There was chaos in the state capital of Anambra, Awka, when police and troops surrounded the palace of Ozo Austin Ndigwe, who claims to be the town’s traditional king. Five people were reportedly injured.
It has come to light that Ndigwe intended to partake in the New Yam Festival festivities this year.
However, security personnel began blocking the roads leading to Umukwa in Awka town as early as 6.30 a.m. on Saturday, thereby preventing any vehicular traffic in or out of the area.
Our reporter was told by an eyewitness that a stampede at the gate to the palace was caused by visitors who refused to leave the New Yam Festival Venue and were then teargassed.
They woke me up this morning and people told me that police wanted to close off the palace,” the village’s elderly resident, who did not give his name, said.
I informed the crowd that traditional rulers from all over the South East and beyond were already inside the palace, and that security personnel had opened fire on the crowd of primarily young people who had gathered outside to see what was going on.
I can’t confirm whether or not anyone was killed in the rush, but I know at least five people were hurt.
He went on to say that he had contacted law enforcement and been informed that the directive had originated at Awka’s government headquarters.
As one of the officers on duty explained to our reporter, he was just following orders from above and couldn’t go into specifics.
The festival’s cancellation was allegedly issued by Governor Charles Soludo, although government authorities denied knowing anything about this.
Mr Tony Collins Nwabunwanne, the commissioner for local government and chieftaincy matters, claimed he was unaware of any such order and that the security personnel were simply doing their jobs to keep the peace.
DSP Tochukwu Ikenga, the police department’s spokesman, said he was unaware of any security personnel being stationed in Ndigwe’s palace but would issue a statement as soon as feasible.
This new turn of events appears to be related to the ongoing dispute over who is the substantive Eze Uzu of Awka Kingdom, which has pitted cabinet leaders against each other since the rise of Ndigwe, who claims to be Eze Uzu the Third.
The Anambra State government has recognised Igwe Gibson Nwosu as Eze Uzu the Second since the military regime.
Nwosu, when approached, denied knowing that security personnel were stationed in Uzu’s palace and claimed that there is no such person as Eze Uzu the Third.
Since last year, Nwosu has petitioned the state police command over Ndigwe’s claim, but the then-Police Commissioner explained that settling disputes between traditional chieftaincy groups was not part of his responsibilities.
When asked for comment, Ndigwe, the factional traditional ruler, stated he was in a meeting and unable to speak at this time.