Iyase chieftaincy tussle: Okonjo-Iweala’s brother goes for broke after loss at S’Court, By Ekene Onyemaechi

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By Ekene Onyemaechi

There is a major crisis simmering in Ogwashi-Uku Kingdom which, if not nipped in the bud, could boil over with dire consequences in the community. Surprisingly, most of the indigenes of this Headquarters of Aniocha South Local Government Area, this writer interviewed, pointed accusing fingers at Prince Chukwude Okonjo, better known as Prince Chude, the third son of their late monarch, His Royal Majesty, Obi (Prof) Chukwuka Ben Okonjo. His mode of ascension to the throne reportedly stirred the soul of the ancient kingdom.

His influential sister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance and the serving 7th Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO, had breached the revered culture of the people to announce the death of her father, the monarch and then proceeded to proclaim Prince Chude, her younger brother as the successor to the late Obi. This singular action of a Princess announcing the death of an Obi and proclaiming a successor was viewed by the people of Ogwashi-uku as a dreadful abomination. For Patrick Okonjo, a member of the royal family of Umu Obi Obahai which the Okonjo family also belongs, ” it was sacrilegious “.

For this reason and more, succession to the throne seemed fated to be a tussle.

Prince Nathan Okonjo, the most senior member of the Umu Obahai Royal Family, for instance, was also poised to ascend the throne. He had observed all the traditional rites towards ascension to the throne. Among these were the seven day seclusion and the ritual of chalking . He was in fact chalked by the legitimate group of Kingmakers eleven whole days before Prince Chude. But the Prince was allegedly installed at midnight on Thursday, September 12, 2019 by unknown persons, an act described by an insider as a crude violation of the traditional rite of installation . Prince Chude’s ascension to the Obahai throne was therefore as controversial as that of his father who faced multiple litigations till he breathed his last. And so, most members of the community regard him as an illegitimate Obi, while others see him as a mere Regent . This then might just explain why he appears combative in his approach to leadership. Even some members of the royal family see him as belligerent while other indigenes find his actions so detestable that they describe them as savagely cruel.

Said a 79 year old frail looking but very articulate man who doesn’t want his name mentioned for fear of being persecuted , ” My son, we have never seen anything like this in our beloved town. Ogwashi -Ukwu kingdom is now like one small village ruled by a wicked emperor. We are under a dictatorship in our ancestral home. People’s lands are being grabbed and sold and if you raise your voice, they will lay a siege on your home and you are not safe. A young man that claims to be our Obi, God forbid, now uses outlaws to harrass and intimate us. It is very sad. Our Ogwashi-Uku has lost its soul. But most painful is the fact that his senior sister, Ngozi, a woman we are very proud of and used to brag everywhere we went, has refused to caution her brother. Some of us now believe she is even quietly endorsing and supporting his vicious activities and it is dangerous especially because of her reputation as a global figure “, he lamented.

Prince Chude however seems to have intensified his assault and hellish offensive against his people according to a man who hails from Umu Dei, Chude’s own village. And his latest foe is the Iyase of Ogwashi-Uku, Chief Mike Nwaukoni, who is the traditional Prime Minister and next in command to the Obi in the traditional Chieftaincy hierarchy.

Prince Chude Chukwuka Okonjo, according to our source, petitioned the police in Asaba, the state capital, accusing the billionaire business magnate, Chief Nwaukoni and some of his folks of terrorism and attacking the Obi’s palace with a mission to forcefully take over the Palace. Having arrested some of these supporters of the Iyase, the police sent a letter to Chief Nwaukoni’s office inviting him to Asaba for interrogation. But Onowu Nwaukoni, as he is also addressed had travelled abroad for medical checkup. His Lawyer, Barrister Chioma Okwuanyi was reported to have gone to Asaba to honour the invitation on behalf of his client.

What is however clear in all this dim scenario, according to an insider, is that Chude Okonjo’s strange quest to foist terrorism charges on the Iyase is a continuation of the vexacious and futile legal battles that his late father, Obi Okonjo fought against Chief Nwaukoni in an attempt to unseat him as the Onowu but lost in a disgraceful manner both at the High Court and the Appeal Court before Prince Chude concluded the cycle of defeats by losing at the Supreme Court in a case originally filed by his father, the monarch before his death.

