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Tension in A’Ibom community over murder of APC chieftain on New Year day

Tension in A’Ibom community over murder of APC chieftain on New Year day

By Edidiong Udobia 

There is a palpable apprehension in Ikot Udoma, a community in Akwa Ibom State, following the murder of Otu Otuinyang, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state.

Mr Otuinyang was shot dead by gunmen in the early hours of January 1 on his way home after attending the ‘cross over service’ at Qua Iboe Church in the community. 

The incident threw the community into deep fear and apprehension that the villagers could not celebrate on the new year day.

Jones Mkpongoyong, son to the deceased, in a petition to the state Commissioner of Police, accused Sampson Obot, the village head and other members of the community of being responsible for his father’s murder. 

The deceased’s son, through a lawyer, Anthony Edu, alleged that the village head ordered the killing of his father over a parcel of land in the community which has been in dispute for many years. 

“From the promises of Chief Sampson Simon Obot, Basil Asamudo Sunday and their gang members actually murdered Snr Elder Obong Otu Jones Otuinyang without the fear of God and that of man.

“After the murder of late Snr Elder Obong Otu Jones by the instruction of Chief Sampson Simon Obot, the suspect wrote on posters and pasted every where within the community with the inscription (A) “If anything happens to our Village Head of this community, there will be war in the village”. (B) Whoever that is confronting Ikot Udoma Youth President, we will confront him well because if anything happens to him, Ikot Udoma will be declared state of emergency. 

“Prior to the murder of Snr Elder Obong Otu Jones Otuinyang, there has been a serious threat to the life of the deceased and all those who did not support the surreptitious means of emergence of Chief Sampson Simon Obot as the village head of Ikot Udoma and acquisition of certificate who is not from the ruling or royal family,” the petition stated. 

Mkpongoyong, in the petition referred to Mr Obot as “acclaimed village head” apparently because of the longstanding dispute over the village headship between two prominent families in the community. 

He further alleged that Mr Obot had once threatened to kill the deceased while they were at the police station to settle a dispute between the two families. 

“On the report against late Snr. Elder Obong Otu Jones Otuinyang by Chief Sampson Simon Obot, DPO Eket invited Snr Elder Obong Otu Jones Otuinyang, Obong Otu Samuel Otu Asamudo, Rev. Otu Sunday Asamudo, Ettetuk Jones Otuinyang, Umo Friday Sam, Jones Otuinyang, Otuinyang Sunday and Inyang Jones Otuinyang. 

“At the police station, we met with Chief Sampson Simon Obot, Nathaniel Isaiah Ekong, Samuel Akpasam Ekanem and Peter Alex Edohoeket. Chief Obot accused Snr. Elder Obong Otu Jones wrongly for flagging flags as the village head of Ikot Udoma which never happened. 

“After a serious controversy, the DPO advised both parties to write undertaking to maintain peace in the community which both parties; Chief Obot and late Snr. Elder Obong Otu Jones wrote. There at the police station, Chief Sampson Simon Obot boasted that he will kill late Snr. Elder Obong Otu Jones and nothing will happen,” it stated. 

Along with the village head, Mkpongoyong mentioned 27 members of the community in the petition, whom he alleged were inflicting injury, pains and sorrow on other members of the village. 

Our reporter visited Ikot Udoma village, Eket Local Government on January 29.

Following Mkpongoyong’s petition, Obot and 15 other members of the community who were mentioned in the petition, were arrested by the police on January 5. The village head was later released the same day on health grounds but others were detained at the police headquarters, Uyo, and only released on later dates.

Basil Asamudo, whom the deceased family mentioned as the prime suspect in the murder, is on the run.

In an interview with our reporter, Mr Obot said that the allegations against him were false because he had no reason to plan any evil against the deceased. 

He said that since the incident occurred, the community had explored all available options to uncover those behind the death of Mr Otuinyang. 

“On that day, I got to my church by 10 pm and we were there till about 10 minutes to one when were dismissed. On my way back, I had some members of my church with me in my car and had to drop them before getting to my house. 

