This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: In Kogi, Chieftaincy Title Tears Brothers Apart

Lagos — The creation of chieftaincy titles by the Kogi State Deputy Governor, Phillips Salawu, might have pitched clans in Ihima against each other with an orgy of violence that led to mass killings and destruction of valuable property. Tunde Sanni in Lokoja, who saw the altercations, reports

The Ohionwa and Emani clans in Ihima District in Okehi local government lay postrate as Governor Ibrahim Idris of Kogi State led security chiefs and his deputy, Mr. Phillips Salawu to the scenes of the bloody clan face-off between the Ohionwa and the Emani clans penultimate week in the area. It was a sorry sight as what remained of the once republican set up were in ruins. The place caught the picture of a captured colony after a war. Residents and indigenes of the area have all fled their homes and were taking refuge in an isolated place where a detachment of army and mobile policemen kept watch.

The deputy governor who incidentally hailed from the area and who came along with his boss looked like a refugee, hardly raising his head to behold the scenes. The reasons are that he was alleged to have masterminded the bloody let up with the creation of Ohi title which almost every one in Ebiraland saw as an innovation whose consequence may prove fatal to the well being of the entire Ebira community that constituted majority of inhabitants of Kogi Central Senatorial District of the state.

True, Ihima is not new to clan attacks, which explained the disinterest of the police when fresh attacks broke out. This is the third time in seven months the two rival clans would be facing themselves. The first one happened in January and one person was reportedly killed while the Okenne Area Commander of the police, ACP Bassey Okon narrowly escaped death as youths of one of the clans allegedly hit him with a stray bullet. But this last one was the bloodiest and the cruelest of them all as anybody identified of having come from any of the clans had a price to pay except of course, some few whose houses were interestingly guarded by the youths in the area to immune them from being attacked.

In January when another of the clan attacks broke out, the state government responded by raising a six man administrative panel to look into the crisis and advise as appropriate. While raising the panel, Idris reminded the people of Ihima district of the need to dialogue on the activities that would promote peace and harmony rather than resorting to violence all the time and regarded the clan crisis as a serious distraction capable of diverting government good intention to provide basic amenities for the people of the area. The governor remarked that the quest for lasting peace in the state informed the setting up of the panel and hoped that they would come out with recommendations that would move the area and the state forward.

The panel, Idris ordered, should look into the immediate and remote causes of the crisis, identify the perpetrators, and recommend possible sanctions as well as ways of averting future occurrence. The head of the panel was Mr. Dan Kadiri, the state commissioner for Commerce and Industry, who passed on recently. Interestingly, Kadiri died three days after the new onslaught broke out after a brief illness in his native Ankpa town. It could not be confirmed whether the panel has submitted its report before the outbreak of yet another crisis last week or before the cold hands of death snatched the panel chairman.

Holders of the Ohi chieftaincy title, with the new arrangement will henceforth oversee and co-ordinate the activities of the 33 district heads in Ebiraland as against the former arrangement where the entire district heads report directly to the Ohinoyi. The argument of Salawu then, was that it is only Ebira that has just one first class chief, which he said was not too good for Ebira race.

Since the proposal for the introduction of the new Ohi chieftaincy title, the Ohionwa and Emani clans have gone in different direction, pitching their tents with either the Deputy Governor or the Ohinoyi of Ebira land.

The latest attack could not be isolated, according to THISDAY checks from the creation of an Ohi title that the state government, on the advice of Salawu had introduced to reform the traditional institutions in Ebiraland. Critics of the reform system argue that Salawu wanted to fall back on the chieftaincy reform as a way of entrenching his political interest in the area and to spite Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, Alhaji Ado Ibrahim, the paramount ruler of the ancient town. Prominent people in Anebira nation also condemned the new Ohi title, contending that it was a design to belittle the status and symbol of the Ohinoyi stool.

The clash, according to sources, was precipitated by an ambush of an Ohionwa house warming party by hoodlums suspected to be from Emani who shot sporadically into a bus conveying the merry makers, killing one person. According to the source, the merry making party that was coming from the house warming ceremony of an Ohionwa family clan around the Federal College of Education, Okenne end reportedly ran into the ambush at Ogboroke. The source added that the merry making party took their dead colleague to Ihima where they later mobilised against the Emani clan. The fury and angst that trailed the ambush and the resultant death, the source said, degenerated into an orgy of violence leading to arson and killing.

But, there was yet another source that claimed that the house warming party on their way back from the ceremony caused incitement as they allegedly began an anti-Emani song to infuriate the Emanis whose houses they passed by. It was further alleged that Ohionwas pelted the Emanis with sachets of pure water and other hapless missiles, all in a bid, according to the source, to incite the Emanis into anger and disorder. The source added that rather than fight back, the Emanis resorted to complain to their monarch, whose attempt to mediate was met with assault from the Ohionwas. The retaliatory effect was unsalutary leading to about three days of orgy of violence where houses were looted and later burnt and lives close to 35, according to unofficial figures, were lost.

At the outbreak of the fresh bloodbath, not less than 10 lives were lost while about 20 houses were vandalized and later set on fire within the first two days the war broke out to give the impression that the clans had all along prepared for the latest onslaught. The government responded by deploying soldiers and anti riot policemen to the war theatres to repel further attack and bring the situation under control.

An Ohionwa sympathiser told THISDAY that the monarch of Ohionwa, the Obobanyi had security report of the impending calamity on the area and had rushed to inform the Ohinoyi, Alhaji Ado Ibrahim in Okenne. The Ohionwa monarch, it was gathered had alleged that a certain senior government official had reportedly mobilised some youths to create a reign of terror in the Ihima community. Three days after the monarch alert, crisis erupted.

