Obi of Igbodo
In Delta State town of Igbodo, the battle line has been drawn between its youthful Monarch, Obi Ikechukwu Nkeobikwu Osadume I and the rest of the community for his refusal to marry a native. Victor Efeizomor reports
M rs. Elizabeth Nwaeze, 79, ignored the niggling and twitching pains on her knees and struggled out of bed. This was despite the early morning harmattan-induced cold. Top on her agenda that day was to attend the emergency general meeting at the village square summoned that morning by the traditional prime minister (the Iyase) of Igbodo community.
As she approached the venue of the meeting, she mumbled silently to herself, “We must not allow this to happen! Our ancestors will not take it kindly with us, not in my time! ”
Meanwhile, Prince Chukwuyeli Iyeke, a retired civil servant sat in his leaving room, staring into the void and undecided on the next line of action. He hesitated and muttered to himself, “No, I must attend this meeting; it is only a mad man that goes to bed when his roof is on fire.”
He engaged the gear of his car and drove to the village square, venue of the meeting.
The previous night, the town-crier had sounded the gong that summoned an emergency general meeting of Igbodo community, comprising of village heads, market women, the youths as well as members of Igbodo royal family to discuss a “nauseating” issue they considered an “abominable and sacrilegious act of our king.”
Trouble started when the Obi of Igbodo Kingdom in Ika North East Local Government Area of Delta State , Obi Ikechukwu Osadume, married an Ebonyi-born woman , a development that earned the youthful king the wrath of palace chiefs and a good number of people in the community, mostly women. Their grouse? They cannot afford to have a non-Igbodo native as their queen.
According to the customs of the Igbodo Kingdom, “the first legitimate wife of the monarch must be a native of Kingdom to pave the way for the heir to the throne, who must be a native of Igbodo by birth.”
But the king has since said “over my dead body” would he subject himself to such obnoxious tradition. He has since taken a wife from Ebonyi State, even as he recently abandoned the throne of his fore-fathers and relocated to Asaba with the Ebonyi woman to form an adjoining kingdom.
Women and youths of the community had protested. Elders-in-council, led by the Iyase of the kingdom, Chief Joseph Unomah, had written several protest letters to Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan’s Office on Chieftaincy Affairs, head by his deputy, Prof. Amos Utuama (SAN), for intervention but to no avail.
THISDAY gathered that the Igbodo community is demanding that HRM Ikechukwu Nkeobikwu Osadume get married to an Igbodo woman or any woman from Anioma nation, who will give birth to the heir to their throne and also disconnect himself from the Ebonyi State lady, who he was said to have allegedly married secretly in Asaba.
The community has gone further ostracised the king for his disrespect for tradition. This means he will not be allowed to talk to any Igbodo person, invite any one of them to his palace, represent them in public places or settle any dispute among them neither will any Igbodo person have anything whatsoever to do with him. It was also reported that any Igbodo indigene that visits or has anything to do with him during this period will be sanctioned. According to anonymous community source, who is closed to the Royal House, said the Igbodo community both at home and abroad contributed immensely to the education and upbringing of the Obi.
The Igbodo community, according to the source, has been waiting patiently for the Obi, who was crowned in April, 2009 amidst pomp and pageantry, to respect the wish of his people and rescind his decision to marry the Ebonyi-born woman, who to the dismay of the people has already given birth to a girl child.
THISDAY gathered that the crisis erupted when the Obi decided to bring in the wife to the palace to celebrate Christmas and New Year, only for the women of the community to mobilise and chase the wanna-be queen away from the palace. The king was said to have invited security operatives when he sensed danger. However, the security men engaged by him had to “surrender” when they were overwhelmed by scores of protesters, who marched to the palace to demand the immediate exit of the wife, as the “Obi’s wife was smuggled from the palace by armed soldiers and policemen into safety in the commotion.”
Reacting to the development, Obi Ikechukwu Nkeobikwu Osadume I said, “Many persons have said and written all sort of things about this issue. I do not want join issues with anybody but one major thing I would like to say is that, I am not at war with people and since they drove my wife way from the palace , I have been living in peace with them . I have read stories that I am at war with the people of Igbodo. That is not correct. It is good that I correct that impression while I watch the outcome of events.”
In a petition addressed to the Delta State Deputy Governor Prof. Amos Utuama and signed by one Joseph I. Unomah, the Iyase of Igbodo Kingdom, it said Obi is allegedly disregarding and subverting “the cherished custom and tradition of the people”.
