FILE PHOTO: His Royal Majesty, Obi Albert Nwoko III (left) and Prince Justice Chukwunonso

By Funmilayo Adeniyi-Coker

The ugly tale of taboo and atrocities inside the revered palace began early in August 2016.

You could call it a shameful and indeed tragic drama in Idumuje-Ugboko Royal Theatre. The distinguished and indeed venerable king, His Royal Majesty, Obi Albert Nwoko III, JP, MON, was still alive. But now in his late 90s, he had become weak and inactive.

His son, Prince Justin Chukwunonso Nwoko was shockingly acting as de facto king according to Palace insiders. This, for the folks, was an abomination as no one could play king while the Obi still lived. But Prince Nonso as he is widely known was not ready to allow social custom to impede his vaulting ambition. He received all messages meant for the Obi and acted on them without consultation with the Chiefs that formed part of the Obi’s cabinet.

Tension was mounting. Prince Nonso was increasingly displaying desperation according to these Palace insiders. And this did not come as a surprise to the indigenous people of this forestry village. Nonso’s mother according to them is from Ubulu- Uku and you cannot be king of Idumuje-Ugboko if both of your parents do not hail from this rustic village.

Nonso’s frustration cum desperation is worsened by the hard fact that he had other siblings whose mother is from Idumuje-Ugboko. These are Prince Stephen Uche and Princess Sharon Chidinma Nwoko in addition to their four other siblings. They are Nonso’s half brothers and sisters from Queen Ifeoma Nwoko, their mother, the second wife of Nonso’s father who hails from Idumuje-Ugboko. This therefore makes Uche a bonafide contender for the throne in line with Idumuje-Ugboko tradition.

However, despite the palpable tension especially after the violence unleashed on Ugboko by suspected supporters of Prince Nonso, Prince Uche confessed that he had a good relationship with his elder brother, Prince Nonso, until early in August 2016 when his sister went through a terrible experience in the Palace. At this point, he beckoned on the sister to opened up to this writer.

On that fateful day according to Princess Chidinma, Uche’s younger sister, she was in her room in the palace as it was night time. The palace was bustling with youths who troop in and out.

“I was lying down on my bed when I heard a deafening bang on my door. And about three or four boys burst into my room. I couldn’t see them well because it was night”, she said. Before she could scream they descended on her with slaps and blows. Weakened and blind folded, she passed out as they crudely violated her innocence. And she was only 15. A minor.

Over five hours later when she opened her eyes, everything looked surreal and bizarre. “It was like a nightmare until I tried to stand up”, she added. “I felt an excruciating pain. I couldn’t raise my feet”, she said recalling the horrific pain.

But she felt even worse pains between her legs. Every part, inside and outside her womanhood was terribly bruised. She was horrified. It finally dawned on her that she had been raped, gang-raped.

The question then is who and who could have perpetrated this heinous crime? Prince Uche responded. In his words, “we do not know all of them because there is a whole lot of drama going on. Criminals being shielded and protected. But they are people I call friends of the palace. How could they gain access to my sister’s room if they had no access to the palace. And the only person that decided who came into the palace was my senior brother, Nonso”.

What irked Uche all the more however was the handling of the rape incident. There was no serious attempt to investigate the crime and punish the culprits. According to him, his little sister bore the pain, the psychological trauma and the humiliation alone.

Chidinma was sneaked into St. Joseph’s Hospital at 142 Nnebisi Road, Asaba. Her Registration Number 3688/16 and Records show that little Chidinma underwent an Abnormal Scan test at the Ultrasound Scan Centre of the hospital on August 9, 2016. Her laboratory report form with Laboratory Number 2078 also indicated she had a second test on August 17,2016.

While Chidinma grappled with physical, emotional and psychological ordeal, no serious steps were taken by Prince Nonso to arrest the culprits to face the full weight of the law. As an American trained lawyer, Dr Ikechukwu Nweze puts it, this is in gross violation of Section 24 (E) of the 1999 Constitution and Section 59(1) of the Criminal Procedure Cap C 22 of Delta 2006.

He stressed that the seeming passivity, if not cold complicity of the Palace, still violates Section 88 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 which enunciates the duty of every citizen to report crime to the Law Enforcement Agencies.

“Prince Nonso as an elder brother to a minor whose life, spirit and whole being were crudely violated did not take any concrete steps to redress this reprehensible criminality by some outlaws against his little sister, going by the evidence at my disposal”, said an irritated Dr Nweze.

“Instead they set up a ludicrous secret family meeting, brought out one of the criminals and ridiculously fined him four live goats plus N100,000 which was allegedly the cost of Chidinma’s medical treatments”, Dr Nweze lamented.

