IHIỌGIDI: Duty to Defend Igala Culture and Traditional Institutions

HRM Attah Idakwo Ameh Oboni II being greeted by his subjects

By Achile Enemaku Umameh

Attah Ame Oboni of the Ocholi ruling house was the 24th Attah Igala of the Jukun dynasty and the 19th Attah Igala since the reign of Ayegba Idoko, unarguably the greatest Attah Igala of the 21st century (Idakwoji, 2015).

He was betrayed by a group of Igala royal cabals who mounted vitriolic propaganda and falsely accused Attah Ame Oboni of pagan practices and ‘human sacrifice’. And by the combined authorities of the Northern Oligarch and colonial administration, he was to be deposed from the throne of his fathers.

To safeguard the throne and guarantee the right of succession for his lineage, on the night of 26th June 1956 he took his own life at the royal guest house in Dekina. 

This was how he died, leaving his death as an example of nobility, enviable martyrdom and a record of virtue as a visionary leader not just for the young but for all Igala sons and daughters and all other nations under Igala leadership. Ugbakolo ọtọtọlọ, oli ki ma bu n, k’i aro ulaka ulaka: Attah Ame Oboni was just 45 years old at the time of death.

The Igala people and tradition have always been in danger as far back as recorded history. Igala land has been in danger from traffic on the Ohimini river, in danger from sea bandits and as target zone of slave raiders, in danger from fellow Igala and the inter-royal family war of ascendency to the throne of Ayegba Idoko.

The Igala territories have been in danger from her neighbours; from the Igala-Bini war of mutual independence of 1515-1516 to the Igala-Jukun war of emancipation in the late 1690s. The Igala people and culture have been in danger from foreign invasion as much as in danger from internal decay and the ever-bickering brothers at war (Eje Ankpa versus Attah Idah/Igala tussles); Igala people held firmly their God-given fertile patch of earth against the British invasion and bombardment in the 1830s and survived the palace coup of influential Igala clique that led to the gruesome assassination of Attah  Ekele Aga in 1834.

The Igala kingdom outmaneuvered and survived the Jihad of Uthman dan Fodio in the 1840s.

The consequence of the Jihad was a massive influx of Bassa Komo refugees to the Dekina/Abejukolo-Ife axis of Igala kingdom which led to the Bassa Komo (Ogwu-Abacha) uprising of 1870s. In the dawn of full colonial takeover in 1911 and to weaken Attah’s powerful control of internal administration of the Igala Kingdom, the colonial administration partitioned Igala Kingdom into two blocks.

Idah district was ceded to the control of Onitsha province in the south and the rest of Igala land was under the control of the Northern province. This led to a sustained Igala resistance and subsequent Mahionu wars of 1916-1917. In 1918, Sir. Richmond H. Palmer, the then governor of the Northern province restored the Igala territory completely back to Attah Ogwuchẹ Akpa and led to the formation of Igala Native Authority.

Generations of Attah Igala have been known to be sagacious, clever administrators, state men of admirable qualities, warriors, people of impeccable integrity, diplomats and great nationalists. Associated with the great Attah were Igala warriors and women of enviable dexterity. Worthy of note are Adukwu Okekwu, Odoma Okolobadi, Queen Adebu of Egume, Ochonia Ape of Itobe and others. One could easily conclude, that it is absolutely impossible to imagine the present day Kogi State without the heroism of Igala warriors and chivalry of generations of Attah of the Igala Kingdom.

This historical background is necessary to enable us to situate the call to the duty of defending the Igala culture, its people and traditional institutions. Reiterating the deeds of the Igala kingdom is to help us reclaim again our place of pride in spite of the uncertainties of the time we are in.

This is also, to effectively provide a foundation for appraising the recent visit of the respected father of the Igala nation HRH Dr Michael Oboni, the Attah Igala on the sponsorship of the governor and to appraise the speech given on that occasion. 

I review Attah ’s presentation (An Address By HRM Attah Igala, Dr Michael Ameh Oboni II, Chairman Kogi State Traditional Council On Their Courtesy And Congratulatory Visit to President Muhammed Buhari GCFR On Wednesday 19th June 2019) on three broad headings: the positives and the opportunities; the contested issues and the right to dissent of every Igala sons and daughters on political issues. 

The Opportunities

For a very long time, the Attah Igala has not had an opportune moment to have the ears of the president, the presidency and invariably the ear of the entire nation. This, in my opinion, brought the Igala nation to a renewed limelight. Although the dubious underlying intent was the desperate plea for a political endorsement of Governor Yahaya Bello. The speech was the voice of the Attah, but the contents were the gimmick of Bello, Onoja and his speechwriters. Why was Achuba not there? I now highlight, the genuine demands that were laudable in the speech:

  1. Request for Project Power Kogi East (PPKE)
  2. Renewed call for the revival of the moribund Ajaokuta Steel company
  3. Omi dam project
  4. Priority for Special funding of social and Agricultural programs
  5. Request for Kogi-Abuja rail interchange
  6. Plea for a ministerial position for a Kogi indigenes (Specifically Ministry of Finance)
  7. Kudos to Bello for lifting the banned festivals
  8. Kudos to Bello for grading and upgrading traditional stools.

The Contested Issues

The state of insecurity in the state has only marginally improved. In the week of the visit, there were killings in Idah and Anyigba. Kidnappers were still having a field day on the fringes and hinterland of Okengwe, Lokoja-Kabba road, Oshokoshoko, Obajana, Okene and Ankpa-Imane axis.

