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Owukpa: Tension as chieftaincy tussle tears Benue community apart

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For more than three years, the Owukpa community in Ogbadibo Local Government Area of Benue State has remained in crisis over leadership tussle.

Since the crisis began after the then traditional ruler, His Royal Highness, and current Ada’ Ogbadibo, Chief Emmanuel Ode vacated the stool for a bigger role, the community has remained in ‘limbo’ without a traditional ruler.

Several attempts by well-meaning individuals from the community to settle the various claims to the stool failed to yield any positive results.

In the absence of a known community head, killings, stealing, kidnapping, armed robbery and other illegality have pervaded the land, amid stakeholders’ continuous clash due to their individual interests in the stool.

Many clans in the community have continue to lay claims to the stool, but those mostly aggrieved over the alleged injustice done to them were Ai-Ogwuchekwo and other smaller clans in the community.

The popular practice prior to the current controversy has always been a rotational leadership where the stool rotates between the two main communities, Ehaje and Itabono.

New ideas on Oche-Owukpa stool stirs hornet’s nest

But an idea was birthed when the Ada’ Ogbadibo who was the former traditional ruler was leaving the stool for a higher position. The stool became a subject of controversy and the people were divided along clan lines.

While some Ehaje leaders believe the rotation should now be based on families and no longer about Ehaje and Itabono as it used to be, majority of Itabono families support the normal rotation between Ehaje and Itabono. There are, however, families like Ai-Ogwuchekwo whose argument aligns with that of Ehaje elites who believe it is their turn.

The issue got more complicated when one Barrister Apochi and a few others, in a book titled One-Owukpa agitated fair consideration of all families in the community, condemning a rotation that favours some particular families.

This gave strenght to the argument and heavy debates continued both online and offline.

While the One-Owukpa document recommended that Amuche Onomo, the founding father of Owukpa had four children in Ehaje and only two in Itabono, it argued that it will amount to injustice leaving the rotation to be just between Ehaje and Itabono. In their argument, they believe that the chieftaincy matter should be rotational among the 6 children of Amuche Onomo. The document believes the new introduction was more democratic than was done in the past. They, however, failed to present a clear reason the age-long practice should be stepped down.

But a reasonable number of other stakeholders believe Apochi and his supporters in the One-Owukpa document had a mission of disorienting the community from doing the right things and thereby dumping the age-long tradition of the people which had not witnessed any controversy prior to now.

They have argued that the One-Owukpa championed by Barrister Boniface Apochi, DCP Peter Okoh Rtd, and Owukpa national leader, Chief Mathias Abutu was out to cause serious problem in Owukpa if the leadership issue will have to go through clan seniority as recommended.

Colonial document contradicts court ruling

In their argument in a document obtained by AFRIPOST, contrary to the claim by the One-Owukpa and the Ehaje group, Amuche Onomo had only 3 children, two males and one female. The male children are Okpe and Agada and not six as claimed. According to them, while Okpe is Itabono, Agada represents Ehaje. The document further argued that all other persons were either grand children or people Amuche Onomo adopted as family members. Their argument is that adopting the new idea means creating more trouble as can be seen in the current case.

Itabono group seals deal with Ehaje

Also, in their argument, Ai-Ogwuchekwo, a clan in the Itabono axis are in support of the rotation based on seniority simply because it will start from them as the acclaimed senior. They further argued that the last Oche-Owukpa from Itabono was from Ogwuchekwo clan, and allowing them again will amount to back-back leadership that will deprive other clans the opportunity.

Ai-Ogwuchekwo allegedly sponsored

Investigation, however, revealed that the Ehaje group are actually sponsoring the Ai-Ogwuchkwo to achieve their bidding of ensuring that they put forward six clans as against the two clans in Itabono. A source told AFRIPOST:”The information that I have is that the Ehaje group wants Ai-Ogwuchekwo to be chosen as the community head because such will pave way for the 6 clans of Ehaje to take the crown in the future as against the two clans from Itabono.

Owukpa in court

Amid the continuous controversy and after attempts to settle the matter failed, a case was filed in a High court for a proper interpretation of the matter by the Ehaje group.

Even though the Itabono group had positioned itself for a peaceful resolution of the matter, they had no choice but to file a defence on the matter.

Court ruling complicates Owukpa chieftaincy crisis

At the end, a High Court sitting in Otukpo, the Idoma traditional headquarters ruled in favour of the Ehaje group; a ruling the Itabono people have tagged travesty of justice.

The ruling has further aggravated the matter with Itabono community pulling out from all Owukpa activities.

A communique issued by Itabono accused the Ada Ogbadibo, Chief Emmanuel Ode of plotting to set Owukpa community on fire for raising the alarm that a meeting scheduled by the Itabono people to chart the way forward on how to resolve the current tussle was aimed at causing violence.

Itabono pulls out of Owukpa meetings, other activities

Itabono believes that in order not to be set up by the Ada Ogbadibo who hails from Ehaje, it is only wise to henceforth pull out of all activities joining it with Ehaje.

Itabono consequently communicated to all its members across the country to pull out of any form of meeting in the name of Owukpa pending the resolution of the matter.

When AFRIPOST reached out to Barrister Adoyi Abakpa, one of the lawyers representing Itabono in the case for comment, he declined comments, saying that an appeal on the Otukpo High Court ruling had already been filed, and until the outcome of the case, he could not make an official statement on the matter.

He disclosed that the appeal was filed to “set aside the judgment of the High Court because the chieftaincy office of ‘District Head’ which was in dispute between the parties was repealed and abolished by “the Benue State Council of Chiefs and Traditional Councils (Amendment) Law 2023″ with effect from 20/02/2023 (i.e. five months before the Court delivered the judgment),,” hence the ruling could not stand.

Owukpa on time-bomb; likely to witness Olanyega/Iwewe crisis

For several years, two communities in Edumoga, Okpokwu LGA – Olanyega and Iwewe have had to deal with communal crisis over land and chieftaincy matters. Schools, hospitals, buildings and other properties are constantly being destroyed as a result of the crisis. A few have also lost their lives to the crisis.
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