“When I got to my house, my boy opened my gate and told me to hurry and drive in. He told me that there was a shooting but I told him that it was probably knockouts because it was 31st night. He insisted that it was not knockout because people were running. 

“I entered my house and slept, I didn’t know what happened. It was later in the morning around 6:30 that somebody came to tell me that the shooting earlier was on late Elder OJ Otuinyang. I could not feel myself and I was almost crying,” he said.

Mr Obot had led some members of the village council to the closest police station in Ikot Udota, a nearby community, to make official report but was told that the incident had already been reported and that he (Obot) and other members of the community were mentioned as suspects. 

“We waited there (police station) till 3 p.m. but the IPO did not return. Fortunately, the DPO came and when I tried to report to him, he said the incident had already been reported. It was there that the DPO told me that the people who reported the case, had mentioned so many names including my name,” he said.

Obot, who was still battling with health issues, said the allegation that he once threatened to kill the deceased was false. 

He narrated how he and others named in the petition have been cooperating with the police to ensure a smooth investigation of the case.

He however alleged that some aggrieved persons in the community are using the murder case to wage a personal vendetta against him and the community over the longstanding land dispute and village headship tussle. 

He further alleged that the aggrieved persons have resorted to violence and physical attack against him and his supporters.

Sources in the community confirmed to our reporter that in the night of January 28, masked men invaded Mr Obot’s house but fortunately, he (Obot) was not at home.

Ephraim Monday, the youth president of Ikot Udoma, who was also mentioned in the petition, told our reporter via a phone interview, that he had no hand in Mr Otuinyang’s death. 

Mr Monday and late Otuinyang were both members of the APC. According to Monday, the deceased was instrumental to his (Monday) emergence as the ward chairman of the party in the area.

“I am innocent. I don’t know anything about the man’s death because I never had any problem with him so there was no reason for me to have plan his death.

“That man fought for me to become the present ward chairman of APC in ward two central. He fought for me so there was no reason for me to plan his death,” he said.

He recalled that he spent most part of December 31 with the deceased’s son, Mkpongoyong, as they were preparing for the crossover night. 

Since the incident occurred, Mr Monday had been physically attacked and had even received a threat message. 

“So many things have happened since that incident. They have tried to kill me.

“Either on the 5th or 6th, I drove my car and was about to enter my house, but people came out opposite my house to attack me so I left my car and ran for my life.

“They have sent a threat text message me and I showed it to the police. Yesterday, they went to my house, jumped the fence into my compound and vandalised some parts of the house,” he said.

Our reporter could not reach others mentioned in the petition because many of them went into hiding for their safety. 

Background to the village headship tussle 

Obot was issued a certificate of recognition by the state government in November 2019, but the family of the late former village head Sunday Otu, failed to handover items of authority like elephant tusk, village head seal stamp, royal drum and others to him (Obot).

Findings by our reporter reveal that the major grievance against Obot’s emergence as village head is the allegation that he (Obot) is not from the ruling family.

According several petition letters and court documents dating back to 2017, Ikot Udoma has 10 families but one family, Nung Asamudo Otu claimed to be the sole royal and ruling family in the community. 

In a ‘notice of intention to sue’ addressed to the governor of Akwa Ibom State in November 2017 with a reminder in November 2019, Nung Asamudo Otu family said that the issuance of certificate of recognition to Mr Obot was a subversion of justice and abuse of power.

The family, through its lawyer, Udoh Imeh noted that Mr Obot was not from not from the ruling family and that none of his forebears had been a village head of the community. 

They further alleged that following the burial of the former village head in June 2017, some members of the village connived to destabilize  the agelong tradition by suggesting that the village headship should rotate among the 10 families. 

“Nung Asamudo Otu Family is the sole ruling family in Ikot Udoma Village, Eket. This family has from the founding of the village, produced all the village heads in accordance with the custom, tradition and practice of the village, and by virtue of its being the ruling family, Nung Asamudo Otu family, traditionally has the exclusive right of ascending to the village stool.

