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A Rebuttal To “My Home Town Is Under Siege” By Chimamanda Adichie

When I read Adichie’s article, the first emotion that flooded through me was anger. There she was, the entire page 12 in the Guardian devoted to her; adorned with her personality, juxtaposed with her flowing prose but crisscrossed with fabrics of ignorance, half-truths, outright lies and sheer fabrications. In literature, Ngozi Adichie is precocious and a prodigy, respected in Nigeria and around the world.

How could she put her shiny reputation on the line with such a spectacularly uninformed adventure, even for her beloved hometown? How dare her turn facts on its head and try to subvert the immutability of truth and the integrity of history! In fiction, Adichie is permitted to create her own version of reality; however, in the real world, reality is protected by facts, and facts are sacrosanct.

Just then I remembered, and I was not angry with her any more. I remembered that Ngozi Adichie, with all her literally achievements, hails from Abba, a bellicose and belligerent town. In her community, pugnacity is an inheritance, and mendacity is in the heritage. There is a saying that you cannot completely cure madness, even with the best education!

Adichie may be the last hope for Abba to thwart the course of justice. They have tried to instigate communal clash; Ukpo and Ukwulu did not take the bait. They serially tried in the court of law, and failed every step of the way.

Chief Arthur Eze

They stole the trial court’s Record of Proceedings to force a re-trail; that also failed. They enlisted the sympathy of Anambra government; so far not much concrete result. Now it seems, Adichie is Abba’s last hope. To be fair to Adichie, she would not be the only person to put her reputation on the line for her beloved town, but she must also be prepared to the muddied in the process.

An important indigene of Abba recently told me that in this land dispute between Ukpo and Abba, Prince Arthur Eze makes the only difference. In other words, Ukpo could not defeat Abba if not for the involvement of Arthur Eze. I thought that was stupid statement because you cannot separate Ukpo and Arthur, but it goes directly to the heart of their plan to use Chimamanda Adichie to discredit Prince Arthur Eze. Currently, the battle cry in Abba is to destroy Ukpo’s case by first destroying the reputation of Arthur. The way Abba reckons it, their illustrious daughter has enough standing to sully Prince Arthur’s image and depict him as a wealthy bully who represents all that is wrong with Nigeria; to cast him as an influential man who has the police in his pocket; a land grabbing billionaire who would stop at nothing to forcibly acquire other people’s land; and a mean-spirited man who uses his wealth to oppress Abba people instead of improving lives. In a nutshell, that is the sole purpose of her article – to damage Arthur’s public image and make it stick. But she does not know Arthur. In the words of my people (God bless Ukpo), what can a small rat do to an iron pot?

I can bet my farm that Adichie has never met Arthur Eze. If she had, she would have known better, much better. You do not have to be Arthur’s friend or kinsman to attest to the fact that he is the most conciliatory, the kindest person, and arguably the most public-spirited billionaire God created. If Adichie has ever met Arthur, she would know that he has no iota of meanness in him, and that the Almighty God created Arthur for the sole purpose of giving, as opposed to amassing anything, least of all land. If Adichie is given the least insight into the land matter between Abba and Ukpo, she would have known that Arthur Eze is Abba’s best advocate, to the chagrin of his own kinsmen.

WHAT ARE THE FACTS

Nogozi Adichie is too young to have had any meaningful personal experience of the land dispute, so it is safe to assume that her parents and kinsmen handed down the story to her. Yet the sheer number of lies, the falsifications, exaggerations and the gusto with which she handled her ill-fated presenttion are simply stunning. My task therefore is to state the facts, set the records straight. The land dispute has lasted for more than 44 years, so the best approach will be to chronicle the important timelines.

Brief History: The existence of Abba as a community is a consequence of ancient inter-communal war, when its progenitor, Ichinambubor, a mercenary from Ichida, fought against Ukpo and Ifite-Dunu. He was captured; but instead of putting a sword through his heart as was the norm in those days, his life was spared. An expert wine tapper, Ichinambubor was, again contrary to what obtained in those ancient time, settled in Ukpo and Ifite-Dunu lands, where he was engaged in palm-wine tapping (you could argue that Ukpo and Ifite-Dunu liked buzz!!). Being a virtual slave, Ukpo and Ifite-Dunu refused to grant Ichinambubor a wife, so he ventured afar to Abagana to take a wife. His first son was named Abamulu, meaning that Abagana made it possible. The present-day Abba is thus descendant from Ichinambubor and his son, Abamulu. That Abba community is now rising to challenge Ukpo, the original settlers and their benefactor, to a land dispute is testament to Ukpo’s magnanimity. It is also a testament to Abba’s perfidy. But there it is: in the last 80 years or so, Abba embarked on massive land annexation and expansionist endeavors. They encroached upon Ukpo and Ukwulu lands, and farmed and hunted far beyond imaginable scopes. In the last 44 years, they set out to make the lands permanently theirs. They took Ukwulu to court accusing them of trespass. After initially serving as witness for Ukwulu and alarmed that Abba was also claiming a big chunk of Ukpo land, Ukpo joined the suite in a consolidated format as 2nd set of defendants (Suite Nos. AA/53/75 & AA/ 11/77).

