By DR.CHRISTOPHER.G. OKOJIE, OFR, DSc (Hon)
It will serve a useful purpose to remember right at the onset that there are two parts to every Esan district: the royal family and the common people. They were quite distinct, for nearly all the ancient ruling houses came from Benin City or its suburbs. The head of the ruling houses was and still is, the ONOJIE, who with his family, servants and brothers inhabited EGUARE, the administrative CAPITAL of the district. Another important thing an enquirer must take notice of is the use of the word BROTHER by Esan people. It can mean anything from a male blood relation to a very good friend. Secondly OBA's SON can mean a BINI and, in fact, it was recently, a common thing for any Bini, outside the city, to describe himself as the OBA's SON!
The correct name is UBIAZA.
Many stories have been built round the origin of this name. Some say the party that headed for the present Esan territory during Oba Ewuan the Selfish's impositions was led by three Ekakulo who later founded the Ruling Houses of Irrua, Uromi and Ubiaza and that these three war leaden were brothers. At Alu-Otoegbele where they rested and shared their property, the most junior brother committed adultery with one of the wive of the most senior brother; this caused him a great shame. The two senior called him, gave him his share, telling him "Depart from us! II (BIA NOLI KHA KHIAN OSE ONIN!") Which literally means "Push him that way! And from this came the name UBIAZA.
If this story were true we could have grown up to find a stronger tie of brotherhood and non-aggression pact between Irrua, Uromi and Ubiaja but if any race saw the blood of Uromi with infinite relish it was Irrua Eguare Ubiaja could have been at Oyomo Ubiaja today but for the indiscriminate use of the matchet and poisoned arrows by Uromi warrior on Ubiaja!
On the contrary, even today, the close and brotherly association (Ubiaja and Udo is evident everywhere and it has withstood years of struggle for power and importance and political reorganizations of modern times Why?
The answer is to be found in the origin of the two places. To founders of the two places hailed from UDO - ARUARAN in Benin. In fact they were two maternal brothers - the founder of Udo called ljesa whose nickname was Izibi , was one of the treasurers of Oba Ewuare too Selfish, just after the great City had cracked up under Ewuare's despotism nepotism and avarice. A more trusted servant than Ijesan was hard to fit and so he was allowed to go in and out of the great house of treasure unquestioned, until one day while he was talking to someone his junior brother EDE which is the short form of EDEIKHOLO, who had follow him to the palace and unable to resist the sight of the treasures, we help himself with what he considered a grain in a desert of sand, mere chick feed! But the Oba, particularly Ewuare, when it concerned money, his many eyes! Ijesan was immediately summoned before the Oba who soon found that his trusted Treasurer was absolutely innocent. Stealing an Oha's property was quite a serious offence punishable by death. In Benin and
Esanland, when a man has committed a serious offence the expression is OGBE UBI. In this case Ede had 'GBE UBI' and the particular UBI was that of AZA (Treasury). Hence 0 GBE UBIAZA - A (He has committed the serious crime of robbing at the treasury).
Well the punishment for this was death but Ewuare for the love of Ijesan could not kill Ede, so he ordered his immediate banishment: he had to wander into the jungle instead of staying with his senior brother, who curbing his greed, could enrich himself at the Oba's pleasure. Accompanied by his immediate relatives he naturally followed the direction of those who recently had left the City and thus found himself in the area today called ESAN.
When asked why he deserted the city for the unknown and unkind jungle, he confessed that he GBE UBI AZA - A, which for short came to be UBI AZA!
Soon his senior brother Ijesan began to grow unhappy over the fate of his junior brother Ede. He set out to find his whereabouts. He later found him in the primitive settlement of IWEALA - now quite a happy ruler of his small surrounding, away from the oppression and the nerve-racking fear of the Oba. Obviously he was not thinking of ever going back to Benin, so he stayed with him awhile, until he found his newly acquired arrogance and insolence too much for a senior brother. So he moved to IKEKEOE (overside of the river). Ijesan's original settlement grew to bear the name of his home in Benin - UDO.
Thus both Udo and Ubiaja were founded by two full brothers. The custom of Udo breaking kolanuts in a mixed gathering of Udo and Ubiaja people can now be appreciated. Similarly an enquirer can now understand why Udo and Ubiaja adhere strictly under all provocations, to the principle of "Never seeing each other's blood!"
EDEIKHOLO had two sons of note: the first was OJIEROMON and OGHOMIGHON, the second. Ojieromon grew to be the undaunted war leader of his father's settlement at Iweala, but in 1463 when Oba Ewuare wanted to trap his recalcitrant subjects by appeasement, he invited all the Ekakulo in the area around Benin, merely "for the formal burying of the hatchet and recognition as heads of their various communities". Since he created the title Onojie and installed them, he again succeeded in bringing the rebels under his suzerainty. A few and sagacious ones amongst the leaders saw what Ewuare was after; Ojieromon, already sore at the Oba what had banished his father from his home, and now head of a Communittee serving him as subjects, felt he was only less than an Oba, by degrees. To show his spite he sent his junior brother Oghomighon. Ewuare, the small politician, saw the implications of this and struck his new famous stroke which had the selfishness and love of power of men as its main impetus. The Onojie title, which was bestowed on those who attended the Oba Court, made them rulers of their communities and subservient only to the Oba, and above all, this noble title was NOT TRANSFERABLE to father brother or master and once an Onojie always an Onojie until death!
