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Ikwelle warrior title and the abuse and desecration of Ibusa customs and tradition-Where Asaba-Ibokwe stands superior (Part 1)

Nwankwo Tony Nwaezeigwe, PhD

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I will tell my story. Indeed I have already commenced telling my story. Watch out for: “From Controversial Birth to Controversial Odogwu of Ibusa.” I equally expect them to tell their own stories as well. But if they fail to tell their own stories, then as a professional historian I will tell their stories for them; for I know their stories more than they do; and if they think they know my story more than I do, I will prove them the contrary.

The history of Ibusa right from the period the class of rich men of questionable sources of incomes took the centre stage of the political and social life of the town has been that of reckless abuse and desecration of the time-honoured and time-tested customs and tradition of the people. The sanctity of age which forms the cemen fondu of the society was abused with reckless abandon. The customary respects and order associated with our age-long biding customary institutions was thrown to the trash-cans of ill-gotten wealth. Buildings were constructed on sacred and ancestral land spaces customarily reserved for occasional communions between the living and their ancestors. Titles were created out of customary order just to appease those who found themselves in insane captivity of flagrant display of ill-gotten wealth. Our once highly adored red cap reserved for men of customary dignity and martial prowess floated the air with disparaging impunity.

Education suffered because the youth were intoxicated with the mirage of get-rich-quick and therefore abandoned the long and tortuous journey of honourable life through education. Nonentities became kings and illiterates became High Chiefs with audacious paranoiac abuse of our customs and tradition because of accidental access to inappropriate prosperity. Even the well-educated among them were not spared of this dastard obsession for inordinate hankering for unmerited power and influence through paranormal display of their new won wealth. They became kings of kings unto themselves creating minor kings in and out of their immediate domains. They raised the destructive doctrine of wealth before education to the insurmountable level of religion that in Ibusa there was a time being a university graduate was treated as anathema to the society.

To crown it all, the murder of the innocent, ritual killings and impairment of relatives including death through unaccounted and mysterious means became the order of the day. Cultism became the breeding ground for future criminals and was constantly oiled from the coffers of these men. Ibusa had the ugly experience of the killings of nine women in a disgraceful row in our farmlands in which their wombs were extracted for money ritual purposes after their gruesome murder. The current rampaging Fulani herdsmen were not responsible. Our investigations proved those who claim to be free-born citizens of Ibusa responsible for these wicked acts. I lost one of my aunties to this gruesome murder—Mrs. Nwokocha of Idumu Ogbu Village, Umuodafe Ukwu, who hailed from Ogboli Quarters and whose mother hailed from Umuokonogwu Village, Umuodafe Isi-Uzo. It took the late intervention of Ibusa Elders led by the Izuani Ibusa of which I am a member through unorthodox means for the murder spray to stop.

These people often seek infantile refuge under our traditional commonplace adage which states: Ogbo onye kpanashia nku, O si na O kpataa na Ajoshia (When one’s age-mate collects more firewood than him, he is likely to claim out of jealousy that such firewood were collected from the evil forest.) But the fact is that really, this firewood of wealth in question were collected from the evil forest and for that reason could not stand the test of time in both moral and material terms.

Where are the uncountable fleet of exotic cars that once dotted the nooks and crannies of Ibusa; the once imposing mansions with castle and gothic-like impressions; the throng of youth that once trailed the routes to these mansions, and the frequent wealth-seeking pilgrimage young beautiful girls from all over Nigeria? All those cars are outdated models now and their owners cannot afford new ones with their present status of wealth. Most of their houses are either ill-maintained or dilapidated and out of fashion.

Today most of these people, with the decline of the sources of their illicit wealth, have either joined politics—another means of illicit wealth, or become menacing community land speculators, confiscating, selling and re-selling their community lands with provoking alacrity. They constitute themselves into the abominable class of unemployed speculators called “Ego di n’Osha (There is money in the bush) imported from Asaba— community land gangsterism notorious for confiscation, selling, and re-selling of ancestral lands.

