August 17, 2022

Urhobo traditional jurisprudence and primogeniture

Urhobo traditional jurisprudence and primogeniture


“Whilst thou waitest for dead men’s old shoes, thine own exertions might procure thee new ones. Be like the bee, and thou shall gather the honey of life and not cursed dungeons”— Napoleon’s Oraculum

THE tradition of primogeniture entails the total non-negotiable handing over of power of attorney over properties, titles, positions, etc., to the eldest son. This is a very common practice all over the world. The eldest son and not the eldest daughter is looked upon as the pretender to the throne. And as soon as the king dies he is crowned as the next king. He is always regarded as the king in waiting.

In the African primordial setting, the tradition of primogeniture was looked upon as the only formula for ensuring peace, continuity of family totems and upholding atavistic per relics within the family setting. It was looked upon as sacrilegious and a blatant breach of ancestral injunction to deviate from it. Sometimes curses were invoked and the culprits were placed under the yoke of excommunication, ostracisation and anathemisation.

Among the Masai tribe of Kenya, the Junkuns, the Gwaris and the Edo-speaking tribes of Nigeria, the tradition of primogeniture still maintains its inviolacy, both in traditional institutions and family hierarchy. It is so uncompromisingly entrenched in the lives of the people that it is sometimes likened to the inseparability of the tortoise and its carapace syndrome.

Historical recapitulations and anthropological investigations have revealed that there was once an Edo king who was a certified moron. But his imbecilic fancies did not deter tradition from holding sway. As the eldest son he mounted the throne of his fathers. The Edo-speaking people of Nigeria- Esan, Etsako, Owan, Igarra and Okpameri-still uphold the tradition of primogeniture with Trojan and unblemished zealotry. It is upheld with religious devotion, notwithstanding the incursions of Western civilization vide education, religion and technology.

But amongst the Itsekiris and of late some of the Urhobo-speaking people of Delta State, the tradition of primogeniture has been consigned to the unfathomable dungeon of placebos, both in traditional institutions, and in family hierarchy and circles. This is because of the politicisation and monetisation of kingship and sometimes because of the unfitness of the heir apparent.

In Urhoboland where kings litter nooks and crannies, the system is submerged in total torpsy-turvydom. The politicisation and monetisation of titles has led to the wanton proliferation of kingdoms and kingship without any regard for any effective formula. Some argue that this is because the Urhobos are “Republicans” by nature and bearing. But some posit that Republicanism does not thrive on anarchy and planlessness.

In the Okpe kingdom, for example, the system of primogeniture to the kingship does not holdsway. Igboze, the ancestral founder of the Okpe kingdom had four gates. The “Adane Okpe” featuring Esezi, Orhoro, Orhue and Evwreke. We have had Esezi the first, Esezi the second, Orhoro the first and now Orhue 1. After our revered Orodje must have lived for 1,000 years, God willing, are we going to have an Orhoro the second or Orhue the second or will it be Evwreke the first? This, I do believe, will be left for the Odogun Okpe and the Okpe people to decide. But wouldn’t it have been much better, if there was a responsible and reliable formula bereft of politics, money and influence peddling?

In his keynote address delivered on September 1, 2007, HRM Orhue 1, Orodje of Okpe Kingdom, at the 3rd Annual Convention of the Okpe Union of North America held at Marriot Hotel, College Park Maryland, USA, title: “Tradition and Governance in Okpe Kingdom”, he posited that: “The Okpe people are patrilineal in their family structure. Perhaps this is the reason, as I tried to indicate earlier, that our oral history tends to play down on the matrilineal side of the Okpe people. Inheritance is by primogeniture; that is: it is anchored upon the first descendant. In Okpe, the heir to the family is not expected to lord authority over all the offsprings of the family. He is only first, although an important first, among all the children. This explains, why the male heir is regarded as “the priest” (Owharan) of the family, that is, where and when the ancestors are being worshipped or venerated.

In the absence of the first male born, then any other male descendant, regardless of age, functions in that capacity. In Okpe, no female can play the role regarded for the male child in accordance with the tradition, yet female descendants are never disinherited in Okpe, not even after years of marriage to other families”. Virginibus Puerisque-The Orodje has explicitly articulated the position of Urhobo traditional jurisprudence.

In modern day Urhobo families the survival of the fittest has taken over the tradition of primogeniture. Especially, in polygamous homes where the father is weak and susceptible to the diabolical manifestations of some of the wives, uncles and friends, etc. The first son is hated by his father (Utuoma) and he becomes, if he remains alive, the punching bag of the father, wives, brothers, sisters and uncles because of hereditary rights.

Again, families, because of the desire to practise the tradition of primogeniture, the eldest son becomes, a nuisance to himself and the entire family. He cannot carry himself beyond the eldest son’s status and the accompanying legacies with it. He ends up being a failure. He cannot project beyond his immediate setting. He lacks education, wisdom, courage, shrewdness and vulpine temperaments. In such a scenario, will an honourable father allow such a son to take over his legacy because of the tradition of primogeniture? Some may argue that tradition is tradition and must be upheld by all means. But such traditional apologist must take into cognizance the basic principles of family integrity, responsible management of hereditaments, etc. The tradition of primogeniture cannot be practised when a dunder-headed noodle who masquerades as a first son is involved.

In specific situations where the first son claims to have risen above mundane tradition, family rancours and funds and he then voluntarily decides to opt out of family politics and wrangling, derobing himself of titles and properties, will tradition force him against his will? Will legacy hunters in the family grant him rest?

Chief Gbinije is of the Mandate Against Poverty, MAP, Warri, Delta State