Everywhere a proxy had been sent hate and strife followed, which was exactly what Ewuare wanted. When people fight amongst themselves, they do not only forget their common enemy but get so weakened the reassembling to face the enemy is irreparably made difficult. If Ewuare were a prophet he could not have planned the confusion that before Ojieromon's Iweala, better. When Oghomighon returned from Benin senior brother in unbounded joy, stretched out a brotherly hand of welcome which Oghomighon ignored in a way a slave owner putting his property his place, could have envied! In a few dignified words hissed through his clenched teeth, he told his brother of the new re-alignment of authority! Thus shifted the seat of government from Ojieromon's IDUMU EBO, which he has to found in his anger, to the settlement Oghomighon founded when the separation occurred.
The remaining link suggesting oneness of Eguare and Idumebo is the fact that intermarriage between Ojieromon's Idumebo and Oghomighor ruling quarter - EGUARE - is strictly forbidden by custom.
WHY AN ONOJIE IS BURIED IN AHIA
The first settlement of EDE NON GBE UZIAZA - A, and founder of Ubiaja, was at a place that is today IWEALA in Ahia. When Ojierorn had left, a disappointed man, to live quietly at a new settlement that because IDUMU-EBO or IDUMEBO, this original settlement in IWEALA because
Eguare of the new monarch, Oghomighon. When the ruling family fled a result of the EMU - UBIAJA WAR, Oghomighon founded a non-settlement at the present OYOMO, Ubiaja. But the incestant attacks Uromi warriors made him and his subjects feel that they were better off near Emu, so they shifted to the present Eguare, and nearer the settlement of Ojieromon. The whereabouts of the IHIANLOTO ODERIE is today still traceable and till date female members of the ruling family are buried at UTE in Oyomo.
When the Ruling Family left Ahia for Oyomo some of the early Enijie were buried in Oyomo. In olden Ishan the most important part of a man was the head - hence the head hunters! The sure sign of victory over an enemy was to come home with the enemy's head, hanging from an OJOMEN string. If one returned from a retaliatory expedition minus the head of the enemy, no one would take him seriously. For an Onojie therefore the loss of the head was a great shame generally on his subjects.
During the early history of Ubiaja Ruling Family at Oyomon, the then Enijie were buried at the then Eguare which Oyomon had become, but on several occasions enemies and wicked medicine men from Uromi often desecrated the Royal Burial Grounds, stealing the royal heads! To guard against this national insult, on an Onojie's death, people of Ahia – the ancestral settlement and Eguare, used to come for the body which they carried through a tortuous path across Ugboha road to Ahia. Nobody in Eguare was allowed to know the exact spot where the Onojie was buried. As an extra precaution, if the head had not already fallen off the body during the three months stages of mummification, the dead ruler had to be decapitated and the head buried separately and most secretly with only the highest man of Iweala knowing where that was.
THE NAME AHlA:
Several stories were given for the origin of the name AHIA, but point to the same thing: that Ede's original settlement did not have to over-all name until the Emu - Ubiaja War. Strictly speaking when Ubiaja Ruling Family was here the place occupied by IDUMUN-OGWA of lkeken was the Ikekogbe of Eguare Ubiaja. Emu, aided and led by the matchet-happy Onojie of Orowa, fought and sacked the inhabitants of lweala, and getting to the settlement to find it deserted, the Orowa warrior, now covered in blood, scraped off the blood clots from his body. He then asked for water as they looked round, and with this he washed his bloody hands. Where he scraped the stains off his body became AHIA (HIA-HIA LEA - SCRAPE IT), and where he washed his hands - ABOARANLEN (ABO ARANLEN).
As used today the name AHIA covers the old IWEALA, ABOARANLEN and OBEIZE.
By immigration Ubiaja began to grow and today, it consists of:-
1. EGUARE: Had the same origin as the Ruling Family. Together with the Government Station which was opened in 1906 by Mr. Crewe Reade, it now had a population of 6716 in 1963.
2. UGBENIN (851 - 1963): One of the junior brothers of Oghomighon the Great was an avid elephant hunter, the love of this dangerous sport taking his real name from him. He founded this settlement.
3. OYOMON was the left-over after Uromi sacked the Ruling Family and made its members shift to the present Eguare. The party of hardy men who chose to remain behind was headed by OWAGBO, Oghonrnigbon's brave second son. The original palace site is marked by the ALU IHIANLOTO ODERIE or the original harem.
