Igalas’ Long Wait for New Monarch

28 Jan 2013

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Governor Idris Wada

By Ishola Oyeyipo and Paulinus Omale

Igala, a dominant ethnic group in Kogi State, has been without a traditional ruler for over six months. The stool of the Attah Igala became vacant on July 16, last year when the last monarch, Alhaji Aliyu Obaje, joined his ancestors after a glorious reign.
In keeping with the customs and traditions of the Igala people, the deceased monarch was given a befitting funeral three months after his passage.  

Thereafter, the throne was formally declared vacant and the race for a new king began among the four royal houses.

It is the responsibility of the kingmakers to screen candidates and endorse the most suitable one as the people's choice for the throne.

The Igala Kingdom is one of the oldest monarchies in Nigeria. Some historians have described it as one of the classical examples of divine kingship in Africa.

Unlike some monarchies where succession to the throne is directly from father to son, four ruling houses compete for the throne at the demise of a king.

While these four families have equal opportunity to produce the new king, preference is usually given to direct sons of former kings.

Apart from being a direct male descendant, an eligible successor to the throne must have a deep knowledge of the Igala tradition, culture and custom, including ability to speak Igala fluently.
The suitable candidate must be in good health status and should have an impressive aura.
The throne represents a bastion of strength, security and dignity to the Igala people.
Above all, the nominee must be a responsible man of good character and without any criminal record.

There are other unwritten criteria which are seldom discussed but which could disqualify a candidate. One of these is that an aspirant to the throne must not have a personal house in Idah.  If per chance an aspiring prince has a house in Idah, he is expected to dispose of it before vying for the stool because the Attah rules from the traditional palace, not from another home. Idah is the traditional headquarters of Igala Kingdom.

In the words of Fidelis Ochefu, an Igala man, “the kingmakers are like examiners and it is not their business to advise any of the ruling families on the candidate to present.”
Following the final funeral rites of the last monarch, the four ruling houses held their internal consultations, made selections and presented their choice candidate to the Igala-mela, the traditional kingmakers. 

By last November, the kingmakers had concluded the screening of these candidates and endorsed the nomination of Prince Idakwo Michael Ameh Oboni.  It was a verdict unanimously reached by the kingmakers.

Apart from his good academic and moral credentials, his father was a very popular king who played significant roles in the lives of some prominent Igala sons such as Justice Sylvester Onu and a former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Ahmadu Ali. 

It was gathered that having scaled all the customary hurdles, the Acting Chairman of the Igala Traditional Council, the Ejeh of Ankpa, forwarded the name of Oboni to the Kogi State Government for official endorsement.

However, what was meant to be a mere formality appears to have taken so long a time that the people are becoming apprehensive.

Indications from the Lord Lugard House, Lokoja, are that the government has received the communication from the Igala Traditional Council but was studying it. But how deep and long can this study be? Nobody seems to know.

There have also been speculations that the government was taking its time before endorsing the nomination because of some petitions sent to the government by some unknown persons.
But if some of the aspirants to the throne have already sent congratulatory messages to Oboni on his emergence as the popular choice, who then are the petitioners and what are their locus standi?

THISDAY gathered that certain factors may have caused the delay.
Governor Idris Wada is said to have been so busy after the many legal hurdles heralding his victory.

Some have also blamed the delay on the flood, which ravaged the state last year.
Yet another reason is the involvement of the convoy of the state governor in a fatal auto crash last year. 

Beyond all these excuses, there are speculations that the delay is deliberate and that government may be trying to undo what the Igala Traditional Council had done in the nomination of the next king.

But some community leaders have also pointed accusing fingers at some external forces. They claimed that what is playing out is an attempt by some influential people to impose their will on the Igala people.

The story has been told of how the last Attah was surreptitiously converted to Islam shortly before he ascended the throne and how agents of the Caliphate had at his demise suggested that he be succeeded by another Muslim.

This alleged external interference has been criticised by Patrice Idoko, another Igala indigene, who warned  external forces to stay clear of the Igala traditional stool to avoid incurring the wrath of the people.

“Our people are not happy about the delay by the government and we will not take it kindly if the delay is to allow some external forces to influence the process. The primary criterion for one to be the Attah is for your father to have been an Attah. It does not really matter your creed or religion but if a choice has already been made by the kingmakers and some people are plotting to upturn the decision, then someone is looking for trouble.

“The last Attah was a Muslim but we know how he became a Muslim and it does not mean that the throne cannot be occupied by a person of another creed if the kingmakers find such a candidate worthy,” Idoko said.

Already, tension is building and community leaders are murmuring and wondering the cause of the unusual delay.

But the Special Adviser to Governor Wada on Media and Strategy, Mr. Jacob Edi, has dismissed the speculations of a possible manipulation as unfounded rumours.
Edi denied the insinuation that the state government was foot-dragging on the matter because it wants to manipulate the process.

According to him, “There are laid down processes for the emergence of a new Attah Igala in the event of the demise of a sitting Attah and the state government has no hand in the decision or choice on how an Attah emerges. The state government only ratifies the decision of the body, which is traditionally constituted to bring about the new Attah Igala.”

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