In the ensuing conflagration, about 150 houses were believed to have been torched with the Chairman of Okehi Local Government, the supervising council, Alhaji AbdulMalik Danga painting the picture of a total lawless situation as he conducted the governor round the debris. The council chief added that the hoodlums approached the crisis in a war manner, inscribing the name of a conquering clan on a conquered place.

"Your Excellency Sir, it is our belief that if the perpetrators are arrested, there will be peace in Ihima and that is why we are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that the perpetrators face the music", he stated.

THISDAY checks in the community revealed that the resentment against the chieftaincy reforms stemmed out of the fact that the Ohinoyi was not consulted and even with the creation, certain existing chiefdoms that should automatically benefit from the new arrangement were left out to fuel speculations that the reforms had some political agenda.

"If Salawu has good intentions, the existing traditional rulers should have been upgraded and not bringing entirely new persons to benefit from the arrangement and that informed the recurring violence in Ihima, his base where he had hoped to test run the reform," claimed Muhammad Sidique, a public affairs commentator in Okenne during the week.

The paramount ruler of Ebiraland, Alhaji Ado Ibrahim himself lends credence to the widespread allegations that the reforms were aimed at rubbishing him and the throne. Addressing his subjects at the celebration of his 77th birthday, Ibrahim said that the contentious title was alien to the community and as such cannot stand, remarking, "This Ohi title introduced cannot succeed. It is to create crisis; how can we call somebody Ohi, Ohi of what?".

He added, "what is the origin of Ohi? This is an insult and those who have been appointed to promote it, I would not call them bad name, but if they don't stop this, our ancestors will be angry with them".

The monarch's outburst then which was in January would be the second time of such within three weeks where he was referring to the clannish crisis in Ihima as having been politically influenced and had persistently called on politicians in the area to consider creating jobs for the youths rather than making them thugs.

The monarch who restated his earlier position that traditional rulers from the grassroots should be integrated into the mainstream of development in the state, recalled that on the creation of the state in 1992, he had been appointed the chairman of the Economic Blueprint Committee of the state wherein his committee recommended the grading of traditional rulers in the state and a role for traditional rulers from the grass root areas for the development of their areas.

"I did the grading of traditional rulers in Ebiraland, it was my recommendation that made the government to accord some recognition to those rulers from lesser communities and for anyone to bastardise it, would be unfair and unjust", he said.

In the entire crisis, the paramount ruler exonerated the state governor, Idris, from complicity in the protracted communal crisis in Ebiraland for sometime now. He blamed the communal crisis on some political office holders from the area who are desperate to launch themselves into traditional limelight by introducing a traditional title that is inconsistent with the beliefs, values and customs of the area.

Emani clan, according to historical facts made available to THISDAY was said to be the eldest but the deputy governor is alleged to be making a move to pick the new Ohi from Ohionwa clan. The action was said to have provoked Alhaji Isiaka Okaraga, the Obobayin of Ihima who has been warned to restrict his title and influence to Emani clan alone and not Ihima as a whole. This was said to have further aggravated the bickering and hatred between two clans that later resulted to killing of one another. The Obobayin of Ihima has from time immemorial been the overall head of Ihima traditional council area.

But the deputy governor through his press secretary, Yusuf Itopa, has been fighting back claiming that the chieftaincy reform was informed by the quest by the generality of Anebira "given the rot, humiliation, desolation and misery that stare the Ebira nation in the face, there is the need for the establishment of a paramount ruler in each of the five royal districts so that Ebira can rise again".

The deputy governor disagreed with the Ohinoyi on the inconsistency of the Ohi title with Ebira customs and values, saying rather than shout down the Ohi title, the paramount ruler should defend such new titles as Attah 111 of Ebiraland, Sondagi, Makama, Sardauna, Mejindadi and Turaki of Ebiraland, all which were the creation of the paramount ruler.

"These outlandish titles have no origin in Ebira culture and yet the Ohinoyi is churning out these strange titles to people who enjoy being enslaved", he stated.

Salawu contended that he was not afraid of the curse of the ancestors the monarch threatened to invoke on the authors of the Ohi title, remarking, "We believe that our ancestors and gods are sad because Ebira people have refused to rise to the challenges of the time. There is pestilence, horror and wretchedness in the land today because Ebira people are watching helplessly as the modern octopus is sitting on the throne.

He added: "Over 90 per cent of Ebira's cries today are traceable to clannish or chieftaincy struggle. If the establishment of the Ohi system will bring together laughter back to the people, we should all encourage it. God's blessings can only await the apostle of the new first class stool in the districts of Ebiraland".

Itopa also dismissed the allegation of his boss' involvement in the crisis saying that as the number two man in the state, the deputy governor is committed to peace as the base of every development. "No father takes delight in killing his children. It will be thoughtless and even stupid of anybody no matter how highly placed, knowing the back ground of the deputy governor to think that he is or can be involved in the on-going crisis in Ihima", he stated further.

But as Governor Idris moved round the crisis area on the day, the deputy governor seemed to be in fear of the uncertainty that await him when he steps down from the high office. He is reported to dread going home for fear of attack by youths of the area. Salawu's boss who fell short of describing the act as influenced by madness said, "Enough is enough. Government will not take kindly to this senseless and mindless destruction of lives and property in the name of pursuing a communal agenda that has no basis".

"It is easy to destroy but hard to reconstruct. You can destroy about 100 houses but you cannot build those 100 houses in 20 years. Why then do we need to destroy our property and burn our houses?", he queried rhetorically.

He ruled out any payment of compensation to the victims of the crisis, saying doing that would be tantamount to encouraging the perpetrators. He lamented that the crisis was a contradiction of the peace moves initiated by the state government to bring the warring clans together.

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