A quiet revolution is now going on in Owerre Ebeiri community in Orlu local government area of Imo State . Chidi B. Uzomah, a lecturer in Imo State University , Owerri and the new Eze-elect for the community is kicking against ritual killings required by the tradition before he ascends the throne. Though it appears like a one-man riot squad, Uzomah is sure to win the battle.
Newswatch learnt that in the event of the death of the traditional ruler of the community; and the installation of a new one, about 34 human heads - 16 men, 16 women and a set of twins are usually sacrificed to appease the gods.
This, they claim, will enable the dead Eze have an easy passage and to be acceptable to the ancestors. The community has buried 10 Ezes in its life span and had performed the rituals. But Uzomah would not have any of it.
He claimed that God called him to cleanse the rotten system of the ancestors. He told Newswatch that God anointed him to liberate his people from the bondage of a barbaric culture. “That is why I left my job as dean in an American university where I was making $200,000 per year. When they were burying Ezealaeke, Eze Emenaha, his successor produced 34 human heads. That was the order then.”
In the community, only strangers are killed in the event of the death of the Eze. Before the advent of the whiteman, there existed a slave market which provided the bulk of humans for such sacrifices. After the destruction of the market by the British soldiers following the abolition of slave trade, village warriors were given the task of providing human heads from distant towns and villages. “These people are crying to God today for justice. That is the trouble Owerre Ebeiri is facing today. This evil committed has been haunting Owerre Ebeiri people. But God has called me to clean up all these rubbish,” Uzomah vowed.
That is not the only battle Uzomah has been waging in the community in the past two years. He refused to worship at the shrines and the temples of the ancestors. Instead, he brought about 10 pastors from the Overcomers Christian Mission, Owerri, to demolish some of the shrines. He said the shrines were used by his people to evoke sickness and unleash terror and mayhem on innocent people of the area. He claims to have also cast away the demons that inhabitate the Ofo, the symbol of the community, the Ikenga, and the Amadioha deities. This, he said, was to invoke the spirit of the dead to harm innocent citizens. He specifically mentioned a particular demon brought from Uli ( Anambra State ) by one of his grandfather’s wives. This demon, he said, has a shrine at the right side of the palace. Each time Uzomah visited home, the demon would battle with him because nobody sacrifices to it. “I have to go with the pastors and remove the shrine and cast away the demon. If you are not in the main line of the Ezeship, you may not know what is going on there.”
That was not all. Uzomah cited the killing of a promising young man by Ezealaeke for rituals. “The mother of the boy went to the village square where she protested naked. She cursed the entire village that nobody should go beyond the age of her son. Ever since then, nobody has started and completed a house. But after the liberation exercise, the difference is there,” he said. He told Newswatch that the rebellion against the ancestors had just begun.
He said Owerre Ebeiri people should wait and see what will happen when his father will be no more. “It is not my battle. It’s the Lord’s battle. The battle, he said started when he was seven years old. The story of Uzomah is very intriguing and revealing. In fact, Uzomah could pass as the proverbial cat with nine lives.
Two years ago, Uzomah had a bitter experience. That was after the day he besieged Owerre Ebeiri with 10 pastors from Owerri. After the liberation exercise, Uzomah was attacked spiritually. “I saw spiritual he-goats flying into my car and I fainted. He was later revived and taken to the church for prayers. The incident did not discourage Uzomah from the revolution he embarked upon.
Uzomah is the 12th crown prince. The traditional institution of Owerre Ebeiri is hereditary. Newswatch was told that those who tried to disrupt the inheritance system had met instant death. A story was told of one Okwara Orisakwe who tried to hijack the throne by claiming to be the head of the royal family. He even contested the Ezeship in the law court between 1980 and 1985 and lost. He later died mysteriously.
The lineage is strictly followed that when Eze Uzomah Nzeukwu died in 1936, the heir apparent , Benjamin Uzomah was only 12 years old. One Nwadike Okwara Ukoma, now late was nominated to represent Uzomah until he became of age. Ukoma was answering Uzomah until he was 24 years when the former stepped aside. Now (Benjamin) Uzomah is 78 years and blind. In order to maintain the lineage, Uzomah anointed Chidi two years ago. In an elaborate ceremony attended by many prominent sons of the town including representatives of Governor Achike Udenwa of Imo State and President Olusegun Obasanjo, the old man transferred the crown to (Chidi) Uzomah, as tradition demanded. “In the Bible King Saul was alive when David was anointed. Saul was old and inefficient that was why David was anointed. So also my father is old and blind, that is the reason for my anointing. My father actually took the crown off his head and placed on mine publicly. We have photographs and video tapes on the ceremony,” Uzomah stressed.
