* The biblical connection
BY VINCENT UJUMADU
THERE is a debate over the origin of Igbo. Two Anambra communities – Nri in Anaocha local government area and Aguleri in Anambra East local government area claim the Igbo originated from their areas.
It was Eze Obidiegwu Onyesoh, the traditional ruler of Nri, who started the argument when he said his community is the origin of Igbo. Shortly after, Aguleri debunked it, saying Onyeso ought to know the truth because he had to visit Aguleri before his coronation in 1988 to receive blessing as Igbo custom demanded of him. According to Aguleri people, Aguleri is the first son of Eri who migrated from Egypt.
But Onyesoh would not accept that as he insisted that his community is the first home of the Igbo before they migrated to other areas and even beyond the shores of eastern Nigeria.
His words: The origin of Nri is Egypt about two centuries ago and the father of Nri was called Gad. Gad was the son of Jacob while Jacob was the son of Isaac and Isaac was the son of Abraham. The family tree of Nri was traced from the origin of Abraham who was the favourite child of God.
A man called Eri, the progenitor of Ndigbo, lived in Egypt and was the special adviser on religious matters to the 5th dynasty of Pharaohs of Egypt.
It was in those days in Egypt that Eri determined who was going to be the next Pharaoh. And by their law, there was a deity called Emem and anything to happen during the time, the man called Eri, in his capacity as the religion adviser to the Pharaoh of Egypt, was responsible.
Now Eri needed people to help him and he recruited devotees. These devotees were all appointed by him but he had to do something to really found their own loyalty. In their movement towards southern side, they arrived another confluence. This confluence was the tributary of River Niger and Benue known as Ezu na Omambala.
The last son of Eri, Agulu remained by the sea side because he was a fisherman. The first child Eri remained in his father’s house until he had a vision and was called to serve God in their own way. Nri was an incarnate to his grandfather, Eri.
So Nri was the reincarnate of Eri, and the functions which their grandfather performed came back to him. While his siblings all left to their respective farming positions, he remained in his father’s compound. The Ofo Ndigbo resides at Nri because the process is from one Eze-Nri to another. There is a handover known as Ofo and Alo and to become Eze-Nri without original Ofo and Alo, you are not Eze Nri. The Ofo and Alo have been existing for the past 1,009 years.
When I finish and gone as the Eze Nri, the Ofo and Alo will be handed to the next Eze-Nri.
Today, about 180 communities could trace their origin from Nri and the civilization of Nri spread around. He founded the Ozo title just like his father did; he spoke about anything that has to do with fairness and justice. Everywhere he founded was on behalf of his grandfather and they called themselves, Igbo.
He added: Aguleri, the last born of Eri, remained at the very close of the water front. Aguleri cannot claim that Nri came from Aguleri. Nri came from a place called Eriaka and, for now, Eriaka has gone defunct because the main man left Eriaka.
Eze Nri, Onyesoh said, doesn t go to Aguleri to be crowned or be purified, adding that Eze Nri, as part of the tradition, after crowning him and other things perfected, must go to where there is water divided into two. He continued: We don t have any other water divided into two as found in Lokoja, the confluence between River Niger and River Benue. The place is too far for us and the closest one to us is the tributary river of Niger and Benue known as Ezu and Omambala. They have two rivers there, now it is at that river where the covenant must be taken. That covenant is what we know as ‘Udu-Eze’.
Any person telling you that Eze-Nri must go to Aguleri for any other thing is lying. Apart from the distance, one could also go to converging place between Niger and Benue to performance the rite instead of going to Aguleri. So, all manner of propaganda you now hear are all tissues of lies.
Nri has no similar culture with Aguleri. Since the beginning of Aguleri, it has no traditional institution.
If Nri and Aguleri have much in common, Aguleri would be producing their own traditional ruler just as Nri does. For the past 110 years, it has been only Idigo dynasty that occupies the kingship.
But Aguleri people described Igwe Onyesoh s story as a historical distortion and a travesty of Igbo history. They appointed nine persons from the area who chronicled their community s version of Igbo origin. Those who carried the assignment are Ralph Igwah, Eddy Okoye, Osita Chinwuba, Jerome Nnechi, Paul Nnamah, Raph Chikwenze, Emma Ikem, George Ejimofor and Charles Chieze.
In their report, they said: We find it difficult to believe that a prominent member of the family of Eri, the progenitor of the Igbo, and of all personages, His Royal Majesty Obidiegwu Onyeso of Nri, is credited with such a grievous falsification of facts on the history of the Igbo.
Igwe Onyeso’s present stance, as reflected in the story, is a shocking contradiction to what he knows and believes to be the correct situation, as he practically and faithfully demonstrated during his visit to Aguleri in 1988, as part of the necessary traditional rites for the traditional ruler of Agukwu-Nri.
For him to be singing a different tune now, even to the point of contesting the headship of Eri clan, and by extension of Ndi Igbo, with Aguleri is, indeed, unfortunate. The erroneous assertions by Igwe Onyeso have made it necessary to correct that impression and set the records of Igbo history straight, particularly their settlement in Nigeria.