Indeed, the Iyase’s legal battle with the Okonjo family dates back to 2008 when Prof Chukwuka Ben Okonjo was installed as the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku after a fierce contest with his first cousin, Prince Nathan Okonjo. It was a contest fought with such enmity that it left a bitter peace and a fractious royal family. The late monarch, according to a source from Agidi Esei, a village in the kingom, had approached the Iyase to join his faction for his coronation immediately after his disputed victory with many litigations still pending in various courts. ” The Iyase politely advised His Majesty to first reconcile and unite the Okonjo Ruling House and by extension, the people so that he , Iyase, would not be perceived as supporting one group within the family ” , our source narrated. Iyase’s decision to remain neutral was viewed as an affront by the newly installed monarch, Obi Okonjo. And he was ready for a fight.

He subsequently invited, chalked and installed Collins Afuwa as the Iyase of Ogwashi-Uku. But he knew too well that he didn’t have the authority to supplant the Iyase which is the exclusive preserve of Agidiase people whose progenitor was credited with founding the town.

The alleged usurper, Afuwa, then proceeded to the court to give legal backing to his new office as Iyase. Although he tasted victory at the lower court, it was fleeting as he lost both at the Appeal and the Supreme Court because it was not within Obi Okonjo’s jurisdiction to remove an Iyase.

With the judicial fiasco suffered by his stooge in his quest to legalise his Iyase-ship, Obi Okonjo took the gaunlet to exercise his perceived but delusive authority.

He lost embarrassingly at the High Court and the Appeal Court. He then proceeded to the Supreme Court but, sadly, couldn’t survive this obvious delusional legal project. He died on Friday, September 13, 2023.

Unfortunately, his son , Prince Chude who allegedly snatched the throne at midnight as his successor stands unqualified and unfit by the Ogwashi-Uku inviolable culture of succession that is exclusively through primogeniture and has been so since the founding of the town. This custom simply means that only the first son of an Obi can succeed him. And Prince Chude is the third son.

But , just like the reign of his father that was infested with multiple litigations, Prince Chude is already mired in many of them as he clings resolutely to the throne .

To most people in Ogwashi-Uku Kingdom therefore, his concocted criminal charges against the Iyase seem only to make a mockery of common sense. The bona-fide Iyase, Chief Nwaukoni, has defeated the fake Iyase, Afuwa, that was promoted and prodded by Prince Chude’s father. The same man, Afuwa, has recently denounced his claim to the Iyase title, wrote to the police to declare his recognition of Onowu Nwaukoni as the authentic Iyase. The same Onowu, Iyase Nwaukoni, has also defeated Prince Chude’s father at the High Court and the Appeal Court. He , Prince Chude, inherited his father’s lawsuit at the Supreme Court and continued the legal conflict with intense commitment. Here again, he was legally but mercilessly defeated by the plucky and gallant Onowu as the Supreme Court dismissed his case.

The valiant Iyase, an iconic business leader, has thus defeated two generations of the Okonjo family. His Iyase title is well secured. He is not from the Ruling House and therefore, he cannot begin to aspire to be the Obi. So, the shocked people of Ogwashi-uku who heard of the frivolous criminal charges brought against their Iyase by Prince Chude are now asking, why would the Iyase attack the palace ? What would he be looking for ? What is the motivation and the goal ? And to what end ? For them, it just does not make sense.

A former Chairman of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Delta State Chapter, Barrister Festus Okolie, who was one of those charged with the Iyase simply chuckled at the allegations . In his words, ” I am a Lawyer, a former state Chairman of NBA . My office is just five minutes drive to the police station and I visit them every time over my briefs. What business do I have going to attack the palace. It’s ridiculous…But we will let the law take its full course. Justice, I am certain, will prevail at the end”.

Now, the town waits. And the people hope that justice will indeed prevail to bring to an end the lingering obtrusive tension in the kingdom.

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