A 10-year old boy, Somtochukwu Ibeanusi, is reported as the major victim of executive highhandedness in a matter that ought to have been purely non-combative and peaceful.
As the Governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, rolled out the tanks against harmless traders trying to eke out a living in Ekeukwu market, Owerri, in defiance of a subsisting court order, this little boy who had earlier been invited by his father, a trader in the market, to assist in evacuating his goods, fell to the bullet allegedly fired by a soldier deployed by the governor.
The bullet was said to have pierced through his eye and burst out through the back of his head killing him instantly. The little boy had, before he was shot, surrendered himself to the authority of the soldiers who had ordered him to raise his hands. That was not enough to restrain the soldier who went ahead to pull the trigger and killed him in cold blood.
Historically, we surmise that Ekeukwu Owerri is to Owerre Nchi Ise (Owerri of five clans) what Idumota market is to down town Isale Eko in Lagos, Ochanja market to the Onitsha people or Ariaria market in Aba to the Ngwa clan. It is not just a market. It has links to the primogenitor of the people-Ekwema Arugo. It is the ancestral meeting place of the people that developed into a commercial centre.
Some of the prominent Owerri indigenes- the Osujis and the Njemanzes all have their ancestral homes within the precincts of the market. Inside what is now a market are the tombs of their dead. That explains the attachment of the people to Ekeukwu which shares territory with two of the oldest churches in Owerri- Christ (Anglican) Church and St Paul’s Catholic Church.
In our opinion, what was demolished by the government agents were not just market stalls. Those can be relocated and easily rebuilt. In there are also people’s ancestral homes (Okpu Ulo). You don’t just uproot people from such places because a lot is involved. With the demolition of Ekeukwu market, a significant and irreplaceable part of the history and tradition of the people have been wiped out irretrievably.
The government is asking them to relocate to Egbeada, a community in another Local Government Area with all the challenges of land disputes in Igboland. These are people whose great grandfathers lived, died and were buried there and the government wants them to move and live as tenants elsewhere. Owerri people are proud people with centuries-old dignity and self-respect to cherish and protect. Ekeukwu is the centre of their universe with transcendental relevance that can only be appreciated by those who know and understand. It is, therefore, not a surprise that the Owerre Nchi Ise chiefs and elders assembled and shed tears at the tomb of Ekwema Arugo to make expiation and atonement for the desecration that took place at Ekeukwu market.
It is our conjecture that the government, in taking that drastic step as part of its effort to renew Owerri, the State capital, may have been appalled by the confusion that has developed around the market and spilled over to Douglas Road, Ekeonunwa and other adjoining streets. Traffic in those areas, at the best of times, is a nightmare as shops have taken over those streets. Still, it does not justify the killing of Somtochukwu, a name when translated means join me in praising God. We are in a democracy.
The rule of law is the name of the game. The matter, which had lingered for a long time, is in court. A stay of action order is in place. With this, the government ought to have made haste slowly and allowed justice to take its full course.
The challenge that the Governor of Imo State faces, in our view, is how to overcome his proclivity towards acts of vainglory and self-adulation. Already, he is placing himself at the same level with the first civilian governor of the state, Chief Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe. A daunting task. He claims to be out-performing that giant of an administrator. But Mbakwe never attributed any achievement to himself.
It is the people of the state who witnessed his tenure who also acknowledge his role in uplifting their lives within a short space of four years and three months. He wants to be recorded as the man who trampled on the philosophical soul of a people and got away with it. But history, which is always on the side of the oppressed, will record it against him especially with the fatality that visited that unconscionable act of disregard for the cultural sensibilities of a people. Somtochukwu, after all, may not have died in vain.
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