By Chuks Eke
All is not well with the people of Umuona, a small neighbouring community to Isuofia, Governor Chukwuma Soludo’s hometown in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State as it has been torn apart by a protracted town union leadership crisis.
The crisis which dated back to December 2020 during the Covid-19 era, broke out as a result of an alleged kangaroo election of the town union executive conducted by the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters which saw the emergence of Chief Kenneth Okoli as the President- General of Umuona Progressive Union, UPU,
His emergence, though through a democratic process, was against the wishes of the community, the Traditional Ruler, Igwe Humphrey Ejesieme; former President-General, late Prof. Silas Akaneme, and other stakeholders who had ab-initio opted for the suspension of the election in compliance with the then Governor Willie Obiano’s directives against Covid-19 pandemic.
Igwe Ejesieme and other stakeholders had during their year 2020 Annual General Assembly, AGA of UPU, which usually takes place every December 28, advised that the town union election should be shelved as part of measures to curtail the covid-19 pandemic, but they claimed that some opposition group in the area and the representatives of the Ministry of Local Government, Chieftaincy and Community Matters conspired among themselves and allegedly elected Okoli and his co-executive members to pilot the affairs of the town union for the next three years spanning from December 2020 to December 2023.
Although, Igwe Ejesieme did not swear in OKoli and his executive members as required by the town union constitution and again not considering that Okoli himself was not qualified to contest the election ab-initio because he did not belong to his village branch of UPU and was indebted to the union; another breach of the union constitution, the Monarch and other stakeholders allowed Okoli to pilot the affairs of the town union for the next three years as required by the constitution, under cat-and-mouse uneasy relationship.
But the crisis degenerated on December 28, 2022, during last year’s AGA held at Umuona Civic Centre when Igwe Ejesieme went to the venue to attend the General Assembly meeting as he usually did since his ten years on the throne.
When Igwe Ejesieme arrived at the venue and proceeded to sit down, Okoli became enraged and in anger publicly disparaged the Igwe before the community assembly.
According to him, the Igwe ought to have informed him before his arrival, noting that the bell that his aid rang to announce the presence and arrival of the Igwe was not enough. He consequently, denied the Igwe his traditional role to break kola nut, pray for his community and pour libations for the good health and progress of the community.
The anger of the President General who queried why the Igwe and his cabinet members should distract the audience with the bell resulted in reactions from the Assembly and members of the community who traveled far and near to attend the General Meeting began to complain bitterly.
All objections raised by some participants at the Civic Centre, the venue of the general meeting as to why the President General should disgrace their monarch proved abortive and were rejected as Okoli was said to have at a stage, parked the Union’s documents, stood up, walked out on the audience and angrily vacated his seat unceremoniously with his executive.
It would be recalled that the President General had in October 2022 canceled the Umuona Progressive union’s meeting for the month.
After leaving the venue with his executive members in such an unceremonious manner, halfway into the meeting, the General Assembly noted such behavior as against the provisions of the constitution of the town and resolved immediately to fill the vacuum with immediate effect by asking each village to put their heads together to present those to be elected as Caretaker Committee and some were consequently selected by their respective villages, presented and sworn-in as the incumbent eight-man Caretaker Committee of the town union led by Mr. Okechukwu Akaneme, a one-time President of Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, ONICCIMA.
Soon after their election and swearing-in, the Okoli-led executive wrote a petition to the state Ministry of Local Government, Chieftaincy and Community Matters, which prompted the Commissioner, Hon. Collins Nwabunwanne to quickly invite both parties including the Akaneme-led Caretaker Committee, the traditional ruler of Umuona, Igwe Ejesieme and the former Okoli-led executive to his office where he allegedly rained abuses on them (the Caretaker Committee) before directing them to go back home and renounce their purported Caretaker Committee election and allow Mr. Okoli and his executive to complete their three-year tenure which is remaining only one year tenure from now.
The attempt made by Akaneme and Igwe Ejesieme to convince Hon. Nwabunwanne that they followed due process in selecting the new Caretaker Committee as enshrined in their town union constitution which states that there should be no vacuum in the leadership of the town union at any point in time since Okoli and his executives had voluntarily vacated office, hence the hurried selection of the Caretaker Committee, Nwabunwanne allegedly asked Akaneme to leave his office.
Upon asking him to leave his office, Nwabunwanne stood up and allegedly started pushing him physically out of his office. He equally involved his aides and staff who allegedly manhandled Akaneme, mangled his clothes, and broke his Apple I-phone.
As if that was not enough, Nwabunwanne allegedly dragged Akaneme and Igwe Ejesieme to the nearby ‘B’ Division of the Nigerian Police Force using security personnel in his office and four policemen, where they were held until they made statements and were allowed to go after about five hours of delay. He was alleged to have equally threatened to suspend or dethrone Igwe Ejesieme if he goes ahead to support Akaneme’s Caretaker Committee leadership.
But in what looked like compliance to the Commissioner’s directive, Akaneme convened a general meeting penultimate weekend and informed them about the government’s position rejecting the Caretaker Committee.
In their swift reactions, some of the stakeholders in the area rejected the Commissioner’s directive that Akaneme and his fellow Committee members should renounce their position and vacate the office for the Okoli-led elected former executive to complete their remaining year.
Rejecting the directive, the stakeholders, namely Fidelis Okanume, Personal Assistant, PA to Igwe Ejesieme; Ebuka Okafor, Youth Leader; Chinedu Maduka, Village Chairman; Marcelinus Akaneme and Jerome Umeh, the traditional Prime Minister of Umuona, insisted that it is either the state government allow Akaneme and his executive to stay for one year and exhaust Okoli’s tenure or conduct a fresh election of the town union executives as according to them, they would not want Okoli to come back to the office again for any reason whatsoever because his administration was characterized by crisis, autocratic rule and above all non-performance.
In his reaction, Akaneme told newsmen that he did not prepare himself for town union leadership but based on his unanimous selection to fill the vacant position that suddenly cropped up as an emergency, he accepted to take up the gauntlets.
He decried the physical attack and assault he received from the Hon. Commissioner noted that town union crisis could be better managed and resolved especially when the government position was not backed by any known laws.
When contacted, Mr. Okoli told newsmen that he would like to rely on whatever Commissioner Nwabunwanne would say as regards the matter as according to him, “I am aware that Akaneme has already signed an undertaking not to have a Caretaker Committee in the area, let alone parading himself as Chairman of a non-existent committee.”
He described the purported selection of the caretaker committee as a charade, adding that he ended the meeting abruptly with a formal closing prayer because of the failure of Igwe Ejesieme’s aides to inform the general assembly of Igwe’s arrival before he barged into the meeting venue.
Okoli said it was Igwe Ejesieme that ignited the crisis ab initio when he stripped him of his Ide chieftaincy title, alongside other prominent indigenes of the community, adding that a lot of litigations abound in the area.
Igwe Ejesieme, on his part, declined to comment on the matter, saying that he would not like to join issues with the state government or the troublesome Okoli.
As at press time, efforts to reach the Commissioner on phone to comment on the issue proved abortive as he could not respond to the calls and SMS sent to him.