (Nneka) of witchcraft, given their long-standing quarrel, which makes him to always call her ‘witch’ and ‘mad woman’ at every slighted encounter.

It is pertinent to note at this juncture that, against some viral media publications that referred to Nneka as a widow, Nneka, the banished woman is not a widow. Rather, she is a daughter of the soil in Umunankwo Community. In the course of his investigation, this reporter discovered that arrangement for her marriage was in progress before her fiancee mysteriously died, just some days to the proposed date of the marriage. Although, some people from the community said they were never aware of the said fiancee and the truncated marriage arrangement. That notwithstanding, since Nneka’s dowry was yet to be paid before the said demise of her fiancee, she should not be regarded as a widow. She had also been living in her father’s house with her mother before the said banishment saga. Although she has two children —a son, who is a university graduate, and a daughter.

Back to the narration, Nneka, in an interview with this reporter, said that her younger brother, Mr. Anozie had always referred to her as a witch and a mad woman. She said she had severally complained about that, but nothing changed, which made her to go to the extent of petitioning the leadership of Umunankwo Community with drinks and money (as required) to look into their matter and stop Anozie from calling him a witch or compel him to prove she’s a witchcraft. She, however, said that the community leadership did not even summon them to a meeting, let alone deliberating over the issue she reported. She also said that the drink and money she submitted along with her petition had not been refunded to her till today; while Anozie continues to call her witch at will.

“He and some of my brothers call me witch and make jest of me everytime and anywhere they see me, while I’m sure I’m not a witch,” she said.

To be continued…

This reporter, Izunna Okafor, discovered that Nneka was also not in good terms with her mother, Catherine Uzor and some of her brothers, especially their eldest brother, Mr Lazarus Uzor (henceforth referred to as Mr. Lazarus), and her uncle, Mr. Nnamdi Uzor (henceforth referred to as Mr. Nnamdi).

Further in his investigations, this reporter discovered that the issue between them started as far back as three years ago, in 2020, when some of Nneka’s siblings reportedly accused her of beating their mother and chasing her out of the house in the middle of the night, to the extent that she (the near eighty-year-old mother) reportedly jumped the window to escape.

According to the eldest brother brother, Mr. Lazarus, who is also a former President-General of Umunankwo Community, the incident happened sometime in December 2020 when he received a call from a member of another community in Ogbaru in the middle of the night, informing him that their mother (who lives in the village) was seen wandering up and down unconventionally at a lonely road in that middle of the night. This, he said, made him to contact some members of the vigilante group to drive to the place immediately, pick up his mother and convey her to her paternal hometown in Ogboakụba community, also in Ogbaru Local Government Area, pending the following morning, when he would make proper enquiry. He said that at the time, some of his other siblings do not reside in the village, except Nneka who lives with their mother, and Anozie who closely lives in Asaba.

He said they eventually discovered that it was Nneka who beat and chased their mother out of the house, and threatened her not to return to the house again, over a debt of fifty thousand naira (₦50,000) she was owing her as parts of proceeds from the sale of her cassava.

According to Mr. Lazarus, this got him and his siblings angry, and they travelled home and summoned a meeting, with both Nneka and their mother in attendance. He said that the meeting did not end well that day, as, according to him, Nneka attacked everyone who spoke against her action, to the extent that she fought and injured her younger sister, Chioma, on the head with breakable plate, and also roared at Anozie whom she also described as always easy to be “manipulated”. He said Nneka, while quarrelling at the meeting, also threatened that “five heads would roll”, and also threatened to deal with Anozie.

Nneka, however, denied these allegations as untrue, stressing that she never touched her mother, let alone beating her.

According to her, the issue started when their mother borrowed the sum of fifty thousand naira (₦50,000) from the village meeting, for Anozie, which, she (Nneka) said she saw as a dent to her own personality, given that many people would assume that her mother borrowed the money for feeding, despite having somebody of her status as a daughter.

“In order to quickly pay back the money, I told my mother sell my cassava that I was preserving for the coming season when it would have been sold at higher price, so that she could repay the loan immediately. She did that, and the loan was repaid, while Anozie was now owing me instead of owing the meeting.

“Then, after a very long while, I expected Anozie to pay back the money, but he did not. I told our mother to help remind him about that, which she did, but he never listened to her. So, I had to keep confronting and pestering them constantly for my money. And that was how they started seeing me as an enemy and inciting my other siblings against me, in return for the good thing I benevolently did for them. The next thing was that they accused me of having beating our mother,” she narrated.

He said that year, in 2020, following the allegation, her siblings mobilised over thirty able-bodied youths who jumped into her house, dragged her out, beat her up and stripped her naked in the public in a broad daylight.

