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 majority of the people of present day Ugbegun, after a rather nomadic life, were originally living in Irrua close to Usugbenu. Two things made them shift to a place where they could live like free men; the first-was the autocratic rulers of Irma, each successor being just a little more so than his predecessor. The second which was the last straw, was the incessant friction with the people of Irrua which culminated in the Irma – Ugbegun War. In this the fewer Ugbegun people were so massacred that the lucky ones who escaped decided to put a safe distance between them and these war-mongers of Irrua.
(a) EGUARE (1953 - 1, 108):
The original founders came from Benin under the leadership of a warrior called ODOHUN: they did not come direct from Benin. Their first stop was at lruekpen in Ekpoma area. After some time here they moved on to live for a time at IDUMU - UKHUA in Uhiele, by the time the immigrants left Ekpoma area Odohun's son, OWELE had become the leader. Till this day one cannot fail to be impressed at the way Ugbegun people have stuck to the Ekpoma dialect.
The migratory body moved from Idumu-Ukhua to a place in Irrua living quite close to Usugbenu. Here they were until the Irrua –Ugbegun War which nearly ruined them as a unit; some fled to Ibore and today constitute Ugbegun quarter of Ibore, others to IDUMU - ESABA of Ubierumu in Uromi and some to IDUMU - OZA also in Uromi.
The over-all name of Ugbegun came from their first real Onojie called UGBEGUN, who went along with the rest of Esan leaders round about 1463 to answer Oba Ewuare the Selfish's call.
The founders were the original people who had settled 00 Irrua land but had to move to safety like Iki Opoji, lvue Uromi etc; who bore the tooth-mark of Irrua aggression. When peace finally came an OKOVEN was established between Ugbegun and Usugbenu. The Ihaza is found in this quarter.
(c) UMELEN (1953 - 412; 1963 - 1,510)
This village took origin form Idumuobo (Ugbengun ne Ebudio) during the reign of Amuze, and has the same feast and custom. They are closely related to the body of refugees that settled in Ibore. The Iyasele lives in Umelen.
(d) IDUMU-OLI (430):
This quarter originated from Ehor via Idumu-Ukhua in Uhiele Ekpoma. The people of this part of Uhiele and Idumu-Oli still maintain this ancient connection.
(e) IDUMUEGUALE founders came from Uhi on the old Esan - Benin road.
(t) UGBEGUN NE EBUDIN (1953 - 2,432; 1963 - 3, 185):
This place was founded in the main by Obo, hence its other name which is Idumu - 900. Qbo's party suffered the brunt of the Irma Ugbegun War and finally fled further than the rest of Ugbegun, straight into the heart of the jungle - thick with oil palm trees. They were later joined by immigrants from Era and Ebhoran in the old Kukuruku Division. The Oniha of Ugbegun is found here.
II IMMEDIATE PAST ONOJIE:
Presiding over the destiny of Ugbegun until 1980 was Obade N'Ojie, who was Obade Asikagbon as a Prince. He attended school in several places: Ebudin, Ugbegun, Government School, Ewu, Catholic School, Igueben finally passing out at Government School, Uromi in 1938. He had his secondary education at Ennitonian Boy's High School, Port Harcourt. Like most Esan boys, he ' had to stop before completing his secondary education because of lack of financial support. In 1941, he joined the army and served under the Base Ordinance as 'a technical Clerk in Nigeria and in the Sierra Leone. He was demobbed in 1946. On August 15, 1947, his father Asikagbon died and in that same year after the burial ceremonies he was installed Onojie.
Obade N’Ojie was one of the best educated Enijie in Esan, fluent, forthright and bold to a fault; he never minced words on any matter, this contributed to his getting into unnecessary arguments and confrontations with British Officers. Later in life, when the star of the Onojie title began to fade and his subjects began to feel less obliged to be dutiful to him, Obade was prepared to do any job that would yield honest living. He converted his car into a taxi asking those making faces at him to go to hell! He died while still full of life and determination on 15th May, 1979.
