Umueri is a community in Anambra East Local Government Area of Anambra State. The Headquarters of this Local Government Area is Otu-Ocha, an area which has remained improperly defined and delineated because of the grand design to make things difficult for Umueri community and her people.
By the way, Otu-Ocha is a coinage by white foreigners who had colonized our people just as they did other Nigerians elsewhere. Its original name was Otu-Oche, meaning beach owned by Oche, an Umueri man who managed canoes at the riverside (of Omabala River also renamed Anambra River by the same Europeans for ease of pronunciation). Otu in local parlance denotes “beach” or “riverside”. This is why there are such phrases as Otu- Onitsha (meaning Onitsha Riverside), Otu-Nsugbe meaning that part of Nsugbe where Anambra (or more accurately Omabala River passes through Nsugbe).
To immortalize Oche (this first man to settle in Otu-Ocha), Umueri people named one of the primary schools in the community “Oche Primary School”.
This long backgrounding has become necessary to enable an “outsider” to properly understand the circumstances surrounding the Umueri man/woman; his/her tribulations in the hands of his/her neighbours (especially Aguleri) and Umueri’s contributions to Omabala area in particular and Anambra State and indeed Nigeria as a whole.
One of the greatest puzzles of all times is the relationship which has existed from the distant past between Umueri and her next-door neighbor, Aguleri. To use the age-old phraseology, Umueri and Aguleri people live side by side, but this physical closeness has not engendered unity, love or understanding among people from these two communities.
The two communities had a long history of friendship, inter-marriages and business partnerships. They embraced Christianity a pretty long time ago – the Anglican Church arrived Umueri in 1904, while the Catholic denomination established presence in Aguleri about the same time.
In spite of all factors which should have reconciled the Umuerians with the Agulerians, there has been no love lost between the two communities. The longest-lasting land dispute in Nigeria that has transversed the lower, Appeal and Supreme Courts, and even at a time, was heard at the Privy Council in London, United Kingdom, is the Umueri-Aguleri Land case. Though the Supreme Court adjudicated on this matter in 1984 with a judgment that neither Umueri nor Aguleri could prove EXCLUSIVE ownership of Otu-Ocha land, and therefore urged each of the two communities to go back and continue to operate where she had held sway while collecting rent from stranger elements, peace has continued to elude these two communities. Apart from their 1964 war, they fought in 1995 (this was actually an invasion of Umueri by Aguleri) and 1999.
An integral aspect of the Supreme Court’s 1984 judgment, namely the call on the National Boundaries Commission to urgently demarcate boundaries between Umueri and Aguleri with a view to preventing further hostilities, is yet to be effected 32 solid years after!
That explains why the two communities have resorted to “self-help” – fighting, maiming, burning and murdering themselves in a bid to acquire more land out of Otu-Ocha and its environs. The memories of the Umueri-Aguleri crisis of 1995 and 1999 are still evergreen in our minds.
Could the Federal and Anambra State Governments urgently intervene and save Umueri and Aguleri from another session of bloodshed? This question has become imperative against the backdrop of an aggressive acquisition policy being executed by Aguleri community, using the position of their son, Chief Willie Obiano, the sitting governor of Anambra State to best advantage.
Umueri community believes that Governor Willie Obiano is partial in more respects than one: shortly after his assumption of office in 2014, he ordered the payment of a joint compensation to Umueri and Aguleri communities to legitimize his Government’s illegal acquisition of Aguakor land (which exclusively belongs to Umueri), a bait which Umueri has continued to shun. Not having any stake, Aguleri community expectedly collected what the Government referred to as its share of that compensation.
As if this was not enough humiliation, the Anambra State Cargo Airport Project sited in Umueri by ex-Governor Peter Obi (CON) has “Aguleri” added to its location on the day Obiano flagged it off. On that same day and in the same event, he (Governor Obiano), to the chagrin of those present, ordered that an Aguleri monarch, Augustine Eze break the kolanut on Umueri soil when several prominent Umueri sons, including the traditional Prime Minister (Onowu Umueri), Chief Mike Ekweonu, were there in flesh and blood.
Still not done, His Excellency, Governor Obiano ordered that the written Address prepared by Umueri would not be read by the Chairman of Umueri Caretaker Committee (of Umueri General Assembly), Comrade Chike Odili. To make matters worse, Governor Obiano compelled a prominent Umueri contractor to perform the odd job of confiscating copies of that address so that no journalist would report anything about Umueri. That was the mother of all humiliations!
