By Izunna Okafor, Awka
What could be best described as an unfolding epic of power clashes, where intimidation tactics, conspicuous displays of influence, and a deliberate bending of longstanding traditional rules intertwine, has continued to linger in Nanka, Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State, as some elders and Nze-titled men in the community cry out over intimidation, threat to life and bending of rules by some moneybags and influential individuals in the community.
Standing out among the moneybags fingered in the lingering crisis and gripping saga of power dynamics was the defeated former lawmaker who represented the Orumba North and South Federal Constituency in the National Assembly, Hon. Okwudili Christopher Ezenwankwo.
Recall that media reports had also recently fingered Hon. Ezenwankwo in another recent political friction that hit the Nanka community over forthcoming re-run election in the community, which allegedly culminated to the gruesome murder of the Nanka Ward 1 Chairman of the Young People’s Party (YPP), Mr. Joseph Ezenwegbu (Joe Mohale), by some yet-to-be-identified thugs, barely one week ago.
As the community still mourns the death of Mr. Ezenwegbu, another case that have allegedly resulted to life threats to some elders of the community have resurfaced. It is the tale of a case of power, manipulation, and a struggle for the rightful custodian of the title of Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka
This reporter, Izunna Okafor, gathered that the roots of the multifaceted conflict date back to 2021, when Chief Ezenwankwo’s political machinations allegedly intertwined with with H.R.H. Igwe Godwin Ogochukwu Ezeilo’s authority, setting off a chain of reactions that now threaten the sanctity of Nanka’s deeply ingrained traditions and customs. The ongoing imbroglio, which has simmered since that fateful year, now stands poised to cast a shadow over the eagerly anticipated Ofala Festival of Igwe Ezeilo, scheduled to hold on January 4, 2024.
Addressing newsmen recently in Awka shortly after visiting the Anambra State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Hon. Tonycollins Nwabunwanne who invited them for a discussion on the matter towards its peaceful resolution, the representatives of the Nze na Ozo Cultural Association of Agbiligba Nanka, passionately recounted the saga that has unfolded over the years.
Speaking on their behalf, the Legal Adviser, Nze na Ozo Agbiligba, Nze Barr. Chidozie Ezeozue, painted a vivid picture of the intricate web of disputes that have been gnawing at the heart of Nanka’s communal harmony. It is during his narration, which sounded more like a chronicle of concerns and grievances, that the backdrop of the turmoil was unveiled in intricate detail, laying bare the history, nuances, and conflicting perspectives that have fueled the ongoing tensions.
According to him, the issue started in 2020, a year of transition and upheaval as the mantle of Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka passed from one generation to the next. He explained that the Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka is a highly revered and sacred traditional position in the community, held only by the most senior Nze-titled man from Umuezekeli clan, one of the 17 clans that make up Agbiligba village, the head village of all seven villages that constitute the Nanka community.
He narrated that the holder of the position would also be the custodian and holder of the Nne Ọfọ, one of the two most powerful symbols of authority in Nanka community. He said the Nne Ọfọ symbol of authority is so powerful and sacred that if it is handed over to someone who is not innocent, the person would die after a few days. This, he said, means that anybody who must occupy that position and hold the Nne Ọfọ must be innocent and the right person, to avoid being struck dead by the Nne Ọfọ. This, he also said, has been the tradition in the community since time immemorial.
Going further, Barr. Ezeozue said the passing of Ichie Innocent Ezekafor, the 16th Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka, marked the commencement of a new chapter in Nanka’s history, setting the stage for this ongoing saga. He said this happened, despite the fact that before Ichie Ezekafor died, he called the next person on the seniority list of Nze Agbiligba and Nanka, Rev. Fr. Prof. Romanus Muoneke, and told him he was about to die, enjoining him to prepare to take over the revered traditional position of Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka.
He narrated that when Ichie Ezekafor eventually joined his ancestors, Rev. Fr. Muoneke, who lives abroad, took over the mantle, but however appointed the son of late Ichie Ezekafor, Ichie Gabriel Ezekafor, to represent him in official functions, including in the Igwe’s cabinet, since he (Ichie Gabriel Ezekafor) represented his late father in such official functions when he was the Isi Nze. He said this appointment was made because Rev. Fr. Muoneke himself lives abroad.
According to Barr. Ezeozue, surprisingly, since the demise of the immediate-past Isi Nze, the community has found itself embroiled in a battle over the rightful custodian of this hallowed title, a position that holds a sacred place within Nanka’s intricate hierarchy. He alleged that some people from the Oka Kindred, one of the seventeen kindreds in Agbiligba village, started pushing for the Isi Nze title to be rotational, instead of being the exclusive reserve of one clan.
He said, the people, knowing fully that their demand was contrary to the age-long existing traditional practice, and that the gods would not permit such an occurrence; they (the masterminds of the push for rotation) started by opposing the use of Nne Ọfọ as the traditional symbol of authority for the holder of the Isi Nze title. Instead, they pushed for the introduction of a metallic staff as the new symbol of authority, even though they were aware that the Nne Ọfọ would be fatal to any unqualified person that holds or takes custody of it.