In their separate remarks on the alleged assault and harassment of their sister, Mr. Lazarus Uzor, Mr. Anozie Uzọr, and Mr. Nnamdi Uzor said they were not involved in the said harassment, but explained that Nneka was only forced into the car and driven to Ogboakụba community when the Traditional Ruler of the community, who is a biological brother to their mother, summoned all of them to his palace over the allegation of beating their mother — an invitation, they said, Nneka refused to honour until she was forcefully brought to the palace by the youths. Hence, they said nobody beat or harassed her.

The trio further explained that, as a result of Nneka’s rudeness, the Ogboakụba monarch, Igwe P.C.U. Afuberoh, after all the deliberations on the matter between her and her mother, pronounced banishments on her (Nneka), barring her from stepping her feet again into Ogboakụba community, pending when her banishment would be revoked and the necessary rituals performed for land cleansing.

This reporter, Izunna Okafor, also obtained a copy of an undertaking Nneka was made to sign, promising to be of good behaviour henceforth and never to insult her mother again.

It was gathered that Lazarus, at the end of the deliberations, summoned Nneka in the presence of his siblings, and gave her the sum of hundred thousand naira (₦100,000) as a repayment of the (₦50,000) debt she said their mother was owing her.

Nneka, however, refused to accept the money, on the grounds that he (Mr. Lazarus) had such money but did not repaid her the debt when she complained about it for the matter to end since, until when they (according to her) had finished humiliating, harassing and disgracing her before the whole world, the video of which went viral then on the social media, in 2020, when she was publicly harassed by the youths.

Although, it was gathered that Nneka’s daughter eventually collected the money on her mother’s behalf, so as to use it for her treatment and hospital bills, given that she reportedly sustained varied degrees of physical and psychological injuries at the time.

This reporter gathered that these incidents, were a major cause of the perceived long-standing quarrel between Nneka, her mother, and some of her siblings.

Nneka, had also been accused (by his siblings) of threatening that five heads would roll.

“This may not be far from the reason her siblings call her a witch,” a villager told this reporter under anonymity.

Now back to the day of the banquet in honour of their late father, Chief Charles Uzor; Nneka informed this reporter that Anozie, as usual, also publicly called her a witch that day at the event.

This, she explained, got her provoked and also burst her long-bottled anger, to the extent that she consequently cast (threw) a handful of sand (she was using to wash pot that day) at the Anozie, out of that anger.

“When I threw the sand at him out of anger, some of the sands fell into the pot of pepper soup they prepared for the occasion because the foods were close to that place,” she said (in Igbo language).

While Nneka said she cast sand at Anozie and some of the sand fell into the pot of pepper soup, Anozie said it was a lie, and alleged that it was their mother who saw Nneka as she was secretly and deliberately pouring sand with a mixture of something unknown to them into the pots of foods prepared for the event.

When asked to explain what transpired, the mother, Mrs. Catherine Uzor attested that Nneka deliberately poured whatever she was holding into the food. She also confirmed that what Nneka poured into the pots of foods had texture of sand, but said she could not tell if it was just sand or there was something else attached. This, she said, made her to raise alarm that attracted other people.

Nneka, in continuation of her own narration said, “Immediately that happened, my brother, Anozie, together with some other youths in the area, started chasing me around with matchet, threatening to kill me, and accusing me of poisoning the community’s food.

“As that was going on, I ran out to the main road, and, luckily for me, a car came out, and offered to help me, having noticed what was happening; and I entered the car immediately, and we drove off before they could get closer. That was how I escaped from their hands that day and got to another neighbouring community,” she narrated.

Against Nneka’s claim that she escaped out of the town to avoid being harmed or killed by the people chasing after; her brother, Anozie and her uncle, Nnamdi, who were both present at the event claimed that she left on her own without anyone chasing after her. It was gathered that her eldest brother, Mr. Lazarus was not in the village during the incident.

Again, while Anozie and Nnamdi claimed that the said poisoned food was no longer eaten that day; Nneka said that some people who attended the event told her that they finished all the pepper soup and the foods which they accused her of poisoning, yet no single person among them died.

It was also gathered that Nneka was not banished the same day she was accused of food poisoning. Instead, she was accused of commiting two things in addition to the alleged poisoning, before she was eventually banished from the community few days later. One was that she was accused of wearing a red cap meant only for titled chiefs, which they said, was a taboo in the community.

Secondly, she was said to have returned to her home just few days after she ran away and then refused to go back to where she earlier took asylum. Her return and refusal to go back infuriated Nnamdi her uncle, who said “I cannot not sleep under the same roof with someone who committed abomination.”

