AWKA — No fewer than 10 shrines similar to those uncovered Wednesday by the police in Okija, Ihiala local government area of Anambra State exist in that area, the police said yesterday. Twenty human skulls and one fresh corpse were recovered in a raid by the police at Ogwugwu Isiula and Ogwugwu Akpu.
The discovery which came as a shock to many was, however, downplayed yesterday by the Secretary-General of the pan-Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze, Chief Joe Achuzia, who dismissed the police raid as ridiculous and said worshpping at shrines was not a new thing in Nigeria. The police are to continue their raid of the area today with the head of the police operation, Mr. Gabriel Haruna, saying: “It’s an on-going fight.”
Mr. Haruna, a Chief Superintendent of Police, said 13 of the arrested suspects were workers at the Ogwugwu Isiula shrine while the remaining 17 were arrested at Ogwugu Akpu
He gave the names of other shrines in Okija as Ogwugwu Mmili located in Umuhu village, Apunama in Ihite, Ahaya Afa in Ubaha Udara, Ajana-Ohobo, Ahaobuo Umugum and Ihenemenle-Umuhuhihie. Other shrines are Ogwugwu Idigo in Umuhu and Ogwugwu Idimgo. Haruna said four members of a family believed to be strong worshippers of Ogwugwu Isiula, including the assistant chief priest and a priest were in police net. He gave their names to include Osita Ndukwu, 43, a principal priest of the shrine who was paraded on Wednesday; his brothers, Batholemew Ndukwu and Sunday Ndukwu and their father, the assistant chief priest, Mr. Edim Ndukwu who is over 70 years old. Their brother, Cornelius “Okoja” Ndukwu, a member of the banned Bakassi Boys was said to be on the run. According to the SARS commander, three of the human skulls and the fresh corpse were recovered at Ogwugwu Isiula while the remaining 17 skulls were recovered at Ogwugwu Akpu. “It was hell going there.
The moment you step into the shrine you see human corpses left and right, but we mustered courage. I encouraged my men and we moved on to raid the places. It was like a 419 set-up. They use the corpses to scare people away. You know, once you see corpses left and right, you are bound to be afraid,” the police officer said. The police investigation revealed that the Ogwugwu Isiula was registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission as a cultural body. The registration number, according to information pieced together from police, is IT CERT NO 15,018 with Ubaha Oti, Umuhu Okija, Ihiala Local Government Area as address. Their motto contained in their letters of invitation which they send to those visiting their shrine is “Eziokwu bu ndu, asi bu onwu — truth is life, falsehood (lying) is death”
Achuzia castigates police
However, Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Joe Achuzia, yesterday took exception to the police raid of the two shrines in Okija, describing the action of the police as “ridiculous.” The Ohanaeze scribe, who spoke on the development, decried the interest generated by the raid, saying worshipping at shrines was not new in Nigerian tradition. He said the issue portrayed the Igbo as cannibals, alleging that the police were out to rubbish the Igbo.
“Unless the police have no other job to do, then they can go on making further discoveries on things that are in consonance with ancient history. Everybody in Igboland and Nigeria knows about the existence of shrines everywhere. Go to Hausaland, go to Yorubaland, go to every part of Nigeria, there exists one shrine or another. These things are part of Nigerian tradition. So, unmasking one in Ihiala is not new. These skulls have been there long ago, and I do not see anything new about it except that the police want to portray the Igbo as cannibals. But this is not what the police should be involved in.
“Ohanaeze Ndigbo does not thrive in illegality. Our duty is to ensure that all Igbo do that which is right. In doing so, however, we shall not condone any act that will paint a race in bad light. The police in Awka have done one and one prays they don’t go farther than this, especially when they are not conversant with the history of the people,” Achuzia said.
Achuzia recalled the history of the Okija shrine, saying it has reputation for justice in the settlement of disputes among people, stressing that never in Igboland had anybody complained that the priests at the place killed or sacrificed human beings unjustly.
Said he: “Nobody has said that they kill people there. Those who go there, go there to settle their matters. They take oaths and at the end of the day, any of those found guilty is killed by the shrine. But it is obvious that not all cases are taken to this shrine because it is very powerful. The human parts and skulls which they discovered are merely those who had sworn at the place and apparently found guilty were killed not by any human being but the gods. Their bodies are usually brought to the place as sacrifice to the gods.”
He wondered why the discovery should be made an issue especially when nobody complained about the shrine or its existence, adding that it was another form of marginalisation of the Igbo in the scheme of things of this country. “Why should it be the shrine in Okija? Does it mean that there are no such things in other parts of this country? Okija shrine is reputable in Igboland and the whole world is aware. I do not think any amount of campaign can destroy that which has been in existence for a long time. I think the police should watch it and release all those they arrested in the interest of justice and fair play,” Achuzia said.
Aug. 6, 2004
Anayo Okoli and Tony Edike