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Violence Continues in Nkerehi
*Violence Over Name Change
By Emeka Osondu
( Tuesday, June 5, 2007 )
Tension has heightened in the troubled Nkerehi town of Orumba South Local government area in Anambra state after a violent clash resulting from the sudden change of the town’s name to Umuchukwu. Subsequently, the clash led to wanton destruction of property worth millions of Naira.
Scores of people sustained serious injuries. Ten are still recuperating in various hospital in the area following machete cuts inflicted on them during the attack by hoodlums suspected to be supporters of one prominent sons of the community said to be behind what some members of the community described as “taboo” in changing the ancestral name of the town.
Trouble started when the said rich and prominent son of the community, Dr Godwin Maduka, currently based in the United States of America, allegedly destroyed the ancestral market, shrines and public parks, as well as forcefully acquired community and individual parcels of land for building a monastery for one of the Christian churches in the area.
Reports said what irked the community most was that Maduka solely changed the name of the town from Nkerehi to Umuchukwu without consent and approval of the elders, town union and community leaders, who are all stakeholders in matters concerning the community and the people.
It was said that Dr. Maduka moved further and erected a sign-post to that effect and subsequently followed up with electronic media announcement over the name change.
Reporters who visited the town witnessed violent confrontations when members of the community attempted to put back an "Nkerehi" sign-post, but were thoroughly beaten up and chased away by heavily armed thugs said to be on Maduka’s payroll.
Surprisingly, police patrol team stationed along the Owere-Ezukala-Nkerehi junction leading into the town appeared to have been compromised as they subtly gave the thugs cover, which aided them in further attacking people and vandalizing their homes.
Victims of the crisis vowed never to bow to the change of their ancestral name, despite intimidations, harassment and arrest. Ben Onwu, one of the youth leaders in the community who led the aborted exercise of reposting "Nkerehi" sign-post, said they have resolved to repost Nkerehi sign-post alongside Dr. Maduka’s Umuchukwu sign-post. This Onwu explained would allow all feuding sides relevance until the matter is resolved.
The youth leader said as far as Nkerehi community was concerned, Umuchukwu has no existence. He added that those seeking to change the name of the community may have found they have different ancestral background other than Nkerehi.
Mr. Joseph Anulobi, Nkerehi Progressive Union Secretary-General and one of the victims of the recent mayhem in the community, when interviewed insisted there was no decision at any of the Union's meetings to change Nkerehi's name. He said that those claiming such a decision by Nkerehi Progressive Union were merely “gliding the truth” and trying to impose their whims on the people.
Mr. Ezekiel Onwumeremba, a 67-year-old indigene of the community and also a victim of Maduka’s onslaught, said his perceived offence was that he had expressed surprise when he saw the new sign-post on returning to the town from the hospital where he went to visit his hospitalized son. According to him, he was roped in as an accomplice in a “phantom kidnap” of Igwe Michael Ukegbu, the traditional ruler of the community and a maternal uncle to Maduka, who later resurfaced the next day in his palace.
His words, "Our common market has been demolished, just as we were arrested and brutalized by Maduka with the aid of his police guards. He has gagged the truth in the town by buying over some of the people with money. I have so often told him to consult with the people whenever he wants to do anything for them. But he would not listen. Maduka is autocratic on us. But no matter how he try to deplete us, the few persons that remain will not bend. But what he did, he has actually desecrated the land."
Nevertheless, the traditional ruler, Igwe Ukegbu insists that the decision to change Nkerehi to Umuchukwu was unanimous because the name Nkerehi had been brining bad luck to the people, being associated in the past with fetish practices. He maintained that since the name was changed, one of their sons had come back to develop the community by providing basic amenities and building churches for the people.
Meanwhile six members of the community have been charged to the Umunze Magistrate court for attempted kidnap of Igwe Ukegbu. As the public awaits further developments, peace and tranquility can only return to the community if the American-returnee son of the land bends to respect the wishes of the community.
Some believe no culture is static, seeing nothing wrong in the name change of the community for development and progress. Even if this is true, must be done with the approval of the community and not through intimidation.
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria showing Nkerehi town. Nkerehi town is yellow dot on the map.
Photo Above: Picture of Barrister Basil Igwike taken after allegedly tortured by 'Dr. Godwin Maduka hit squad'.
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