This is not the best time for the people of Iguoma in Uhunmwonde Local Government Area of Edo State following mystery deaths which have led hundreds of natives to flee their ancestral homes. Meanwhile there is a controversy on what actually is the cause of the deaths. For instance, the two warring groups in the community don’t agree on this. The tragedy, which befell the community, became public after some leaders of Iguoma, led by Pastor Joseph Ighodaro, who also is the Secretary of the community, stormed the palace of the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, last Monday, begging the Oba to revoke an alleged curse placed on the community by his father, Oba Erediauwa. They claimed that a native doctor revealed to them that their problems were caused by Oba Erediauwa’s curse and not the cutting down of sacred trees. But the other faction in the community, led by the Chief Priest of Okhuaihe N’ Uleku shrine, Mr Uyimwen Odeh, dismissed the curse claim, saying the problems in the community came because some sacred trees were cut down after 14 days prayer session by Ighodaro and another pastor that came from Delta State.
Pa Jolly Agbontean, who spoke on behalf of the Odeh group, said all the shrines in the community were sacred as they belonged to the Benin monarch but that the Ighodaro group destroyed the shrines, adding that, as a result, the shrines were now killing the persons behind the destruction and not the entire community.
‘Tree planted by Oba Ewuare I cut down’
His words, “The Iroko tree was over 500 years old. The Iroko and the shrines were planted by Oba Ewuare 1. We served it on behalf of the Oba. The pastor said it was the Iroko that was causing the community members not to progress in life. They said all the witches and wizards were resident in the Iroko tree. Policemen were around to protect them while they destroyed all the shrines including the Oguedion (elders place). They were many that came after a crusade. We only watched after which we reported to the Oba. When the Oba invited them to produce the pastor, they said they could no longer find him. The Oba told them what to do for them to be saved but they refused to perform the sacrifice. Three of them have died since that time. We were not cursed by any Oba. This shrine was a tourist place. We worshiped it every three days and people visited the place from across the country.” Another native, Pa Sunny Igbinovia, said he was forced to delete the pictures he took on the day the shrines were destroyed and the Iroko tree fell, regretting that “they destroyed our ancestral shrine where we worshiped and think they will have peace”.
Odeh, the Chief Priest of the Okhuaihe N’ Uleku shrine, said the affliction would not affect the entire community but those that cut the sacred tree. “The Oba told them they will suffer if they did not appease the gods. The shrine is owned by the Oba. Only the Oba knows what to do to them. The Oba did not curse us. Those who cut the tree are the ones crying. They are the ones wearing the shoe and know where it pinches them. Immediately that thing happened, we reported to the palace and the palace told them that they committed abomination. We are waiting for them, any day they are ready for the sacrifice we are ready. They need to appease the gods for their own safety if not they will continue to die”.
Ighodaro, accused of being the brain behind the travails in the community, explained why the sacred trees were cut down and the shrines destroyed. According to him, one Pastor Ugeh, from Delta State, said he received a revelation from God that three prominent men in the community had been tied to a tree, and that the ancient Iroko tree, known as Uloko Ewuare, was where witches and wizards held meetings. He said the cutting down of the sacred trees pointed out by Ugeh was done in December 2016 “but we started witnessing mystery deaths since 2014 when the Oba’s curse was placed”. He said the curse was placed because some former leaders of the community refused to relinquish power when they were asked to do so by the Oba.
His words, “All you hear from them is a lie. Oba Erediauwa actually placed a curse on this community. He came here to place a curse as a result of the disobedience to his ruling on the leadership of this community. Oba Erediauwa gave a ruling three times on how a leadership tussle will be settled and everybody will live in peace but one faction refused. That is why he placed a curse. In 2014, Oba Erediauwa sent his Ewaise to the community. The Ewaise came and placed the curse at the Aruotor shrine that those disobeying the Oba’s directive will suffer. The people who disobeyed the Oba were absent at the event. We have lost nine persons in this community. We are ready to appease the trees if we are told what to do but the Oba’s curse must be revoked”.
On what led to the destruction of the sacred Iroko tree, he narrated: “There was a pastor that came from Delta State, Prophet Uge. He came in December 2016. The day the pastor came, he visited my house and I asked him if I could help him. He said he wanted to see the Odionwere of this community. According to him, God directed him to this community to free three prominent men that evil people had tied to a tree to kill. He said that in this community there was a lot of trouble and deaths, so God told him to come and hold 14 days’ crusade. He said the Holy Spirit directed him to do it at the centre of the community.
“We held a meeting and arranged a date for the crusade. The day the man came, I took him round to meet different people and our people were happy except those in opposition to what was happening. On the first day of the crusade, at about 1am, the man said we should follow him, everybody followed him. He pointed at one Iroko tree, he went to different shrines. In fact he said one of the trees was a 25-storey building in their coven, he said that tree had to go. He said that the mighty Iroko was the secretariat that all the blood of the people they were killing was being stored and that if others were felled and this tree was left, the problems would remain.
The next day we brought a chain saw and felled about 13 trees. In fact blood came out from the big Iroko tree. I can tell you that people have been dying. About nine persons, including a woman who cooked pounded yam and ate in the morning, died in the evening. People are so scared and running away from this community. So this curse must be revoked before we all die”.
‘I won’t be village head until curse is revoked’
However, 70 year-old Pa Roland Ugiagbe Okhuorabo, who is supposed to be installed as the community’s Odionwere (village head), said he would not accept the position unless the curse is revoked. “In fact I may have to leave the community to avoid more deaths. I am so scared because Oba’s curse does not spare people”. The fear, as Sunday Vanguard observed in this community, is the failure of the two groups to agree on the actual cause of the calamities befalling them so as to find lasting solution.
While the group led by the Chief Priest claimed that only people from Ighodaro’s group were dying, Ighodaro claimed that nine persons had died and most of them from the other faction.
The disagreement has forced hundreds of Iguoma natives to flee to Benin-City and other neighbouring communities as they continue to count the deaths.