Chapter 1: The Land Issue
Growing up in the eastern part of Nigeria is totally different from other parts of the country. In the 60’s, men are classified as either rich or poor not based on money or wealth, but based on the number of children, wives, and lands. A tradition so interesting then that made many men to see themselves as lords and gods over the counterparts as long as they have all these with them.
The Igbos are well known then for the great value and attachment they placed on properties especially number of children, wives, and lands, which many do inherit from their fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers. Ibekwu was one of the villages located in this particular part of Nigeria. A village housing about two thousands persons, of which majority were farmers.
“Nna anyi welcome. How was the work today in the farm? I hope the bush we cleared last time had not returned back with full force? Those weeds used to grow as if their growth rate depends on the rate at which you remove them,” Obidiya said to her husband as he returned from the farm. “Nnenna, please get some drinking water for your father.” The water was fetched quickly. “Nna anyi, here is the water” she said as she stoop low to give him. “Thank you my daughter.” In less than few minutes, dinner was ready. The mat was spread on the floor and the whole family sat down to do justice to it. This act of eating was very rare in Igbo land because, under normal circumstances, the man is been served food alone and the other members of the family could have theirs in common. However, Eze was totally different. He ate always with his entire family members. After the meal, Obi and Nnenna echoed “Thank you mpa” unanimously and they both stood up to take the empty dishes to the kitchen. “Don’t forget to close the door of the kitchen very well so that those nasty goats wouldn’t gain entrance into it,” Obidiya said to her daughter.
Eze, his wife and two children; Obi and Nnenna were living happily and was in good rapport with almost every person in their village. Eze was a great farmer, he had many plots of land for agricultural purposes far and near his compound. Most of the lands he inherited from his father after his death. And according to tradition, being the first child, more priority was given to him in respect to other of his younger brothers. But as years passed by, he lost two of his brothers and was left with only one, who became a thorn in his flesh. The villagers were so fond of Eze because of his benevolence spirit. A man who respects all and detests injustice to the core. In his village, people saw him as a wealthy and rich man because of the number of lands, wife and children he had. But the story is totally different in the life of Eze. He was very humble and respectful to all and sundry. His material possession had never for once made him to feel superior to others.
On one fateful day, Eke who was a very good friend of Eze came to discuss an issue based on land with him. Though before then, there was a land dispute between Eze and his immediate and only younger brother Ani. This was the land their father left for them before he died. According to their tradition, before their father died, he shared all his properties among his sons excluding the female ones because the tradition had no provision for them when it came to that aspect.
That particular land that was the bone of contention was inherited by Eze as tradition demanded after the death of Ugo, who was his immediate younger brother. Even right from the very day their father shared his properties among his four sons, Tobenna never agreed with their father’s decision. And since then, he vowed to take the land from his brother someday even if it would cost him his life. Many elders in the village pleaded with him but he was adamant. Seeing that people were not happy with his reaction and comment, few day later, he pretended to have accepted what they said so that peace will reign but deep inside him, he had planned all his evil steps and strategies, waiting for any opportunity to present itself so that he will strike.
Ani who knew well that only Eke could persuade his brother to give him the land decided to pass through him in order to win the heart of his brother.
Eze offered some piece of kola nut as tradition demands in welcoming a visitor to one’s home. After both had finished chewing the kola nut, they entered into the business of the day.
Eke cleared his throat and said: “Well my brother and friend, I have come here on behalf of your younger brother Ani to discuss on that very land he had early wanted to ask from you after the death of your brother Ugo, of which I know by right as the first son, the land is entitled to you. But in order to allow peace to reign in your family and unity restored, I humbly pray you to give him that piece of land and let him be with his problem.”
There was a silence for some time. The facial expression from Eze was not all that welcoming. Eke had no choice than to wait patiently for his host to speak and give his final conclusion.
Eventually, the silence was broken and Eze retorted: “I have no problem with my brother, and the piece of land in question can not bring disunity between us.”
“For that I am very sure because I know you as a man of peace. The entire villagers could testify of this.”
The flattering was too much for Eze to swallow, he immediately interrupted his friend and continued talking: “But the only problem my brother has is that he has never for once being humble since I knew him as a brother and he does not know how to ask something from someone. He used to think that everything could be taken or gotten with force in life. Were you not attentive when he uttered that threatening statement that very day our father shared his properties between us few years back? You were a witnessed to that. Tell me, how could such a person be called my brother?”
“I don’t really know the problem of your brother. I only came just to share ideas with you as s friend. Has he forgotten our tradition? By right according to our tradition, the properties of Ugo belongs to you since he died without any male child.”
At the end of their discussion, they both decided to invite Ani in their next meeting in order to settle the problem once and for all.
Immediately Eke left, Obidiya came in. “Nna anyi what was the problem? Hope all is well,” she asked.
