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Igarra’s fragile peace: Need for a commission of inquiry – Ozioma Olajide-Ogbodo

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IN view of the seemingly fragile peace, killings, and kingship tussle in Igarra, Akoko-Edo Local Government Area, the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry has become more indispensable over the past decade. When established, among other tasks, the commission as a fact-finding body should assess potential violations by various entities in Igarra with respect to human rights.

It is against this background that this article examines the impact the proposed commission of inquiry will have on the traditional institution, the formality of Igarra and procedural fairness of the gazette, as a means of rectifying some of the issues associated with the current fraudulent and unsustainable situation.

I am worried by reports in the media about the absence of the Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, at the recently celebrated 20th anniversary ceremony of the Otaru of Igarra, Adeche Saiki II.

As if this embarrassment was not enough, it was learnt that the Chairman of the ceremony, the senator representing Edo North Senatorial District, Mr. Francis Alimikhena, former senator, Deacon Domingo Obende, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Kabiru Adjoto, the member representing Akoko Edo Federal Constituency, Comrade Peter Akpatason, and the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Mr. Taiwo Akerele, were among others who snubbed the poorly attended event.

In what appeared as a major discomfiture, many guests invited to the ceremony conspicuously stayed away over alleged kingship tussle and its traditional administration. They say Igarra is divided into five autonomous clans headed by Oshiresus (traditional heads) whose powers are absolute over but do not extend beyond their subject clan(s).

Traditional rulers in Igarra, apart from religious leaders who also distanced themselves from the ‘lone event’, are the Oshidu, Oshemi, Otu, and Oshemdase who rule over Ezidowo, Eshimozoko, Anona, and Anonyete in that order.

Investigations revealed that this scant turnout is an indication that all was not well with the system of traditional rulership in Igarra, headquarters of Akoko-Edo Local Government Area.

As far as history is concerned, any issue concerning the governance of the community, none of these aforementioned traditional heads (including Otaru) can unilaterally take a decision on behalf of others. This has been the tradition and status quo from ages till present and it will not likely change anytime in future until the kingship of Igarra is resolved in the best interest of the majority.

As member of the Eziobe (Ezi) Group of Clans of Igarra, I stumbled upon a publication by the Eziezu group of Clans on the chronological and historical reigns of Otaruship by Adeche Saiki II and wish to quickly put the records straight.

I am also aware that the Eziobe Group of Clans had since repudiated and distanced themselves from the contents of that publication as a pack of misinformation about the cultural institutions and traditional governance structure of Igarra town. Secondly, the list of Otarus reeled out in the said publication is nothing other than a ploy to give validation to false narrative which Eziezus has been peddling in pursuit of a dubious agendum.

An in-between-the-lines study of the list reveals a lot of chronological and common sense errors which exemplify the truth of the popular saying that, ‘in an attempt to deck falsehood in the garb of truth, common sense is usually the first casualty.’

Most salient among the self-contradictions that characterise the publication is: Ariwo Ovejijo whom Eziezus has, beginning from the 1940s, been crediting with primogenitor of the Otaru lineage is absent from the list despite being supposedly the first Otaru, assuming the account crediting him with pioneership of Igarra kingship is true.

His deliberate omission is a clear testimonial to his mythical existence because Ariwo Ovejijo making the list would make it 20 Otarus instead of 19. An instance of incoherence naturally arising from a penchant for lies.

Also, the ‘reign’ of Aininoto (1836 – 1862) clearly overlaps that of Ainoje (1848 – 1862) which itself overlaps that of Aine (1856 – 1862). Adeche Saiki, on behalf of Eziezus, therefore obviously owes his open-minded readers an explanation on the possibility of three ‘kings’ reigning simultaneously in Igarra at least between 1856 and 1862, and as well all died the same year 1862.

While attempting to conjure history, the present Otaru said Aido reigned between 1926 and 1952 while Idanage’s was between 1934 and 1966. But the question would be: What about the overlap from 1934 to 1952, which indicates that both of them were on the throne at the same time?

The list has Izuse II, Obine II, Aidokai II, Ainoje II, and Okuo Luse II, but does not account for Izuse I, Obine I, Aidokai I, Ainoje I, and Okuo Luse I.

Also conspicuously missing is Adeche Saiki I’s version of Adeche Saiki II himself who produced the list. Onusagbo III, Osuwa III and Idanage III have no versions I and II. It is hoped that Adeche Saiki and Eziezus will clarify this misnomer which makes the list fictitious and exposes the falsehood inherent in their narrative about Igarra kingship.

The ‘reigns’ of Igodi I (1865 – 1894) and Ashibowa (1892 – 1899) overlap again. Same question of multiple ‘kings’ reigning simultaneously in Igarra comes to the fore once more. The claim that Otaru lineage began in the 15th Century is at huge variance with the plausible account of genuine Oshuku descendants’ history which places the arrival of Igarra people in Etuno land in the 16th century.

Furthermore, there is an obvious fabrication of lies as per how Otaruship rotates amongst the five Eziezu families. In their own publication, it betrays a massive lop-sidedness as Eshinavaka family has taken seven times (4, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17 & 19), Eshinogu four times (3, 8, 12 & 18), Andede, the most senior of them all, only twice (1 & 6), Eshinagada, twice (2 & 14) and finally Andiba, four times (5,10,16) plus Adeche. Even when Hallims Commission Report, which they so much cherished, recommended that it was the turn of Andede family, they disregarded that part of the report with impunity.

