A Nigerian lawyer, Okonkwo Vincent Nwachukwu, has been imprisoned for the past seven months on the orders of the Enugu State Governor, Lawrence Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, popularly known as ‘Gburugburu’, and his ally Herbert Ukuta, who has been described as the self-crowned Igwe of Igga community.
Nwachukwu, who was first locked up at Orji River Prison before he was transferred to Nsukka Prison, was accused of promoting local war in Igga community. Ikechukwu Ennanya, also from Igga community, who is said to be battling lung cancer, also remains at Enugu Prison on the same charges.
Nwachukwu, a native of Igga, an Igala-speaking community in Uzo-Uwani LGA community in Enugu State, was involved in the development of the community, and had overseen the development of various projects with members of the community before he got imprisoned.
A press statement published by Vanguard in September 2020 and signed by officials and members of the Igga Community Land Committee, accused the Enugu State government of “intimidation, harassment, victimisation, threats, arm-twisting over the lease of our community ancestral land” because the community had leased a parcel of land to Chelsea Agric Ltd.
Raphael Iyambo, a member of the Igga Community Land Committee, told FIJ that the communal piece of land was about to be sold by Igwe Ukuta to Chelsea Agric Ltd without the knowledge of the community. When this was resisted by members of the community who approached the company and explained the constitution of the community, the money was paid into the community account instead of Ukuta’s personal account.
Iyambo said that Igga community did not have any Igwe since 1995 when the last one died. In 2016, Ugwuanyi made Ukuta the king of the community. According to the press statement, the community pinpointed the beginning of its crisis to the imposition of Ukuta on them by the Governor. Iyambo said that when they protested against the imposition of Ukuta as their king, the Governor told them the position was used to settle the Ukuta family.
When asked about the extent of Ugwuanyi’s involvement in the crisis in the community, Iyambo said: “We should say he is the one using Herbert. There is nothing Herbert could do on his own. . . It’s the government using him against our people for whatever reason we don’t know. The only thing we can say is that Ugwuanyi is angry that we are Igala people. He feels, why should we have a share in Enugu State where the majority is Igbo? Why are Igala people coming to disturb him? Otherwise we don’t find any other reason why he should be doing this to us.”
When Ukuta was given the throne, the Igga community protested at the government house. Ugwuanyi told the community he had given a member of the community a Senior Special Assistant position and if that wasn’t enough for the community, they could go and start killing themselves, Iyambo recalled. Ugwuanyi then went on to refer to the community as an “infinitesimal minority on the outskirts of the state”.
Ukuta said he was given the certificate of kingship by the governor thus making him the ruler of the land. When FIJ spoke to Igwe Ukuta he said the land was sold without the knowledge of the community or traditional ruler. “I never negotiated with anybody for any land. I did not discuss with anybody for any land. I did not sell any community land. I never intended to sell any community land. It’s verifiable,” he said. He further said they were simply fighting him because of the position of Igwe that he holds.
Igwe Ukuta sent FIJ a press release on the Igga Land Matter in which he said, “We make bold to categorically state that there has never been any committee known as Igga Land Committee in Igga.”
He further claimed in the press release: “We are also convinced and aware that the traditional ruler of Igga community has never had any interaction with any staff member or Director of Chelsea Agric Limited… The companies are hereby publicly challenged to put the details in the public domain if such discussions and interactions as alleged ever exist.”
When FIJ spoke with Chief Nnabuenyi Chelsea, the owner of Chelsea Farms Limited, who bought the land, he said a meeting was brokered between him and other Igwes, including Igwe Ukuta.
“He (Igwe Ukuta) is the one who sent the list of the land committee,” Chief Chelsea said. He had been informed by Igwe Ukuta that they had a committee that handled land matters. However, the continual denial of events by Igwe Ukuta left a bitter taste in the mouth of Chelsea.
“He told the same thing to his senior brother, that he never met us,” Chelsea said, stating that Igwe Ukuta lied about them not meeting and accusing the members of the land committee of selling the land behind his back.
“All throughout the process of negotiations I called him frequently and he called me. Until we finished he is even the one that encouraged me to pay. He said they had a land committee. Igwe Herbert forwarded the list of the land committee via text to us.”
A cheque was given to the land committee of the Igga Community and an agreement was signed. “I negotiated with the land committee and paid the money,” Chelsea said as he explained how he settled all the communities and asked them what they wanted so as to avoid any conflict that would affect his investment.
“Ask Igwe Ukuta if he has been to Agulu Lake Hotel before. He came to Agulu Lake in Anambra; that’s where we were holding the meeting, a distance of over 150 kilometres, with all his people. For him to stand and lie that he never met us. Do people now take lies as part of accolades in this country? There is no problem on the land, we have cultivated the land,” he said.
According to Chelsea, Governor Ugwuanyi, who is also involved in the land matter and has been fingered to be behind the continuous detention of Vincent Nwachukwu and Ikechkuwu Ennanya, has taken sides with Igwe Ukuta. The case against the detainees, for insance, lists the Commissioner of Police as complainant.
“The Igwe went to tell his senior brother who has access to the Governor that these people sold the land without his permission. And then the Governor now said he would teach the people a lesson, that they are not the ones that are supposed to sell it, that there is no way they would sell land without informing the king,” Chelsea said.
“As much as I was trying to explain to the Governor he didn’t believe it. Who would believe that the king would be lying? I explained to the Governor that this Igwe you are talking about is lying, that he came to Agulu Lake Hotel and we had a meeting.”
Igwe Ukuta, who spoke of himself in the third person, said he was clean and lies were being told about him in the various press releases published in the media. The issue is “between them and the Enugu State government,” he said.
FIJ reached out to Jonathan Chukwuma, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Inter-Party Affairs, who is from Uzo-Uwani LGA, but he refused to comment on the issue, instead referring FIJ to the local government chairman.
With the ongoing strike by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), the court hearing has been prolonged and the detention of Vincent Nwachukwu and Ikechukwu Ennanya has been elongated.
Be the first to receive special investigative reports and features in your inbox.