Elders of Idumuje-Ugboko, responsible adults, men of integrity stood with mouth agape and in dizzying shock at the way a monstrous and satanic gang rape perpetrated against a minor was being shabbily and disgracefully handled.

“We had never seen that kind of injustice in Ugboko”, said a man who doesn’t want to be named. “We are honourable people with strong sense of justice. And our king was a man of proven integrity. He didn’t know what was going on at that time and his son Nonso, a terrible young man, didn’t allow anyone to see him. He blocked every access to the Obi. All he was waiting desperately for was for his father to die so that he could usurp the throne because he knew too well that by tradition, he would never be crowned Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko”, he stressed, his voice carrying acoustics of fury.

But one man that could not stand Prince Nonso’s betrayal of his own blood, took Chidinma’s case to the police and pronto two of the mindless rapists were arrested.

There was jubilation in Ugboko. But alas, an influential Prince Mbanefo Nwoko went to the police. There, he like a pathological liar, told the police it was a family affair, a consensual romance gone sour but was being amicably resolved. By this singular act, the once much respected Prince Mbanefo became an ugly symbol of shame according to some of the distressed village women.

The International Federation of Female Lawyers waded into the matter and two vicious members of the savage rapist gang were arrested and charged to the Magistrate Court, Issele-Uku. Since then however, there’s been a worrying silence.

“But this is one evil act, one despicable case that civil society organisations and women groups in this country must not allow to die unceremoniously”, said Chief Chris Ogu, a veteran journalist, the Iyase, traditional Prime Minister, who performs the ritual of coronation for a new king. “They must demonstrate eloquently that the weak and vulnerable also deserve justice in this country”, he said.

The king, HRM Obi Albert Nwoko passed on in 2017 and since then little Chidinma, her mum and six siblings have been yanked off, thrown out of the palace according to sources, as Prince Nonso crowned himself king without the Iyase, Odogwu, the traditional war Lord and other eminent chiefs of the Palace. The throne is now a subject of litigation in court with three Claimants, Prince Nonso, Prince Uche and Prince Solomon Nwoko.

It took the intervention of one noble scion of Ugboko royalty, Prince Ned Nwoko, to save the Queen and her children from homelessness.

He gave them a decent accommodation and scholarship to all the seven children with three of them presently in the University.

This same Prince, a business magnate and International Lawyer described by many of the Ugboko men and women as humane and extremely kind is the brain behind the STARS University under construction in Idumuje-Ugboko, an institution that he remarkably gave 40% of the shares to the village, the Idumuje-Ugboko community because of the land the village provided and for which he still paid some huge money to farmers who initially cultivated the land.

“It is also a well established fact that his foundation, Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation, has awarded scholarships to hundreds of students of Idumuje-Ugboko and Nigerian students irrespective of tribe or religion, students in secondary and tertiary institutions both in Nigeria and abroad”, said Prince Walters Eziashi, a former President-General of Idumuje-Ugboko Development Union.

Despite this crystal show of altruistic love for his people, Prince Justin Chukwunonso Nwoko’s relationship with Prince Ned Nwoko, his cousin, remains anything but amiable.

A man of about 60 years of age who gave his name simply as Peter ventured reasons for this strained relationship. Hear him.

“My brother, the simple reason is that Nonso wants to be the Obi of our village at all cost. And a man of substance and integrity like Ned will never support him because he knows it will be a taboo and an evil act against our culture and tradition.

“Nonso’s father had to marry a second wife from Ugboko before he could be crowned king so that that wife will give us a Prince to succeed him. That was because we wanted to avoid succession crisis.

“Nonso knows he cannot be a king because his mother is from another village. It is the same tradition that you find in Ubulu-Uku. If your father and mother are not from Ubulu-Uku, you can’t be their king even if you are the first son of the king.

“Even Prince Solomon Nwoko is more qualified than Nonso. His grand father and Nonso’s grandfather were the same parents and both of Solomon’s parents were from this land.

“Anyway, the case is now in court and we will leave the judiciary to do their job. However, we know those that cannot be king of our Idumuje-Ugboko. What we may not know is who will become our Obi.

“But let me assure you, even if Nonso’s sponsors give him one billion dollars, he cannot buy Prince Ned neither will he buy the Iyase nor the Odogwu, the highest ranking and most prominent chiefs in this village. He knows he is just wasting time in the palace. But let the court decide and we will accept the judgement”, he concluded.

No question, time ticks for Idumuje-Ugboko. Will it bring justice for Princess Chidinma? And triumph for her brother, Prince Uche, their siblings and their mother, the Queen? Will it usher in the awaited peace in Ugboko?

In the timeless words of Martin Luther King Jnr, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter “.