I am very delighted to stand before this distinguished audience to speak on a topic relevant to the historical, present and future position of Edumoga in the comity of Idoma nations. I must firstly commend the architects who gave birth to the dream of this event and to the planning committee who sacrificed their time and resources for its actualization.
Beyond the privilege of our informal socialization and fraternization with relevant stakeholders, this symposium provides a platform for brainstorming on our culture, tradition and general ways of life for the socio-cultural development of our heritage in the face of emerging realities.
This year’s Edumoga Annual Cultural festival is the first of its kind and its planning and timing is deliberately chosen to align with the centenary celebration of Edumoga Chiefdom. I must confess that all of us here today are privileged to witness history and to partake in the celebration of 100 years of Edumoga Chiefdom. Congratulation to our Royal Fathers and to all sons and daughters of the district on this Royal journey.
I must start by saying that Edumoga occupied a pride of place in the committee of nations. For the sake of this discuss, I will restrict my reference to Idoma nation. In spite of our late incursion into western education, the zeal thereof sailed our pioneering sons through universities and the attendant employment privileges. Hence, we could boast of the likes of Engr. Bartholomew Oche, Mr Augustine Abbah, Prof. Kate Ameh, Mr. John Itodo, Sen. Ameh Ebute, Engr. Ralph Olah, etc., who had the benefits of university education, peaked their careers and were reckoned with in the comity of Idoma nations. Today, we have graduates in almost every Edumoga family with potentials to becoming great men in the future.
Politically, the benefit of education has also stood Edumoga people out in the committee of nations. It is on record that Edumoga has produced Nigeria’s Senate President as well as Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the persons of Sen. Ameh Ebute and Senator Abba Morro, respectively. Our son, Hon. David Idoko, represented Ado/Ogbadibo/Okpokwu federal constituency at the National Assembly.
Severally, our sons and daughters were elected chairmen of Okpokwu LGA. In the present political dispensation, our daughter is the Commissioner for Women Affairs in Benue State while our son is a Senior Special Assistant to the President on Youth matters. By the grace of God, more opportunities will come our way. We can therefore say it is not politically too bad for Edumoga people.
In the area of culture and tradition, Edumoga is richly endowed. Our general way of life, including our generosity and charitable disposition, our frankness in saying things as they are, our dances especially the Oglinya Dance, farming and of course our traditional administration, are daily practices of Edumoga people, rooted in long-standing traditions of our ancestor dating back centuries. Time may not permit a comprehensive discourse of our folk culture but perhaps we can pause a little on traditional administration.
Literature on Edumoga traditional institution is relatively scanty. Unlike in many parts of the far North where chiefs were recognized and graded by government after their creation by the people concerned, traditional institutions in Edumoga area was never graded till recently. Traditional administration was basically by age-old custom and conventional practice of the people.
Two principal values of the Edumoga people – namely truthfulness and generosity – were major determinants of who becomes a chief. The ability to tell truth to power, even till date, is respected and honoured.
Based on the cherished values of the people, subsequent Edes were appointed or elected rotationally among the clans. Hence, though short-lived, Ohene Ochai emerged Ede II from Akpodo-Onakpata, Abah Ujah emerged Ede III from Adatanmata ruling line, Umolo Agbam as Ede IV from Ugbokolo ruling line, Daniel Adulugba as Ede V from Onakpata ruling line and presently, HRH Simon Sunday Abah as Ede the VI from Eke ruling line.
It needs noting that though there was no formal rotational policy in place, mutual respect for the federating units or clans accounted for the peaceful rotation of the stool of Ede amongst the ruling clans. Conventionally therefore, ascension to the Ede throne rotates from Eke to Onakpata to Adatanmata to Ugbokolo and then back to the beginning. It is also worthy of note that in the clans, there are internal policies or guidelines for appointing or electing or proposing an Ede candidate. The guideline usually should be on seniority hierarchy of the contending lineages of the ruling clan.
As against the rotational policy of ascension as highlighted above, the emergence of the present Ede was challenged by the late Chief Peter Idoko who later emerged the Ad’okpokwu, a graded 2nd Class Chief under the current Chieftaincy Law of Benue State. Challenging the status quo of the conventional rotation did not only disrupt the peaceful process of enthroning the Ede but also introduced a wasteful competition for the throne.
The various court litigations for the throne, apart from being wasteful, negated the age-long system of consultation (ejuju) from which elders or kingmakers usually resolve knotty or controversial issues in Edumoga land. It also prevented the occupant of the Ede Stool from being procedurally elevated to the newly created graded 2nd Class Chief (Ad’okpokwu) even when the Ede-Edumoga was the most senior of the various district ruling Chiefs of Okpokwu LGA. Except acceptable guidelines are put in place to guide the selection, appointment or election of traditional rulers within the district, conflicts will continue to permeate the institution resulting to disunity and stagnation of communal development.