Between January-March 2019, over 145 persons were kidnapped in the North-Central geopolitical zone, of these, 65 cases of the kidnappings occurred in Kogi State (Punch Newspaper, May 1, 2019). Not counting the many unreported and undocumented cases The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to Kogi State. FCO states “There is also a high threat of criminal kidnap in the Niger Delta region and Kogi state.” (https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/nigeria, 25 June, 2019). The Lokoja-Okene-Auchi, Ajaokuta-Itobe, Idah-Ajegwu and Ankpa-Enugu roads remain some of the most dreaded highways in the state.

The speech also highlights “Kogi state in the last elections [that] won overall 93% electoral victory; winning the state for the Presidential, winning 2/3 of the Senatorial districts, 7/9 of the Federal House of Representatives and winning 25/25 at the State Assembly levels.” But this was the most violent, bloodiest and most crudely rigged election since the creation of Kogi State.

More than 10 persons were killed in Kogi State, including the 19-year-old Daniel Usman, a student of Kogi State University, who was reportedly shot dead while voting for the first time at Ajetachi, Anyingba. Daniel Usman too is Attah ’s son. When will the traditional rulers be visiting his family to console them?  Property worth millions of naira were destroyed in several places and many are still recovering from injuries sustained during the election. The drums of war are already sounding as we look towards the November 2019 gubernatorial elections.

Partisan Political Endorsement

The 21 first class chiefs of Kogi State spoke through the Attah thus:

“As custodians of culture and traditions with many subjects under us, appointed by God Almighty as his representatives on earth, if we do not speak without fear or favour, that is tantamount to a miscarriage of responsibilities on our people. As fathers domiciled at home, knowing the past and current realities, we are coming under one roof to demand an Endorsement for His Excellency, Gov. Yahaya Bello to consolidate for re-election.”

This endorsement has led to a flurry of denigrating and unprintable comments directed at the traditional rulers, especially HRH Dr. Michael Ameh Oboni. This should not be so! This was fallacy ad hominem; shouting matches riddled with personal attacks run contrary to rational arguments and the tenets of democratic discourse.

Here is my argument. I am not a party to cultural hypocrisy. When the Attah speaks from the stool of Ayegba (Akpete Ayegba) his declaration on Igala socio-cultural and traditional matters are absolute and no one who knows his onions in the things of tradition will dissent or contradict those positions.

This is similar in a loose sense of comparison with when the Pope speaks ‘ex-cathedra’ on faith and morals, he speaks with the full authority of his office and this is binding on every practicing Catholic.  So, when the Attah speaks from Akpete Ayegba he speaks with the full backing of spiritual and temporal potency of his office. But this relates to the culture, tradition and customary practices of the Igala people. When the Attah speaks partisan politics, he enters an arena of public engagement/space. The German scholar Juergen Habermas avers that in the Public space, everyone is equal. Attah has every legal and constitutional right to a political opinion and to publicly declare it as such.

But traditionally, Attah is never partisan in political issues within the Kingdom but could use subtle means to influence and attract development and advancement for the Igala territory and people. Attah is the father of all and to choose one son over the others publicly subtracts from the fatherhood in every sense.

Gov. Yahaya Bello has been a very oppressive, arrogant and violent leader.  Bello is an opportunist. He was not elected. He is an accidental governor who has squandered a dead man’s legacy. He has plunged the entire state into abject poverty and untold hardship.

In 2018, Kogi State was declared one of the three dirtiest states in Nigeria (Punch, 15 November 2018).  This is public knowledge and the Attah should not be seen to align with a non-performer and the oppressor of his own people. It is always better for traditional leaders to be in all circumstances on the side of the poor and oppressed of his kingdom. If the Attah must err, he should err on the side of the poor and suffering people of the state.

Th Attah is a Priest-King and a god-King, to begin to condescend and wade into partisan politics is very highly irritating, problematic and devalues the currency of the sacredness of the office. In the 1830s it took the British envoys sent by the Queen of England three whole years to have direct access and audience with the then Attah, but in our time every tom, dick and Onoja nearly have access to Attah ’s ear.

There is an urgent need for cultural renaissance. We hear of subtle bullying of the traditional rulers and rumour of financial inducement, whatever be the case, the Ohinoyi of Ebiraland and the Maigeri of Lokoja refused to cave in and the heavens have not collapsed. 

It is pertinent to note that, the moment the Attah takes a partisan position and makes a political statement, every Igala sons and daughters have equal right to respectfully appraise and dissent if need be. The manner of such dissent, I believe, should be respectful, well-mannered, and a constructive engagement without denigrating the person and office of the Attah.

If the Attah in his wisdom has endorsed Bello, he has just only one vote. The choice of candidates is in abundance. Make your choice. The Igala council of elders made similar political arithmetic for all the Igala candidates irrespective of party and no one is cursing them.

A Duty and Warning

Igala politicians and their handlers have always tried to bully the Attah into submission or doing their biddings by one means or the other. I recall in the days of Prince Abubakar Audu, how the Attah and all traditional rulers are summoned each time Prince Audu is returning from a foreign trip to line up around Murtala Muhammed (Jamata) Bridge along the Lokoja-Abuja highway to welcome him back.

In 2019, Gov. Yahaya Bello aided by Igala sons and daughters in his government, especially Onoja his political rottweiler, are dragging the Attah up and down just to score some political points. This historical abuse and disrespect for traditional institutions need to stop.

Politicians of Igala extraction, leave our traditional rulers out of oppressive and partisan politics. You do the Igala nation an unforgettable evil by dragging the reputation of the Attah, the integrity of his office into the mud. 

Take your politics away from the fragile and age-long internal cohesion that has been sustained by the guardians of our culture and traditions. The royal palaces are not your showgrounds for political gains. Stop putting the traditional rulers under needless partisan political pressure.

Governors come and go, but the Attah and his office will always remain. Whatever political machinations deployed to water down the reputation, authority and integrity of the Attah Igala and all other traditional rulers will fail. Look back to history for the lessons.

The Igala kingdom will survive still.

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