His Royal Highness, Eze Boniface Okereke, the Igwe of Uzoubi Umunna Orlu in Imo State, recounts the clash between members of the Eastern Security Network and the Nigerian Army in his community during an interview with a news correspondent, Chidiebube Okeoma.
In his interview, the king also narrated his unfortunate ordeal at the hands of a policeman he believes is from the North.
Eze Boniface reflects that the Policeman would not maltreat him the way he did if he were a Yoruba or Hausa monarch, he said, claiming the Policeman forced him to lie down while pointing the gun on him.
Read the full interview below;
Can you give a brief introduction about yourself and a summary of what happened?
”I am His RoyalHighness, Eze Boniface Okereke, Igwe Uzoubi Umuna Orlu autonomous community, Imo State. Uzoubi Umuna is in Orlu town in the Orlu Local Government Areas of State. It is the very place Eastern Security Network people and soldiers clashed, leaving people dead and property worth a high amount of money destroyed. I am 77- years -old and have been on the throne for 18 years. The Imo State Government recognized me on December 23, 2003.”
Tell us about the clash between members of the Eastern Security Network and soldiers
”There is nothing much to say other than the that IPOB(Independent of People of Biafra) People and the military men clashed here in Orlu on January 25. The clash was regrettable because people died, properties were lost, and business activities were halted, and our area was in the news for the wrong reason.”
Which part of your community did the Eastern Security Network people operate from?
”They don’t live with us here. They came in their vehicles and struck left. And that is why in our meeting at the Orlu Council of Traditional rulers, every monarch was enjoined to find out if any of his subjects was part of them. The impression that they live among us is not true.”
What was the cause of the clash?
”I can’t really say because Orlu is not known for violence. All we heard was IPOB people and military men were clashing. It was a horrifying experience. There was panic because people were running up and down, and in the process, innocent people who came out to look for food for their families were hit by stray bullets and died.”
Tell us about the speculation that government wants to cede part of Orlu to herders for open grazing.
”Let me say this as a traditional ruler that I have not been told by any government official that any part of our community will be ceded to herders for grazing or ranching. The speculation that it was that basis that the Eastern Security Network people and the military were clashing in Orlu is a lie. Such thing has never been mentioned to Orlu Council of Traditional Rulers or to me.”
How many people died in the clash?
”I am pained by the death of two persons who were hit by stray bullets. These innocent persons were doing their businesses legitimately. One woman, who sold food at a roadside was hit by a flying bullet from a distance, and she died. Another man who was doing his business was hit by a stray bullet from afar, and he also died. These were persons who were not part of the clash, not close to the scene of the clash, but unfortunately, they were victims of the clash. That is why I am saying no to clashes and violence of all kinds. Violence, wars have never been good to humanity.
”There are many people who live and take care of their families based on their daily incomes, and since the clash occurred and the government imposed dusk- to – dawn curfew here, business activities have been affected. You see that it is not good for our people, and as the traditional ruler, I am not happy it is happening in Orlu. I can’t say the number of people who died in the clash because it is not in my position to say so. I am neither a security agent nor a government official. But I am deeply worried about this ugly development.”
Has the government reached out to the community since the incident occurred?
”Yes, we the council of Orlu Traditional rulers and the government have been meeting. We have been meeting with the leadership at the local government level. In our meetings, every traditional ruler was asked to find out if any of his subjects as part of this group. The truth is that as traditional rulers, we worried that these things are happening in our domains. The government is also worried that this is happening in Imo state. We have been meeting with the Interim Management CommitteeChairman of the Orlu Local Government Area.”
What is your take on the curfew imposed by the government in Orlu?
”As a traditional ruler, I support any move that will bring peace in Orlu. However, extreme measures will make our people suffer and go hungry, but I am not in support of any blood-spilling. Orlu is not known for blood-letting. The government, in its wisdom, knows when it will lift the curfew. Our people are not recovering from the January 25 carnage.”
How long has these Eastern Security Network people and Military men been clashing in Orlu?
”Orlu has no history of violence. Apart from the #EndSARS protest in 2020, this was the first time they clashed. The IPOBmembers don’t live with us here. They came struck and left. And that is why every traditional ruler was enjoined to find out if any youth in Orlu is among the people who are causing these pains. Let me say it again that Orlu is not known for violence, and we will do everything to make sure that peace begins to pervade the Orlu atmosphere again.”
Tell us your ordeal in the hands of policemen
”That was the greatest humiliation of my life. That Policeman desecrated the culture of Igbo people by ordering a traditional ruler in my class and status to lie down on the road before my subjects.”
What really happened?
‘‘I suffered an embarrassing humiliation in the hands of mobile policemen at Carrot Junctionhere in the domain on Wednesday, January 27. At about 2 pm, while I was returning from a meeting of the Orlu Traditional Rulers Council held at Umudioka ancient kingdom, on reaching the junction, a team of mobile policemen stopped me, and one of them ordered me to get out of my car.
”I quickly hearkened to his order. Despite the inscription on my vehicle number plate asserting my status as His Royal Highness, Eze B.C Okereke, the traditional ruler of UzoubiUmuna autonomous community, and my physical appearance as an old man and verbal expression to him that I am the traditional ruler of this community, he still pointed his gun at me and ordered me to lie flat on the ground. I quickly obeyed him because he pointed his gun at me, and I didn’t want him to shoot him.”
How were you rescued?
”I lay flat on the floor for over eight minutes, and it was thereafter that one of the policemen who later saw the inscription on my car and my regalia that quickly urged me to stand and reprimanded the other overzealous cop. These humiliations, desecration of our cultural institution happened in the full glare of my subjects and passersby. It was an embarrassing situation, a big disgrace to my throne and disrespect to my person, community, and the council of traditional rulers.”
What action has been taken after the embarrassment?
”I have petitioned the commissioner of police in charge of the Imo State Police Command, informing him of the humiliation and urging him to investigate it. That was a humiliation that should not be swept under the carpet. This insult on a traditional ruler of my class cannot happen in Yorubaland of Hausaland. This must be corrected.”
How is your community taking this humiliation?
”My people, especially the youth, are spurring for war, but I have been calming them down. I told them that I had petitioned the Commissioner of Police and so we should wait and see what the commissioner will do. Though we have not heard from the police since I petitioned the CP, we must wait and see what the police authority will do. This is a big humiliation and embarrassment to my person, and my people are not smiling about it.”
What punishment do you want to be meted out to the errant officer?
”I don’t want any punitive action to be taken against him. Either do I want him to lose his job. All I want is an apology. An unreserved apology is all I want. I demand an apology because if not, he does it to another traditional ruler, he will think he is doing the right thing.”
Will you take any legal action?
”Not at all. All I want is an apology from the Policeman. I was surprised as a northerner; he could humiliate a traditional ruler like me when in his place, traditional rulers are respected. I just want an unreserved apology from him.”.