Attah Igala Stool: Issues Of Law And Tradition As Tissue Enters Stalemate

By Sule Sani Ogala

These days very few persons among the Igalas of Kogi ever discuss Achor Oboni. As a matter of fact fewer still have even ever heard his name let alone know his significance in Igala recent history. But for some tragic twist of cruel fate, just few years to when he was due to commence the process of coronation, Achor rather than Attah Ameh Oboni

(Reigned 1946- 1956)would have occupied the throne. Ameh Oboni, the most popular Attah in Igala contemporary history would have probably lived and died unknown and unsung except to members of his immediate family.
During the reign of Attah Obaje Ocheje (reigned 1926 to 1945) Achor, being the eldest surviving son of Attah Oboni Akwu (Reigned 1905 to 1911) was without dispute the heir to the throne from the Ruling House of the the Aj’ Ocholi which is next in line in the order of rotation to Aj’ Aku, the House of the then incumbent Attah Obaje Ocheje. He was appointed the Onu (district head) of Ajobi (Now called Dekina) by Attah Obaje, while he awaited his turn to become Attah later in life when the old man would have gone to join his ancestors.

At a point around 1937 it was said Prince Achor had become impatient and tired of waiting. This followed news Attah Obaje was had come down with a debilitating illness that many thought he wouldn’t survive for long and Achor’s hope of soon ascending the throne heightened as a result. But rather than succumb to his ill health the King remained incapacitated in the palace but stayed very much alive. A frustrated Achor, knowing Attah Obaje was already a lame duck, so sick that he had no physical strength left to exercise the enormous power and authority of his office and yet clinging tenaciously to life, was said to have moved to Idah and began acting like Attah. Traditional music makers at his residence kept playing the Odechi Royal Rythm reserved only for the Attah in Idah.

The terminally ill and weakened Attah Obaje reportedly felt harassed and humiliated and lamented to whoever will listen how Achor was stampeding him to his death.

Many indigenes of the Kingdom reportedly abhorred Achor’s impudence and open disrespect of the reigning King, but because Attah Ocheje was in a death bind and could die at any moment which means Achor too could become King soonest, nobody had the courage to stand up to him.

He was the eldest son of Oboni Akwu so everybody knew he was going to be the next King and nobody wanted to incur the displeasure of the King in waiting.
But this was never to be. In 1938 Achor slumped and died, mysteriously.
The entire Kingdom was thrown into confusion. How could the King in waiting, the all powerful Achor Oboni just die like that? Suspicion immediately fell on his younger brother Prince Ameh Usman Oboni, next to Achor in the line of seniority in the royal family of Attah Oboni Akwu.

Ameh was believed to be very ambitious, but given his second ranking in the seniority in the house there was no way he could ever become Attah, since the throne automatically goes to the eldest surviving son, except such a son fails to meet the physical, mental and biological criteria to ascend the throne. Or if he dies.

But Achor was not just alive but was said to be very rich and powerful in the Kingdom untill he died mysteriously.
When Achor was to be buried the Aj’Ocholi Ruling House in collaboration with other chiefs and traditional priests of the palace insisted Ameh must swear to an oath which involved him picking and eating a kolanut placed on the corpse of his elder brother.

Ameh pleading his innocence picked and ate the Kola, swearing that he too should die if he was responsible for his elder brother’s death or was in anyway directly or indirectly involved.

The oath taken, the suspicion against Prince Ameh was supposed to have been resolved but many in the Kingdom still believed till this day that he was indeed the architect of Achor’s diabolical death and there were conspiracy theories on how he beat the oath by swapping the Kola nut placed on Achor’s corpse with one he already had in his mouth.

There were also speculations that the dying Attah Obaje may have cursed Achor over his acts of disrespect and humiliation. The old man it was claimed quietly cried out to the gods for justice and the gods heard and punished Achor with death. In fact there were claims that Attah Obaje had vowed that Achor will never taste the throne.

THE QUESTION OF SENIORITY

But very few people are convinced by this alternative theory on how the heir apparent expired so mysteriously just at the verge of ascending the throne. What was more logical to many analysts of the time was that Prince Ameh suddenly becoming the heir apparent when the throne was about to become vacant was just too convenient to be coincidental.
By the customs and traditions of the Kingdom, it is taken for granted that the stool of the Attah Igala was not open to contest between princes. It is automatically reserved for the eldest surviving prince among the sons of the last Attah from the ruling house whose turn it is produce the King. Except such a prince declines, has clear physical deformities, he’s a stammerer, he’s of unsound mind or he’s confirmed to be sterile in reproduction and other clear disabilities including genetical disorders like the inability to grow facial hair or beards. But if he doesn’t decline and suffers no disqualifying attributes, the Ruling House will have no choice than to present him as the nominee. There’s no record of a ruling house whose turn it is to produce an Attah ever bypassing the eldest qualified prince for a younger prince for any reason in the over 700 years history of the throne.