We may recall that the tussle for the Ede Stool when the Ede V, Chief Daniel Adulugba, went on hunting expedition, was fierce and without regard to the conventional zoning or rotation. Among the contenders were Mr. Christopher Idu, Chief Peter Idoko, Mr. Ogwuche Adimanyi, Mr. Mathias Okoliko and the late Chief Michael Ogboji. At the end, and after due consultation by the elders and kingmakers, it was resolved that it was the turn of Eke to occupy the throne. Hence the ascension of the Oglegba of Eke land, Chief Sunday Simon Abah as Ede VI from among the contenders from Eke ruling lineages.
At the clan level, because of lack of spelt out guidelines for appointment or election of beaded chiefs, electing or appointing a successor to the throne has often been acrimonious. The battle that ended in the election of Chief Benjamin Okaja as the beaded Chief of Ekenobi is ever remembered by his subjects. Other case studies are the beaded chiefs of Ugbokolo, Ai-Attah, Okpale which were quite acrimonious. That of Okpale is yet to be settled.
It must be observed that the conflicts and animosities exhibited during contest for the crown will continue to work against our collective unity and progress. It will weigh us down in the committee of nations, emasculate and drain us of our respect and honour and finally subject us to the dictate of other districts if nothing positive is done.
Subject to consensus of all in the Beaded Traditional Council, Graded Traditional Council, Ward Heads, Clan Heads, Village Heads, Opinion Leaders, Youths and indeed all concerned Edumoga people, we can chat for ourselves smooth paths to electing or appointing new chiefs.
In doing this, we have to be conscious of the fact that unlike before, we now have two tiers of chiefs in the district. We have the statutory graded chiefs and the traditional beaded chiefs. Nature has made it that both graded and beaded chiefs come and go as all humans must answer the call of death. It is therefore imperative on us, especially our Council of Chiefs and Elders bearing in mind the dynamic nature of Edumoga people and changing civilization, to consciously design a traditional template for succession in the traditional thrones. In so doing, may I crave the indulgence of the Traditional Council in recommending the following:
- Need for an organogram showing the hierarchy of chieftaincy institutions and the corresponding titles as well as their respective functions in Edumoga land. Hierarchically arranged chieftaincy stools in order of convention and seniority will assist or facilitate orderliness and discipline among the chiefs and by extension their subjects. It will also direction for the observance of protocols at all ceremonial functions.
- Need to uphold the single paramount chieftaincy system in Edumoga land as our heritage of unity in diversity. This dates back to October 1923 when Ede I, Chief Ikwumonu Okpotu, was appointed by consensus of the chiefs and kingmakers of Edumoga nation and has operated till date. This single paramount system has had the salutary advantage of keeping Edumoga as one united people with common custom, tradition and culture, as well as common developmental aspirations in all facets of life. Any attempt either now or in the future to artificially create a multiple paramount chieftaincy system in the geo-political divide of Edumoga will more likely than not disturb the much-desired unity of the people and polarize them into pockets of hostile neighbours. The traditional council must as a necessity put in place a procedure to guide and protect the single paramount stool when it is vacant due to death, deposition, abdication or any other cause.
- Need to officially recognize the regency council when the Ede is on hunting expedition. Though there is no official regent or regency council put in place or created by any gazette instrument for the Ede paramount stool exclusively for the purpose of performing the legal functions of the Ede while on hunting expedition, it is gladdening to note that regency is customarily operational in the Edumoga traditional chieftaincy heritage. Though operational, except it is customarily gazetted by the competent council or authority, the system may one day be questioned or challenged by a self-seeking or selfish interest. Tied to the position of the regent is also the need to gazette the procedure for the appointment, occupation and functions of the Alapa.
- Need to resolve on and gazette the rotational principle in succession to the Ede throne and other traditional and graded chieftaincy positions in accordance with hierarchy of seniority in the ruling lines. The Ede Chieftaincy stool is not hereditary but rotational. There are some seeds of rudimentary procedure adopted for this rotation in the past. The procedure is however neither codified nor gazetted. The dynamics of the moment necessitates customary codification that once it is the turn of any ruling clan to ascend the Ede throne, no other clan should be allowed to contest with such clan. All contestants for the throne must be from the lineage of that ruling clan. This, if adhered to, will reduce the acrimonious disputes and wasteful contests for the crown.