4. IDUNMU-OWEMEN: Unable to bear the autocratic rule of the Onojie, some people left Ugbenin, Oyomon and Eguare. On getting to ldumuehan they were invited to stop for Obodo - the long pipe of peace. During the interval they unburdened their chest and were prevailed upon to stay; the more aggrieved ones passed on to join the group that founded Idumien Inemen Ugboha. Those who stayed were so many that they soon started to over-crowd and eclipse Idumehan people who accused them of OLOGHEMEN (Crowding us out) this giving the origin to the name of this quarter - Idumun - Owemen.
These four villages form the EGBELE-NENEN which is the Ruling Family and constitute the Kingmakers of Ubiaja.
5. ORUEN-QNIHA with ORUEN UDAl - 1357 (1963):
One of Oghomighon's junior brothers became the first Oniha while most of his subjects were immigrants from Uromi.
6. UWOKHA: (231)
A majority of the founders came from Uromi while others came from Ora.
7. IDUMUOHANLEN (305):
Many of the first settlers came from Ugboha and were related to Agobo's Idasun.
This settlement was founded by some men who had left UKHUOLO ORIA in protest and were making for Uromi when at Ubiaja they were bribed to stay. They settled as a body , serving the Onojie of Ubiaja through their leader, EHAN, whose successor today is still referred to as 01lE NAN KHOKHO (Not a king but like one). Chief Martin Obiyan was recognized by the State Government. He was born in 1906 and in 1986 he celebrated his 80th birthday. He has since died and was succeeded by his son and heir.
The founders were from Ojieromon's Idumebo. Thus Ohen Ojieromon can be appointed from this quarter too. "Since the creation of the Onojie title, the first settlement in Ubiaja proper was that of Idumebo, founded by Ojieromon in anger. It is therefore their prerogative to do the Oto Worship, but the actual family for this office moved with the group that broke away from Idumebo to found the new quarter of Idumun-Oshodin and so this function passed to the people of this quarter.
Many of the founders were natives of Uromi seeking freedom from the perennial crops of tyrants on the Uromi throne.
11. EBHURU: (2019·1963):
The founder of this place was a native doctor from Ebhuru is Ewatto. Some of the early immigrants also came from OKEDE which is part of Ibhiadan of Emu.
During the Eguare - Ikeakhe War of 1850 many of the people who flee from Emaudo Ekporna that bore the brunt ofthe fighting, founded place: outside Ekpoma - such were Uhe and durnuologho.
14. UKPAJA (322 - 1953; 1487 - 1963):
A majority of the founders were some of the people who fled from Okaigben in Ewohimi same time as OMI of Amedeokhian.
15. OGBEGO was founded by men from Uromi trying to escape oppression.
16. UDAKPA (410 - 1953; 337 - 1963):
In the olden days a woman always accompanied the corpse of an Onojie, and she was put at Ahia to sweep the ancestral settlement and the road leading to the Royal Burying Grounds: Since such a woman was not killed, she was free to have issues, but certainly not males: any time she had a male child it was immediately killed. One such woman was ANASI, who had a son that was so handsome that even the men of horror assigned to guard against the birth of male issues, had no nerves to kill the innocent thing. After much hesitation, one Ahia faithful took the baby and dashed its head against the wall, the child falling limp on the flood water near the gutter (ULUANMEN). When everybody had left the poor mother picked up the baby and nursed it back to life. Before the secret was out that the child did not die, he had grown to be a handsome young man. His life was spared and his descendants serve with the Oshodin at the Ahia Shrine. His settlement became Udakpa.
17. AHIA (534):
As said already Edeikholo's first settlement was at Iweala which also formed Oghomighon's first Eguare. Some immigrants later came from different places, particularly AYA in Ighanlan area giving rise to new quarters. Today Ahia consists of Obeize, Aboaranlen and Iweala.
18. IDUMEBO, as already seen, was founded after Oghomigh on had replaced Ojieromon as the new leader.
19. IGUISI: was founded by men from Ughala in Benin.
(a) EGBELE NENEN: - Comprises Eguare, Ugbenin, Oyomon and Idumuowemen.
(b) ORUEN IDAI: - Oruen Oniha, Uwokha, Idumu-Ehan, Idumu-Oshodin and Idumuogo.
(c) OGHENYEN: - Uhe, Idumebo, Ebhuru and Idumuohanlen.
The elders of Egbele Nenen form the Kingmakers.
As soon as an Onojie died, in the olden days, the EGBAMA (lgene) began to collect firewood. A ditch was dug in an open-enclosure in the palace. Over this ditch was erected a high wooden platform. The dead Onojie was placed on this platform and a fire kept going in the ditch below. For three months it was the Egbama's duty to see that this fire never went out. In this way the body was mummified. Then Ahia people came to remove the body tlirough a winding path and on such a day any person at Eguare dared out at his own risk. As a result of the three months slow drying the head often fell off the body, thus saving Ahia from the unpleasant task of having to decapitate their late ruler.