On Thursday, April 14, 2016, the governor tried to re-enact such naivety as the above-mentioned at the opening of Onitsha Shoprite Mall when he asked the Obosi traditional ruler Igwe Iweka to break the Kolanut on Onitsha soil, and heavens were let loose. Onitsha citizens present, simply snatched the Kolanut from Igwe Iweka, saying they would not tolerate such sacrilege on Onitsha Ado Land.
Back to the humiliation of Umueri: Governor Willie Obiano has changed the name of the Local Education Authority at Anambra East Local Government Area, Otu-Ocha to Anambra State Universal Education Board, Aguleri. This was effected by the Chairman of Anambra State Universal Basic Education Board (ASUBEB), Chief Olisa Emeka (popularly called Okosisi) and an Aguleri man who was planted at the Office on purpose. He is Prof. John C. Onuorah. Governor Obiano ordered him to ensure Umueri is insulted and extinguished from the records of the Board.
Our Lady’s Catholic Church-owned Madonna Secondary School, Umueri, surprisingly has an Aguleri address in the records of Anambra State Education Ministry.
Worse still, during the registration done by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), all addresses bearing Umueri were deliberately changed to Aguleri to give the wrong impression that the whole of Otu-Ocha belongs to Aguleri. The series of petitions written to the Security Agencies – Department of State Security (DSS), Police and the National Identity Management Commission by Umueri to this effect, is yet to yield the desired dividend.
It is noteworthy that all efforts made by Umueri people to pay Governor Obiano a courtesy call were rebuffed by His Excellency. Similarly, all petitions written by Umueri people against the various indignities meted out to them were cast overboard by the governor and his Chief of Staff, Prof. Joe Asike. This shows that the clamp-down on Umueri is a deliberate and carefully planned policy of Gov. Obiano and his Aguleri community.
It is feared that the last straw which will break the camel’s back is the recent relocation to Aguleri of the St. Gabriel Anglican Church’s Bishop’s Court meant to be sited on the over 200-plot land donated by Umueri.
Authoritative sources say the governor gave Bishop Johnson Ekwe a whooping sum of Five Hundred Million Naira to build a befitting house in his Nenwe community in Enugu State as well as erect the Bishop’s Court in Aguleri.
Pray, where else is a Bishop’s court sited in another community than where the Cathedral (and Diocesan Headquarters) is domiciled? What facility of the Aguleri Catholic Diocese, is sited in Umueri? The Monastery which was mooted previously to be sited in Umueri by the Catholic Church was vehemently opposed by Aguleri people who killed the idea with unparalled immediacy.
Why has Umueri become the Guinea Pig of Aguleri? Why should a highly placed cleric of the status of a Bishop (Bishop Johnson Ekwe), Bishop of Niger West Diocese allow himself to be used to annex, humiliate, degrade and desecrate Umueri?
One only hopes that the top echelon of the Anglican Church from the Eastern part of Nigeria, namely, Most Rev. Christian Efobi (Arch Bishop, Province of Niger and Bishop of Aguata Diocese); Rt. Rev. Ephraim Ikeakor (Bishop of Amichi Diocese); Rt. Rev. Prof. Godwin Okpala (Bishop of Nnewi Diocese); Rt. Rev. Alexander Ibezim, Ph.D (Bishop of Awka Diocese); Rt. Rev. Ralph Okeke (Bishop of Ihiala Diocese); Rt. Rev. Samuel Ezeofor (Bishop of Ogbaru Diocese); Rt. Rev. Henry Okeke (Bishop of Mbamili Diocese) and Rt. Rev. Owen Nwokolo Ph.D (Bishop of Niger Diocese), will properly advise the Primate of Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh to order the return of the Diocese of Niger West’s Bishop’s Court to its rightful place, Umueri.
In addition, the member of the House of Representatives (representing Anambra East and West Local Government Areas), Hon. Tony Nwoye should call on the National Boundaries Commission to urgently demarcate the boundaries between Aguleri and Umueri while the Chief Executive Officer of National Identity Management Commission should order a review of the registration exercise which his agency carried out in Aguleri and Umueri communities with a view to righting the wrongs meted out to Umueri.
A stitch in time saves nine!
Edoziuno Egboka writes from Umueri
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