“All is not well. Ani had come again with his problem. I don’t know when that young man will stop reasoning from the anus instead from the head. Just imagine, he wants me to give him Ugo’s land, the one behind the Ngene River. My only problem is just his manner of asking, as if it is his right,” he said shaking his legs like one tensed up.
“Nna anyi, you know that your brother more than I do. You know how irksome he is, always looking for problem even when there seems to be none. But what did you friend Eke said? I know he came for that because he is the only person your brother can meet to convince you about the whole thing.”
“You are right. He told him to come and see me, asking me to give him the land,” he said.
“But don’t your brother know the tradition of our land? How can he be asking for such in such a cruel manner? Something must be wrong somewhere,” she retorted.
Eze thought over the issue again for few days together with his wife and at they end, his wife finally convinced him to release the land to his brother. For her instead of such bringing enmity between them, better the land be given to him and let peace continue to reign. “How I wish he is asking for this with a little respect and humility, it would have been a different story all together. But threatening me is what I don’t like and I will not swallow such from him, come what may,” he said to himself as laid on his bed on evening after meal.
Three days before the day of the meeting, something terrible and tragic happened in Eze’s house. It was already midnight, all have retired to sleep after the fatigue of the day’s work in the farm. The family of Eze was peacefully sleeping when heavy sounds were head on the door. “Who is there? Obidiya asked. The hits on the door stopped. She stood still like a statue, afraid whether to go forward or backward. The fear in her was great. Her husband was deep asleep and never knew what was going on. She moved quietly to him and woke him up. “Nna anyi Eze, someone is knocking at our day.” “At this time of the night? Who could this be? He asked. Before he could recover from his thoughts, the three young men had force their way into the house. The instruction the three young men were given was to kill Eze and Obi his son, leaving his wife and daughter who would live to tell the story throughout their entire life and that they should be no trace and no shedding of blood. Eze strangled to death but they were unable to find Obi. Obi had escaped through the back window with Nnenna his sister. “Where is your son? One of the men asked Eze’s wife. “Oh you think you are smart? You want to play smart? Two of the men moved round the house searching for Obi and his sister while she was tied and her mouth sealed with a tape, but they were nowhere to be found. “What do we do now? Our mission is not yet completed,” One of them asked the other two. “We have no time to waste. Let’s go, Mazi will be waiting for us” “Go where?” another asked. “We have not completed our mission.” “Should we kill ourselves? We can’t go out in this middle of the night wandering the forest looking for the boy,” another retorted. The men had no other option than to leave even though their job was not perfectly carried out as planned.
Obidiya was confused. The sight of her husband body lying in front of her made her blood to run cold. She didn’t know whether to shout, scream, or cry. She placed her hands on her husband’s heart to feel his heart beats. Lo and behold, Eze was already in the land of the dead. That was when she was fully convinced that her husband was no more. Her scream attracted neighbours, who came to see what happened. The scene of the act helped Obidiya to explain to them what really happened. “Where are your children?” One of the sympathisers asked. She opened her mouth to speak but no voice was heard. She could only remember last when saw Obi and Nnenna going towards the window. “Ewoo! Who must have done this? Thus world is wicked. Look at how an innocent ended up with his life,” a voice asked.
Some young men searched for Obi and his sister around the vicinity of their house, but they were no way to be found. It was suggested that, the search would yield fruit if done during the day or in the early hours of the morning. Before people could start preparing for their farm work in the morning, the news had already spread far and wide.
There was a problem. The mentioning of the word “Mazi” rang a bell in the mind of Obidiya. After the departure of the men, she gave her mind the task of figuring out who the chief schemer could be. Unable to figure out who it was, she began to cry bitterly.
Obi and Nnenna were found in a forest close to one of the major streams. They were brought home by a hunter. The joy of seeing her children alleviated Obidiya’s agony and sorrow.
Many suspected Eze’s younger brother Ani. From the discussion Eke had with his friend’s wife, he was totally convinced that Ani was the master planner of the whole act. But who would believe him if he said so. Obidiya only heard the word “Mazi,” from the killers but there were many who borne such names as title holders in the village.
The elders and the chief of the village gathered to deliberate on the mysterious event that happened at Eze’s. After long some debates and consultations from all, there was no consensus reached because some said that Ani was behind the killing of his elder brother, but they had no prove to support their affirmation. At the end of the meeting, a four-man committee was formed to look into the case and get back to the council of elders in two weeks time.
Eke was totally confused about the whole thing and was not convinced that Ani could do such a thing even after telling him that his brother had promised to proffer solution to his demand in their next meeting. And from every indication, it seemed he had finally decided to give the land to him. After a few days of reflection, Eke forced himself to believe that Ani had nothing to do with the killing of his brother but his thought kept telling him that the young man in question was capable of all, remembering what he said on the very day the properties of his father were shared between him and his elder brother, and what Eze’s wife told him.
