By Suyi Ayodele
In our elementary History classes, we were told of three different Attas. One of them is Atta of Ayede Ekiti. The second is Atta of Igala. The third is Atta Ebira. Shame on those who hacked History off our school shelves! The Oba of my town was once known as Oloja Ara. We changed the title to Onise of Odo Oro-Ekiti. At a time, we were known as Ara, then we became Araromi Ekiti and by consensus, we changed to Odo-Oro Ekiti. The people remain the same. If the present Oba decides to go back to Oloja Ara, so be it. He will only be answering the names those before him answered.
The Paramount ruler of Ebiraland, Dr. Ado Ibrahim, called himself the name of his ancestors. The Kogi State Government is angry. Why? When has it become a crime for a man to answer his fathers’ name? Atta Ebira is the traditional title of the ruler of the Ebira people. That title was used up to the 20th century. A man, our elders say, gives any name he likes to his dog. That axiom has not changed. So, what would be the problem if the Ohinoyi of Ebiraland decided to answer “Atta Ebira”. His forebears answered that title. The history is there. The Ohinoyi of Ebiraland is a modern-day title, given to the traditional ruler when his supremacy was subjugated under the government. What is in a name, itself? If the Ebira monarch chooses to bear any name, how does that affect the content of his response to the query issued to him by the state government?
“Who is your Majesty’s enemy? The Oyo Mesi (Kingmakers) asked Alaafin Aole. Iku Baba Yeye sighed. He was too experienced not to know what his kingmakers were dragging him into. Alaafin Aole ruled the Old Oyo Empire between 1789 and 1796, a period of seven years. And those were seven eventful years in the history of the Kingdom. Yoruba Historian, The Rev, Samuel Johnson, in his famous book, “The History of The Yorubas”, captured the encounter between Aole and his Oyo Mesi under the sub-heading: “The King’s Enemies” (pg 224-227). Oyo Mesi would not ask a question without getting an answer. They knew this and Alaafin Aole also knew that. Once an Alaafin named his enemy in those days, it was customary for his Aare Ona Kakanfo (the Generalissimo) to wage war against the king’s enemy. But at that time, the Aare Ona Kakanfo was Afonja. Aole knew that there was no love lost between him and Afonja. He knew that his kingmakers wanted to drag him into an open confrontation with the warlord, who was also his relation. If he named his enemy and Aare Ona Kakanfo refused to fight, Alaafin would have to wage a war against his Kakanfo. To answer the Oyo Mesi, Alaafin Aole said: “I have told you that my enemy is too formidable for me, and besides, we are the same kith and kin” (Mo ti wi fun yin tele pe eni to lagbara ju mi lo ni ota mi, o si tun je iyekan mi). The Holy Book in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew 10:36 says: “And a man’s foe shall be they of his own household”. Aole knew that the conspiracy brewing would consume him. He prepared for it. His immediate crime was that he restored to one stranger, Alaja eta (he who has a dog that resembles a leopard), a Hausa man, the items stolen from him by the then Basorun Asamu. The pressure was much on Alaafin Aole and he was forced to order a needless war against a forbidden clan, Iwere, which by Yoruba tradition and custom, was a fortified city and forbidden by nature to be attacked. The end led to Aole’s suicide and the 1796 curse he issued on the entire Yoruba Race before he slept too.
The worst that can happen to a man is to have to go to war against his family members. A man who has his kith and kin as his enemy is half dead. The first thing that is compromised is his personal security. Nothing breaks a man’s confidence than to see his brother up in arms against him. If the man fights and wins, he is still a loser. African society does not decorate a man for winning a battle against his sibling. Sibling battle is one that must be fought with utmost caution. But the question is: how cautious can a man be when dealing with a relation who is waging a deliberate war against him? The Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, Dr. Ado Ibrahim, got an unusual New Year gift from the Kogi State Government in form of a letter, interrogating him on why he was absent when the state government received General Muhammadu Buhari during his presidential visit to the state on December 29, 2022. The president, according to the query, was in Okene, the seat of the Ohinoyi, “to commission landmark projects executed by our dear Governor, His Excellency, Alh. Yahaya Bello”. The letter went further to lecture the 94-year old monarch on state protocol and courtesy, to wit: “It might interest you to note that official courtesy demands that when a personality of a President occupying the highest office in the land is visiting or even passing through the State, the Governor and top Public Officers including topmost Traditional Rulers are expected to receive him as a mark of respect for him and the Office he occupies. It is on record that in time past, topmost Traditional Rulers including the President, Kogi State Council of Chiefs do receive the Governor of the State on his return from critical missions undertaken on behalf of the State. But you have chosen to disdain the office of the Executive Governor, and this time, you did it with effrontery before the number one citizen of Nigeria”. Endorsed by Enimola Eniola, Director of Chieftaincy Affairs, the query described the Ohinoyi’s action as “an act of insubordination and disloyalty to the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, the Executive Governor of Kogi State and the entire Ebira nation as a whole”. It ordered the traditional ruler to respond within 48 hours, to show “why disciplinary action should not be taken against you for these acts of insubordination and disloyalty” and added that the Ebiraland monarch should prepare to face a panel that would be set up to study his case.
