GOVERNOR IDRIS WADA OF KOGI STATE RECENTLY PRESENTED A STAFF OF OFFICE TO THE NEW ATtAh IGALA, HIS EMINENCE IDAKWO MICHAEL AMEH OBONI AT A COLOURFUL CEREMONY IN IDAH, THE TRADITIONAL HEADQUARTERS OF THE IGALA KINGDOM. ONWUKA NZESHI WHO WITNESSED THE CEREMONY, WRITES
For the Igala people in Kogi State, Saturday April 27, 2013 will go down in history as a memorable day. It was a day of cultural reawakening and national integration between them and various ethnic and linguistic groups in Nigeria. It was a colourful carnival, a voyage back to history and a reunification of several groups in modern day Nigeria who trace their roots to the ancient Kwararafa Empire.
The empire, which is believed to have begun around the 14th Century, lasted for 300 years. During this period, the Kwararafa people fought wars and conquered the territories of their adversaries and neighbours that resisted their military prowess. The people were severally referred to as Jukun or Kororofo, a name that later transformed to Kwararafa.
Today, relics of the rich cultural heritage left behind by the Kwararafa civilisation could be found among several ethnic groups in present day Northern Nigeria. In spite of several migrations, splits and eventual collapse of the Empire, the people have managed to maintain some semblance of unity through the centuries.
On this particular day, they converged on the ancient town of Idah to witness the formal coronation of one of their own, the new Ata of Igala. From Borno to Sokoto, Wukari to Kabba and Bida to Nasarawa, they came in droves eager to relive the old memories of their glorious past and share in the bond of brotherhood.
Although the Kwararafans have over time become virtually assimilated by their Hausa/Fulani neighbours, their languages, mode of dressing, culture and disposition to life has set them apart as they strive towards a common future.
Few weeks before this gathering, the traditional rites of coronation of the Attah had taken place with the Jukuns playing a major role. This is significant because the Jukuns and Igalas have emerged as the closest of all the groups that came out of the Kwararafa Empire. As part of the traditional coronation, the king-elect visited many historical landmarks in Igalaland and performed various rituals and ceremonial rites lasting several days.
On his way to the palace, he crossed a sacred river without physically setting his foot in the water. At some point on the pilgrimage, he camped in a makeshift hut made of wood and grass. This temporary abode constructed purposely for him was set ablaze the following morning as he moved on, a ritual meant to drum it in that the Attah has no other home in Idah, but the royal palace. For many, including the Igala people, it was a lifetime experience because the last coronation ceremony for an Igala monarch took place about half a century ago.
With the traditional rites concluded, what took place the preceding Saturday was therefore a formal and open ceremony, where the Governor of Kogi State, Idris Wada would hand over to the new monarch, a staff of office, the symbol of authority and a mark of recognition by the state.
As early as 7.00 am, guests were seen trooping towards the palace grounds located on the banks of the River Niger. The town had been agog since the previous day when several royal delegations from distant kingdoms made their way into the town. Security was exceptionally tight as hordes of policemen and other law enforcement agents manned the routes to the palace.
The expansive entrances to the palace were shut to vehicular traffic but a sea of heads besieged the gates eager to get into the arena. At some point, it was so chaotic that it became a tug of war to pass through the narrow pedestrian gate. Men, women, young and old pushed and shoved until the gates gave way. At 10:45 am, the royal delegations began to arrive the arena through a reserved gate at the far end of the palace.
First, was His Royal Highness Shekarau Angyu Masalbi, the Aku Uka of Wukari and paramount ruler of the Jukun Kingdom in Taraba State. Although he came in a convoy of vehicles, he was heralded by a procession of aides clad in the traditional attire of the Jukun people.
The convoys of the Shehu of Borno; the Tor Tiv; Ohinoyi of Ebiraland; Etsu of Pategi; Maigari of Lokoja; Ona of Kabba and Ona of Abaji closely followed the Jukun monarch. Soon, it was the turn of the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe; the Eze Aro of Arochukwu as well as delegations from the palaces of the Asagba of Asaba and Oba of Benin.
The Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, represented President Goodluck Jonathan at the event. Chairman of the Central Planning Committee for the event and former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Chief Ahmadu Ali and the National President, Igala Cultural Development Association (ICDA), Dr Emmanuel Onucheyo were among several dignitaries at the occasion.
Two former governors of Kogi State, Prince Abubakar Audu and his successor, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris as well as the incumbent Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr Ndamadu Ali were also at the event.