According to the petition, “The custom and tradition of our people is that the Obi must marry a woman from Igbodo Kingdom, who will give birth to the heir to the throne of Igbodo Kingdom.” It added, “once the king had an heir from a woman in the community, the Obi could marry whoever else he chooses.
“Your Excellency, this is the crux of the matter. For over two years, the whole community has implored HRM to reason with us and keep our tradition [but] to no avail. This uncompromising stand of HRM is a serious threat to peace, harmony and future unity of our community.
“This threat to the custom and tradition of our people looks minor, but I can assure you that it has potentials to bring about results of very serious proportion if not nipped in the bud,” the letter further stated. The letter appealed to the deputy governor to urgently wade into the traditional impasse between the monarch and his people to avoid a face-off that could lead to the rejection of the king by the community.
Speaking on the development, Prof. Patrick Moghoubare, Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education and former chairman of Delta State University (DELSU) wing of the Academic Staff Union of Univeristy (ASUU), said the monarch has two options –abdicate the throne or respect, preserve, protect and keep the age-long tradition of his kingdom.
Prof. Moghuobare, who is the Oyivwita (he who dares to say it) of Ogor Kingdom, said the pathetic situation Igodo Kingdom found itself was a clash between human rights and traditional rites.
According to him, the monarch should have known where his freedom ends the moment the riot act of Igbodo Kingdom was read to him and he accepted to be crowned.
“The wife of the Sultan of Sokoto can’t be a Christian,” he continued. “It is forbidden in the Muslim world. Haven’t you heard of princes who refused to be crowned kings after they have weighed the conditions attached to it? The tradition of Igbodo Kingdom has not said the monarch cannot marry millions of wives. No, it simply says, the first must be a native, ipso-facto; it means you can’t marry anyhow.”
While he described the uncompromising stance of the monarch as “a serious threat to peace, harmony and future unity of Igbodo Kingdom, saying that “this threat to the custom and traditions of the people looks minor but it has the potentials to bring about results of very serious proportion if not nipped in the bud”, he justified the action of the women who besieged Asaba to protect their cherished culture, even as he urged to them to eschew violence in pressing home their demands.
Meanwhile, a human rights group has threatened to challenge the action of the community in court of law. The National Co-ordinator of the Forum for Justice and Human Rights Defence (FJHD), Mr. Oghenejabor Ikimi, who condemned the action, said his group “is seriously considering filing a public interest fundamental rights suit in the Delta State High Court of Justice for a declaration that the above Igbodo custom is repugnant to natural law, equity and good conscience”.
Concerned Igbodo Citizens Forum, in a statement signed by one Victor Christopher ,said “ in order to put the records straight , we wish to state that community has never been in crisis even as we are debunking the claims”, adding that “the said clarion call by the indigenes for our HRM Obi Osedume I to avail himself the opportunity of marrying an indigene does not amount to crisis situation. People are busy in the community socialising with one another.
“Our Royal Highness Ikechukwu Osadume I is the custodian of the custom and tradition of our people , he will never indulge in anything that will disparage the custom and tradition of our people , bearing in mind that we all hold him in high esteem to protect , defend and promote the cultural heritage of our people. Our respected royal father and custodian of our tradition and custom is ever ready to listen to the yearning of his subjects. We urge the people and the public to discountenance with the statement made by Dr. Unomah.”
A market woman, who craved anonymity said “I do not think it is right for our Obi to betray the culture and tradition of his people , which he swore to uphold when he was crowned as King of Igbodo. The best option left for him is to abdicate the throne and marry his Ebonyi- born heartthrob or abide by the customs and tradition of his people by marrying an Igbodo woman or any other woman from Anioma as tradition demands. ”
A traditional ruler Ika axis of the state, who pleaded anonymity, traced the problems associated with traditional stool in the state to installation of minors as kings. According to him, “Civilization landed us in this messy situation. Since we started crowning young men, in their 20’s as kings, we have been experiencing one sort of sacrilegious conduct to the other. Today, you hear that one of us committed adultery with another person’s wife; tomorrow they pass corruptible judgement on matters of public interest. Usurpation of power, wrongful installation and what have you, are not new things but the way and manner they are being handled these days, and how tradition and custom are been flagrantly abused and flouted, call for concern.
“Imagine what is happening in Igbodo,” he continued, “where a boy of 28 years is trying to turn back the hand of time. To me, ignorance is the cause. I am sure he did not know what he became king for. Neither was he properly briefed on what he wanted to become. He didn’t believe in the king he became. He didn’t receive, sing and act it in his heart. How will he understand? My brother, traditional stool has been distorted and is gradually becoming messy in our state (Delta).”