By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South & Festus Ahon
UBULU-UKU – DESPICABLE, abominable, horrible, detestable, repugnant, name it. But words are not enough to express the act that has caused agony for the people of Ubulu-Uku Kingdom in Aniocha South Local Government Area of the State.
Their monarch, HRM Akaeze Edward Ofulue III, abducted 19 days ago at about 4.00 pm, on January 5, 2016, by suspected Fulani herdsmen, was discovered stone dead 15 days after the creepy incident.
In Ubulu-Uku and other kingdoms, it is a taboo to kidnap a king, not to talk of killing him. Vigilante group members found his decomposing remains at the stomp of a tree in the bush at Umunede, Ika North East local government area, the boundary between Delta and Edo States.
Ofulue III, a lawyer, businessperson and an ardent Christian of the Deeper Life Bible ministry was driving with a young pastor of the church, who also served as one of his aides in his Land Cruiser Jeep, along the notorious Obior/Igbodo Road when the abductors struck at a disgracefully bad spot. The bad spot, about 40 kilometers from his country home, has been a flash-point in recent times – many persons, including two Catholic Priests were kidnapped at the spot by suspected Fulani herdsmen, who more often than not lay siege there.
How we identified his remains
A vigilante group member, who pleaded anonymity, said they discovered two decomposing corpses in the bush but were able to identify the monarch “because of his beads and apparel,” adding, “The king’s corpse was found resting at the bottom of a palm tree.” The source, who was cornered by our correspondent in the community, said; “We could not identify the second body but the fellow had Hausa shoes on. This is a very challenging period for us in this kingdom. I was one of those who went in search of the king.”
Robbery in the palace
Independent investigation by Sunday Vanguard showed that HRM Ofulue III, who was 10 years on the throne this year just marked the anniversary and was duped of some money running into millions of naira and items, including royal beads by one of his houseboys from the northern part of the country.
A dependable source said, “He kept N2million in the palace but his houseboy allegedly stole the money and ran away with the items.”
He added, “I learned that some days after, unknown persons suspected to be the Fulani herdsmen called the king, claiming that they saw his beads and money and that he should come to collect them. They told him to drive to the notorious road and the king not knowing that it was a set-up, set out to meet with them. His fleeing houseboy linked up with the herdsmen, who talked him into arranging the monarch for ransom.
However, Sunday Vanguard could not confirm whether the pastor that went with him and his driver knew that anybody invited the king or that he was on a mission to meet the kidnappers, who pretended to have found his beads.
However, while a version said only he and the pastor were in the car, another said they were three, including his driver.
“At the bad spot, the herdsmen, who laid ambush, came out shooting sporadically. It was obvious they were old in the game, as they led him into the bush immediately leaving his SUV on the roadside.
From available information, the fleeing houseboy did not show up, but it was through him they got the monarch’s phone number with which they established contact.
Miraculously, both the king and the pastor, managed to break out from the kidnappers’ grip a day after their abduction, but while the pastor was able to make it to Ubulu-Uku, the king could not.
A villager said, the pastor told the story of how he and the monarch broke loose from their abductors, but while he, being younger was able to run with more energy, the monarch, due to his age, could not make it because of exhaustion.
The king reportedly complained that he was tired and needed to rest, but the pastor ran to the community to inform the people. He gave a graphic description of the area in the bush where they took them to, but before any of the search parties could get there, the Fulani herdsmen found the king and took him away.
The escape of the pastor actually raised the villagers’ hope that they could find their king alive and gave them more impetus to comb the forest in search of him, but that was not to be.
The police confirmed the story of the pastor’s escape from the kidnappers den. The pastor, according to our sources, narrated how the herdsmen beat him mercilessly in the bush but spared the king because they know his status.
He disclosed that they took them inside the forest in Mbiri area, closer to Umunede and that their abductors came out when the monarch’s driver slowed down the Jeep at the bad spot.
Contact with palace
Inside the bush, just like the recent kidnap of the former Secretary to the Federal Government, SFG, Chief Olu Falae, by Fulani herdsmen in the Southwest region, they asked the king for the names and phone numbers of his trusted family member that would pay ransom for his release.