Obade N'Ojie's death like his controversial life, had brought Ugbegun Kingmakers a king - size problem in Esan custom surrounding inheritance of the onojie title. His first son and heir Prince Isaac Ogbejele developed some mental trouble while he (Obade) was still alive and after his death the young man was of such mind that he could not go through the arduous burial ceremonies. Insanity indeed, is one of the obvious conditions that could disqualify an heir from his inheritance; since being of unsound mind he would be unable to know what he was doing, or knowing whether what he was doing was right or wrong. Therefore, the logical thing for the Kingmakers was to call on Victor Ibhiabo Asikagbon who though is the fifth in seniority amongst Asikagbon's surviving sons, is educated and considered more suitable for the job in hand - to be an Akheoa or Regent. Senior to Ibhiabo are Eigbomian, Anegbemente and Ebodehalumen, all uncles to the sick Ogbejele. His immediate brother who is Obade's second son is Captain Samuel Iwono who at that time was in the Nigeria Army in Ikom, Cross River State. This had brought a temporary solution to the problem surrounding the death of Obade N'Ojie; the kingmakers were waiting for the ailing heir Ogbejele to recover or die; unfortunately madness does not kill that quick and since the Prince's condition had lasted some years and he had no mother to vigorously seek treatment for him, the chances of spontaneous recovery were very slim and here hanged a real problem in customary law. The regency solution itself was froth with problems. This was the unhappy situation until the 23rd of November, 1986 when Isaac Ogbejele died leaving a three year old son, AWANOKHUENIN and another son, IRETE two years old. From nowhere Eguare Ugbegun that ought to watch their rulership position carefully, split into two. One faction said Ogbejele had performed the burial ceremony of Obade N'Ojie and so he had validated the inheritance of the royal title for the three year old Awanokhuenin. The other group argued that the late Ogbejele could not take care of himself or his affairs and was not in any position to perform the burial ceremonies and since it cannot be done for another, even if he attempted it, no true royal family egbele or Ugbegun people would accept such a facade. It was astonishing when I interviewed Victor Ibhiabo Asikagbon, recognized by the State Government to look after the throne, he maintained that Ogbejele really performed the burial ceremonies during one of the lucid intervals.
Surely the Kingmakers had ample time to know that without proper medical care any lucid interval would be followed by a period of lunacy. Was Ugbengun prepared to have a mentally ill man sit on their throne? Fortunately for Ugbegun by February, 1987the State Government had ruled that the correct person to ascend the throne after proper burial ceremonies would be the second son of Obade N'Ojie - Capt. Samuel Iwono Obade N'Ojie. It is a great relief to Ugbegun and Esan Native Laws and Custom that this young Prince has since done all required by tradition and has since ascended the throne of Ugbegun.
NOTE: VICTOR IBHIABO ASIKAGBON died in a ghastly motor accident on the Benin - Auchi Road on Monday, 8th of August, 1988.
The elders of Eguare form the Kingmakers of Ugbegun.
On the death of the Onojie the first son begins the burial ceremonies at once (according to real Esan custom), after the Oshodin has led the inmates of the harem in the official crying. This is not counter wise to the. Oniha's official duty of announcing the Onojie's death. The Oshodin who is the care-taker of the harem, of course, has to lead in all activities officially affecting the harem.
After seven to fourteen days intensive ceremonies, the celebrant having satisfied the spirits of his departed ancestors, he is now ready to inherit his father's official and private property according to Esan Laws and Custom. After the Iluobo which also combines the inheritance of his father's wives with the pre-installation blessings, he is installed by the Odionwele of Eguare and the Oniba.
Ugbegun in the fifties was not quite a peaceful town because of some fundamental mistakes over native laws and custom. It will be seen in several places that where there have been careless deviation seeds of chieftaincy disputes are sown and they sprout so easily on a soil richly manure with corruption.
The trouble started with fearless Asikagbon (1916 - 1947) who some call THE TYRANT. One did not need to be a detective to see in Asikagbon's scales of justice a lot, besides the evidence, and soon this brought him head-on against the British administration. On the 21st of June, 1927, he was imprisoned for two years. Again in 1943, he suffered another punishment in prison. The Onojie's first son, Obade was away on national service and so the question of appointment of a regent came up. According to Esan laws and custom the next in line of succession should have been appointed; that is Asikagbon's next brother or Asikagbon's heirs’ senior uncle. Instead it was felt that Ugbegun needed an experienced man who understood the ills of the town to rule while Asikagbon was away. For this there was no nobler person than the industrious Chief Iyayi who knew how to combine industry with politics. In 1946 Asikagbon came back like a bad penny and of course the town was divided between those who wanted him or felt it was his right to return to his natural position and those who felt that in vengeance Asikagbon would burn Ugbegun and hence wanted Iyayi to continue as regent. Asikagbon did not get his throne back in accordance with Esan laws and custom, but even long after Asikagbon and throughout Obade N'Ojie's reign, Ugbegun never really got the peace and harmony it had a right to have. With Chief Iyayi's death, Obade N'Ojie's heir ought to find things easier. One of Chief Iyayi's sons, Hon. Francis Iyayi had become an honourable member of the House of Representatives. With his maturity as a seasoned civil servant - he was a Permanent Secretary – and his respectable public image, he and Obade's successor ought to be able to harmonise whatever factions still existed in Ugbegun. Unfortunately he died unexpectedly in 1983.