Martha Dunkwu: Controversy trails Ugoani-in-Council’s claims, chided for dabbling into traditional matters

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Controversy has trailed claims by the Ugoani-in-council of Okpanam that Omu Martha Dunkwu should not address herself as her royal majesty because she is a chief in Okpanam kingdom.

Countering the claim, an Obi from Ogbe-Ozoma in Okpanam community of Oshimili North LGA of Delta State, Dr. Victor Adimunfele Nwaokobia said the Ugoani of Okpanam, Michael Mbanefo Ogbolu and his Ugoani-in-Council have no authority to make any statement disclaiming Omu of Okpanam, stressing that the Omu institution has been in existence long before Ugoani was created in Okpanam for administrative and political convenience.

He made this known while speaking on trending communal issues in Okpanam that have generated public discourse for some time now.

Recall that recently, the Ugo Ani-in-Council of Okpanam Kingdom in a statement stated that it is a misnomer to address Chief Martha Dunkwu, the Omu of Okpanam as her royal majesty.
The Ugo Ani-in-Council also made it clear that an illustrious daughter of Okpanam, who is being addressed as Her Royal Majesty (HRM), Obi (Dr) Martha Dunkwu, Omu of Okpanam and Omu of Anioma, is in fact Chief Martha Dunkwu, Omu of Okpanam.
“The Omu is a respected and revered Chief in the Kingdom, but in order to correct the misconception in any quarter and put the records straight, the Omu of Okpanam is Chief Martha Dunkwu and not Her Royal Majesty (HRM), Obi Martha Dunkwu,” the statement stated.

But disclaiming the statement of the UgoAni-in-Council, Obi Nwaokobia said: “Let me tell you, I like speaking with documents; the main problem in Okpanam is the issue of Red Cap (Okpu Ododo) meant only for the Obis and calling of the General Assembly meetings (Izu-Ani), which is the highest decision making organ of the community. The two issues have marred the progress of the community, because Ugoani is recalcitrant on following the lay down procedures in the instrument that brought him to office.”

The 77 year old traditionalist explained that the Red Cap (Okpu Ododo) is only meant for traditional Obis as customary in Okpanam, Ibusa and Asaba, with the same Republican system of traditional rulership. He said from time immemorial that has been the tradition, until Ugoani’s insistence that chiefs in Okpanam must also wear red cap, which was not approved by Izu-ani (General Assembly). That has been the issue, he said, adding that rather than allow the Izuani to assert its authority as the highest decision making organ in Okpanam, the Ugoani has continued to avoid Izu-ani meetings and thereby locking out members of Izuani from using the Town Hall.

“On this basis we have challenged him in court, and because he has no document to defend his stance, the only person to witness and testify for him against the Obis is the Omu of Okpanam, Obi Martha Dunkwu. Of course, Omu is the Traditional Mother of the community and would not do anything to throw the community into crisis. She refused to testify on behalf of Ugoani and his chiefs, and that has been her offence to warrant that public ridicule.

But I tell you, Omu Okpanam is not a chief. Omu in Okpanam is in the rank of Obis as ‘Eze-Nwanyi’; we are witnesses to her crowning from Oza-Omu (1999) to a substantive Omu (2002). Omuship in Okpanam and Anioma has been in existence for over 700 years; Ugoani was just a yesterday’s invention, the Instrument of Ugoani was approved by Delta State Government in (2009). Besides, the Majesty in her name refers to the Majestic land of Anioma and her position as Omu Anioma as duly crowned in 2010 by His Royal Majesty Obi Dr. Kikachukwu JP, Obi of Ubulu-Uno on behalf of Traditional Rulers of Anioma, of which the Delta State Government issued her certificate as Obi Martha Dunkwu, Omu-Omu Anioma. This makes it impossible for anybody, including the Ugoani to disclaim her in public or refer to her as a chief responsible to Ugoani. All Omus in Anioma have their palaces, their chiefs and palace functionaries. Omu Martha Dunkwu was instrumental to the change from Diokpa-Isi to Ugoani and she used her connection and exposure to effect the installation of Ugoani Michael Mbanefo Ogbolu as the administrative and political head of Okpanam.

There is hierarchy in Okpanam, starting from Diokpa-Isi, the Omu, Obis, traditional chiefs, Mkpalors (Ogbueshis) and others. Ugoani is an Mkpalor by ranking. The institution of Omu has existed with the founding of Okpanam, and so the Asagba, which is a gazetted traditional stool in Okpanam. So, it is an aberration to call Omu a chief, or say she is responsible to the Ugoani. Omu is the traditional mother of the community and she enjoys all the rights and privileges of a Royal Mother to the community for life, without any choice of the male traditional ruler to dispute that truth. When an Omu dies or joins her ancestors, she is buried in a sitting position as the Obis. Ugoani has his bounds; he should not dabble into traditional matters which fall under the authority of Izuani headed by the Diokpa-Isi, who is the sole authority for traditional issues. He handles traditional roles and Omu’s activities fall under Izu-ani.”, Obi Nwaokobia posited.