That was all Uzomah needed to launch his revolution against a tradition that thrives on human sacrifice. Ever since he started his rebellion against the ancestors Uzomah has attracted more enemies than friends. Uzomah has never known peace in the town. Many prominent sons of Owerre Ebeiri are bent on wrestling the crown from him. They accused him of desecrating and destroying the traditional institution of the community. Uzomah said these men have used all available means in a bid to eliminate him and take over the crown so that they could continue the atrocities of their ancestors. All efforts by the elders of the community to resolve the issue failed.
Prominent among the contenders was one Gilbert Nnabuife. Uzomah told Newswatch that Nnabuife used the death of his son to invite the dreaded Bakassi Boys of Aba to eliminate him (Uzomah). He alleged that Nnabuife paid Bakassi Boys N1.5 million to do the dirty job. The Bakassi Boys arrested him and four others, but instead of killing him, they demanded N100,000 for their release. They paid. He said he alerted the security agents about the threat to his life, but he was ignored.
Uzomah also mentioned one Hilary Mbachu, the parish priest of St. Martin ’s Catholic Church, Owerre Ebeiri, an indigene of the town as one of the people instigating the public against him with the aim of snatching the crown from him. Mbachu, he alleged, uses the altar of God as a platform to cause disunity among indigenes of the town. He also accused one Anslem Ikegkwuoha of inciting the traditional religion worshippers against his ascendance to the throne. Uzomah claimed that on the day of his inauguration as the 12th crown prince, Ikegwuoha and his supporters attempted to disrupt the ceremony, “but what happened to him later forced him to run away from the village. Many of them wanted to be Eze to continue the evil of their forefathers.”
All efforts to locate Ikegwuoha, Okwara and Nnabuife proved abortive as they were said to have travelled outside the state. However, when Newswatch later traced Mbachu to Saint Martin ’s Catholic Church, Tuesday, June 4, he declined comment insisting that he had to get clearance from the Bishop of Orlu Catholic dioceses.
Christian Amadi, Ishimbi of Owerre Ebeiri denied knowledge of such practice as killing during the burial or installation of Ezes in the community. The 86-year-old man also insisted that there was no where in the history of the town where such tradition was recorded. He accused Uzomah of bringing in such sentiments to make him relevant. “All we heard was that our people were very much involved in slave trade before the British soldiers invaded the Orie market and demolished it. Since then Owerre Ebeiri has been a Christian community,” he told Newswatch.
Uzomah’s father also told Newswatch that nobody has the right to destroy the deities or any traditional practice established by the ancestors. He maintained that the destruction of such traditions would amount to the loss of the community’s identity. Newswatch learnt that he had done all the ceremonies to restore the worship and service of those deities weeks after Uzomah had destroyed them.
However, Uzomah has a handful of supporters in the crusade he embarked upon. Many indigenes of the area who would not want their names mentioned confirmed the existence of such barbaric tradition in the area. They fear that Uzomah might fail in the crusade to abolish the culture especially with the calibre of people opposing him.
Canice Okorie, president, Owerre Ebeiri Development Union said the practice of killing human beings in the name of culture or tradition should not be taken lightly. He told Newswatch that he was aware of such practices in different parts of Igboland and beyond. He gave kudos to Uzomah for his effort to eradicate such tradition in the town. “I must commend him for his courage to confront the outdated practice. I condemn such traditions, we have to move out of the bondage of traditional bondage to enable us brace up for the future. Anybody using it (revolution) as a ploy to contest the throne is wasting his time,” he assured. Okorie also likened what happened in Calabar where the present Obong refused to be guided by certain traditional norms when he ascended the throne to the situation in Owerre Ebeiri.
He, however, called on the government to intervene and stop “this evil practice” associated with the Ezeship stool in the community.