JUSTICE OBIORA NWAZOTA: On 12TH November 1999 the Chief Judge of Anambra State, His Lordship Hon Justice Obiora Nwazota, delivered judgement in consolidated suites in favor of the two brothers, Ukpo and Ukwulu communities. The learned Chief Judge dismissed the claims of the plaintiffs (Abba) with respect to the disputed land, whilst the reliefs sought by the 1st and 2nd sets of defendants (Ukwulu and Ukpo) with claims to the land as “Agu Odoagba” and Ogwulugwu Land” in Ukwulu and Ukpo, respectively, were granted. This case was the last decided by Justice Nwazota, as he retired from the bar, as well as Anambra Chief Judge effective afterward.

JUSTICE G.C. ONONIBA: On 18TH November 1999, Abba filed a notice to appeal and were given the conditions of appeal, with which they proceeded to obtain stay of execution from His Lordship, Justice G.C. Ononiba (now Chief Judge of Anambra State) on 11/12/2000. Curiously, Justice Ononiba, from Nimo which claims kinship with Abba, granted an unconditional stay of execution to Abba, thereby presenting to the plaintiffs (Abba) through the back door what they could not obtain during the substantive suit.

Armed with the unconditional stay of execution against Nwazota’s judgement of 12 November 1999, Abba lost interest in pursuing the appeal. And even though the stay bounded all parties over to maintain peace in the area and on the disputed land, Abba entered the land, setting up the infamous “Oye Abba” market, indiscriminately planting signages, building shops, renting plots to GSM operators and collecting tolls, while they plotted to subvert justice. (Justice Nwazota’s judgement was considered so thorough that the only option available to Abba to overturn it was by destroying the Record of Proceedings, in order to force a completely new trial.)

SETTING THEIR SUBVERSSIVE PLOT IN MOTION: (23RD October 2003 is a fateful day, so mark the date. But this background story first.)

During the Justice Nwazota’s trial, Ukpo and Ukwulu had compelling evidence. All our neighbours: Enugu-Agidi, Nawgu, Awkuzu, all stood witness to the fact that Ukpo and Ukwulu have been their land neighbors for centuries. Nobody in the immediate vicinity bore witness for Abba. Abba claimed kinship with Abagana and Nimo but were hard pressed to prove why they do not have contiguous borders with Umu Owelle. Traditionally in those days, brothers lived next to one another, and if Abba was blood relative of Abagana and Nimo and Ezi-Owelle, it should have been placed in direct contiguity with them. On the other hand, Ukpo proved without shadow of doubt that we were the original settlers and all Dunu brothers lived contiguously. The evidence and witnesses were iron cast, and Abba knew it. They had to find another way to circumvent justice.

They hired a new lead lawyer, the indefatigable Wole Olanipekun (SAN). The new lawyers found a creative way, the Western style: if the Record of Proceedings disappeared, they would be in a position to argue for trial de novo (a new trial). This strategy was particularly enticing because all the witnesses who appeared on behalf of Ukpo and Ukwulu were, by this time, dead. So why not, they would give it a shot; a big shot it was! Abba sent out town criers every night to impose levies for the war chest. I could hear them late in the night, cajoling and threatening those who were hesitant to pay. For good measure, Abba hired a legal consultant, one retired Justice Olike, from Nawfia, whose wife was conveniently the Assistant Registrar of Anambra State High Court. So now, Mrs. Olike, the Assistant Registrar, was in the bag! The plot was actualized on 23rd October 2003 (I told you, remember this date). That was the date the Record of Proceedings containing the judgement of Justice Nwazota disappeared, never to be found again. (How do we know this date? You’ll find out later.)

Being now rest-assured that the Record of Proceedings has disappeared for good, Abba went on the offense, yelling that they cannot transmit records to the Appeal Court in Enugu because Ukpo had stolen the Record of Proceedings to frustrate their appeal. Never mind that this is a text book example of crocodile tears.

Early in 2004, alarmed by the insidious scheming by Abba, a group called CONCERNED CITIZENS OF UKPO, wrote a petition to the Nigerian Judicial Commission (NJC), requesting an investigation into the missing Record. And lo and behold, six months later the NJC set up the Otuocha Panel of Enquiry, headed by Honorable Justice P.A.C. Abidigwe, to look into the missing Record. The Panel released its report on 15/12/2006, and the most important finding was that the Record of Proceedings was last signed for on 23rd October 2003 by the office of Mrs. Olike, the Assistant Registrar of Anambra State High Court. I told you, remember 23rd October 2003; and remember Mrs Olike. Her husband was the Chief Legal Consultant of Abba in the case. In conclusion, Tribunal pointedly stated that Mrs Olike, Abba and their legal team had a case to answer regarding the missing Record.