Nnamdi said he had slept outside the compound the first time Nneka returned to spend the night in the house after running away, and therefore vowed that he would not continue to sleep outside because of Nneka’s presence in the compound. According to him, that was why they used masquerades to kick her out of the compound and banish her outrightly from the community, since she had refused to go back to where to took asylum.

When asked how it happened, Nneka denied wearing red cap as she was being accused. She said she returned to her house after the food poisoning allegation, to attend an occasion where she was to represent the Ọmụeze (a respected title holder and the eldest daughter among the Ụmụada) at a function.

She explained that, although, Ọmụeze has rights to wear a red cap, she, as her representative that day wore a black cap to the event, which she said she was authorised to wear by the Ọmụeze whom she was representing. She said while other villagers hailed her as she saddled the position of Ọmụeze to pray for and bless the people that day at the event; her siblings saw her siblings as someone who has committed an abomination, and therefore, rounded her up there at the event and forcefully uncapped her, right there in the public.

These, according to some members of the village, caused Nneka’s banishment from Umunankwo, by a group of people.

Speaking further on how the banishment happened, Nneka said her allegation of food poisoning was reported to Ụmụada (a group of married daughters of the community), who fixed a date for its hearing, deliberation and resolution, but hinted that she was banished by her brother before the date scheduled for the hearing of the matter.

She said, “Prior to the day slated for the hearing of the matter, I was sleeping in my room when I heard ‘gwaa…’ on my door, and I jumped up in shock. So, I grabbed a wrapper and held tight my chest, as my heartbeat was already speeding.

“The next thing was that I started hearing masquerades’ voices in our compound. And they were drawing closer to my room, while I panicked and was enveloped by fear, because I have phobia of masquerade.”

According to her, it was then that her uncle, Mr. Nnamdi bumped into her room and started mocking her for the ordeal that was to befall her.

“Shebi I told you, Nneka, that I will see your end this year?” Nnamdi was quoted as saying.

“I was crying and and begging him not to do such thing to me, knowing fully well that I have phobia of masquerade. I quickly grabbed this gown I’m wearing now and put on, because I was almost naked then.

“And before I know it, they invaded my room, dragged me out, and started leading me away to an unknown destination, together with the masquerades, while many of the people took videos of me, including Nnamdi my uncle who did that viral video and commentary that trended on the social media. They subjected me to a whole lot of humiliation. My own blood and siblings masterminded all these against me before the whole world,” she said, as she paused a while to dry up some tears rolling down her cheeks.

According to her, Nnamdi told the masquerades and the youths to lead her to the ‘land of no return’.

“At a point, as we were going,” she continued, “I got so tired and told Nnamdi that I could no longer continue the journey; but he insisted that I must continue and that I must get to that ‘land of no return’.

“With tears in my eyes then, I reminded him one thing: I asked him if he still remembered that I was the person who intervened when he had issues and abandoned his wife in Malaysia, and thàt I was the person who mobilized the Ụmụada, went to his place in Asaba and incurred every expense involved in re-uniting him with his family.

“I then asked him if this was how he’s now paying me back for my all the things I did for. But he said he never wanted to hear any such story now, and, therefore, ordered me to continue moving.

“And, I continued trekking, till we crossed the boundary of Umunankwo and got to a place I could no longer continue, due to tiredness.”

Mrs. Nneka further narrated how she overhead his eldest brother, Mr. Lazarus Uzor, telling the people to lead her to the land of Ụmụọma, the land of people who committed abomination, which, he said, was where she deserved to be.

According to her, Lazarus also said that it was there (in the land of Ụmụọma) that she would be killed.

“It was that time I collapsed, as everything turned blank to me. And that was the last thing I could remember,” she said.

It was gathered that the people left her and turned back when they led her to the boundary between the community and Mpụtụ, another neighbouring community in the area.

When asked his view and involvement in the banishment of her sister, Mr. Lazarus said he was fully in support of the banishment, alleging that Nneka committed abominable acts. He also said it was the culture of Umunankwo Community to use masquerades to banish anyone who commits abomination in the community, not minding whom the person is. This, he said, was the reason he supported the banishment, lest the repercussions of Nneka’s acts befell the entire Uzor family if they failed to obey the culture and do the right thing.

Concerning whom and whom were consulted before the banishment decision was taken, it was gathered that the President-General of Umunankwo, Hon. Tochukwu Udeze, was not informed, while the Traditional Ruler of the community, Igwe Fidelis Onumonu, who has been out of the country, was also not informed.

“It was the entire community who came for the memorial banquet at our place that day that the food was poisoned. And they were all there when it happened. So, since the entire community witnessed what happened that day, did you still expect me to start going from house to house to consult and inform everybody one after the other again before we took the action?” Lazarus rhetorically asked.

Nneka’s mother, Mrs. Catherine, Anozie and Nnamdi also shared the same view with Lazarus; while only her elder sister, Mrs Nkiruka Ozo (Nee Uzor) was the person who stood against the action from day she heard it.

When asked the kind of person of Nneka is, Nkiruka described her as a very empathetic, benevolent, but temperamental human being.

Mrs. Nkiruka recalled how she (Nneka) periodically used to give soups, food items, clothes and cash gifts to her siblings including Lazarus, as well their mother, when she (Nneka) was working with Julius Begger construction company as a cook, and when some of her other siblings had not yet become rich.

Concerning her own involvement and view on the incident that happened, Nkiruka revealed that her siblings sidelined her throughout the entire incident and never sought her opinion before taking their decision, knowing full well that she would not support their decision on the matter.

She further hinted that she was not even informed about the ceremonial banquet held in honour and memory of their father by her male siblings, despite being the eldest daughter in the family for now; and also recalled that she would not have ever known about the event if not that issue came up from it.

She also narrated how her uncle, Nnamdi, smashed her phone on the wall and nearly killed her at the first meeting convened by Ụmụada to deliberate on the matter, simply because she asked him to clearly explain to Ụmụada, the abomination he alleged that Nneka committed.

“If not by the special grace of God, I would have been a dead person by now given the way Anozie violently smashed my head on the edge of the wall that day, simply because of the question I asked. And I had just recently buried my 35-year-old son in October last year,” she said.

She noted that it was their elder brother, Lazarus, who first came to their house that Sunday morning that they banished Nneka and smartly confirmed that she was at home and sleeping in her room then, before he surreptitiously left through the back gate; and the next thing was two masquerades and the village youths besieging and invading the compound.

She also noted that some villagers in the community did not support the banishment, which, she said, was the reason it was only two masquerade that joined in the banishment, out of about seven masquerade quarters in the community, while others refused to join them.

When contacted for the view of the royalty on the matter, the Palace Secretary of Umunankwo, Hon. Valentine Okwuosa upheld the banishment of Nneka from Umunankwo, and further noted that the traditional ruler of the community (who is out of the country) did not need to be physically present before the banishment would be executed.

While noting that the culture of using masquerades to banish person in Umunankwo Community is as old as the community itself, the Palace Secretary added that, even if it was one masquerade that joined in the banishment exercise, every other person and other masquerades have been represented, because it is the things of the spirit.

Through enquiries made by this reporter, Izunna Okafor, it was gathered that the community eventually summoned a council on the matter after the banishment of Nneka, where, some elders of the community also hailed the action, while some of the villagers viewed it as unwarranted, barbaric, and a pure act of jungle justice and human rights abuse.

On his own part on the matter, the President-General of Umunankwo Community, Hon. Tochukwu Udeze spoke from the both sides of his mouth, as he condemned and upheld the banishment at different occasions. In the videos from the Council meeting summoned in the community after the banishment, the PG was seen speaking in support of the banishment and whatever decision the community would take on the matter.

On the contrary, while speaking at the Anambra State Ministry of Women Affairs in Awka last week Tuesday, he said both he and the Igwe were never consulted before the action was taken, even as he also condemned and faulted the action of the community, and dissociated himself and the leadership of the community from same.

Speaking on the matter, the State Commissioner for Women Affairs, Mrs. Ify Obinabo, who invited the parties involved in the matter to her office in Awka to hear directly from them, outrightly also condemned the action of the community, which she described as inhumane, illegal, and unacceptable.

The Commissioner expressed sadness on the rate at which cases of dehumanization, molestation, and barbaric cultural practices are fast becoming recurrent and rampant among some communities in Ogbaru Local Government Area; even as she also recalled that it was in the same Ogbaru that a widow was recently forced to drink the water used to bathe her corpse, all in the name of ‘it is our culture’.

“It is wrong, very wrong and unacceptable! You don’t do such rubbish to your fellow human being, all because of allegation or in the name of culture. In this modern world, for Christ sake? Are you the law court?” she reproached the people involved in the dehumanizing practice.

“Seriously, it’s time people stopped taking laws into their hands. It is very wrong and unacceptable to do so,” she said.

While noting that Anambra State Government, under Governor Chukwuma Soludo, has zero tolerance for dehumanizing and barbaric cultural practices in the state, Commissioner Obinabo also noted that her Ministry was fully out for the matter, and would see it to a legal end, so as to serve as deterrent to others.

As at the time of filing this publication, this reporter, Izunna Okafor, gathered that the case had been transferred to the State Criminal Investigation Department, (State CID), Amawbia, for more comprehensive investigation, after which the suspects would be charged to the court.

Until the final verdict on the matter, this is the story behind the story.

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