The suspected kidnappers established contact with the palace after about three days that they had taken the king hostage and made a demand of N100 million ransom, but later settled for N30 million after much negotiation.
They reportedly requested to speak with one of the monarch’s brothers, Nzekwue Don Ofulue, and warned him never to inform the police about the matter. It was not clear if he hinted the police but the kidnappers subsequently asked the family to bring the ransom to Auchi. On getting to Auchi in Edo State, they instructed him to move to Benin and later to Kwale in Delta State. Frustration
With the escape of the pastor, the abductors became quite perturbed and panicky. They knew that the game had become more dangerous with the police and the community people looking for them, but they were still desperate to collect the ransom. “It was to divert the attention of the police and people hunting for them that they asked the family to bring the ransom to Auchi in Edo State and when they got there, they told them to come to Benin and later Kwale,” a source said. However, they were very suspicious that the family had contacted security agents and that they would be arrested once they come out to collect the ransom.
Murder of a king
Our source was not certain whether the houseboy met with the monarch in the kidnappers den after the escape of the pastor or whether the king tried another escape, but the herdsmen took a decision that it was in their best interest to kill the king. They fled after killing him and ceased further communication with the family. Unknown to family members and elders, who thought the king was still alive and furtively discussing how to pay the kidnappers the ransom, but wondering at the same time why the abductors had cut-off communication, the Fulani herdsmen had abandoned the remains of the monarch in the forest and fled.
Not many believed the saga would end tragically for the king. In fact, the police in the state kept telling journalists that the monarch was not dead and that it was closing-in on the kidnappers.
From the comments of the Delta State Commissioner of Police, Baba Alkali Usman, it was obvious, however, that the police knew about the kidnappers’ contact with the family and demand for ransom.
Speaking at Udu in Udu local government area of the state at a meeting with the Police Community Relations Committee, PCRC days before villagers found the remains of the monarch, he said the police was trying to rescue them alive.
He said the police was aware of the location of the monarch and another kidnap-victim, a neurologist with the Delta State University Teaching Hospital, DELSUTH, Oghara, abducted before the New Year.
The police commissioners said the police was aware of the location where the kidnappers were holding the two victims but would not disclose plans to rescue the monarch in the media.
He said, “The kidnappers have made calls. We have been able to close-in on their location. We have not been able to rescue them because we are doing a lot of planning. The process of rescuing is delicate so you must be very cautious so that you do not harm the victims”.
However, a source close to the palace hinted that security agents arrested a young Hausa man found with the king’s GSM handset, five days ago by the Police.
As at yesterday, Sunday Vanguard could not confirm the identity of the second person whose remains the vigilante members also found alongside the king. A source said the other victim wore a Hausa shoe. It has not been established whether he was an aide of the king or one of the kidnappers eliminated to cover their tracks.
Controversy over his tenure
Obi Ofulue, who ascended the throne of his ancestors at the age of 44 in 2006, spent most of his life in the United Kingdom and married a foreigner. His people loved him but his reign was not without disagreement. He had a running dispute with his elder brother born of a white woman from the United Kingdom and a section of the community over his kingship.
While some said it was a taboo to have someone born of a foreigner as their king, others stood their ground that the first son should be crowned, his maternal affiliation notwithstanding. However, those in support of the late king, the second son of the royal family, overwhelmed the other group, hence his successful installation as king about 10 years ago. As the kingdom is mourning, some persons are linking the killing of the monarch to the storm over his coronation, expressing worry that the kingship dispute may arise again with his demise.
An informed native, who was not pleased with the monarch’s Christianity, blamed him for what happened. He said, “The monarch distanced himself from the tradition of the people and unguardedly gave his life away. If he was consulting with the traditional priests, there was no way he would have left his palace that day without knowing that there was going to be danger.
“The oracles would have warned him, but he refused to associate with them describing it as idol worship, now, look at what has happened,” he said.