“At the demise of the last village head, Chief Otu S. Asamudo was nominated, selected and presented as the person to take-over the stool, but persons in high offices decided to re-write the history, custom and tradition of Ikot Udoma village, by ill-advising Your Excellency to sign a certificate of recognition to Chief Sampson S. Obot (from a non-ruling family) in place of Chief Otu S. Asamudo whose 3 uncles and grandfather have been the 4 village heads. 

“Given the issuance of certificate of recognition to Chief Sampson S. Obot, the people and king makers of Nung Asamudo, are aggrieved,” the notice stated.

In 2020, under the suit no: HEK/5/2020, the family sued the village head, Eket traditional rulers council, attorney general of the state, the state governor, the state commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, and others.

The late Otuinyang, a member of Ibit Eyo family, was listed as a witness in the case. Otuinyang, through several letters in 2017, affirmed that Nung Assamudo Otu was the only ruling family in the community. 

“On behalf of myself and the people of Ibit Eyo, do affirm that, as a matter of fact, the only ruling family of Abikpi group in Ikot Udoma, Eket Offiong Clan in Eket Local Government Area is Nung Asamudo Otu.

“The Nung Assamudo Otu family in Ikot Udoma is the only family that can produce the recognised village head certificates in this village. 

“In my time now, I stand by the truth that Chief Otu Samuel Asamudo is fit to rule Ikot Udoma with his qualification being a son from the ruling family,” he said in a letter to the chairman of the state chieftaincy dispute committee in 2017.

In his reaction, Obot told our reporter that he was duly elected as village head by representatives of six families out of the 10 families in the community. 

He said that although members of Nung Asamudo Otu family had ruled the community for years without rancour from any of the other families, royalty was not an exclusive right of their family. 

“When we were invited to Eket Traditional Rulers Council for selection of the new village head, they said that I am not from a royal family but we were able to prove that were are a royal family,” he said.

He further stated that all his efforts towards reconciliation as advised by the traditional rulers council and the state chieftaincy dispute committee failed because the Asamudo Otu family was not willing to reconcile. 

According to a memorandum on the succession of village heads in Ikot Udoma since 1933 to 2017 sighted by our reporter, the community so far have had three village heads who were all from Asamudo Otu family.

The land dispute 

Late Otuinyang had a prolonged battle with the community over a land, Akai Ifukho, said to be Ikot Udoma’s ancestral land.

In a petition dated March 14, 2016 to the Assistant Inspector General of Police, late Otuinyang had accused 13 members of the community over threat to life and destruction of property.

Otuinyang, through a lawyer, Mfon Etukudo, had claimed that the said land was ceded to him by a traditional arbitration panel in 1992 and reaffirmed through a court judgment in 2015.

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“Our brief is that our client is the owner of a large expanse of land comprising of forest land, swamp land, ponds, streams and farmland known and called “Ifuho” located at Ibit Eyo village, Eket LGA by virtue of court judgment in suit no. HEK/8A/2014 delivered on the 28th July 2015 by Hon. Justice Theresa I. Obot of Hight Court of Justice,  Eket, Akwa Ibom State. 

“Our client briefed us further that this judgment by the High Court merely affirmed the decision of 1992 Abikpi Clan Council Arbitration Panel awarding the land to our client and the 2012 Paramount Ruler’s Dispute Resolution/Advisory  Committee re-awarding the land as well as damages of N200,000 to our client,” the petition read.

He further alleged that despite the court orders, those who were contesting the land with him, threatened to deal with him if he enters the said land or initiated any further court case.

Our reporter could only obtain a copy of the petition but not a copy of the said judgement.

But a source in the community who pleaded anonymity, said that the late former village head, Sunday Otu had obtained a court injunction against the traditional arbitration that ceded the land to Otuinyang. 