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ROTATION

The Stool of the Attah Igala is rotated between Four Ruling House in the Ayegba Oma Idoko Dynasty beginning from the Ruling House of Aj’ Ameachor , followed by Aj’Akogu, Aj’Aku and finally Aj’Ocholi. The founders of these ruling houses were offsprings of Attah Ayegba Idoko who founded the present dynasty more than 700years ago.

Akogu and Ocholi are direct sons of Ayegba while Ameachor and Aku are sons of Akumbi, the first Attah to succeed the founder of the dynasty who is a direct son of Attah Ayegba. It so happened that sometimes estimated around the late 1600s Ameachor the eldest son of Akumabi died the very day he was coronated Attah without reigning even for 24hours. The Kingmakers known as the Igala Mela quickly decided that it would serve the course of justice to coronate another son of Akumabi next in seniority since Ameachor never reigned and therefore his brother Aku was made king.

That was how the ruling houses which were three at the time namely Aj’Akogu,Aj’ Akumabi and Aj’Ocholi became four with the Aj’Akumabi splitting into two-Ameachor and his brother Aku forming the new ruling houses. These ruling house take turns to produce the Attah.

Ever since, this rotation has continued seamlessly and succession had been devoid of the rancour and acrimony that comes with the cutthroat contest for power because the tradition totally abhorred contest. The rotation is followed religiously and when it’s the turn of any ruling house, the eldest surviving prince is automatically presented to the Igalamela College of Kingmakers by the House. No other ruling houses nor any other Prince except the eldest would dare openly show interest. The line of succession was always clear at all times.

That was why the sudden death of Achor was suspected to have been caused by Ameh Oboni despite the absence of any evidence linking him and in spite of his swearing to a life and death oath. He was believed to be ambitious and since the throne was not open to contest the sudden death of his elder brother and heir apparent was believed to be his way of eliminating the obstacle to achieving his ambition.

IMPOSITION AND DISTORTION OF TRADITION
Only once in the entire over Seven centuries of the throne of the present dynasty was there a deviation from the age tested tradition of succession. That was in 1956 when the Northern Colonial Government in Kaduna imposed Ali Obaje son of Attah Obaje Ocheje and imposed on the Kingdom ignoring every rule of tradition amd decency.

For one it was not the turn of the Aj’Aku Ruling House where the said Ali Obaje hailed from. Secondly the Aj’Ameachor which was due to present a candidate, had already endorsed Prince Opaluwa Oguche, eldest son of Attah Oguche Akpa (Reigned 1911 to 1919)and then District Head of Ogwolawo as its choice, and the nominee had gone through all rites obligatory to ascend the throne when the Northern Colonial Government struck.

Ali Obaje, a civil servant in Kaduna who wouldn’t even have made it as a nominee of his own ruling house( since he had an elder brother Prince Haruna Obaje who was clearly the heir apparent ) were it to be the turn of the Aj’Aku.

But Kaduna was only interested in a literate Attah Igala after the death of Ameh Oboni who stubbornly refused to be subordinated to government or authority. They blamed his intransigence on his illiteracy and limited worldview which deluded him into perceiving himself as the ultimate King, who is subject to no other power or authority under heaven. The colonial government didn’t want to take the risk of dealing with another illiterate Igala King imbued with the believe of the supremacy of the Attah’s stool over government or any other earthly authority hence they brought Ali Obaje, the only prince in the entire four ruling houses known to have acquired western education, into Idah in the dark of night and forcefully
enthroned him as Attah Igala in 1956.
At this time Prince Opaluwa Oguche had fulfilled all the rites and requirements necessary for ascension and was just in the process of getting coronated before the Kaduna debacle.

He kicked and rejected the imposition. He went to court. He openly taunted and disrespected the government imposed Attah but alas, he had to submit to fate and give up in 1972 after fighting for 16 years. This followed pressures from several well meaning stakeholders of the Kingdom who felt the conflict was affecting the unity, peace and harmony of the land. Opaluwa Oguche succumbed to the appeals and withdrew his case from the Supreme Court in 1972.
The imposed Attah went on to spend 57 years on the throne and became the longest serving Attah in modern Igala history .