Originally the heir was forbidden to visit Eguare. This was to avoid jealousy on the father seeing his son growing and to curb undue anxiety on the heir's part. As a child, the traditional living place was the OTON'S place at Idumehan, and he came to know Eguare as a grown up man on the day his father died. He stayed in an appointed Odion's house and was never permitted to live in Odugha until after burial and installation. This was three months from the time the late Onojie died. All this time the palace had to be under the care of his senior uncle or the late Onojie's next brother. The administration of the town was in the hands of the Oniha.
As soon as he arrived Eguare and before the process of mummification began, he washed his father with the beheading of a man, but after 1900, a cow and a fat goat replaced this. The market and the main gate to the harem had to be closed by the beheading of human beings across the entrances. The burial ceremonies for the people of Eguare and Ahia began. This was completed with the Ogbe ceremony.
The burial and Ogbe ceremonies over, the heir was ripe for the inheritance of his father's property and installation. The Oniha came from his village - Oruen, and performed his official crying which officially broke the news of the Onojie's death to the inhabitants of the harem. After the Iluobo by the Osukhure, the heir was counted on the throne by the Oniha. For his services he was given a girl as a wife, a goat and UJE – nearly 18,666 cowries or 74.6k in modern currency.
Since the death of ELABO I, Ubiaja had been torn by succession strife and this of course had retarded the growth of the district - so much so that but for the importance given it by its being the administrative headquarters of Ishan Division since 1906, Ubiaja could have become a third rate clan by now. At one time it practically became a vassal of Ugboba whose Onojie, OKOJIE was appointed D.H. (District Head), Ubiaja.
First Ojieromon of Idumebo should have been the very first Onojie but for the selfish Ewuare's diplomacy, and Ojierornon's own pride. OGHOMIGHON left his mark in the history of Ubiaja. He revelled in attempting the impossible. He it was who wanted to quench his thirst with a cup of water from the Niger which in those road less and impenetrable jungle days, must have been some 64km away. Oghomighon lined up men from the bank of the Niger to his palace and each man passed the cup full of water to the next man without taking a step. Men tie the expensive coral beads round their wrists and ankles as a mark of wealth and rank. If a few coils showed wealth, Oghomighon would show he was richer than any other monarch by tying coils round a palm tree from the ground to the top! He had not got half-way before death showed there was somebody mightier than the great Oghomighon! He was deified by his people.
The last great Onojie Ubiaja had was USIFO N'OJIE, so called because of his wealth, wisdom and peaceful reign. He achieved fame without the vampire technique of the famous Enijie like Eromosele, Ogbidi, Eimuan, Imadojiemun etc. After Elabor I the light of the Ruling House of Ubiaja went out to be replaced with darkness in which hatred, confusion suspicion and bipartisan warfare could be identified easily. Elabor was white handed (due to tertiary yaws), slow-talking, publicity-shy Ruler. Because of this Chief Obiyan did most of the talking for him until he had virtually eclipsed him as Onojie. To counter this, Elabor I's heir, the precocious and bold UGBESEA, decided to speak for his father. He if turn, became a man of so much affluence that people tended to forget the existence of Elabor I. The magic word in Ubiaja became UGBESEA. Of this Prince it is enough to say that those who knew him best loved him least. Drunk - and this was his usual condition - he was unpleasant, but in his brief and rare sober moments, he was quite impossible. Just take a peep at this Prince: Emafo was Ugbesea's bag man. He was well connected to the palace and corridor of power in Ubiaja. He married Princess Ezighi Elabor who was a maternal sister of Ugbesea: they were that close, but on a flame of temper, Ugbesea took Ezighi and all her children she had for Emafo and gave them to the powerful Imadojiemu of Opoji! '
Despite the pain of losing a precious son like Ugbesea, one cannot say for sure if Ubiaja was not a better place without him although such a question was speculative and it surely had a sting ints tail! This assertion is buttressed with Ugbesea's impudence. In 1901 Ugbesea challenged bluffy
Francis Noel Ashley, a Londoner, the then British Administrative officer, to tell Ubiaja how much the whitemen would pay Ubiaja before they started clearing Ubiaja land here and there. Stung, Ashley recognized this audacious Prince as a revolutionary and decided to clamp down on Ugbesea and Ubiaja before they got out of hand. The Government school was transferred to Ekpoma, the Niger Company to lllushi and the Hospital at which Ejemeare was a labourer all Ubiaja knew, was transferred to Agbor.
THE EKO WAR, 1913:
When Ikeken rebelled against Ugbesea's flamboyant show of power and authority, soldiers and friends of Ubiaja went to Ikeken; amongst them was the great Odijie of Okaigben, Ewohimi. But for Ugbesea, Ikeken should have still remained part of Ubiaja. As he eclipsed his father he tried to
Over shadow the other Enijie of Ishan all monarchs by right. His last act was the impudent assault on the great Ogbidi in 1918. Ubiaja owes it to Ugbesea that he was the cause of all the muddle and strife in the town in those days: but for his untimely death, there could have been no EBHOJIE, no ALOWA and no REGENCY.