On his part, the Asagba of Okpanam, Obi Adimabuah Ozili JP, berated the Ugoani for meddlesomeness in traditional matters, alleging that it is just for his (Ugoani’s) personal interest. He maintained that the disclaimer on Omu of Okpanam, signed by Chiefs P.K. Obanya and Stephen Okonta was issued on 25th May, 2018, and Ugoani hurriedly called the Ugoani Council meeting on 6th June, 2018, asking the Council to make a statement justifying the disclaimer; meaning that he even did the disclaimer without consulting his Council, the Izuani and Okpanam people at home and in the diaspora generally.

He further sought to know why the Mother of the town should be ridiculed for not testifying against a part of the town, which are all her children. He averred that such proclamation by the Ugoani-in-Council has no traditional standing, because only the Izuani has such power if there was anything like that. He alleged that in the first instance, the two chiefs had no authority to challenge the Omu who has one of the foremost stools in Okpanam and Anioma by extension.

“It was unfortunate that Omu Dunkwu who helped them to get the instrument of office is now being vilified. We were seen as detractors then. However, I will not be party to injustice or anything that will remain negative in our traditional system for generations to come.

It is rather unimaginable that Ugoani Ogbolu who is the fortunate beneficiary of the Ugoani stool, is the same person flaunting the rules of the instrument of Ugoani. The Omu was one of the 13 members, and in fact, the only female member of the king makers that elected the Ugoani. In that contest, the Osume of Okpanam, Chief Tony Iweka had six votes, while the Ugoani had seven votes with the benefit of the Omu casting the deciding vote for him. I was a member of the Okpanam Way Forward Committee, formed in 2004 that drafted the instrument of Ugoani. It is a documented evidence that the Ugoani and his Council are subject to the control and regulation of the Izuani (General Assembly). Please read the Ugoani instrument of office. Our forefathers in Okpanam made our traditional system democratic and so we normally discuss issues and reach decisions democratically. It is a cherished system by us, because everybody usually is involved in our communal affairs”, he affirmed.

When her opinion was sought, the Omu declined to speak on the matter until the Izuani has taken position on it. She said as the Mother of the community, she cannot talk publicly about the Father of the community.

Secondly, she said it is not in her character and upbringing to bring internal issues of the town to the public. Thirdly, she said she would not be setting a good example to the younger generation on internal conflict resolution, as the ancient town of Okpanam and the great people of Okpanam at home and in the diaspora have maximum mechanism to handle their challenges internally.

However, from investigation we were able to get the instrument of office of the Ugoani to ascertain what the real issue is with regards to the Ugoani, the Omu and the Obi stools. It is obvious from our findings that the Omu is caught in the middle between the Ugoani and the Obis, of which she has refused to take side as the Mother of the community who is supposed to be a unifying factor and not divisive.

According to the instrument that changed Diokpa-Isi to Ugoani; it specifies that the person to occupy the seat of Ugoani has to be male from Okpanam, resident in Okpanam and married. The minimum requirement is ‘Ikpa Alor’ which confers the Ogbueshi title on such; even though we discovered that part of the people who drafted the instrument then had themselves in mind, declining the fact that the person must be crowned Obi or Eze first.

The instrument also specifies that the Ugoani-in-Council shall be headed by the Ugoani. However, compulsory members of the Council are the Ugoani, the Omu, the Chiefs and the representatives of the four villages in Okpanam, with the Ugoani as Head of the Council.

The same instrument as approved also specifies that the highest decision making body in Okpanam remains the Izuani (General Assembly), and headed by Diokpa-Isi. Members of this Izuani are Diokpa-Isi, Ugoani, Omu, Obis, all the chiefs and Mkpalors (Ogbueshis).

In the instrument, it was discovered that the dressing of the Ugoani should be head gear with beads and eagle feather. His greeting is also specified as ‘Ikeani’ as opposed to ‘Agu’.

It was also discovered that the town is divided between those who are advocating that the rightful things be done as specified in the instrument; those people are spearheaded by the Obis, while the Ugoani and the chiefs are on the other side. The reason the Obis headed to court was to correct the anomaly as a result of this division in the town.

Apart from correcting the anomalies, it is also to stop the chiefs from putting on Red Cap (Okpu Ododo), which is the exclusive reserve of the Obis, not the chiefs. It was further gathered that this is what obtains in Ibusa, Asaba and Okpanam as these communities practice the multiple Obiship as Republican Communities. Also, Omus in Ibusa, Okpanam and Asaba are addressed as Obi (Eze-Nwanyi). When one in these places has money and can afford the processes, he can be installed an Obi.

Meanwhile, efforts to reach the Public Relations Officer to Ugoani, Dr. Ngozi Nwabuoku to respond to some of the issues raised by the two Obis proved abortive as he was not responding to his calls before press time.

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