By Emeka Umeagbalasi
During the fiery Benin Empire, which existed between 1440 and 1897 AD, the present day Lagos (a group of lakes: courtesy of Portuguese settlement) was named “Eko” (war camp). Today, Lagos is Nigeria’s melting pot and main socio-economic hub of the Southwest of Nigeria. Like Lagos founded by the Benin Empire, Onitsha ( Onuicha or Ado N’ Idu) was a principality of the Benin Empire until 16th century when it migrated back to its present abode-called “Onitsha” ( Whiteman’s corrupted version of Onuicha: people of river bank). According to a part of history, Ado N’ Idu or Onuicha (Onitsha) family had a misunderstanding with the then Oba Esigie of Benin, who reportedly ruled from the middle of 15th to the middle of 16th centuries. The misunderstanding reportedly had to do with the refusal of the newly installed Oba to extend his ritual homage to Onuicha’s Udo Shrine, usually marked with slaughtering of a cow.
The irreconcilability of the differences reportedly forced the Ado N’ Idu or Onuicha family led by Eze Chima to relocate back and settle across the River Niger in the 16th century. Among the settlers living in the area when the Onuicha People came back were Igbo and Igala peoples. The Igala people, as a matter of fact, helped the Onuicha returnees to cross the Niger River. In 1857, the British palm oil traders established a permanent station in the area; followed by the arrival of the Christian missionaries led by Yoruba slave returnee Anglican priest-called Samuel Ajayi Crowder and another missioner, called Reverend John Taylor and in 1884, Onuicha (Onitsha) became a British Protectorate. Onuicha (Onitsha) is presently a home to over one million people and commercial hub of the Southeast Nigeria.
Today, the indigenous people of the ancient town are drawn from three settler tribes of Edo (Benin), Igala and Igbo extractions. It also has nine villages, comprising Edo (Benin) immigrants founded by Eze Chima, with four villages in number; namely Umueze Aroli, Okebunabu (includes Umudei and Ogbabu) and Olosi. The two Igala villages of Onuicha are Ogbodu and Obigboru. The four Edo influenced villages founded by Eze Chima are the ruling families. The present Obi of Ado N’ Idu or Onuicha (Onitsha), Igwe Alfred Achebe, is the 21st leader of the Onuicha Dynasty founded over 600 years ago or in the 16th century.
The Onuicha Dynasty is the fourth in rank in the Igbo traditional dynasties. The first and oldest dynasty is the “Nri “Dynasty in Anambra State, which is over 1000 years; followed by the Aro Chukwu Dynasty in Abia State, which is also over 1000 years. The Agbor Dynasty in Delta State, representing “pastoral Igbo people”, is up to 900 years. The Ado N’ Idu or Onuicha Dynasty in Anambra State is over 600 years. While the Nri and the Aro Chukwu Dynasties represent “sedentary Igbo people”, the Onuicha Dynasty represents “returnee Igbo people”.
The Obi of Onuicha (Onitsha) is traditionally and nationally rated in the same category with the Emir of Kano in Northwest Nigeria,the Gwomgwom Jos in North-cental Nigeria. Others are the Emir of Gwandu, the Shehu of Borno, the Alafin of Oyo, the Atta of Igala and the Oba of Benin, etc. This is because of the sacredness of their traditional institutions, which have existed for centuries. Oba Desomu of Lagos, though illiterate, entered into an accord with the British colonialists in 1861 through the Treaty of Cession and this signaled the beginning of the British colonization of Nigeria until October 1960.
On Tuesday, 8th of October, 2013, the All Progressives Congress and its governorship candidate for the November 16, 2013 governorship, Dr. Chis Ngige, in utter desecration of, and disrespect to the ancient Onuicha Traditional Dynasty and institution, staged a flag off of their gubernatorial campaign in Onuicha. The flag off collided with the annual offala festival of the Obi of Onuicha and his people. The campaign flag off brought together the decamped governor of Imo State, who was elected on the platform of one man one vote made possible by his political party, which he unceremoniously abandoned.
The governors of Edo and Ekiti States and other Yoruba political leaders in the APC including Chiefs Bisi Akande and Bola Tinubu also attended the campaign flag off. The disrespect to the Onuicha traditional institution was worsened by the report that the the said key APC leaders did not pay homage to the Obi of Onitsha and members of his cabinet. The announcement of the 2013 Offala Festival of the Obi of Onuicha and his people has been in the media since 2012. The great Offala festival is sponsored by the GLOBACOM.
The All Progressives Congress is a newly registered political party that collapsed two tribal parties of Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba extractions-called Action Congress of Nigeria for Yoruba and Congress for Progressive Change for Hausa-Fulani extractions. The APC, dominated by the Southwest politicians, also has another political party with strong northern influence- called ANPP as its offshoot. While Igbo people have lost thousands of souls in the CPC’s north through politics oriented killings and terror since the 2011 post general poll’s violence; anti Igbo policies such as internal deportation and hash business environment policies are very high in the ACN’s Southwest of Nigeria especially in Lagos State. On July 24, 2013, for instance, 72 Igbo-Lagosians were rounded up in their various residences in Lagos and deported after midnight to Onuicha Upper Iweka by the Government of Lagos State.
History, they say, will never stop repeating itself. The same people that chased Igwe Eze Chima and his siblings out of the Benin Empire over 600 years ago are at it again, by technically disrupting their famous Offala Festival. As Eze Chima probably did then by striking his “Udo Shrine’s Offor (Igbo’s dreaded staff of justice) on the mother earth with generational curse against his pursuers, Igwe Alfred Chukwuemeka Achebe has repeated same by invoking the mother earth to pursue her offenders ceaselessly, using ancestral “offor” staff of over 600 years handed over to him from Eze Chima in the 16th century.
The disrespect of this magnitude is also a collective affront to the entire Igbo race. If this has happened in other non-Igbo dynasties, their peoples would have reacted riotously. Be that as it may, the mature handling of the ugly incident by the Obi of Onitsha and his cabinet is highly commendable. Indications are emerging strongly day in, day out that the people of the Southeast are most likely to be endangered the more socioeconomically and socio-politically if they put themselves in the political control of Boko Haram and Igbo deportation politicians and political parties.
Having read the APC’s reaction to the traditionally abominable act, which is remorseless and unapologetic; questions that are begging for answers are: if the Obi of Onitsha and his revered cabinet and people were put on notice about the APC’s flag off, how come they are angry to the extent of placing a curse on them with the ancient town’s ancestral offor of over 600 years? Between the Obi’s offala and the APC’s campaign flag off, which one should take precedent over the other? Why did the APC chieftains including its Anambra governorship candidate reportedly not pay royal homage to the ancient dynasty if they claim to respect the traditional institutions especially that of Onuicha?
Except those that committed the abominations complained of, especially those claiming to be of Igbo extraction, genuinely appease the Igbo gods whose angers have risen to an apogee, otherwise more socio-traditional misfortunes be they electoral or offor curses will never abate. This includes those who get credibly elected by living mass votes and divinely blessed by Igbo gods, but decamped and joined entities belonging to imperial gods and goddesses.
(Umeagbalasi is a social issues analyst and Igbo rights activist based in Onuicha (Onitsha), Nigeria).