At the height of his fame as a Prince and ruler, death struck at the Palace: Ugbesea predeceased his father! The result was that when Elabo I died on the 26th of May, 1921, the first surviving son was EBHOJIE, who performed the burial and Ogbe ceremonies, before he was installed.
Here is a convenient point to say a word about the confused dates at the archives and elsewhere surrounding Ubiaja affairs. The District Officer's minutes at the archives stated that Elabor I died on 26th May, 1921. How could this be bearing in mind that when the Ubiaja Native Court was constituted on 20th April, 1920, Ebhojie like all the Enijie of the District, was appointed (see SSPA 287/14 of 20/4120 BP 214120)1 So powerful was Prince Ugbesea that at his death in November, 19 19, he was gazetted - "Death of Onojie of Ubiaja" whereas the real Onojie, Elabor I, Ugbesea's father, was alive! The truth in all these confusing dates may be that though he died on 26th May, 1921, he had retired so old and feeble that he could hardly function as Onojie.
For the second time in a short space of time, death struck at the palace prematurely; the new Onojie, Ebhojie I, died on the 22nd of February, 1923 with his son and heir, ABUMERE, a minor, only about a year old! A regent had to be appointed, and constitutionally, the choice had to be from Elabor I's sons according to age. Right from then the - Kingmakers got into a muddle, for IMADOJIEMUN succeeded in imposing himself on the palace as a regent in place of ALOWA who was next in line. After a month the kingmakers won and Imadojiemun had to yield place to
ALOWA. That was on 7th May 1923.
In 1924, the Ojigolo (Illushi) road was being constructed under forced labour ordinance; on one occasion when Ubiaja went to work on the road, it was so wet that many people returned ill. Three died from pneumonia, caught from the dampness and exposure.
Ubiaja summoned a big protest meeting presided over by no less a person than the Regent Alowa. It was unanimously decided that no Ubiaja man should again be sent to work on the Ogigolo road: if the Whiteman wanted a road to the Niger he should hire labourers to build it for him. If they caught fever and 'Arrows in their chest’, that would be by- product of their gain! Though no oath was taken, the decision was as binding as ever!
When it was Ubiaja's turn to send men again, no one went. Then Mr. RL. Archer (till this day it is believed he could fire his barbed arrows with equal ferocity at both plaintiff and accused), sent to ask why. For an answer he had all Ubiaja milling round his District Office. He told the crowd to go back into the town and he would be satisfied with hearing from - their leader, Alowa. Thus the poor man, who only a few days previously had chairman a meeting at which it was decided that the Ojigolo road was a white man's burden, found himself face to face with the Whiteman, biggest and fiercest within a radius of 100 (one hundred) miles! Under normal conditions Archer's eyes emitted invisible arrows, but on this occasion, they emitted easily identifiable fire! A few aids flanking Alowa were nudging him to speak up Ubiaja's mind - but what he uttered' was sacrilegious to Ubiaja: said Alowa, "you want us to build the Ojigolo road and Ubiaja people are angry about it. I personally do not see why we should be angry; we will go to work."
That was his doom. He escaped Archer's arrows but before he got to the palace, there was already a formidable caucus, at which he was to face a humiliating inquisition. He ran back to the District Office to lodge a complaint, thus leading to arrest of the ring leaders. There and then they were charged with disobeying and inciting others to rebel against constituted authority; of course they got various terms of imprisonment and that got Alowa squarely into the mess. A more formidable meeting was called. Alowa was reminded that he was only an AKHEOA and having "watched the house badly" he should consider his services as no longer required by Ubiaja! He ran to Benin City to report to his junior brother, EIGBUKHUO. In his own interest he stayed away from the angry mob of Ubiaja.
The Ubiaja throne was again vacant. Imadojiemum, the senior maternal brother of Eigbulchuo (UKHUO), reared up his head again, and a succession strife began this time between Okojie the next in line of succession and Imadojiemun. Okojie was a Road Headman on the Opoji road and he returned home to be able to direct his battle against his junior brother. The kingmakers got another chance to fish in troubled waters. At the end, that was on 7th March, 1924, Okojie was made Akheoa. Soaked in corruption and blinded by avarice, Okojie was asked by the kingmakers to perform the burial and Ogbe ceremonies. Ignorant of Ishan custom, he deluded himself and his descendants by performing the burial ceremonies of his father, Elabor I which had been done four years previously by unlucky Ebhojie. As the people of Ahia and the 'Elder Brother people of Udo' stood to benefit from this corrupt ruling of the kingmakers, they welcomed the valueless feast of Okojie. The all-powerful Egbele Nenen directed him first to kill a goat at the ancestral shrine to adopt the young Ebhojie's heir, ABUMERE as his own heir "according to Ishan law and custom”. For fear, love of office or through ignorance or through all together, Okojie adopted Abumere as his own heir "according to Ishan law and custom". Then he went through the expensive burial and Ogbe ceremonies, after which his stupid mistake glared at him. "ALL THIS FOR NOTHING! I die and my true son has no place!" He decided to right things before the departed spirits. He bribed a few elders of the Egbele Nenen, who he thought could make and unmake!
