Several people including aged men and women sustained different degrees injuries at Amandim-Olo community in Ezeagu local government area of Enugu State , on Wednesday as policemen fired several canisters of teargas to disperse the natives protesting the decision of the state government to install a new traditional ruler for the community.
The protesters from four different villages in the community were heading to the venue of the verification exercise for new Igwe-elect of the community, Pastor Eric Emeka Nwankwo, when the policemen fired teargas to disperse them.
Protesting Amandim-Olo natives say Igwe Agana remains their Monarch, kicking against government’s imposition of another Monarch whom they said has never participated in any known community development and very unpopular.
The embattled traditional ruler of the community, His Majesty Harford Agana, who was crowned since 7th July, 2002, was removed from his throne on July 18, this year by the State government for allegedly refusing to handover the assets of Enugu West Traditional Rulers Council in his possession one month after he was suspended by the government.
The deposed monarch, who has since served the state government notice of his intention to challenge his dethronement in court, had described his removal as illegal.
He told journalists that the Toyota Hiace Bus which he was ordered by the government to handover to the council was given to him by Deputy Senate President, Chief Ike Ekweremadu as a personal gift to him.
According to him, he remains the traditional ruler of Amandim-Olo describing the move by the government to impose another traditional ruler on the community as mere politics and an illegal act, stressing that the people of the community who crowned him 12 years ago have not withdrawn their support for him.
However, following his removal, a section of the community presented Pastor Nwankwo, who had aspired to the throne in 2002 but lost to Igwe Agana, to state government as their Igwe-elect and the Commissioner for Chieftaincy Matters, Pastor Emeka Abugu, fixed verification of his nomination for yesterday.
Igwe-elect Amandim-Olo Pastor Eric Emeka Nwankwo
The Commissioner, Nwankwo and his supporters were seated for the verification exercise at the Central Primary School, Amandin-Olo, venue of the event when several villagers marched to the place with placards to protest the dethronement of Igwe Agana.
Some of the placards displayed by the protesting natives read: “Igwe Agana is our choice”, “Emeka Abugu you must refund our 2 million naira”, “No other Igwe except Agana”, “Government ,we need our Igwe back” and “Emeka Abugu leave our community alone”.
But few meters to the venue policemen who stationed three patrol vans at the entrance ordered them to go back as they claimed to have instructions not to allow them access to the venue.
Explanations that they were at the verification exercise to register their opposition to the dethronement of their monarch fell on deaf ears and when some youths insisted on forcing their way through the police barricade, they were attacked by the policemen.
The policemen led by an officer from the state police headquarters in mufti, flogged the protesters comprising old men and women, with sticks and when they refused to disperse, the policemen fired several canisters of teargas which left the natives and those residing nearby coughing and shedding tears.
Some of the youths who were bleeding on their heads following injuries they sustained from the police beaten were dragged into the patrol vans and taken to an unknown destination.
Efforts by journalists to speak with the policemen were rebuffed by the officer who said that he was not under any obligation to speak to press regarding their operations in the community.
However, an 85 years old man, Chief Ozokolo Chibunine, who is the leader of Ozo title holders and kingmakers in the community, who was among those teargased, condemned the action of the policemen, saying they were duly invited to attend the verification exercise to express their opinion on the chieftaincy tussle.
He spoke amidst sobs that the community was strongly opposed to the dethronement of the monarch by the government, stressing that the government had no right to remove Igwe Agana, who was constitutionally installed by his community. According to him, the purported selection of the new monarch was illegal as majority of the natives were opposed to it and called for the reinstatement of Igwe Agana.
The protesters who asked the state government to leave their monarch as it was their right to say who should rule them in their own community, also accused the Commissioner for Chieftancy Matters of receiving N2 million from the community to facilitate installation of the Igwe-elect.
The Commissioner for Chieftaincy Matters, Pastor Abugu, however, declined to comment on the incident as well as the allegation that he received N2 million bribe from the community as he told journalists that he would only speak on the matter after returning to his office in Enugu.
“I cannot respond to any issue here because that is not why I am here. You can see how charged this environment is”, Abugu said.