Chief Finecountry Ekpo is the Village Head of Umuoriehi Village where the corpse of 82-year-old Pa Smart Chukwuma Isiuwa was exhumed by yet to be identified persons last weekend. In this interview with NewsCritic, he narrated the disagreement that has trailed the burial of the late Isiuwa and on how a total of five graves was dug to bury the man following the land dispute in the family. Chief Ekpo described what happened as a mystery, adding that the deceased children should be held responsible for snubbing the advice of the elders concerning the burial of their father. Excerpts:
Q. On Saturday 23rd May 2020 an incident occurred in your domain Umuoriehi village in Umuahia North, the corpse of 82-year-old Smart Chukwuma Isiuwa was exhumed by yet to be identified people?
A. I will not say that I’m not aware of the incident as the Village Head of the community. I am quite aware of the development.
Q. So what can you say is responsible for that type of strange incident happening in your community?
A. I can’t say precisely what that really caused that action but I know that there has been a family tussle over land and the matter is before a court of competent jurisdiction I believe.
Q. Are you saying the family dispute over land must have been responsible for the exhumation of the corpse?
A. I will say yes and no, in the sense that the man in question died over a year ago and at the initial time they wanted to bury him there were lots of fracas that even three graves were dug and later covered. Also, the corpse was carried from our civic centre where the funeral ceremony was being conducted, while we thought it was going to be buried, nobody knew where the children took it to for over a year.
And when it was getting out of hand I know there were several town hall meetings because some other deaths continued to happened in the family within that period, so that we put a lot of pressure on the children of the late Chukwuma (exhumed), and we begged them that it is not in their interest not to bury their father after a long period. This is considering the fact that other younger members of the family were dying after him, so we had reason to beg the children to bury their dead father. In fact, the last time at the civic centre I knelt down to appeal to the children to help us bury the dead and they refused.
I think it is that son called Ebere, even though he is not the most senior son, he is the one that has continued to make impossible demands on the community that we should sign a document for them proving that the whole compound, where about three or four brothers were living together belongs to them (Smart Isiuwa). Nobody could have done that because the original owners of the place had all died leaving their children behind. Ebere is the son of the late Chukwuma and Chukwuma is the elder brother of Mboronye, who is also late and has his own children and they were all living in the same compound. But they have another younger brother called Ezekwem, who had also died before another of their brother called Chijioke also died lately. They lived together in their different apartments with Chukwuma and his family living behind the main building at the boys’ quarters.
And these children were talking of signing documents ceding the compound to them! I personally told them at the civic centre that we can’t do that since their land dispute is still in court and that what we are asking for is burial for the dead, so that it does not have to continue to accumulate.
Surprisingly the boys flagrantly refused to listen to us and because of that the village decided to keep them at arm’s length pending, since they are disobedient they should stay away from the community until when they would be ready for the burial, then they should come and liaise with the leadership of the village. We even promised to assist him in any way possible and to forget all about the other graves that were dug in the past in order to join hands with him to bury the dead in any place of their choice irrespective of anything.
However, some two weeks ago or thereabout I was surprised one early Thursday morning, 14th May 2020, I was called on phone that Chukwu’s children have sneaked in their father and buried him and I didn’t know what to do. So in the evening, I had to invite all the elders of the community in my compound together with the development union executives and everybody expressed surprise with that kind of burial. That irrespective of the fact that we are observing the COVID-19 guidelines, it was not enough to sneak in the man without informing me as the Village Head if they recognised my office. So. I had to visit the traditional ruler of Isingwu autonomous community, HRM Eze Ukaegbu to find out if they sought his permission and he said he didn’t know anything about the burial. So I told the community that the traditional ruler is not also aware of the burial despite the fact that the COVID-19 guidelines for burial made it compulsory to obtain permission from the traditional ruler.
And I faulted them for not going through the normal process and wondered why they have to steal in the corpse. Our investigations later revealed that they buried the man in a shallow grave which is less than 4 feet. They hurriedly buried the man in that same compound that is in dispute. So we left it at that, little wonder then that a week after the secret burial, one early Saturday morning, 23rd May, 2020 I heard that the corpse had been exhumed, ah that was a very big surprise package by who? Nobody was ready to give an answer. Even when the son Ebere came here and I was asking him whether they were in sleep of death they didn’t know when people entered the compound and dug up corpse of their father without them knowing about it. Then I asked him what they were up to now.
He even asked me whether I got the information on the exhumation of the corpse and I told him yes, that even the radio has used it on their 12 o’clock news bulletin. So I enquired what their next plan was, though before now he came here to beg me with a bottle of drink to apologise that he was sorry he did not consult well before burying his father. I sent him away with his bottle of drink and asked him to return the coming week Tuesday when the elders will be meeting, but he didn’t show up.
I told him if he had listened to our previous advice and the community is behind him now we can go ahead to find out what happened but he did it alone. So he has to find out what happened all alone, because he went alone to bury his father without the input of anybody in the village in a shabby manner and in a shallow grave, now this thing happened.
Q. What is the condition of the exhumed corpse, is it still there or reburied?
A. In fact, after he came to me to report and I asked him what he was going to do, he told me that his brothers have gone out to know what to do that when they returned they will know exactly what to do. But little did I know that when I was with him here in my house they were reburying the man. Because I told him when they are back he should let me know what next. So they had reburied the man in the same compound
Q. What is the community doing about it?
A. This is something that has never happened before, since my lifetime I have never seen that type of thing exhuming a man who has been buried. With this burial now, this should be the fifth grave that was dug for the man. Three has been dug before and covered, now the fourth grave he was buried the corpse has been exhumed and covered, now they buried him again in the fifth grave. So it is a tragedy to the entire village, it is an unheard story for the village. I don’t know, in the meantime the village is at a loss on what to do and it is unfortunate that while we were trying to cushion what happened, the young man has gone far mentioning names. How he came about the names he mentioned I don’t know and he was indicting our President General, Pastor Kensmart Ubani and Chief Orisa Onwumere our chief security officer who were innocent. So we are not happy with it, and our approach is to debunk his fallacious story.