Back to the ancestral shrine they went and secretly they spilled the irresistible goat blood for the departed spirits, telling them to ignore the adoption that had been made before and that from that minute, Abumere had ceased to be his lawful heir!
Unfortunately the news of this secret disinheritance leaked out and before the last of the goat flesh had disappeared from Odugha, the Egbele. Nenen assembled in the palace in full strength. Okojie was summoned to explain his strange doings and from that moment his own troubles began. Later he was accused of calling in a powerful native doctor to make a quick-killing medicine with which to liquidate the more vocal kingmakers. "Kings call medicine men in order to seek peace and prosperity in their towns, Okojie calls his to reduce the population of Ubiaja!" That was the last count in a number of accusations. The elders of Uhe were consulted as to the prescribed punishment for the type of offence the untried Okojie was quietly of. The august reply from these men of wisdom was that the punishment for such an Onojie was public hanging at UHONMILO of. Ubiaja. Since the Whiteman would no longer allow such a quick way of settling matters, and what was more, the Revered Fathers had turned the fearful Uhonmilo into a living place following the arrival of Rev. Fr. Clement Barnwatt in .19 08, Okojie was asked to pack and keep moving.
Unrecognized he stuck to the Palace until about 1927 when all Ubiaja. ELINMIN (Masquerades) assembled before the palace and demanded. Okojie's body, dead or living. Then and then only Okojie sensed the seriousness of his enemies; any attack by masked men would be so riotous nobody would be able to lay his hands on the real murderer; so Okojie fled and made for Auchi.
He later returned to Opoji but one day while returning from Ubiaja to Opoji via Udo, he fell off his bicycle and was later found dead. And once more Ubiaja found itself a people without a leader and the next five years brought them bitterly face to face with the humiliations of a body without a head; it can writhe in pain, but it cannot progress! Ubiaja drifted in the then hazy atmosphere of Esan political life. As Esan people say OJIE KHE EBHOLO (The King is the community). If the king is strong and powerful the community under him will be verile and progressive; if he is decrepit and timid, his domain will be unsteady, weak and his subjects would be kicked about like a ball outside their country. Ubiaja that had got places like Udo, Okhuesan, and Onogholo etc. under its wings, had to be ruled itself from out side. Truly by 1930 the late Okojie of Ugboha had begun to sign himself officially as "District Head of Ubiaja at Ugboha"! It took Ubiaja five solid years to see the irony of their fate - people without a leader could only be followers!
From abroad and at home, everyone was aware of what was wrong, and Prince EIGBUKHUO, then District Interpreter at Benin City, was invited to take up the throne and break the demoralizing interregnum. Prince Ukhuo, though the TWELFTH SON of Elabo I, and at that time having the erstwhile Alowa (who did not die until 1940), ONODIASIKE, LAWRENCE OKODUGHA, IBHAWA, AGHEDO etc. as his seniors, had the great advantage of being literate and wise in the Whiteman’s ways. A man of his intelligence must have been tormenting inwardly to see the town left by his father and once made famous by a mere Prince like Ugbesea, in such a sorry plight. He answered his people's call, left his lucrative and respectable position and returned home in March, becoming Onojie, NOT A REGENT, in May, 1932, after performing the IRUEN Ceremony.
In the fifties the trouble in Ubiaja stared any enquirer in the face. The town was full of jealousy, hate and intrigue. Scarcely any two elders agreed on what was good and right for the town. Many people wanted Elabo 11 who sacrificed so much and done so much to reclaim the down-trodden name of Ubiaja and made it the envious headquarters of the 1950. North-East Federation of Ubiaja, Ugboha, Udo, Oria and Illushi Clans, to step down for Ebhojie's son. With a delicate matter as this concerning a constitutional monarchy, unfortunately, it is not what is fitting and proper but WHAT IS CUSTOMARY AND RIGHT that must be the over-riding factor. Ubiaja will not know peace until Kingmakers are prepared to shut their eyes against corruption, avarice, and envy and disregard for Native Law and Custom – a situation the British administration said was due to the shiftiness of Ubiaja Kingmakers!
I will consider this Ubiaja Constitutional muddle in more detail, but before this, a few words about this child of destiny - ABUMERE. When Ugbesea died in November 1919, three of his wives called AKHAHON, UNUFOLO and one other were inherited according to custom by EBHOJIE, who had become the next surviving son of ELABO I. Akhahon, an Eguare Okhuesan woman, as Ebhojie's wife, had a son in 1922. This child named ABUMERE was only about twelve months old when Ebhojie died in February, 1923. Abumere's senior brother who Akhahon had got for Ugbesea, was ESELEBO. Unufolo, a native of Idumueguariokokhun Ugboha and daughter of Egbedion, had a son, PAMA, for Ebhojie. Yet another son for Ebhojie was AKPUKPUNA. Thus Abumere, Ebhojie's son and heir had and in the fifties, still had two living brothers - Pama and Akpukpuna. These two were mere babies when their father died in 1923.
