By EMMA AMAIZE , THERESA UGBOBU & NATH ONAJOKE
OWA-OYIBU — HIS Royal Majesty, Emmanuel Onyeike Efeizomor II, the Obi of Owa Kingdom in Ika North East Local Government Area, Delta State and Vice Chairman of the Delta State Council of Traditional Rulers has had many near death tragedies in his 77-year sojourn on the planet earth. The former sub-editor at the Edo State government- owned The Observer Newspaper, boxer and footballer wanted to be a freedom fighter after his secondary education and was preparing to travel abroad to pursue his mission when his people commandeered him as it were to take over the throne of his fathers.
In this interview with Niger Delta Voice at his palace, the monarch, who carried the current governor of the state, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, a native of Owa Aliero community when he was a child and watched him grow up who he is today, spoke on the vicissitudes of life, why people refer to Owa as the land of peace and prosperity and many more.
What is a journalist, footballer and boxer doing on the throne of Owa kingdom?
(Long laughter) Well, as it were, I want to thank God for giving me the opportunity to sit here, serving my people, learning from others and being part of people, which eventually is part of the government.
There is a festival that joins the entire Ika-speaking and Bini-speaking people together, how do you people celebrate it?
When we talk about festival, we talk about Igue festival and New Yam festival, these two festivals are very material to the life of Ika people and at the same time, it is important in the life of Edo people. However, I will be more specific about Ika people, the Igue festival, which looks like the celebration of a new year is more constant and has to do with unity concerning Ika people and so with the Binis too.
We use the Igue festival to cleanse the community, bring a sense of belonging and oneness. Many people look at it as being inclined towards rituals, I will say no because whether you use something to illustrate it, like killing goats and other animals, that is not the essence, the essence is belief in companionship and it is a symbol of bringing the people together. It is bringing the spirit of conviviality among the people and again sense of respect between the old and young.
The new yam festival is the one we thank God and our ancestors for seeing us all through the year to celebrate harvest, to celebrate the efforts of planting, sowing and reaping. Briefly, these are the objectives of the two ceremonies, there are still others relating to other circumstances and other events, but these two remain most prominent.
We understand there is a deity, Aja, which every Christian and traditionalist worship in Owa, why is this so?
It is not true; we do not compel people to worship any deity in Owa.
You talked about cleansing the land of evil spirits, was there a prevalence of evil in the land at the time?
No, the position is that wherever you live, people die, people fall sick, some of these natural things are the things that every year we hold the festival to ward off the incoming problems and celebrate our survival.
Historically, Owa is famous as a land of prosperity, how did this come about, is the community still prosperous?
So, it is, it has to do with the establishment of the kingdom, we have it from our history that when there was a problem in Benin kingdom and the then Oba of Benin approached the Obi of Ute kingdom to send military reinforcement. The founder of Owa returned from the war to find out that his father had passed on, but the question was who should take over as successor from his father. They informed him that his younger brother, Okpu had taken over the throne and naturally, two kings do not reign in one community, but using his military experience, he did not want to levy war or ask his brother to step down.
He instructed the removal of some basic instruments in the shrine; it was in the course of that that he took away the medicine for productivity. He also took the medicine for prosperity and other vital materials. He placed it on the head of one of the runners and propounded the doctrine of where the elephant faces, that is the road. They now moved and by the time they got to a particular spot, that material which the runner carried on his head dropped at a particular spot (pointed a forest from his palace).
They settled there and his immediate younger brother, Ozomo, he was Odogwu, he asked him to move a slight distance as a buffer. He settled there, the point at stake now is that the pot that dropped there is what he took from the real source of the family shrine. What was passed on to us about what transpired was that where that the pot settled down, that is the strength of Owa people and at the same time, the prayers said there cover the entire Owa land. Every area you call Owa, peace and prosperity reign in that place.
There is the story that you slept with a snake in the same room for several days without it harming you in your childhood, was it an ancestral guide, can you tell us what happened?
(Laughs) I must say frankly, I will not say categorically that it came to protect me or that it forgot to harm me. However, I have seen that what God has put together, they say no man should put asunder, if God has destined that I will be king of Owa, I will be that and no arrow fashioned against me will prosper. I think right from birth, this kind of protection has been coming in different forms.
I have to thank my God because I have encountered this kind of circumstance repeatedly but at every stage, I overcome. It was a miracle to me, it was very surprising, it was very shocking, I thank God, each time I think about it, I cannot just imagine, it tells me I should be more humane, I should be more responsible, always give thanks to God and do justice to all manner of people. How God did that for me and why He did it, I do not know.
You have not told the story yet, when exactly did this happen, how did you finally come to see the snake, for how many days was the snake there with you and you said there were other circumstances, we are all ears?
(long laughter again) Well, it is not everything that happens to man that you want to expose. Perhaps, if you begin to do a lot of in-depth explanation, if there are forces working against your interest, you might be reminding them that they have not done enough homework to be able to get at you adversely, that force can be reinvigorated, but simply put it was the first experience.
I was then a houseboy living with a headmaster, late Mr. G.N.C Diai at Owa-Aliero community, I was in charge of animals like fowls, dogs, goats in the family and I was very friendly with these animals. Even till today, if I enter your premises and I find a dog, merely looking at the dog and whispering in a peculiar way, the dog will like it and start playing with me.