Does anybody still doubt that Abba bribed, connived and conspired to steal and destroy the Record of Proceedings? Remember it took Abba less than one month to file notice of appeal and obtain a stay of execution, but did not file the substantive appeal in four years. Appellants are required to satisfy the conditions of appeal by, among other things, transmitting records to the Appeal Court within 6 months, failing which they will be out of time to appeal (unless they ask for time extension). In this case, Abba was out of time and did not show any desire to prosecute their appeal, did not ask for time extension in six months, one year, two, three, then four years. At which time their case had suffered a mortal defect.

APPEAL COURT ENUGU: In line with their original plot, Abba approached the Appeal Court Enugu, armed with the plea that the Record of Proceedings was missing, and asked the Court (via motion No. CA/E/30/2009) to direct the Anambra State High Court to start the case de novo. Remember: since Nwazota’s judgement, this has been their over-arching strategy. However, on 27/6/2016, the motion was struck out by the Appeal Court for want of record.

SUPREME COURT: Expressing dissatisfaction with the Appeal Court ruling, Abba approached the Supreme Court, pleading denial of fair hearing. The Apex court directed the Appeal Court to re-instate the motion (No. SC/115/2009) on the basis of human right to fair hearing.

BACK TO APPEAL COURT: Again, the Appeal Court on 11/7/2017 resolved all issues canvassed by Abba in favor of Ukpo and Ukwulu, and threw out the appeal. The higher court also vacated Justice Ononiba’s 12/11/1999 stay of execution, paving the way for Ukpo and Ukwulu to re-possess their lands.

BACK TO SUPREME COURT: Abba rushed back to Supreme Court and formulated 4 grounds of appeal against the Court of Appeal’s ruling. On 15th of February 2019, in a lead judgement delivered by Hon. Justice Paul Adamu Galumje, the Supreme Court ruled against Abba and in favor of Ukpo and Ukwulu in all the four issues formulated, and also awarded N1,000,000 cost in favor of the defendants, Ukpo and Ukwulu.

ABBA’S FIXATION ON PAGE 27

The Supreme Court judgement of 15th February 2019 runs in over 37 pages, but Abba is fixated on only page 27. Abba’s distraction stems from the fact that the learned Justice took an academic expedition. Before arriving at the four issues formulated for the Appeal by Abba, the lead judge, Hon. Justice Paul Adamu Galumje had undertaken what laymen could describe as philosophical and intellectual excursion. During that ventilation, the learned Justice introspected on the impact of the missing Record of Proceedings on the concept of justice itself. Lawyers call this type of reverie “obiter dictum”, an unforce-able point of view, which is irrelevant when points of law are being considered. Alas, Justice Galumje expressed an “obiter” which Abba found complementary to their cause, and they are determined to hold on to it, like a drowning man furiously grasping a sinking trunk. But Justice Adamu Galumje’s view was a casual expression of a viewpoint while he was on his way to the law points. An “obiter” is unforce-able.

On the other hand, there is “ratio decidendi”, which are the pivotal points of any suite. Abba formulated 4 grounds in their appeal. None of them asked the Supreme Court for trial de novo. Neither was de novo canvassed during any of the hearings. Delivering judgement on all four grounds, the Court ruled in favor of Ukpo and Ukwulu and awarded costs to the same parties. Lawyers will tell you that the court does not give that which is not asked for. At any rate “obiter” cannot be enforced against “ratio”.

Abba has done a great de-service to her illustrious daughter, Chimamanda Adichie, by not availing her of the Supreme Court judgement; because you do not have to be a lawyer to understand the ruling. Which is the reason why I am shocked that not one person in the whole of Abba town could correctly read, understand and explain the judgement to their community. If Chimamanda was given, and read, the Supreme Court judgement before she wrote her article in the Guardian, I will be entitled to make a case of intellectual deficit against her!!

WARRANT OF POSSESSION

Supreme Court represents the bus-stop of all litigations in Nigeria; when it rules on any case, one can only appeal to God. In line with this time-tested legalistic wisdom, the Chief Judge of Anambra State, upon being served the Supreme Court judgement, issued Ukpo and Ukwulu the clearance (Warrant of Entry) to re-possess their lands. Or, is Abba community suggesting that the Chief Judge of Anambra State does not understand the Supreme Court judgement? The Commissioner of Police Anambra State has been served the Supreme Court judgement, as well as the Warrant of Entry; that is why the Police is on firm ground in upholding the law and enforcing the peace on the erstwhile disputed land. Or, is Abba community also suggesting that the Commissioner of Police does not understand the Supreme Court ruling?

ABBA SAID IT’S BACK IN COURT

Abba insists it has once again filed a suite on the same settled issues at a trial court in Anambra State. The mere fact of Abba filing another suite on same issues on which the Supreme court has ruled is itself seminal and profound. Because what Abba is asking Anambra State trial court to do is to set aside the Supreme Court ruling! That is huge, and I am sure, Chimamanda will be able to put this new gigantic development in her most colorful prose.

By Ichie Anayo Ejem
Nnabuenyi Ukpo

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