The continued: Eri from Israel was the fifth son of Gad, the seventh son of Jacob (Genesis 46:15-18 and Numbers 26:16:18). He migrated from Egypt with a group of companions just before the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt many centuries ago. They travelled by water and finally arrived at the confluence of Ezu and Omambala (Anambra) Rivers, located in present-day Aguleri, where, according to oral tradition, it was spiritually or divinely revealed to Eri that the point was to be their final destination and settlement. They moved into the hinterland and settled in the present-day Aguleri. Eri lived and died at Aguleri.
Agulu was the eldest son of Eri, and not Menri, as claimed by Igwe Onyeso. This is supported by oral tradition in Aguleri and in other communities of Eri clan. It is also confirmed by historical accounts by many writers of Igbo history.
As the population at the settlement of Eri at Aguleri increased, and in combination with other factors, the children of Eri and/or their descendants left the settlement and founded various other settlements outside Aguleri, while Agulu, the first son, remained in their father’s home at Aguleri with his descendants. Agulu, fondly called Agulu-Nwa-Eri, appended the name of their father, Eri, to his name and founded Agulu-Eri (Aguleri). Menri left Aguleri and settled at a big forest, where he engaged in hunting and farming, while also performing his spiritual work. He called the settlement Agu-Ukwu (Nri).
When he was getting very old, he told his children to take him back to his ancestral home, as he would not want to die outside his father’s home. Menri was brought back to Aguleri, where he died and was buried. His grave is still marked at Okpu, in Ivite Aguleri, till this day. There is no other grave site of Menri, the founder of Nri, anywhere else in Igbo land, even in Nri itself, except in Aguleri.
It is also a known fact that, by tradition, no Nri man would break the kolanut where an Aguleri man is present, except with his permission. This is in deference to the fact that Agulu (Aguleri) was the elder brother of Menri (Nri). Furthermore, in recognition of the fact that Aguleri is the first son of Eri and the ancestral home of Ndi-Igbo, as well as the custodian of all the spiritual sites and places of Eri kingdom, traditional rulers of Agukwu-Nri, from time past, till date, including the famous late Igwe Tabansi Udene, visited Aguleri for certain traditional rites, without which they would not have become traditional rulers of Nri. These facts amply confirm that Aguleri was the first settlement and the ancestral home of the Igbos, and not Nri, as erroneously claimed by Igwe Onyeso.
In fulfillment of the age-long traditional rites for kingship in Nri, Igwe Obidiegwu Onyeso, as Igwe-elect, visited Aguleri in 1988, accompanied by a delegation from Nri, which included the late prominent lawyer, Chief Ezebilo Umeadi (SAN). Igwe-elect Onyeso and his delegation spent seven days in Aguleri, from 9th February to 15th February, 1988, visiting sacred places, paying homage and making sacrifices to certain deities/shrines.
It is, indeed, unbelievable that after going through these entire coronation rites, Igwe Onyeso could refer to his visit to Aguleri in 1988 in a very casual and less-than-honest manner. Also, by saying that Aguleri and Nri do not have much in common, Igwe Onyeso knows, from the bottom of his heart, that he was being very economical with the truth. His visit to Aguleri to collect the Ududu-Eze or clay from Agbanabo is not a casual affair. It goes with a lot of ceremonies and tradition.
Besides, Agbanabo, in the oral tradition of Eri clan, including Nri, is not just any place ‘where two rivers meet’. It has great spiritual significance, because it was at this point that Eri had a divine revelation that they had reached their ordained place of settlement. Members of Eri clan, including Nri, therefore, have a strong spiritual attachment to Agbanabo. And this has made it an important and mandatory feature in the coronation rites of the people of Nri. That was why Igwe Onyeso had to go to Agbanabo, at Aguleri, as a matter of traditional obligation, and not merely as any place ‘where two rivers meet’.
The visit of Igwe Obidiegwu Onyeso, as Igwe-elect, with his people to Aguleri in 1988, including the places he went to, making sacrifices and paying homage to certain deities/shrines, was well captured in a video coverage. The video is available in Aguleri archives for anyone who cares to see and is interested in knowing the truth.
From historical facts, Aguleri, and not Nri, is the first son of Eri and the ancestral home of Ndi-Igbo. We do not know what propelled our brother, Igwe Obidiegwu Onyeso, to engage in virtual apostasy by repudiating the traditional rites he went through at Aguleri, as well as the unwarranted denigration of Aguleri and the sacred and spiritual facts about Eri and his descendants, even to the extent of saying that ‘Aguleri and Nri do not have much in common’. This was after he had stated that Aguleri and Nri were among the direct children of Eri.
We are, indeed, at a loss to understand our brother any more. We hope it is not a case of ‘he who the gods want to destroy, they first make mad’. The spiritual and traditional bond between Aguleri and Nri cannot easily be wished away, just as we are reminded of the fate of some Igwes of Nri in the past, who failed to visit Aguleri to consummate the traditional rites for kingship in Nri. Perhaps, what happened to them is instructive and should be a guide to all it may concern!