The death of a middle-aged man, Chike Okoye, in Uruezealor Ogidi in Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State, Southeast Nigeria, over disagreements on the formula for sharing communal land, in July, threatened the peace of the community.
The death of the man in his 40s put the traditional ruler, Igwe Alex Onyido, at loggerheads with the youth and his family members, who accused him of instigating Okoye’s death by inviting the police, who allegedly pushed him down from a story building and caused his death.
The youth, in video clips circulating on the social media, carried the corpse in a tipper and dropped it at the front of the traditional ruler’s compound and urged him to eat it as “game” which he had hunted down.
They insisted that the police whom Onyido invited to effect Okoye’s arrest over a land dispute near his factory in the village, pushed him down and that being an asthmatic patient, the man died. However, the police and some community members said the man died while scaling over a fence in an attempt to avoid arrest.
HumAngle investigations revealed that the parcel of land in the village which belongs to family members the dead man and the traditional has been a subject of dispute over how it would be shared over a long period.
Mr Sam Onyekwelu, a 76 years old indigene of the town, explained that the dispute had been with Ogidi Town Union, the apex administrative body of the town, for arbitration after the village could not resolve it.
Onyekwelu said the land covering an area of 350 plots, needed to be shared among the families in the kindred but the problem was that while some people wanted it to be shared on the number of families, others wanted it to be shared among all taxable male adults in the kindred.
He explained that the tradition in Igboland was that communal land is shared among families who in turn share to deserving male adults in order of seniority.
Onyekwelu said Ogidi Town Union which was handling the matter failed to act swiftly to make peace by applying the age long method of sharing land in Igboland for over five years that the matter had been before it.
“What happened has happened, there is nothing we can do to bring back the dead.
“In Ogidi, the way we share family land is through the kindred, just as when there is levy where they share it according to families, at the family level, they can now share it among the taxable adults.
“In our constitution, when a man dies the first son takes over his place, the last son gets their mother’s abode whereas what is left is shared among others equally.
“So what should have been done was to share the land among the number of families that co-owned it equally and these families can now go and share according to how many people they are.
“But the problem started when some people said that the land should be shared by families, rather than it should be shared per head and it had lingered since then.
“I have even suggested that of the 350 plots, the five families should share 280 equally and the remaining ones be shared in the ratio of 25: 15: 10: 5: 5 according to the sizes of their families because we are all human beings.
“This sharing formula is the reason why everybody has his share of the ancestral land and. why some have more than others.
“We have spoken as adults; we saw our forefathers do it, but these days money has ruined everything and land has become a big issue. In the past, somebody could call somebody and give him land so they could live together,” Onyekwelu concluded.
On his part, Chief Jideofor Onubogu, the President General of Ogidi Town Union, acknowledged that the union was handling the matter before the provocations that led to arrest and unfortunate death of Okoye.
Onubogu who said he was speaking on behalf of the community, explained that the inability of the parties involved to agree that the community treat the matter and mutual suspicion were responsible for the death.
He said there was suspicion that the traditional ruler was trying to encroach or takeover the land, adding: “but that word ‘trying’ ‘ is what they should have allowed to us to control.
“Because even if Igwe was constructing a slab across the gutter, it did not amount to taking over of the land because he has not built anything on the land, they should have allowed his intention to manifest by entering the land.”
“The issue is that piece of land which sharing formula is not acceptable by the families involved, Igwe’s family wants it shared per head but the other families want it shared per kindred.
“What led to this is the slab Igwe was constructing near his company, Alben Pharmaceutical, from the road to the land over the gutter, which they suspected was a move to take over the land and destroyed it.
“They went to destroy the slab, I stepped in and secured bail of the leader but the youth later demonstrated and Igwe said all the youth involved in destroying the slab should be arrested.
“This matter of land sharing formula is before us, they should have waited for us to come up with our solution but they went on demonstrating and ended up sparking up this death,” Onubogu said.
The president-general said he could not say with certainty if the deceased was thrown down from a building or he died while trying to evade arrest.
He said “the account the wife gave was that her husband was shouting ‘they will Kill met, ‘they will kill me ‘ and later she heard a fall after which the security people vamoosed and she later saw her husband dead.”
“But nobody testified that they saw him thrown down, but if is true, the gods should fight for him because man can do anything but only God can decide. It is so inhuman for anybody to do that, I am not here to exonerate anybody,” Onubogu said.
He said no member of Ogidi Vigilance Group under his control was involved in the ill-fated arrest as they would have told him if they were going for such operation.
“For me, it is very unfortunate. Chike was not a violent person, he was a nice guy but this matter is not supposed to lead to death.
“There are some vigilance operatives who work at Palace but take directive from Igwe.
“There is relative peace but we hope it is not that of the graveyard, we are doing all that we can to see that the family of the deceased does not go on revenge, so we are trying to resolve the matter.
“It is a complex situation which we are trying to make simple,” he added.
When HumAngle visited the family compound of the deceased, Mrs Ebere Okoye, the widow, declined interview saying she had abandoned everything to God.
However, the woman wondered how she would cope as single parent of two children and sudden widowhood.
“There is not much I can say, I have said enough. How can my husband who just returned from work die in his house in the hands of security operatives who came to arrest him?
“I have left everything to God, leave me let me face my new world,“ she cried.
The younger brother of the deceased who refused to disclose his name said he would not talk as his life was in danger.
SP Haruna Mohammed, the Police Public Relations of Officer in Anambra State, said the man died while trying to evade arrest and was not thrown down as alleged by the youth.