Last month, YNaija.com launched its Monthly Citizenship Dispatches, which explores in detail, the lives and realities of Nigerian citizens across the country.
This month, the dispatches come from the Niger Delta, where our reporters have spent weeks digging deep into a part of the country oft reported about and sadly still mis-understood.
These are the stories we will share with you daily over the next two weeks – for the voices, the issues, the realities that fellow citizens living in the Delta have dealt with, and continue to deal with every day.
On 1st January 2016, the people of Ubulu-Uku Kingdom in Aniocha South local government area of Delta state ushered in the new year with the usual fanfare and expectancy that follows of great things to happen in their personal lives and to their community. A few days later, they marked a decade of peaceful rule under their monarch, His Royal Majesty Akaeze Edward Ofulue III, the Obi of Ubulu-Uku.
Things were falling perfectly into place and no one had absolutely any inkling of the great tragedy that was to befall their king soon enough. Except maybe his domestic help.
Angry at being left out of the celebrations or covetous of the many gifts that came the way of his boss or perhaps both, the houseboy unbelievably stole the sum of two million naira and ran away with a few other valuables including some of the royal beads.
But who would conveniently steal from his own king and sentence himself to the wrath of tradition by also taking the royal beads? A foreigner who was no son of the soil maybe; the houseboy from the north of Nigeria, conveniently fit this profile.
Four days later while the dust was yet to settle, a call came through to HRH Ofulue III. His royal beads and the money had been found and were ready to be collected. Perhaps excited at the prospect of being reunited with his belongings or overly willing to personally see and punish the offender, the 54-year old and his driver went unaccompanied to the agreed spot, save for a pastor and a fellow member of the Deeper Life Bible Church. None of them gave more than a fleeting thought to the nature of the spot, the dangerous Obior/Igbodo Road which has long been a haven for kidnappers and robbers. As the story goes, two Catholic priests had even been kidnapped on that road just a few months before.
As they waited at a turn on the road, unknown gunmen came out of the bushes and began shooting sporadically. The three occupants of the car, realizing that they were outnumbered and at least 40 kilometres away from the palace, came out peacefully and followed their assailants into the bush.
No one knows what happens to the driver but the pastor and his king managed to escape from their abductors a day after. Being younger than the latter, the other escapee managed to run faster and went on into Ubulu-Uku to get help. When the search party got to the point in the forest where the Obi had sat down to rest, he was nowhere to be found. The abductors, suspected to be nomadic herdsmen also from Northern Nigeria, had apparently caught up with him.
“They asked the king for phone numbers of his family members”, says an indigene of the community who asked not to be named. “And they started calling everyone asking for N100 million. A whole 100 million!”
While the brothers of the traditional ruler reached a compromise with the kidnappers for N30 million, the venue of the dropoff kept changing. “First, they told them to bring the money to Auchi, then Benin and then back to Kwale. At this point, the family who had been warned not to involve the police, had to tell the police.”
Sensing that the police might now somehow be on to them, the perpetrators killed the monarch and dumped his body at the foot of a tree in the bush at Umunede, a border town with Edo state. It was here that the local vigiliante from Ubulu-Uku found his corpse.
Till date, the police have not been able to find his killers.
Ifeanyi Okowa, governor of Delta State called for a thorough investigation, calling the killing ‘an abominable act’. “It is sad that a reigning king was abducted but an unheard-of fact was his murder in the most dehumanizing circumstances by his abductors in the forest”, read his statement.
Back in Ubulu-Uku, Chukwuka Noah, the 17-year old son of the deceased monarch reigns in his stead while a controversy rages on about the decision of the kingmakers to appoint the teenager to the throne.
Only few people remember that the royal beads and the NGN2,000,000 remain missing.