By Our Reporter
This investigative report by our correspondent uncovers how the N5m grants given to each community in Enugu State by the state government has created cold wars between Owerreze and Isi-Ugwu communities in Igboeze North Local Government Area.
Owerreze vs Isi-Ugwu: Alleged Fraudulent Excision
The people of Owerreze community in Igboeze North LGA are ruing what they call their fraudulent exclusion from the N5m grants given respectively to about 476 autonomous communities in the state in 2017.
The grant was a gesture of the Enugu State government to promote rural development. It was the first tranche of the N10m promised them by the state government.
Our correspondent gathered that prior to the release of the funds, Owerreze and Isi-Ugwu make up the Ugwuoji autonomous community. A document seen by this reporter shows that in 2001 when Ugwuoji autonomous community was created, it was both Owerreze and Isi-Ugwu that applied to be jointly granted an autonomous community. Isi-Ugwu is larger in population, and had always had the lion’s share of whatever was coming to Ugwuoji.
Both communities existed peacefully until the build-up to the grant, THE WHISTLER gathered. A community leader in Owerreze, Hon Tony Apeh, alleged that his community was excluded in what he called ‘institutional fraud’.
According to him, “We had always lived as one autonomous community. During the administration of former Gov ChimarokeNnamani, our then traditional ruler, Igwe Simon Adon, was from Isi-Ugwu. When he died, it was the turn of Owerreze, but Isi-Ugwu people refused. We took the matter to the then commissioner for chieftaincy affairs, JC Udeze. The commissioner, whatever influenced him, told us to toe the line of peace while efforts would be made to carve us as an autonomous community. So we remained as one autonomous community with Isi-Ugwu under the name Ugwuoji.
“When this N5m grant came, we thought that the sharing formula would continue as usual. But Isi-Ugwu people refused. They said we are not a part of them because we had been excised from the autonomous community. We took the matter up, only to discover that the page of our constitution where Owerreze was contained as part of Ugwuoji autonomous community had been removed at the ministry level, thus standing to show that it was only Isi-Ugwu that made up Ugwuoji.
“When the new cabinet of the current Igwe was being formed, he ensured that we were not a part of it. We were told to go and get our own autonomous community. That was how they hijacked the N5m grants.”
Traditional Ruler Of Isi-Ugwu Community Debunks The Allegation
The traditional ruler of Isi-Ugwu community, HRH Igwe Fabian Anayochukwu Eke, however, defended the exclusion of Owerreze from the grants. He said, “When the money came, I called a meeting of the stakeholders, alongside our president general. We used the N5m to build eight buildings in the market. They are open shops, comprising forty spaces. They have roofs and dwarf walls. We were thinking that when the next tranche of N5m is released, we make them lockup shops. We had no crisis during the implementation.”
On the exclusion of Owerreze from the funds, Igwe Eke said, “Owerreze pulled out from the union. They said they wanted their own autonomous community. They wrote the then commissioner JC Ude that they wanted to pull out. But he advised them to participate in the election that produced me.
“When we got the autonomous community, we remained together. During the rural electrification project, Owerreze was the beneficiary. So when the N5m grant came, we then told them that we are going to use it in place of the rural electrification project that they had benefitted from. They did send a delegation to me, and I explained to them. They have refused to participate in what we do as Ugwuoji.
“You only see them when there are palliatives. I was a councillor during the creation of this autonomous community. They are truly part and parcel of this autonomous arrangement, but they don’t want to partake. I invited them to partake in the formation of my cabinet, but they refused. They are supposed to be the prime minister in my cabinet.
“They don’t have an Igwe, but they were presenting their present oldest man to become the Igwe. The current constitution of our autonomous constitution does not have Owerreze as a part of Ugwuoji. We fought for this autonomous community together. Somebody from Owerre was the first town union chairman then. They claim that we maltreat them. We didn’t remove them from the constitution, they are just not there. Because of the population, Isi-Ugwu has more whenever sharing of anything comes around.”
Owerreze Reacts: Hon Malachy Ozo, another community leader in Owerreze, reacted thus: “We don’t know when we were removed from the constitution. It was at the point of the collection of the grant that we found out that we were no more among Ugwuoji autonomous community.