Continuing with his narration, Chief Ezeozue stated that amidst this tumultuous backdrop, accusations of illegitimate meetings, unconstitutional appointments, and political maneuverings emerged, casting a shadow over the very foundations of Nanka’s societal fabric.
He alleged that one of the individuals masterminding the entire scenario is a former federal lawmaker and former governorship aspirant from the community, Hon. Ezenwankwo (from Oka Kindred in Agbiligba village of Nanka), whom he said is desperate and determined to impose his uncle, Ichie David Ezenwankwo, on them as the Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka.
He said this is despite the fact that Ezenwankwo’s uncle is still ‘very young’ in the seniority list of Nze-titled men in both his kindred, Oka, in Agbiligba village, and in the entire Nanka community. This desperate bid to ruin or subvert a traditional process that predates him by centuries raises questions about their motivation, be it their political influence, wealth, or connections.
Further speaking with newsmen, Barr. Ezeozue and his co-representatives presented a meticulously documented timeline of events, complete with a series of correspondences, memos, and petitions they had written to critical stakeholders in the community and at the local and state government levels for intervention. This tableau paints a vivid portrayal of a community grappling with its identity and heritage.
While noting that even before Mr. Ezenwegbu was assassinated by thugs last week, they the elders had received series of life threats for insisting that the right thing be done and the right procedure followed in selecting and presenting the next (17th Isi Nze); Barr. Ezeozuo further showed the journalists a pictured document suggesting that Igwe Ezeilo is intending to publish Ichie Ezenwankwo’s picture and name as the Isi Nze Agbiligba and Nanka on the event brochure of his forthcoming Ofala, slated for January 4, 2024, an intention he said has crisis potential if carried out.
These and other misdeeds, Ezeozuo said, the members of the Nze na Ozo Cultural Society of Nanka vehemently oppose, object, and vehemently protest against, which, he said, made them to see going to court as their next course of action, after having written a series of petitions to the concerned authorities for intervention on the matter.
According to him, it was in the heat of these that Commissioner Nwabunwanne invited them for a discussion.
When asked the outcome of their meeting with the Commissioner, Barr. Ezeozuo said the Commissioner had advised them to go home and make peace, as an elder statesman in the community was said to have waded into the matter, with a view to resolving it.
When asked if they accepted what the Commissioner said, Barr. Ezeozuo said they are ready to make peace, but however insisted that Ichie Ezenwankwo who was imposed upon them as Isi Nze Agbiligba Nanka must step down first before anything.
“Isi Nze Agbiligba Nanka is given based on seniority in Ọzọ title, and not based on age, or as political appointment. It is based on the year you were initiated into the Ozo society of Nanka and based on Ọzọ ranking
“Selection of Isi Nze Agbiligba Nanka must be done through its usual process. Ichie David Ezewankwo is in the second rank, he cannot be Isi Nze Agbiligba Nanka. And even in the next 50 years, it will still not be his turn, because we have very senior and higher-ranking Ọzọ title holders who are still alive.
“Isi Nze Agbiligba Nanka is not rotational. It’s being controlled by one unit of the community; and this tradition has been there for over 400 years.
“For peace to reign in Nanka Community, Ichie David Ezewankwo must step down from the position and allow the rightful owners, who are also his senior, in persons of Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Romanus Ikechukwu Muoneke or Ichie Paul Ezeobi Ejimofor to man the leadership,” he maintained.
“No amount of cohesion or intimidation can make us succumb, surrender or dance to the tune of these people; not even the series of life threats we receive can alter that,” he added.
The elder further called on the state government, security agencies and the general public to hold Hon. Ezewankwo; Igwe Ezeilo; the President General of Nanka Patriotic Union, Rev. Cannon John Ezike and their supporters responsible if anything unpleasant happens to them.
Speaking with newsmen on the outcome of their discussion, the Anambra State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Hon. Nwabunwanne, said the state government had shown interest and commitment in resolving crisis rocking various communities in the state, including that of Nanka community, as well as restoring a lasting peace therein.
According to him, his discussion with the delegation was fruitful and hopeful, as he advised them to go back and make peace within themselves.
“I just finished discussing with them, including the Igwe and the PG. They told me that an elder statesman in the community has been told to mediate between the people or groups involved in the matter as well as resolve the matter and restore a lasting peace in the community.
“Although the delegation from Nze na Ọzọ Agbiligba told me that the elder statesman lacks an authorization letter to intervene in the matter; but I have assured them that I will tell the Igwe to give him an authorisation letter to carry on with the mediation.
“We are very hopeful that this will bring a lasting solution and peace to the issue. However, I told them that if the mediation does not go down well, then they can come back and report to me for further and alternative actions.
“Government has 100 percent interest in resolving the matter amicably. And we will stop at nothing to achieve that,” Nwabunwanne said.