Many agents of confusion and with an axe to grind, say Ebhojie only had a daughter called ABAAGHA and that Abumere was Prince Ugbesea's son. Even a blundering and mischievous Administrative Officer minute in the Archives that "The proper successor is one AHIBUMERE a son of a former Onojie Ogbesia was however, a small child of 13". All these are deceits, the implications of which the Kingmakers ought to know; if truth is anything to these traditional men of importance. When Ebhojie died, everyone agreed that Abumere was a sucking child 'just begining to walk. Ugbesea died in November, 1919 and his wife was inherited. Ebhojie did not become Onojie until 1920 and three years after, he himself died; leaving a son, Abumere as a baby! Thus these agents of strife would want people to believe that a baby of twelve months in 1923, was fathered by a man who died in 1919!
Yet another method of throwing dust into the eyes of historians is the constant reference by some Ubiaja people to the fact that when Akhahor sued for divorce, it was to AZEKHUEMEN, Ugbesia's heir, that the dowery was returned. That might be so, but it did not make a twelve months baby in 1923, a son of a man who had died four years earlier. It certainly did no ake Abumere (and nobody in Ubiaja infers that) the son of Azekhuemen Azekhuemen, if really he received the dowry refunded by Akhahon, must have done so only on one ground: first the woman was his own father wife, later inherited by his uncle Ebhojie. When Ebhojie died he had no grown up son to inherit his property, including wives; thus the wives left for the immediate family to appropriate by inheritance. Who were these immediate family members? They were Alowa, Okojie, Imadojiemun etc who, as we have seen already were deeply engrossed in a battle of attrition over the vacant throne. A fight for women then would have been at anti-climax! With these men who ought to have inherited Ebhojie's wives tearing at their own throats over the Onojie title, these women were, as was say in Esan , "like women without husbands" men treat them as a booty of loot and they make excellent footballs! Akhahon, a self-respecting lady, tire and sick of this disgraceful life, finally sued for divorce: who else would be more interested in the welfare of what was Prince Ugbesea's loved wife, but his heir!
The truth therefore is that Abumere, then a young man of 32 in 1954, is the TRUE SON AND HEIR of Ebhojie, not the son of Ugbesea or Azekhuemen. One word more: as I have shown already there are other Ebhojies to cause evil minded Kingmakers of Ubiaja, more nightmares. Pama, whose Esan name is EGBOBHADENOSE, is an easily identifiable one such. TO trace him is not difficult; his senior sister, ASEGHE, was married, known to everybody interested in Ubiaja affairs to OBIYAN of Amedeokhian. When this man died in 1942, Aseghe ran mad, but she did not die until 1953. Thus while all eyes are focussed upon innocent Abumere, another Ebhojie is blossoming unseen - but bright enough to be adding to the headache of the Kingmakers! In 1986 Pama Egbobhadenose was working in then Agbazilo Local Government Council, Ubiaja.
Now for the Ubiaja chieftaincy muddle that would require the best exponents of Ishan Laws and Custom to unravel. The acts of omission and commission of the Kingmakers are just terrible. I will take them seriatim just for the records.
1. The Ubiaja custom like the pure Esan custom, is for the heir to begin and end the burial of his father within three months of his father's death. As soon as the vital parts are completed he is installed. Ebhojie, therefore had to go through with both the burial and Ogbe Ceremonies before he became Onojie in 1920. That placed Abumere squarely in the line of succession.
2. After Alowa's fiasco Dkojie was asked to ascend the throne on the understanding that he was:
(a) An Akheoa; and
(b) Acting for Ebhojie's Abumere who was a minor.
To make assurance doubly sure, he was asked to first adopt Abumere as his own heir, before he was installed. The next instruction to Okojie showed the Kingmakers as a pack of irresponsible bribe- hungry men, tradition had given Ubiaja, to choose her highest man of authority: Okojie was asked to perform the Burial and Ogbe Ceremonies; Elabo I, his father had long been buried and the Ogbe ceremony performed by Ebhojie before his installation.
