Okija priests to be prosecuted – Balogun
Barely one month after the conviction in the United Kingdom of a Nigerian, Kingsley Ojo for the brutal murder of a five year old boy named Adam, police in the Republic of Ireland are questioning two men arrested in Dublin in connection with the murder of the daughter of Malawi’s chief justice.
The headless body of Paiche Unyolo Onyemaechi was found last month in the south of Ireland, where she lived with her Nigerian husband and two children.
Her killing may have had a ritualistic motive, according to the police.
Detectives have been keen to trace her husband, Chika, who is currently missing.
The two men being interviewed by police were arrested in Dublin on Tuesday.
They can be held for up to 72 hours without charge under the Offences Against The State Act.
Ms Onyemaechi, 25, arrived in Ireland more than three years ago. Her body was found in County Kilkenny on July 23 and she was buried in Waterford a week later.
Her father, Malawi’s Chief Justice Leonard Unyolo, travelled to Ireland after receiving news of her death.
He has taken his granchildren back to Malawi to be cared for by family members.
Meanwhile in Nigeria, Inspector General of Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun yesterday in Okija, Anambra state, said the chief priests and the over 30 priests of the different shrines of Ogwugwu deity arrested on August 4 would be prosecuted for ritual killings at the end of police investigations.
The police, he also said, would involve forensic experts in the examination of the skulls and corpses recovered from the deities’ shrines to determine if there were peculiarities in the pattern of the dead victims.
Balogun who led about 500 policemen to the different shrines of the Ogwugwu deity in Umuhu and Ubahu-Ezike villages, Okija, expressed confidence that the laws of the land would be able to take care of those arrested. He also described the practice of ritual killings and cultism in the name of traditional religion as “barbaric”.
He said sections 207 and 208 of the criminal code are against the possession of dead bodies and section 34 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is against being members of secret cults.
He added that outside those provisions, many other enabling laws governing the country attack the practice of cultism and ritual killings directly in different ways.
While decrying ritual killings and occultic religious practices at this stage of the country’s development as unencouraging, Balogun ruled out the possibility of exonerating the two elderly chief priests of Ogwugwu Isiula and Ogwugwu shrines where over 20 skulls and 50 corpses at different stages of decomposition were found during the police raid.
“The law is no respecter of age,” he said.
The IGP had on arrival at Umuhu and Ubahu-Ezike villages in Okija gone to the shrines to see things for himself. At the Ogwugwu Isiula shrine where he first visited, putrefying decomposing corpses and skeletons in decaying coffins littered the two sides of the path way leading to the stronghold of the shrine. Trees in the entire forests were wrapped in white and red cloths depicting scenes of idol worship and veneration.
Inside the forest enclave, were make-shift homes also decorated in white and red cloths as well as mats with skulls and skeletons of decayed corpses. Personal effects of dead victims including disused radio and cooking pots were deposited there.
The same scenery was replicated at the “Ogwugwu-Akpu” and Ogwugwu Idigo” shrines where the IGP also visited.
But Balogun who spoke to journalists shortly after the tour of the shrines assured that the police will leave no stone unturned in getting to the root of practices at the shrines.
He said the command headquarters was already in possession of the registers kept by the priests of the shrines containing the names of their patrons and the dead. He added that the police would look into the registers in the course of investigations to determine the involvement of the people mentioned, promising to make the outcome public.
“I assure Nigerians that no stone would be left unturned in getting to the root of the practices in these shrines. We have a lot of registers containing the names of the patrons. We will look into them to determine their level of involvement.
“We will involve our forensic experts to see if there are peculiarities in the pattern of killings. The information leading to police raid to these unholy places is not unconnected with the wickedness of the act and involvement of human lives. We will not hesitate to make the contents of the registers and findings from our investigations public after the process”, he said.
Assuring that those found culpable at the end of investigations would definitely be prosecuted, Balogun said he did not initially believe the contents of the register and the shock finds in the shrines, but that his visit had dispelled all that.
“The old chief priests won’t be exempted from prosecution if found culpable. The law is no respecter of age. We shall determine their involvement. People are atimes used as innocent agents. That would also be determined to fish them out”, he said. He added that those other priests of Ogwugwu now on the run would eventually be caught by the long arms of the law as the police are on their trail.
The IGP would not like a situation in which what he called wicked occultic practices would be misrepresented as people’s culture and tradition. He said any system supportive of destruction of lives is barbaric.
“Take tradition out of it. Those in hiding shall be fished out and the law of the land will take care of them. Any system that kills human beings, any deity that authorizes the killing of human beings will certainly be described as barbaric. To me, this is barbaric and should be routed out. The law of Nigeria is above the custom. Any culture that encourages the destruction of lives is barbaric” he said.
He commended the police informant, Mr. Chukwumezie Obed Igwe whose complaint led to the raid of the shrines and said he is a patriotic Nigerian who needed to be protected and encouraged. The IG noted that something concrete had to be done to remove the horrifying sights of the shrines from the psyche of the people of the area.
But the chief priest of Ogwugwu-Akpu, in Ubahu-Ezike village, Okija, Okonkwo Chukwuneta, an elderly man who could not say his age told journalists that the Ogwugwu-Akpu is a “goddess” and the wife to the Ulasi deity in Okija.
He said he had made three statements to the police since the August 4 raid, and that he was arrested and bundled into the bus on the first day of the raid and taken to the house of the chief priest of Ogwugwu Isiula in the negbouring Umuhu village. Although, he could not say how the worship of the deity started since he was born into it, he nonetheless said it has existed for ages. His duty as the deity’s chief priest, he said, was to listen to complaints from people who come to report how they were oppressed and dispossessed of their land and other property by the rich.
The process of the oath taking, he said, begins with the complaint which is followed with a summon to the “oppressor”. Upon his receipt of the invitation, he is expected to come and tell his own side of the story for the priests to hear in his house which serves as “his court”. When both parties consistently insist on their version as the truth of the matter without any conceeding, the oath is administered as the last resort after they had been reminded of the deity’s killing powers.
He confirmed that a popular business man, from Ihiala known as Chief Victor Okafor, a.k.a Ezego was killed by the Ogwugwu-Akpu deity, but said he would not know if his corpse was deposited in the evil forest.
According to him, somebody he did not name had earlier dragged Ezego to his court to swear to an oath over disagreements in business and financial dealings and that when he died he was brought a report about the death.
“That was in December of 2000 or thereabout”, he said. Later Ezego’s mother and the wife whom he said was chauffeur-driven to his court came to say that the businessman sometime swore on Ogwugwu-Akpu and wanted to know if the deity was responsible for his death.
This, he said, prompted his resort to divination, a kind of consultation with his god to know if it was responsible. The god, he said confirmed its responsibility, and that it needed the corpse. But he said that was the last he saw of Ezego’s people. He suggested that if the business man’s corpse was deposited in the forest, his agents, none of whom was around to answer questions, would be in a position to know.
He also said that outside businessmen, politicians going into alliance and people going over-seas for greener pastures come to him to administer oath of allegiance on them. He added that successful ones amongst the patrons come back later to offer sacrifice of cows or goats to the deity as the case may be.
But he would not confirm if Anambra State Governor, Dr. Chris Ngige, was among the people who visited the shrine last year as according to him, his agents who record names in the register would know better.
Aug. 19, 2004
Moses Jolayemi in Lagos and Charles Onyekamuo in Awka with agency report