If, as the publication would have readers believe, Ariwo Ovejijo actually led the migration from Kwararafa to Etuno (a journey that reportedly took over 100 years and was more than 1000km long), then he must have started the journey at an age too young to have had children. It would mean that he only began to have children much later into the journey. That presupposes that Eziezus were not in existence from the beginning of the journey as their fathers (Idede, Avaka, Idiba, Ogu, Agada) were yet to be born.

In that context, Ariwo Ovejijo led only Eziobes to Igarra. Thus, he himself was a member of one of the Eziobe clans whom he purportedly led down to Etunoland. The question becomes: Which of those Eziobe clans did he belong to before he decided to have his sons evolve into clans which were initially non-existent?

The claim that the children of Ozoko – the purported Ariwo Ovejijo’s only daughter – became the Eshimozoko Clan of today is pooh-poohed by the very fact that descent in Igarra and indeed virtually all African cultures have from prehistoric times been patrilineal and never matrilineal. On that note, if Ozoko’s husband was a native of Igarra, then her descendants would have automatically become members of the clan to which Ozoko’s husband belonged.

If, on the other hand, Ozoko’s husband was a non-native, then her children would not have been regarded as Igarra people at all, let alone being recognized as a clan therein. A lot more fallacies are embedded within the publication, but we limit ourselves to those outlined above.

I personally want to commend the state government for the support towards the recently concluded ABA Festival. Well, very reassuring of Governor Obaseki’s administration’s avowed commitment to security of life and property in the state, we also like to appreciate the committed efforts, support and presence of the Hon. Commissioner for Arts, Culture, Tourism and Diaspora, Mr. Osaze Osemwengie-Ero and his Permanent Secretary and Directors.

However, I would like to formally bring it to your notice that there were attempts to breach security at the venue of the event on that day which should not be ignored even though the police successfully contained them.

The said attempts were made by Eziezu youths loyal to the Otaru of Igarra who controls only the five Eziezu Clans in the community.  The Otaru, on arrival first had his car driven recklessly through the crowd towards the members of the Eziakuta Custodian Clan who had already commenced the beating of the Aba Drum on the sacred rock; whereas the Deputy Governor, Chief of Staff, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly and some of his Assembly members, the two Commissioners, Osaze Osemwegie and Prince Yekini Idaye, the Mrs. Ivie & co from NCAC and other government dignitaries all walked down from Somorika junction (about 100m) to the venue.

Thereafter, he broke protocol by having his car driven into the podium, ordering his youths to disrupt the seating arrangements put in place by men of the Government House Protocol Department, and making several unsuccessful attempts to snatch the microphone from the MC to enable him (Otaru) make a speech which would have amounted to a violation of the custom of the land.

The Deputy Governor, Comrade Philip Shaibu, the Commissioner for Arts and Culture and his Permanent Secretary, your Chief of Staff, protocol unit staff, Zonal Director National Council for Arts and Culture, and other government functionaries, members of the Nigeria Civil Defence, DSS men, and men of the Edo State Command of the Nigeria Police Force were all live witnesses to this.

Let me make it clear that the said security breach attempts were masterminded and sponsored. The motive for embarking on such was to ostensibly prove or show that he is in charge of Igarra community and has a role to play in the Aba Festival as against the age long tradition.

According to Igarra tradition, it is neither customary nor necessary for any of the five Clan heads (Oshidu, Oshemdase, Oshemi, Otu and Otaru) to physically attend the festival since it is compulsory for the celebrants to, after the festival, head to the palaces of their respective clan heads to pay homage and take their Azebani titles.

But beginning from the 1999 edition of the festival, only this present Otaru began making attempts to circumvent that custom as he started appearing at the venue seeking to be allowed to make a speech. As for this year’s edition of the festival, it is for the fear of being resisted by the defenders of Igarra tradition that he resorted to accompanying himself with youths armed with charms and other dangerous weapons to the venue.

To that end, one Kingsley Ano Okomayin, a policeman of Igarra origin from his Eziezu extraction serving in the Lagos State Command who brought in some of his colleagues from Lagos was engaged to do the dirty job. He was visibly captured in one of the videos and photos taken that day.

Also worrisome is the palpable fear that now envelopes Igarra against the backdrop of the homicide committed in the once peaceful community during an Eziezu women night procession done at Otaru’s instance few months to the Aba Festival; the sudden disappearance at the same period of one Aiyetobi Uwaishevo, a prospective celebrant of this year’s edition and the eventual discovery of his corpse in a strange location several days later; and also the disappearance of one politically active Mr. Suru Akpata much earlier on without any trace of his whereabouts till date.

If Otaru’s latest attempt at security breach right at the Aba arena is not investigated, he will have been emboldened to sponsor more of such to the erosion of the State Government’s spirited efforts to facilitate a secured environment for the attraction of investment and advancement of tourism industry in Edo State. It is sequel to this that due diligence must be conducted, just as a commission of inquiry empanelled by this administration.

Ozioma Olajide-Ogbodo, a historian, writes from Ibadan.

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