Literature: Okija Shrine

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Literature: Okija Shrine

Okija is said to have four shrines spread across various parts of the community, one in the centre of the community, while the others are in the forest. They include Ulasi, Ogwugwu-Akpu, Ogwugwu-Isiula and Ogwugwu-mmili. Generally the four shrines are described as Alusi-Okija. The shrines are said to be kind hearted and merciful but great warriors when it comes to defending their people. They are also said to be noted for prosperity, productivity and fruitfulness to those who obey and do their biddings.
The sleepy community came into limelight in August, 2004, when the media, both print and electronic became awash with gory stories of goings-on inside Ogwugwu-Akpu, one of the shrines in the area. The shrine was invaded by a team of policemen led by former Anambra State commissioner of Police Felix Ogbuagu who arrested over 40 native doctors, keepers and attendants. Over 70 dead human bodies and skulls were discovered in the premises of the shrine.
The Okija Shrine is said to be a place where people with disputes in their personal transactions have gone for adjudication by the gods. The guilty party usually died within a year and the priests at the shrine would demand the dead body and all material possessions of the victims which included millions of naira. It was not clear at what point the operators of the shrine began to demand for the corpses of those allegedly killed by Ogwugwu, but it became a common knowledge that once somebody suspected to have been killed by Ogwugwu was buried in his compound, the priests of the deity would go to demand for the corpse the same day it was buried and the body would be exhumed and taken to the Ogwugwu forest and kept forever.
  The frightening sight is usually shown to those, who appear before the deity after they were summoned and this further instills more fear on such people, with the result that they would do the bidding of the priests to stay alive.
Notable amongst the clients of this shrine were the late Chief Victor Okafor a.k.a Ezego who reportedly had a dispute with one Nzeribe, a member of the House of Representatives. Ezego died in a ghastly motor accident believed to have been caused by the gods. His body was amongst those discovered by the Police. According to the Police, it had a very conspicuous name tag. Apart from the dead body, the family of the deceased was ordered to turn over millions of naira owned by the deceased or the gods would visit their anger on the living which the family of the deceased complied with.
The Police had a different version. According to the Police, only the richest of the party in dispute is always guilty. The agents of the shrine trailed the individual and placed poison or charms on their cars while some were forced to drink some concoction after which the person died. The leader of the chief priests happens to be a certain Ndukwu who reportedly owns property in Lagos valued at millions of naira.
Politicians began to patronize the shrine during which the so-called political godfathers dragged political office seekers to the shrine to swear oath of allegiance to them if elected into aspired offices. Indeed, it was the visit of the former Anambra governor, Dr. Chris Ngige to Okija Shrine to swear an oath that brought the shrine into popularity. Caged by his political godfathers, Dr. Ngige was reportedly dragged to Okija shrine to swear an oath of allegiance to his political godfathers to keep his side of agreement to them on winning the 2003 Anambra State gubernatorial election.
The Okija incident was one of the issues that Ngige battled as a governor, eventually leading to his ouster. Besides, Dr. Ngige, other politicians also visited the shrine where they swore oaths of allegiance.
According to the native of Ubahuezike, one of the 30 villages in Okija, where the shrine is located, it is common to see coaster buses filled with politicians driving into the area at the dead of night to swear oaths. There was a story that those who were taken to the shrine for oath-taking ceremony were not told their mission until they saw themselves at the shrine, at which time it was virtually impossible for them to back out.
With the soaring popularity of Ogwugwu-Akpu, the young men, who became full time priests suddenly had their lifestyles changed as they began to acquire expensive cars and started building mansions in the area. Then , the bubble burst as infighting began among them, leading to people exposing one another on the level of their involvement in what was the beginning to dawn on outsiders that it was indeed ‘business’ and nothing more.
In August, 2004, a petition was written to the then Inspector General of Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun over the happenings at Okija and the IGP ordered the then state police commissioner, Mr. Felix Ogbuagu, to investigate. The disagreement among the operators later led to the arrest of the two chief priests and 30 other persons suspected to be agents of Ogwugwu shrine by the police. One of the chief priests said that it was the media that blew the happenings of at the shrine out of proportion. He said:”The deity is not associated with killing people, rituals or any form of death. Instead, the shrines main objective is to settle differences amicably and should such move fail to resolve the crisis, the ultimate punishment is meted.”
He continued: “The shrine seeks to create solution to problems, especially for people who have been cheated in one way or another. For instance, if someone owes you and refuses to pay, or your land or property is forcefully taken from you, you can come to the shrine and state your case and the shrine will help in getting a settlement for you peacefully if the other party obeys our summons.”
According to him, even white men visit the shrine to summon their Nigerian business partners who they claim, cheated them in business.
The police also found 10 registers containing names of prominent politicians, businessmen, apprentices, among others, from most parts of Igboland and beyond.
After the police raid of the shrine in 2004, it was as if the popularity of the shrine had waned, although recent happenings indicate that some people still believe in it, especially non-indigenes of Okija.
As at today, Okija shrine has lost the glory it acquired through politicians who patronized it in the past.
Reference: Vanguard, Ourpage9ja.

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