The new Attah of Igala, His Eminence, Michael Idakwo Ameh Oboni was ushered into the arena at exactly 12:50pm amidst thunderous ovation and shouts of ‘Agabaidu,’ ‘Agabaidu,’ ‘Agabaidu!’ This is the traditional greeting for the Attah by his subjects. A thick cloud of dust enveloped the arena as the royal masquerades that heralded his entry went into frenzy, chasing spectators as though to make way for the monarch.
The new king, clad in full royal regalia and shielded under a large umbrella, walked slowly, but majestically to the gigantic ceremonial throne situated at the reserved pavilion. As he sat on the throne of his forefathers, the royal trumpet sounded and more shouts of ‘Agabaidu’ rented the air. A flurry of cultural troops took their turns to entertain guests at the arena.
About two hours later, the Governor Wada, an Igala son arrived to perform the long awaited duty. Handed over the staff of office, a symbol of official recognition to the new king at 14:50pm amidst a loud applause from the crowd. A chain of goodwill messages came from various personalities and institutions ranging from the Federal Government, the National Assembly, and traditional institutions to the diplomatic corps in Nigeria.
In appreciation, the newly installed monarch responded by welcoming all the guests to his kingdom. He paid glowing tributes to the Igala Traditional Council, the Kogi State Council of Chiefs and the Kogi State Government for their collective contributions to the success of the ceremony. He also paid homage to his predecessors who occupied the exalted throne and whose sacrifice and selfless service that has made Igala a proud kingdom.
“We are very conscious of the immense responsibility and challenges that go with this divine call to lead the Igala people at this time. While Igala land in Kogi State is the ancient home of the Igala, her culture can be seen all over the country today. We are part of the ancient history of this part of the world.
“As a result of the history of migrations and interactions, Igala people have cultural links with over 25 states of the country and the Federal Capital Territory; these are the people of the great Kwararafa Empire. We pledge to commit the entire Igala nation to work in concert with the other nationalities of Kwararafa Empire in the quest for peace, love and progress of the Nigerian federation.
“Let me proclaim at this juncture that this coronation marks the reawakening of great Kwararafa spirit. It is the beginning of the return to the era of greatness and majesty of the Kwararafa people. This is auspicious in the current socio-political situation in the country and the quest for national unity, especially when we consider the significant spread of the people of Kwararafa descent over the Nigerian landscape,” he said.
As part of the message from the throne, ‘Agabaidu’ sought for renewed love and forgiveness among his subjects. According to him, an unforgiving community will not make progress. He said the gospel of love was imperative given the secular nature of Igala land and will help in dealing with the emerging challenge of insecurity of life and property in the country.
“We call for peace and understanding amongst our people and with our neighbours. We will pay due attention to the promotion of our culture and tradition; the traditional leader and priest king of his people, the Attah Igala will always be at the helm of the crusade for religious tolerance in Igala land,” he said.
As if to give his people a peep into the future, the monarch reeled out some programmes spanning through cultural revival, ethical revolution, advancement in education, job creation and improvement on agriculture, the mainstay of the local economy. As he spoke, the mood across the arena was ecstatic and conveyed a positive impression of a king loved and revered by his people.
His Eminence, Idakwo Michael Ameh Oboni was born at Idah in 1949 to the royal family of Agabaidu Ameh Oboni, who reigned as Attah-Igala between 1946 and 1956. Idakwo began his early education at the Saint Boniface Primary School, Idah in 1956, obtaining his First School Leaving Certificate in December 1962. After the death of his father, the burden of bringing up the young prince fell on his mother, Iye Abonyi Ajofe. He had his secondary education at Saint Austine’s College, Kabba where he obtained the West African School Certificate in December, 1968.
He enlisted in the Nigeria Air Force in 1968 and saw action during the Nigerian Civil War. He terminated his military career in 1974 and was admitted to study Estate Management at the Kaduna Polytechnic that same year. Idakwo bagged the Higher National Diploma in 1980 and proceeded to Bauchi State for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Programme.
He began his civil service career as a Higher Estate Officer at the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Abuja in 1981. He later went for further studies and bagged a degree in Political Science at the University of Abuja. He served at various levels at the FCDA and retired as a deputy director, enumeration and logistics after 24 year of meritorious service. He is married to Juliana (nee Opaluwa) and both are blessed with children.
As tradition demands, the new king made some prophetic proclamations on his way to the palace. This was to give an insight into the agenda he was bringing to the throne.
He was reported to have said that a tree is usually identified from its bark. In other words, a man could be identified by looking at his father. Literally, it means he is a chip of the old block and would reign just like his father died on the ancient stool.