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INJUSTICE AND THE LAW THAT SAVED THE DAY

But at his demise of Attah Ali Obaje in 2013 the Aj’Amechor and Aj’Akogu no longer had any surviving son of the previous Attahs from their lineage.
By the extant tradition which restricts succession exclusively to direct sons of previous Attahs those two houses had literally gone extinct as ruling houses due to the injustice of imposition in 1956.

Thus when death of Ali Obaje created vacancy in 2012, for the very first time in history of the Kingdom the stool of the Attah was openly and rancorously contested for by princes from all the four ruling houses in total deviation from the practice and tradition that had endured for centuries before the distortion occasioned by the imposition. Most of the contestants vied as individual candidates except the Aju’Ameachor and later the Aj’Ocholi who presented the eldest surviving sons of their Ruling Houses as their sole candidates. In the case of Aj’Ameachor who presented Late Peter Adebo Opaluwa, they fell short of the qualification as Peter the eldest surviving son of Opaluwa Oguche was actually a grand child of a previous Attah since the throne was snatched from his father who was never coronated .
At the end of the day the candidate of the Aj’Ocholi, Prince Idakwo Ameh Oboni prevailed and was coronated Attah to the chagrin of the two ruling houses of Aj’Ameachor and Aj’Akogu who could no longer satisfy the condition of presenting the direct offspring of a previous Attah.
A prolonged crisis was however averted when the then Governor of the State, Capt Idris Ichalla Wada sponsored a law which redressed the injustice suffered by the two ruling houses.
Known as The Igala Area Traditional Council (Modification of Native Law and Customs) Order 2015, the legislation granted grand sons in the (male lineage)the rights to ascension where there are no direct sons and even great grand sons (in the male lineage ) where grandchildren are no longer alive to be chosen in a ruling house due to produce the Attah.

But apart from this new amendment the law reinforced all other traditions in the selection of an Attah. It states clearly that preference must be given to the the eldest of the male children among interested princes.

Most importantly the law in Schedule 4 and 5, reserved the right to receive applications, screen, reject or accept and nominate a candidate to the stool of Attah exclusively to the Ruling House whose turn it is to present an Attah.
All other bodies or authorities in the process thereafter including the Igalamela were imposed with duty of endorsing and forwarding the choice of the Ruling House to the next higher authority until it gets to the governor of the state who is required to approve the name forwarded to him through all the layers of selection. In the case of the Igalamela the law provides that “ The Igalamela Kingmakers shall meet, consider and appoint person so nominated as the Attah Igala” (Schedule 9)

BREACH OF LAW AND TRADITION

“There is no provision for rejection of a candidate already chosen by the ruling house” says Ladi Apeh a lawyer.
“The law is very clear. The duty of all other parties in the selection process is to endorse the choice of the ruling house. In the case of the Igalamela the law used the word ‘appoint the person nominated by the ruling house’. Their job ends there. They have no duty to screen, interview, interrogate, refuse, reject or by any means perform any other function other than ‘appoint’ and forward the same name nominated and submitted to them to the Achadu in writing as ‘Attah Igala Designate’.

“ Neither The Etemahi and his colleagues or the Achadu or the Igala Area Traditional Council can alter, reject, change or in anyway present any other name except the one already chosen by the family.” Mrs Apeh insisted.
Indeed there’s a consensus among legal luminaries that the several committees instituted by the Etemahi, the Head of the Igalamela believed to be the Kingmakers or the Igala Traditional Council led by the Eje Dekina was totally arbitrary and extraneous to the Igala Area Traditional Council (Modification of Native Law and Customs) Order 2015 and even the customs and tradition of the Kingdom in the selection of an Attah Igala.

Thus many are confounded that a law so explicit without ambiguity or
lacuna could be so wilfully and profoundly violated as indicated by the outcome of the selection process recently announced by the Kogi East Council of Chiefs which named Prince Mathew Oguche Opaluwa as the new Attah Igala.

The only role assigned to the Igala Area Traditional Council by law is to receive the name of an Attah designate from the Achadu amd promptly forward it to the Kogi State Traditional Council. It is still unknown how the Igala Council came about assuming the authority to appoint an Attah when they clearly have no such power or role under the law.