“Then the rural electrification project he is talking about was attracted by Hon Henry Atigwe, who is representing our federal constituency in the National Assembly. He was then the boss of Enugu State Rural Electrification Board. How does it affect the N5m grant? Isi-Ugwu also has an electrification project attracted to them by former member of the House of Representatives, Chief Fidel Ayogu. Can’t that balance it?”
The Matter Unreported – Council Chairman
The chairman of Igboeze North LGA, Hon Emeka Itodo, said his administration is unaware of the matter between the two neighbouring communities. He responded through a message, “No such complaint on my desk. Thanks.”
Insider Fraud At The Constructed Market
Isi-Ugwu utilised the funds to construct/renovate a community-initiated market. A member of the community, on condition of anonymity, said, “When we discovered that our traditional ruler and the then president general had compromised, we raised alarm. When they subdued us, we persuaded our brothers from Owerreze to join the fight to get their own share because they originally had a share. They were removed from the constitution so that they won’t make any claims.
“The summary is that our leaders misappropriated the funds for their personal use. They claimed that they used the N5m to renovate our market called Isi-Ugwu Orie. That is why there is love lost among us. Unlike Owerreze that didn’t get anything, our own is robbery.”
A visit to the market allegedly constructed with N5m shows that it has four sets of buildings with four dwarf shops each, totalling forty shops. They have been roofed, but the wall is just three blocks above the foundation level. While the traditional ruler claims that the project started from the scratch, traders in the market say the project was a continuation of existing structures.
An Okada operator said, “Go and dig up the foundation and see what they said they started building afresh. They were existing buildings and the traditional ruler and his cabinet members simply claim they started the structures anew. It is a lie.”
Dr Charles Egungbe, Enugu State Commissioner for Chieftaincy Affairs, said such matter was not reported to his office. Egungbe, a lawyer, also faulted excluding any community from the grants because people of such community are aspiring to become autonomous.
In his words, “Unless the governor by his pronouncement declares a section of the community autonomous, the fact that there was a quest for autonomy that failed, ipso facto, does not mean that the community or a group of persons has separated from the old community. That quest, having failed, there is nothing like independence of that community that sought for autonomy.
“They are back to the old fold. The old autonomous community should receive them as part and parcel of the existing old autonomous community. A new autonomous community is created by the governor on a pronouncement. When such is done, they can now begin to have their traditional rulers, town unions, and there should be a demarcation of villages comprising the new autonomous community.
“Several communities in this state that sought autonomy and were not granted are back in the original community, and they should have their entitlements and privileges. Nobody should toy with them. The traditional ruler should give them what they are due by way of positions and liabilities as well. This is because their quest was not successful.
“There is no law which says that if you didn’t succeed, you now hang in the air. That quest failed and they are back. And they did not commit any offence in trying to see whether they can be independent to actualise their own vision in emancipating their own area.
“This applies even in rotation of Igweship and all others. If the turn is the area seeking autonomy and they failed, it remains their turn, provided they are paying all necessary levies as part and parcel of the whole community. You can’t excise them. It is only the governor that can do that.
“In terms of expenditure pertaining to the N5m grant, if there is a complaint, we invite the traditional ruler to explain. At the end of the day, we apportion blames. If it is a degree to which we can now inform His Excellency the governor, we do. If it merits suspension or removal, he can so order.
“But there must be a complaint. We can’t act on hearsay. Some traditional rulers come here on such matters. Some had merits, some didn’t. Some were personal quarrels with some elements of the community. Some traditional rulers did very well with that money.”
The head of the legal unit, Enugu State Ministry of Rural Development, Barr Esther Ani, said, “The ministry has not dealt with any complaint on the issues. The grant was given by the state government to autonomous communities. Any complaint with respect to the grant goes to the state government.
“However, the Ministry of Rural Development, Enugu State, can be copied in anticipation of any directive from the state government. They also have options of writing to the state government to complain.”
This report was published with support from Civic Media Lab
Source: THE WHISTLER