In recent times, it has become the practice of this class of people to invade the arena of the sacred institution of traditional chieftaincy titles customarily reserved for men of impeccable character. From the point Chief Willy Ukadike Ikolodo joined his ancestors as the Uwolo of Ibusa which of the two succeeding Uwolo of Ibusa could be said to match him in the matter of moral carriage and dignity of office? I was surprised to learn that Barrister Amaechi Nwaenie the so-called current Uwolo of Ibusa from London and a legal practitioner who should know better as well as teach others the rudiments of law, was once arrested and detained by the Nigeria Police for illegal sale of his village land and was only saved by his foreign land speculating collaborators.

The fundamental question here is how many of those who parade themselves today as the Ikwelle, Odogwu, Uwolo, Iyase and Ogbuu title holders can stand out and boast with fearsome pride that they have never been a criminal in their lives or that they are not involved in one criminal activity or the other even as they hold their titles today? This question is pertinent to the issue of who is either the authentic Ikwelle or Odogwu of Ibusa. Ibusa is a town where those who have no ancestral connection or knowledge of a title in dispute are often the first to voice their morbid sense of ignorance, thereby obstructing the course of history and truth about our customs and tradition.

All these are the sign-posts of the inherent moral corruption and spiritual bankruptcy that are still haunting Ibusa. Customs and traditions no longer matter to anybody. What matters is money no more no less; the means notwithstanding. I could remember Prof. Saburi Biobaku stating at one time that when he returned from the United Kingdom and was given a car through the Civil Service Loan Scheme, his father called him side and asked him how he was able to make such amount of money to be able to buy a car within such a short period.

In Ibusa too, One Mr. Ajukwu a retired Registered Nurse from Ogbeowele Quarters once rejected the Mercedes Benz car bought for him by his son because he was not comfortable with his son’s source of income. We have many such men in Ibusa, but because the just rarely boasts of his sublime character, the culture of immoral concupiscence for quick riches becomes our biding identity. It was the English political philosopher Edmund Burke who said that “evil thrives when good men refuse to speak.” This is the case of Ibusa—a people once noted for their military prowess, material industry, moral dexterity, and intellectual aptitude. Can this be said in the same respect with our immediate neighbours—Asaba and Ogwashi Uku, even though we assume to be superior to them under a standard I am yet to know?

I have come in recent times to have greater respect and admiration for Asaba than my Ibusa in the matter of respect to their customs and tradition. From all indications of contemporary history, Asaba was a pace-setter in modern Western civilization, only next to Aboh among the West Niger Igbo, even though Aboh was later overtaken. By 1877 Asaba had already produced a school teacher named John O. Ijeh under the Anglican Mission. At that time Ibusa was in great slumber away from modernity. Even such towns as Akwukwu-Igbo and Idumuje Ugboko were already counting educated indigenes from 1890. Idumuje Ugboko for instance has the privilege of producing the first Primary School female teacher in the entire Western Igbo named Mrs. Sarah Nsenu who by 1909 was already a Headmistress.

Thus by degree of acculturation the average Asaba indigene is supposed to be more westernized, more separated from his customs and tradition, and more destructive to his indigenous culture than his Ibusa counterpart. But the reverse seems to be the case. While the average Ibusa man is a destroyer of his culture, his Asaba counterpart presents himself as a constructive builder and innovator. The average Asaba man has consistently maintained over the years his unwavering attachment to his mixed Igbo, Igala and elements of Benin culture displaying and re-enacting them through periodic annual and occasional ceremonies, rituals, festivals, and traditional institutions.

Their Onishe Deity is still as revered in the old times as she remains potent to both the educated and uneducated, the rich and the poor. Their Onishe-driven Agbono totem remains as sacred as it has always been before the transformation of the town as the Capital City of Delta State, and no one dares sell it openly in their markets. The Ohene (Chief Priest of Onishe Deity) maintains his exalted priestly position among the people and is a high spiritual office contested and held with customary dignity. The institution of Omu remains as sacred as it has always been dignified. To be an Eze title aspirant before being a holder you must be a man of tested character with proven source of unquestionable wealth and ability to accumulate enough to support your burial. Beyond dressing in a dignified manner, such a man must not be seen riding on a bicycle or a motorcycle.