For students of Stylistics, that last clause: “Oral explanations may be required from you when a panel is set up to study your case”, is the killer point. The only implicature here is that no matter what explanation the nonagenarian monarch might advance for his absence at the all-important function, the state government had made up its mind that the matter would not be settled by mere exchanges of correspondences. The Ohinoyi would be humiliated further when he would be appearing before the “panel”. The fact that it is a middle cadre officer as a Director who endorsed the query to the Ohinoyi is enough insult on its own. Nigerian Tribune, in its Thursday, January 19 Editorial on the matter also agreed that it is a complete insult on the personality of the traditional ruler of the Ohinoyi’s status to have him queried by a Director. Here is what the Tribune Editorial says: “… we believe that while the Kogi State government could indeed have reservations about the Ohinoyi not joining the welcome train for the president, this is an issue that ought to have been taken up by the governor personally in consonance with the revered traditional placement of the Ohinoyi and not through the channel of an official letter of query signed by a Director in the State’s Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs”. In an earlier paragraph, the paper rightly noted that: “If the Kogi letter illustrates anything, it is the fact that there must have been some disagreements between the state government and the traditional ruler prior to it. Even at that, we find the letter quite condescending and provocative. Purportedly written to elicit a defence…”.
The Ohinoyi, as the quoted Editorial stated, responded to the query, where he stated among other reasons, that he was informed of the President’s visit hours to the event. The Monarch writes: “It was only on the night of 28th December 2022, you visited me at about 9:30pm and informed me that Mr President would be coming to Okene the following day to commission some projects, and that I should stay back in my palace while the president will be coming to pay me a courtesy visit upon his arrival. On 29th December 2022, at about 8:15am, I received an unofficial copy of the visit programme of Mr. President and I noted that Mr. President was meant to commission the Ohinoyi’s Palace at 10:10am. This observation implied that Mr. President was to commission another Palace other than my current Palace that I have been occupying since I was crowned in 1997. It is worthy to note that as the Paramount Ruler of Ebiraland, I have not been officially informed of the existence of any new Palace…” . That notwithstanding, the old man said he made arrangements to attend the ceremony and was almost leaving for the venue “when I heard an earth moving bomb blast at the rear entrance to my Palace close to the new Mosque across the street at 9:00am. While I was in the Palace ensuring that the casualties of the unfortunate incident were being attended to, I was informed that Mr. President had concluded his programme and departed for Lokoja. I also discovered that the main wall of the entrance to my Palace had been breached and all entrances to the Palace had been barricaded to make access to and fro impossible”. In further agony, the Ohinoyi noted that since the unfortunate incident of the bomb blast and the attendant loss of lives and property, “…this Letter of Query is the first communication, written or otherwise from any official of the State to me, without any commiserations or enquiries about the unfortunate bomb blast that led to the intended disruption of Mr. President’s programme, loss of lives of innocent Ebira people, massive damages on my Palace and rancour within my domain” Then he signed the letter with his name and title Atta Ebiraland.
Pronto, the state government rejected the letter on the flimsy excuse that the monarch chose the title “Atta Ebira” instead of the officially recognised title of “Ohinoyi of Ebiraland”. In rejecting the letter, the state government decided to ‘honour’ the Ohinoyi by having Salami Momodu, the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, to endorse the rejection letter. What do I make of the whole ‘penkelemesi’ (peculiar mess)? I share the sentiment by the Nigerian Tribune Editorial that there had been no love lost between the Ohinoyi and the state government. If you ask me further, I will volunteer, without any iota of hesitation, that the government of Kogi State under the watch of Yahaya Bello, is just looking for an excuse to hang the Ohinoyi. In the whole matter, I keep getting the picture of how we kill cats in my native neighbourhood. There are many myths surrounding the cat. One of them is the belief that cats are pets of the ‘Owners of the night’ – the esoteric – witches. Many people become ailurophobes because they believe that cats are easily possessed by witchcraft spirits. Whether that is true or not, I don’t know. All I know is that in killing the cat, our elders are very cautious. They don’t just grab the lovely pet and slit its throat. What do they do? We have a woolen sack called ‘idoho’ – it comes in brown colour. The cat is put inside the sack, the mouth tied and then they begin to hit the sack against the wall or the floor. And while doing that, they utter the following: “Everyone should come and see that it is this cat that is killing itself”. They put the cat in the sack so that it does not see who is hitting it against the wall. And they utter the words so that the “owners” of the cat will not turn up at night to demand for the blood of the cat from its killer. It is like giving a dog a bad name and then hanging it. The query is the sack; just as the Ohinoyi is the cat. Only the gods can tell where the Kogi State Government will hit the cat on before it kills it.
The Ohinoyi said that he was informed hours before the president’s visit. Nobody has disputed that. He said he got to know that the president would be commissioning a new palace, the existence of which he did not know until 8.15 am on the day of the commissioning. Nobody has contested that, too. Pray, how do you build a new palace without the knowledge of the king? Who will occupy the new palace in the first instance? Or is there a new Ohinoyi of Ebiraland known only to Yahaya Bello and his courtiers? How do you treat your father with such disdain? For crying out loud, Dr. Ado Ibrahim is 94 years old. It is only by the grace of God Almighty that he can spend another 10 years. Ohinoyi is already at life’s departure lounge. Why must he be made to carry any dent when he goes to meet his ancestors? And to think Governor Yahaya Bello, whose government is humiliating the Ohinoyi this way, is a maternal nephew to the monarch makes me puke even at middle age. For the sake of when he becomes old, can someone help advise Governor Yahaya Bello to add to the portion of honour for the elders so that those coming behind him will add to his own portion. May Eledua (God) not allow us to have enemies who are too formidable than us and are the same kith and kin.
(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Tuesday, January 24, 2023)