On the other hand, a pastor, who is a non-indigene, was shocked that some people were accusing the king of being responsible for his death because he refused to have anything to do with idols.
He said, “The king did the right thing by giving his life to Christ and worshiping God in the prescribed way.
“The monarch told his people when he assumed the throne that he would not participate in anything that is not in conformity with his faith and many of them rejected his reforms when he came, but they later came to understand that he meant well,” he said. To some people in the monarchy, however, what happened was a palace coup by some power brokers in the community.
How he finally assumed leadership
Before his death, Obi Ofulue told a national newspaper of his reaction when his people called him to take up the kingship.
“Well, it was very shocking, I must say. I am married to a foreigner, so the first thing I did was to call my wife, to tell her everything in details, about what was coming up. The following day, because I am a practicing Christian, we went together to see our pastor, but we have a man we call the G.O., the General Overseer who is in charge of our church in the whole of Western Europe, so, we went to see him.
’When we got to the office, I told him everything. I wanted to find out whether my coming home to become a traditional ruler and the issue of playing my traditional roles would conflict with my Christian belief; I told him everything. At the end of the day, he advised me to go and take up my new responsibilities and that my coming back would be to the glory of God. He said that my return will bring light to my people, and that God was going to use me as an instrument.
“So what he did was to write a letter for me, because I am a member of the Deeper Life Bible Ministries, that I should go to our headquarters and give it to our pastor, but unfortunately, when I got to Lagos, the Pastor was in Italy, but I met the second-in-command, so I gave him the letter.
“The second-in-command also wrote a letter for me to give to the man in charge of Asaba District. Therefore, when I came in, I invited my church people again, but the first thing that struck me was the level of development; you know when I came and I saw the state of our basic infrastructure, I was a bit apprehensive. That was when I realized the magnitude of the job ahead.”
He confessed that it was not easy to lead people because human beings were the most difficult to handle.
The monarch explained, “The courage came from a pastor friend of mine. He came and started talking to me so I told him of my fears and challenges, and he told me that God is going to take charge of everything and the affairs of the land. I came back after meeting with him to understand the big picture. I said God I hand over this land to you.”
‘I’m not against tradition’
He said the fact that he did not engage in fetish traditional practices did not mean that he was against the tradition of his people, saying that at a time, he called meeting of his immediate family members to explain his position.
Obi Ofulue recalled in that interview, an instance of a festival called Igbamechi in his community. He said, “It lasts about three or four days. My subjects will come with yam, palm wine, kolanuts and, even money, whatever pleases them to bring, and the chief priest puts a table right there and sits behind it while I sit next to him. “When I was born, my grandfather called his chiefs and people together and had a lavish celebration for three days to herald the birth of another king. When the people come, he would use the white chalk to bless them and pray for them, but they do not call the name of Jesus Christ; they call other names.
“So when I came, I called them and told them that I was not against that tradition, but that we are going to change it. Instead of using the white chalk and praying in the names of deceased people, we will be using the word –the Bible. I will be praying, while he sits around there, that is the chief priest. “I did not take his position. However, when people come, they would call me and I would pray for them using the Bible and anointing oil. So I am not against tradition, instead, let us do away with the ones we find wanting,” he had said.
The governor of the state, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, who became dumbfounded upon hearing the news of the death of the monarch, said, Friday evening, that his death had opened a sacrilegious chapter in the history of the state and vowed that the state, under his watch, would ensure that his abduction and subsequent death would be thoroughly investigated.
His words, “It was sad that a reigning king was abducted but an unheard of fact was his murder in the most dehumanising circumstances by his abductors in the forest. I have directed an inquiry into this abominable act and call on Deltans, particularly the kingdom and the security agencies to work harmoniously to unearth the culprits”.
In a statement by his chief press secretary, Mr. Charles Aniagwu, commiserating with the families of late monarch and people of Ubulu Uku kingdom, the governor said “I have directed an inquiry into this abominable act and call on Deltans; particularly the Kingdom and the security agencies to work harmoniously to unearth the culprits”
Governor Okowa lamented that he received with shock the news of the Obi’s abduction about 19 days ago and enjoined the people of Ubulu-Uku to close ranks in the course of this investigation.