I can play with a dog and make it to go to sleep, the same thing I do with goats, the fowls were about three when they were handed over to me and in no time, it went to 100, the whole place was filled- up and they multiplied. We had a cage where he we put the hens and cocks and just by the boys quarters, we have places that we keep wood to prevent rain from falling on them.
At a point, the place was actually congested but I was not expecting any danger, I had a bed made up of palm fronds and bamboo, you cut it as if you are making a fence, put it on the floor with grass in between as foam and a mat on top of it. There was no electricity at the time and you rely on the stars to have light, one particular day, my master held a get together of teachers in the school compound, they had a gas lamp that you pump those days, music was on and they were dancing.
I didn’t know when I raised alarm
I was listening to music and watching them, suddenly but close by, the fowls would make some disturbing noise and I wondered why they were making noise incessantly, so I came very close to watch. I sat by the side of the house to find out what was happening. Unexpectedly, I saw a shadow moving by the side of the wall and the thing was crawling, a light flashed and I saw it moving like a snake, I watched closely but still do not know what I saw, I was confused and did not even know when I raised the alarm. I shouted: see snake seriously; they jumped out from where they were dancing.
Mr. Diai and others asked me where is it, where is it, I said I saw it there, they showed bravado, searched the place, the thing went underground, they did not see it. They went back to continue with their party, the man gave me a very serious knock on the head saying that I was a crook and that I was disturbing their enjoyment. I felt very sad and still went back to the place. Then, I saw the thing again, I could not bear it, I called another houseboy from another master and he raised alarm much more than I did.
They ran out again and felt that this time around, let them look for it. They were using a long stick to poke everywhere to see whether it would come out until one of the teachers saw it, it was by the edge of the wall, and it had put its head up. He threw his stick away and ran and as he was running, he was raising alarm. It was only then that they began to feel that there was sense in what I was saying. Finally, they brought a torch and started looking for it.
The whole school, community, came to see the snake
Diai himself not too sure of what they were saying fired his dane gun in that direction, it was in the course of that the snake was hit and it moved out from that place, there was reflection as it crawled away and they saw it and shouted. They rushed back for cutlass, wood and he loaded the gun again. He fired again the bullet did not hit the snake properly, it was not even acting as something that was shot at, but it moved towards the pit.
It took considerable efforts before they were able to hit the snake on the head, so that was when the speed slowed down and in the course of that, they killed the snake. They pulled it out, it was very long and heaped the woods fetch by the pupils for teachers in their quarters on the snake and set it on fire with kerosene. It burned all night. In the morning, teachers not staying in the quarters came to see it, the pupils not campus came to see and then the community came to see it.
It was after that Diai said I should no longer be sleeping in that place. He gave me one room in the main house. You can see when the snake came, it did not attack me, and it went to eat fowl, egg and all that, so why should I not thank God.
What is the name of the snake?
It was a black snake, I did not ask anybody the name because of the fear, but it was very big black snake. In fact, the whole of the stomach down was already red and the back of it was red to almost the neck.
We learned the snake slept in the same room with you about three to five days, is this true?
You know before a snake can shed its skin, it takes not less than four days to do that and if the snake shed the skin that we found there, definitely, it had spent more than four days. Therefore, it was just a companion.
What lesson did this incident actually teach you about life?
What I will say is that if your hands are clean, God will always be by your side, which is my first reaction. That is why I try to be extremely tolerant so that whatever people do to you, give them a second chance, third chance, fourth chance, they may change.
What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you in life?
I do not want to say about the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in life because I have just given you one example. One thing happened; I do not know whether to call it strange or not, when I was a pupil in 1953 not quite long I lost my father, I was in a primary school at Sapele. I entered a vehicle at the Agbor Park; they put me in an old vehicle that has first class and second-class compartments with the backside separated with wood. When I arrived to board the vehicle, second class was already full, so I sat at the back. I put my load down with my box, sat on it and the vehicle left the Agbor Park and we drove straight through Sakponba road, but we got to Agbonta, the lorry lost its front tire and eventually faced the direction of a big tree, pushed it down and the backside separated.
It killed a woman in the process in the direction and all the loads in the vehicle shattered, people were crying, but there was something strange to me. I found myself on the other side of the road sitting in the same position I was in the lorry with my two legs on my box. While people were running about, I could not imagine what actually happened, I was just sitting down until one man came and I asked what I was doing there. I told him I was inside the lorry that fell down. He shouted “what, and you were inside that vehicle?” I said yes. He asked me who i was. I said I am the son of the late Obi of Owa.
He asked me, “are you the son of Uwaya?” I said yes, Uwaya was my mother. He said my mother has a relationship with their family, what they did was that they got another vehicle, put me there, sent me back to Sapele and sent a delegation to my mother to tell her what happened and that I came out unhurt. My mother did not believe the message, she boarded vehicle and came the next day to Sapele.
When I got to Sapele, I did not tell the people I was staying with (Ugbaja family) what happened. Therefore, when my mother told them, they said well, he came back but he did not tell anybody. When I came back from school, my mother asked me why I did not tell them what happened, I said I did not how to tell the story because they might call me a witch if I told them. When I looked back to it, it is still very miraculous to me.