Two weeks later the chief and the council of elders gathered to hear from the four-man committee on their findings and investigations. To the greatest astonishment of all, from some of the investigations, Eke was accused of having a hand in the killing. Another terrifying witness was given by Ani. He said that, the day before the incident, Eke came to his house to talk with him on how they could take the land by force from his brother in case he refused to his demand. Eke eyes were on stalk as his watched Ani talking. At the hearing of this, the meeting was divided into two parties; one part was in support of Ani’s testimony while the other part was against. “What do you have to say?” A member of the council asked him. Eke was struck dumb. He could not believe his eyes, so shock of the whole thing, stood up and left the meeting arena in anger and went home.
This act for some was a sign that he was guilty and could not withstand the presence of all. Now Eke was fully convinced of his past thought that Ani was responsible for his brother’s death.
The burial of Eze came and gone. Almost the entire village attended it. Obidiya’s house was flooded with sympathisers from far and near for the past three weeks. From the gift items she got from her relatives and friends, she was able to take care of her family while she waits for her fate following her tradition and custom. She knew her fate already that she would be given to Ani. But she preferred to remain and die as a widow than to live under the same roof and share the same bed with Ani. Her family was in support of her decision and if the worst came to the worst, her parents would take her home by force and wait for the consequences.
The only obstacle in Ani’s life now was Eke. He needed to do everything possible to eliminate him from the face of the earth so that he could sit and enjoy his ill-gotten wealth inherited from his late brother. He knew very well that by tradition since his elder brother is dead, all his properties belong to him, including his children and wife. But he couldn’t sit down to enjoy his life while Eke was still alive. He thought over the issue for days and finally decided to wait for an opportunity for him to strike.
A week after the meeting of the council of elders, Eke went to Ani’s house in anger to warn him seriously, knowing full well that he Eke might be the next person Ani could be targeting to eliminate. Ani immediately reported the case to the council of elders, telling them how Eke came to his house one morning to threaten him. Ani being a wicked and crafty man formulated his story in such a way that it looked as if Eke came to his house, threatening his life with a machete, with the intention of killing him the way he killed his brother. Many were convinced to a large extent that Eke was really guilty of what he was accused of because of what Ani said.
Eke, a man who was trusted and respected by everyone, saw how his image has been tarnished by someone whom he was only helping out of his own good will, unable to control his anger and the bitterness in him, decided to go the extreme.
One evening, though it was already dark, while he was resting just in front of his compound close to the entrance to his house with his bottle of liquor, the thought of all the whole event kept recurring in his mind. His wife had warned him not to do anything foolish regarding the situation. But from the look of things, her advice fell on death ears. He remembered vividly the very day Ani came to his house, pleading with him to help him convinced his brother to give him that piece of land he once desired to have. He tried to control it but to no avail. Tears of sorrow and pain started dropping from his eyes, his temper kept rising, he forced himself to control the situation but the more he tried the more his temper rose. His face was distorted with rage. Suddenly he leapt to his feet, rushed inside his small hut, took his farm machete and headed towards Ani’s house. Reaching there, he saw his adversary taking liquor with two of his friends who were members of the four-man committee in an open space. Immediately they saw him, the three suddenly stood up from their seats and stepped backward. Before they could voiced out a word, Eke had already raised up his hand with the machete on the head of his adversary Ani, but he was fast enough to move swiftly from the direction of the machete and ran inside his house. The other two immediately grasped Eke from behind and started pleading with him to drop the machete so that they could settle whatever the problem was amicably. Coming out from the grip, Eke rushed to the door of his adversary but before he could take hold of the door, it was already bolted from behind. He gave a deep breath, sighed and left.
His wife was surprised to see him with a machete as she saw him while entering the house.
“Dim (my husband)! Where are you coming from?”
“Clear from my way before I bounce on you woman.” She quietly moved aside and went into the room. She waited for her husband to join her in the room at least that would be a better place to ask him what the matter was. But she never knew when she slept off while in the spirit of waiting.
Ani delineated the case to the chief and immediately an emergency meeting was convoked by the council of elders. On the day of the meeting, Eke was not present. After all deliberations and hearings from witnesses, three men were sent to Eke’s house to ask him to present himself in the meeting. Finally he came. He accepted all what the witnesses said to be true. Eke and his family were banished from the village as stipulated by their law for such crime. He and his entire family were welcomed in the home of his late grandmother.
Ani was contented how all his plans worked out well for his good. He was given the whole land property of his brother to look after for the main time while waiting for Obi to come of age before such inheritance will be transferred to him. However, his late brother’s wife refused categorically going with him as his wife.
The penalty given to Obidiya was that she would take nothing from her husband’s house and leave with immediate effect to her father’s house while waiting the final decision on the fate of her children whether they would hers or that of her in-laws.