“Obong Sunday Asamudo Otu defended this case until his death in 2015. He defended the village property at the Palace of the former Paramount Ruler of Eket and obtained an injunction from the Magistrate Court against the traditional arbitration. 

“1n 2017, after the death of Obong Sunday Asamudo Otu, the late Elder Otuinyang sued the Edohoeket family at the Eket Customary Court for trespassing on the same Ifukho swamp land. The customary court was yet to give a verdict on the case when the late Otuinyang abandoned the customary court case and went to institue another case at the High Court on the same subject matter,” the source said.

In December 2021, late Otuinyang had obtained another court injunction over a portion of the said land which one of the families in the community had laid claim to.

Our reporter however gathered that the court bailiff wrongly pasted the court order on another portion of the land.

“Otuinyang obtained an injunction over the disputed portion of the swamp land but the court order was pasted at a totally different location which was not under any dispute. 

“The location is where the youth of the village had been holding end of the year carnivals so they had to remove the injunction because of their carnival that December,” the source added.

 The incident had sparked another crisis between late Otuinyang and some members of the community before his death on January 1.

The church factor 

Apart from Obot, who is a member of Cherubim and Seraphim Church, majority of those involved in the disputes are either elders or key members of Qua Iboe Church in the community, including the late Otuinyang. 

Our reporter obtained an open letter captioned “A wolf in sheep’s skin” dated April 14, 2016, and jointly signed by eight members of the Qua Iboe Church.

According to the letter, which was addressed to the church superintendent, the members accused late Otuinyang of orchestrating crisis in the church through his actions. 

“Permit us to admit here that over the years, an elder of this church (Elder O. J. Otuinyang) has done one thing or the other tearing the church apart but we endure in silence for the interest of the church. But this time, we cannot keep silence anymore. 

“It was on Monday 4/4/2016, the entire community was quite and peaceful until 2:00 am when the youths of this village including members of the church even his own in-law were awakened by men of the Area Police Command and taken to Oron over an alleged false and malicious petition he wrote to the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Zone 6 Calabar. 

“For Otuinyang to petition the police that Ikot Udoma have been training youths and procuring guns and matchets to attack him and his family and all the members of the village, is malicious and unfounded. 

“Two weeks ago, Otuinyang stood up and pronounced in the open church that he is a village head and everyone should know that he is a village head,” the letter read.

The said Qua Iboe Church was where Otuinyang attended the cross over service before he was killed in the early hours of January 1.

In an interview with our reporter, Divinewill Samuel, the resident pastor of Qua Iboe Church, Ikot Udoma, said that the cross over service had ended and the church was closed before late Otuinyang was killed. 

Mr Samuel, who emphasised that the incident did not occur within the church premises, said that it was when the deceased’s body was brought back to the church that he saw a wound in the head and immediately asked those who brought the body to take him to the hospital. 

He however said that his biggest concern in the case was the continuous harassment that members of his church were subjected to.

Samuel told our reporter that the current crisis had long started before he was posted to the community, and that the church hierarchy had once intervened in the case in order to  ensure a peaceful settlement.

“I don’t know much about his death. All I know is that he had left the church after closing and I had entered my house and slept. That is when I heard distress knock on my door and when I opened the door, my members to told me that the elder fell on the road. Initially, I thought it was an accident. 

“It was when he was brought to me that I saw blood gushing out his head. Some people said he was shot, some said he was hit. So I asked them to rush him to the hospital. The next information I heard was that he was dead,” he said.

Akaniyene Tommey, chairman of Eket Local Government Area, Frank Archibong, State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, and Odiko Macdon, state police spokesperson, did not not respond to calls.

Reacting on behalf of the local government council, Uso Hanson, secretary of Eket Local Government Council, said that the council was waiting for the outcome of police investigation.

“I’m not the chairman’s spokesperson, but the little I know about that issue is that somebody was killed, and the police are on top of that matter.

“They are investigating it. Some people were arrested, we learnt so. They are still investigating and we are waiting for the outcome of their investigation,” he said.

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