Who was Okojie performing these ceremonies for? It is astonishing that nobody amongst the Kingmakers ever asked this question. Apparently the kingmakers were ready to accept anybody prepared to give them extra bribes, feasts etc. Even the traditionally important men of Ahi4Land-Udo acquiesced to the kingmakers' irresponsible demand since they too stood benefit by way of their customary dues. Okojie, excited over the prospectus of getting unto the Ubiaja throne, was prepared to do anything asked by the kingmakers. He thoughtlessly killed a goat at the ancestral shrine to inherited Abumere, who from then on became ABUMERE OKOJIE - heir to the throne! Then he proceeded to perform the expensive Burial and Ogbe Ceremonies. Having finished he realised that all he had done was to enable the Onojie title to remain in his own line during his lifetime. He became painfully aware of the terrible mistake his anxiety and greed for power and wealth had led him to do. As explained already his attempt to undo what had been done at the ancestral shrine, made him a suspect of trying preclude Abumere from his lawful right, and secure it for his (Okojie children. The boycott of the palace soon after was just a logical conclude of a bad business. If the Ubiaja kingmakers were not experts at create difficulties for themselves where lay the sense in asking Okojie to through vital ceremonies that might give him and his children pretence the throne? I have no doubt that Okojie in going through these ceremonies had the deluded notion that they might make his children's claim surer. The Esan Custom of Burial and Ogbe entitles "ALL CHILDREN OF A MAN inheritance of the family title and property, in order of seniority. If the first son before inheriting these has the sense to go through the ceremony himself, he rules out his other brothers. When this custom is applied, to the Okojie case, we can appreciate the thorns Ubiaja Kingmakers had sown 1 Abumere and Okojie's sons: When Okojie performed these ceremonies after adopting Abumere, he performed them FOR ALL HIS CHILDREN, adopted son to his legitimate sons!
3. The final muddle in this bewildering movements of 1 Kingmakers was the invitation to Prince Eigbukhuo. For one thing, he have written down the list of Elabo I's children, actual position being twelveth, among the males. As a wise and educated man he was not going to put his neck the noose just as his elders had done with disastrous results. He was further aware of the fact that the Kingmakers knew what a sacrifice it was for him to leave the security of a nice job with a loss of his pension and gratuity but he wanted something concrete in return. So an agreement, witnessed
Commander Pykenott, was signed between Prince Eigbukhuo and Kingmakers to the effect that:
(a) The Kingmakers removed Prince Ukhuo from his job come and help put home in order.
(b) Ebhojie's young son Abumere is the rightful owner of the throne.
(c) Prince Ukhuo was to ascend the throne and remain Onojie for life but
(d) On his death, Abumere was to succeed him, but should Abumere predecease him, his (Ukhuo's) heir would succeed him.
Prince Ukhuo considered the agreement fair enough and in May, 932 he became Onojie of Ubiaja as ELABO II. But within twenty years, Elabo II with his education, experience, tact and humility, found himself face to face with envy, ingratitude and psychologically nerve shattering repetition of the Kingmakers that he was AFTER ALL ONLY AN AKHEOA! At first it was that as soon as he died Abumere would come unto his own - but later the rumbling turned into a roar - open demand for him to step down since' Abumere was now a grown up man!
A word about this agreement which only made for peace during the life span of Elabo II. The fourth clause in this strange agreement makes some Esan people wonder if the Kingmakers of Ubiaja are themselves sane and ever have the interest of their home land at heart. Esan all over, a man performs the burial and Ogbe ceremonies to perpetuate the family inheritance and succession to the family title in his own line. In 1920 when Ebhojie performed these ceremonies he made the claim to the Onojie title secure in his line. Thus if his first son died, the next in order of succession would be the second son, and if that was dead too, then the third son and so on. No other line would be considered until all Ebhojie's legitimate son have died out.
Now Clause 4 in the Prince Ukhuo - Kingmakers Agreement stated that should Abumere predecease Prince Ukhuo, then Elabo II's son would succeed to the throne. That is at variance with the dictates of Native Law Iand Custom. What of Pama, Enojie's second son? What of Akpukpuna?
I As I saw it then, Ubiaja was in for a lot of political unrest once Elabo II had played his part and gone. I thought it would be the duty of all lovers of Ubiaja to bring sanity back to the Kingmakers. It was their sacred duty to winnow facts from imaginary and deliberate distortions. For over thirty years in the fifties, the kingmakers' bungling had nearly completely; ruined Ubiaja as a verile chiefdom. Nothing is ever settled until it is settled aright. Any settlement not based upon lshan Native Laws and Custom would at best, be a patch-work, merely postponing acceptance of the truth and subjecting poor Ubiaja to further humiliations.
But things took a different turn for in 1956 the Western Government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo instituted the Ogunaike Enquiry which led to Elabo being destooled and Prince Abumere was installed Ebhojie II in 1958.
VI PRESENT ONOJIE:
Prince Philip Eidenojie succeeded his father who died on Saturday, 23rd May, 1987, as Abumere I, although in royal court system it is when there is a second royalty to bear a name already in the history of that line that the first to bear that name becomes "THE 1ST". Like this example Prince Philip who took his father's first name ought to be HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS ABUMERE simplicita. Any other Ubiaja Onojie that takes Abumere will become the second.
Prince Philip, a tall stately man, was born in 1953, attended L.A. Primary School and St. Augustine Secondary Modern School, Ubiaja before joining the Nigerian Army in 1%7 . He was recalled at the demise of his royal father and installed as the seventeenth Onojie (not counting Ijiekhijie the forgotten names).
He got his staff of office from the Military Governor Governor, Col. John Mark Iniengar, Fss, and Psc on 4th June. 1988.