NOMINATION BY THE RULING HOUSE
On November 19, 2020 the Aj’ Ameachor congregated at the family house of late Attah Oguche Akpa in a meeting convened by the eldest member of the Aj’Ameachor descendants as provided by the law and nominated the eldest of the Opaluwa Oguche sons among those who showed interest in vying for the throne.

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Prince Samuel Opaluwa a retired executive of the Central Bank of Nigeria was unanimously chosen by the meeting as the sole nominee of the Ruling House to occupy the vacant stole.
In a video released by theRuling House, the same Prince Matthew now named Attah, by the Igala Traditional Council, a director with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) not only fully participated in the meeting but he declared his acceptance of the choice of the family and called on his youngest brother Prince Ocholi Opaluwa, a Senior Customs Officer who was also showing vying for the stool to withdraw in the interest of the unity, peace and harmony of the family.

The head of the meeting convened specifically for the purpose of endorsing the candidate, Chief Yahaya Etuh, a retired Assistant Commissioner of Police thanked Prince Matthew and appealed that all other princes should honourably withdraw their ambitions since the race was already over, so as not to embarrass the ruling house before the other ruling houses and the entire people of the Kingdom .

This admonition it would appear fell on deaf ears as even Prince Matthew who publicly
conceded to the family’s choice and the youngest Prince Ocholi, both of whom are said to have heavy financial war chests unlike the retiree Prince Samuel who was nominated by the family, continued to seek the throne through other routeS. Allegations and counter allegations of inducement of the Igalamela Kingmakers and the Igala Area Traditional council were freely bandied between the camp of Matthew and Ocholi.

In February it was widely reported that the Etemahi had submitted the name of Prince Ocholi to the Achadu, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom and the first authority that is required by tradition and law to know the name of the next occupant of the Attah Stool. Achadu was reported to have rejected the choice and allegedly complained that he received reports that the exercise was compromised. He was later said to have been persuaded to accept the name despite his misgivings and was to forward it to the next authority which is the Igala Area Traditional Council.

STALEMATE

But before he could perform this role Achadu, His Royal Highness Samson Ekele Adejoh slumped and died at a public function at Ibaji on Saturday March 6, 2021 while breaking the traditional kola nuts and chanting incantations calling on the ancestors of the Kingdom.

The Etemahi has hardly been seen in public since the mysterious incident.
This created a stalemate as the law provides that when the Etemahi “appoints” the choice of the ruling house and forwards it to the Achadu, the Achadu in turn forwards the name to the Igala Area Traditional Council but with the Achadu no more and a new one yet to be coronated the process has ran into a stalemate.

Many stakeholders of the Kingdom started raising concern on the unusually protracted exercise .That was when the Igala Area Traditional Council led by the Eje Dekina Chief Chief Usman Obaje formed a committee to review the report of the Igalamela. They ended up interviewing all candidates who showed interest in the throne afresh. At the end of it, they announced Prince Matthew Opaluwa as their choice to become Attah.

There’s been disquiet since the announcement with several persons raising question as to the legality of their action. In effect the action of the Council has compounded rather than remedy the problem.

Right now there are three persons laying claim to the throne namely: Prince Samuel, the eldest prince nominated by the Aju’Ameachor Ruling House; Prince Ocholi who was allegedly appointed by the Etemahi and his Igalamela Council of Chiefs, a decision that was never formally made public and Prince Matthew who has now been named by the Igala Area Traditional Council.

The Aj’Ameachor Ruling House in its immediate reaction rejected the decision of the Council, declaring it as illegal, null and void and of no effect whatsoever and vowed to ensure the family’s choice prevails in accordance with Igala Area Traditional Council(Modification of Native Law and Customs) Order 2015. However there are indications that the family may have softened its tough talking hardline stance and commenced intense, conflict resolution measures to ensure that a consensus is reached.
The members of the ruling house its gathered are apprehensive that the raging intractable struggle for power between the princes could be used by government as excuse to intervene in the process and possibly deny them their turn to the throne once more.

It’s been 102 long years since this family last tasted the throne. The option of whether the jinx would be broken with the present opportunity or whether the family will continue to be on the sidelines is in the hand of the three princes who from all indications are more preoccupied with their own individual personal ambitions than the larger interest of the Aju’Ameachor to restore honour and pride to the family by having one of their own ascend the throne once more.

Dr S S Ogala is a lecturer and research fellow at the Faculty of Social Sciences (FASS) ABU Zaria.

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