Court Frees 38 Okija Shrine Priests

Awka, Nigeria - Thirty-eight priests of the different shrines of the dreaded Ogwugwu Okija deity held over a year ago for their alleged unwholesome practices were yesterday discharged and acquainted by the Ihiala Magistrate's Court in Anambra State for lack of diligent prosecution.

The court presided over by Chief Magistrate, Lady Justina Anaukwu-Ohanehi discharged them for lack of sufficient evidence to prosecute them of the murder charge preferred against them, saying that the Court took the position following a letter written to it by the state Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Mrs Ada Unobuagha.

After the accused were docked yesterday, the presiding Magistrate read the DPP's letter dated August 3, 2005, with reference No: DPP/AN/5/VO/VI/79 and announced that they had been discharged and acquitted.

The DPP's letter had read in part; "pursuant to Section 252 of the Criminal procedure laws Cap.37 revised laws of Anambra state, 1991, I am directed to inform you that the records of the proofs of evidence in respect of the above mentioned case does not in the opinion of the Honorable Attorney- General disclose sufficient evidence to sustain the charge of murder against all the accused persons mentioned on charge No: MIH/10C/2005

The chief Magistrate, said the letter left her with no other option than to discharge and acquit the 38 shrines priests.

The decision of the Magistrate sparked-off shouts of joy and exchange of banters among the Ogwugwu deity's adherents who filled the available gallery in the courtroom.

The court's decision, however, came after two of the initial 40 priests arrested had died. The dead duo were the octogenarian Chief Priest of Ogwugwu Isi Ula, Chief Edinmuo Ndukwu, and one Samuel Ebodinma. Both of them died upon their release from detention late last year.

Emmanuel Egbunonu Esq. Counsel to the accused persons said the court's decision was a "triumph of truth", adding that "it was a day of the rule of law, a day of justice over injustice".

He said the charges were spurious because as the DPP's office later realized, there was nothing to sustain prove of a charge of murder hence their dismissal. "We are relived that at least there is rule of law. At least somebody can write an opinion of justice the magnitude of our relief is unquantifiable", he said. He added that he may advise his clients to seek redress from the Federal Government for destroying their shrines.

Expectedly, the decision of the court threw the entire Ubahu Umuhu Village in Okija where most of the shrines are located into jubilation.