- Need for constitution of a respectful electoral college. Emergence, appointment or election of a credible Ede is very dependent on a credible, respectful and uncompromising electoral college. The procedure for constituting the electoral college and their customary functions for the appointment or election of an Ede must be customarily codified to avoid the tendency or likeliness of abuse of power or compromise of authority.
- Need for a befitting Ede’s palace. The Ede’s palace should be the official residence of all succeeding Edes. Backward reflections will show that previous Edes had no official palace. It is on record that Chief Ikwumonu Okpotu ruled from Olengbecho. Chief Ohene Ochai during his brief reign ruled from Akpodo; Chief Abah Ujah, though from Okpafie, decided to hold court at Olanyega to be easily accessed by his subjects. He was the pioneer of Olanyega being Edumoga District Headquarter. However, Chief Umolo Agbam Okoh ruled from Okwungaga-Ugbokolo. Chief Daniel Adulugba, though resided at Opialu, but held court at Olanyega while the present Ede, Chief Sunday Abah, rules from Omlokpo. Lack of official residence for the Ede was responsible for the various Edes ruling from their personal houses. The palace, apart from been a symbol of Edumoga unity also represents the Ede’s position and power in the commity of traditional rulers of Idoma nation. It should be where the official daily work of the Ede is conducted, where he presides over the council and holds audience with his subjects.
Though the palace ought to be built by the government, the institution of the office of 3rd class Chief of Edumoga may seem more of government responsibility than that of the Ede. It behooves the subjects therefore to build official residence for the Ede. It’s a good thing that plan for this is already in place and launching for the project is holding during this centenary celebration. Previous effort to build the Ede’s palace during the leadership of Dr. Emmanuel Odo as Edema National President failed mainly due to disagreement between Iwewe and Olanyega on who owns the land. Thankfully, Olanyega Community has donated sizable land for the palace project. We have no reason to fail this time around. If the palace is our symbol of unity and embodiment of the Ede’s power, then we must collectively join hands to actualize the project and project Edumoga as a force to reckon with in the committee of nations.
6 Need to avoid dual traditional authority in a person. Administratively, promotions create vacancies for those at the lower rank of the ladder. Thus, if by chance the 3rd class chief of Edumoga is elevated to 2nd class chief in the future, it is expected he relinquishes his 3rd class status. In a similar vein, if a clan head is elevated to district head, he should without urging, relinquish the position of clan head to be filled by one of the qualified subordinate chiefs. I am therefore of the view that the present practice whereby the Ede VI occupies the stool of the Ede of Edumoga and still holds on to the stool of Oglegba of Eke Land is wrong and should be discouraged. The Council of Beaded Traditional Rulers may wish to review the trend for a progressive future of the hierarchy.
May I conclude by saying that with our sons and daughters in various positions of authority and responsibilities, the future of Edumoga is bright. In the political arena, the entire Benue Zone C is represented by our son Senator Abba Moro in the senate. From the educational sub-sector, Edumoga can boast of several professors including but not limited to Prof. Ambrose Okwoli, Prof. Michael Adikwu, Prof. Edward Abah, Prof. Anthony Ekoja, Prof. Best Ochigbo, Prof. Nicodemus Agbulu, Prof. Emmanuel Ogbadoyi, Prof. Emmanuel Idah, etc. In the public service, we can boast of several serving directors including but not limited to Barr. Cletus Ojabo, Dr. Emmanuel Odo, Mr. Joseph Eekpa, etc. and several deputy directors.
In the Diplomatic arena, we have Amb. Nick Ella. There are also retired but influential personalities including but not limited to Barr. David Adulugba, Hon. David Idoko, Dr. Emmanuel Idoko, Amb Matthew Adoli, Amb. Fidelis Idoko, Amb. Francis Okoh, Mr. Chritopher Idu, Mr. Lawrence Ojabo, AVM. Steve Onuh, Gen. Joseph Ejeh, Air Cdr Ben Abakpa, Mr. Matthew Agaba, Navy Cdr. Ambrose Agbo, Navy Capt Ojabo, Mr. Hyacinth Okpe, etc.
With this array of personalities, sacrificing their resources and positively exerting their influence, the place of Edumoga in the comity of nations should be glorious and enviable. This is only possible if we can be honest in upholding the truth as is the core value of Edumoga people, accommodating each other’s interests and being selfless in fighting for Edumoga’s interest.
Barrister Otanwa is an Abuja-based legal practitioner. He presented this paper at the symposium marking the centenary celebration of Edumoga Chiefdom at Olengbecho, Eke, in Okpokwu LGA of Benue State on Friday, November 17, 2023.