He said that King Edward’s death “will mark a new vista in the battle against kidnapping and other violent crimes in the state and called on parents to warn their wards about the companies they keep as the state was out to make a guinea pig of anybody found to be culpable in related crimes.”
The governor, who underscored the place of security for peaceful and investor friendly environment, observed that it was against this background that his administration set up the committees on peace and security with prominent community leaders as members.
Senator Okowa noted that as part of enlightenment on the dangers of these violent crimes, the government has been sponsoring seminars in higher institutions across the state to sensitize the youths on the dangers and implications of these crimes to their career and the security of the state.
For the people of Ubulu-Uku kingdom, it was strange and an insult that Fulani herdsmen kidnapped their king and the natives, local vigilante members, hunters and herbalists raised different search parties searching for him. As soon the people confirmed the death of the monarch, the town erupted in a protest on Friday with irate villagers marching about the streets in anger.
Police confirm death
Police Public Relations Officer for the Delta State Command, DSP Celestina Kalu, in a statement confirming the death and recovery of the remains of the monarch, Friday, said, “On 5/1/2016, the DPO Igbodo Division received information that the Obi of Ubulu-Uku, HRM Edward Akaeze Ofulue III, was kidnapped alongside a friend. Sequel to the report, detectives were mobilized in search of the Obi and possible arrest of the hoodlums. The Jeep in which both victims were travelling in was found abandoned in the bush around Igbodo area.”
“Following information from passersby that they saw suspected hoodlums entering the bush where the Jeep was recovered, vigilante men and local hunters were mobilized to join hands with the police in ensuring the rescue of the Obi and apprehension of the kidnappers. The other victim later escaped from their abductors, while efforts have been on to rescue the Obi of Ubulu-Uku.
“However, on 20/1/2016 information was received by the DPO Umunede Division that two unidentified male corpses in decomposing state were found in a bush within Umunede at the boundary between Delta and Edo states. Consequently, detectives moved to the scene and photographed the corpses while efforts are on to evacuate the corpses to hospital for autopsy,” she said.
Kalu added, “Meanwhile, one of the corpses has been identified as that of the Obi of Ubulu-Uku by his family members. The Command wishes to commiserate with the people of Ubulu-Uku kingdom over the unfortunate incident and hereby urged them to remain calm, while assuring them that efforts are being made to fish out the perpetrators of this heinous act.”
Fury in the land
When Sunday Vanguard visited the community on Friday, there was uneasy calm, as armed soldiers stationed at the Ogwashi-Uku road end of the town to forestall the breakdown of law and order, whereas youths of the area barricaded the Issele-Uku road end with woods and bonfire. The youths in their numbers took advantage of the situation to make brisk business by extorting money from motorists and ‘Okada’ riders before they allowed them access to the community.
One of our correspondents, who drove round the community, reported that the news of the unexpected death of the 52 -year-old monarch crippled economic activities in the town, adding that residents closed their shops.
Some persons approached in the community declined comments, saying they were not in the mood to talk. “As you can see, everybody is mourning, including children. These Fulani herdsmen have dealt with us. We have not been ourselves since we got the news of the death of our revered king,” one of them said.
Later on Friday, angry youths, who prevented some conventional media from gaining access into the community, chased away the police. It was only when soldiers came that they dismantled the roadblocks, which the youths mounted.
There was allegation that some persons were sustained injuries from stray bullets fired by security operatives.
Fish out his killers- Hon Mrakpor
Reacting to the death of the king, the member representing Aniocha/Oshimili Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Mrs Joan Mrakpor described the passage of the monarch as catastrophic. Mrakpor, who is also a cousin to the late king, said amid sobs, “What a waste,” calling for drastic solution to the harassment of the civil population in Delta North by nomadic kidnappers.
“What have we done to deserve this? They keep on brutalizing our people,” she asked. She appealed to the police and other security agents to go after those behind the dastardly act with a view to bringing them to book.