The average Asaba man when under-educated could be antagonistic, unaccommodating, and to some extent arrogant to strangers, yet he remains effectively clued to the values of his customs and tradition. Although some of those in this group have in recent times become insane land speculators and illegal land disputants, notoriously known as Ego di n’Osha (There is money in the bush), a virus they subsequently transmitted to Ibusa and Okpanam with disastrous consequences.
On the other hand, the educated Asaba man is by far the finest gentleman among all West Niger Igbo communities. He exhumes sublime humility both within and without his immediate community, and is most accommodating to non-Asaba indigenes. He moves with a sense and carriage of modernity that tend to push him closer to the traditional values of his people. He sees himself as a promoter rather a destroyer of his traditional value system.

I have interacted closely with these two categories of Asaba people at different levels and I can rightly attest to these instances of distinct dispositions. One of the finest Asaba gentlemen I ever came across was Prof. (Engr.) Onyegegbu of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is as much soft-spoken as he is humble in character with a rare striking sincere disposition of mind to the admiration of his colleagues and students. When I arrived at University of Nigeria, Nsukka as a student, from which point I later became an academic staff, I had four Ibusa lecturers at the University, namely: Prof Esedebe, Dr Nwaegbe, Dr Onwordi, and Mr. Onwuachi. It is important to note that I got admitted to the University on merit ground and not by the grace of any of these men.

Interestingly I and Prof Esedebe belonged to the same Department of History and he was well known to my father. The first day I came to Prof Esedebe’s office and greeted him “Akunne” in our traditional fashion, he quickly upbraided me saying I should not do that because it is an office. I did not worry myself further. But I know that when I became a lecturer, the mere mention of “Bros” to me merited my immediate attention because that could only have come from somebody from my Delta and Edo States. Indeed until my unceremonious departure I was the Staff Advice of both Aniocha-Oshimili Students Association and Delta State Students Association and I never for one moment abandoned my responsibilities as their father in the Campus.

But the day Prof. Onyegebu knew I am from Ibusa, he was so happy and proud of me that it did not take him time to bring me to his house. That was not all. When my father died in 1996 at the heat of the academic staff union seven-month strike without salaries, it was Prof Onyegegbu then as Director of Energy Centre, who quickly came to my aid and subsequently saved me from utter disgrace. He not only gave me the sum of ten thousand naira at that time, but mobilized other members of Anioma Association in Nsukka and provided his official vehicle for them to attend my father’s burial ceremony.

In 1986 as the President of Aniocha-Oshimili Students’ Association, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, I had the privilege of visiting Chief Isioma Onyeobi the current Iyase of Asaba who was then the Secretary to Bendel State Government in Benin City. On being informed by his Secretary that I was a student from University of Nigeria, Nsukka and from Ibusa, he quickly ordered that I should come in to see him. When I entered, I was overwhelmed by the sublime humility of such a man of high status discussing with me as if we were of the same status. Needless to say that he did not let me go empty-handed.

Similarly, my uncle and current Diokpa-Isi of Anyalaobum, the former Odogwu of Ibusa who abdicated the title for me, Sir F. C. Nwanze once narrated to me how Chief Onyeobi came to his rescue as a civil servant when every plan had been concluded to have him retrenched by some Edo people, for a problem that was investigated and returned him not guilty. When the files of those recommended to be retrenched came before him as the Secretary to State Government he was surprised to see my uncle’s file among. He quickly pushed it aside and thereafter queried those behind the inclusion of the file and in the process saved my uncle from unwarranted retrenchment.

I have equally had the opportunity of interacting with Chief Philip Asiodu when he was Chief Economic Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo, and I found him to be a man whose humble disposition was a striking contrast to his towering technocracy. Similarly I have worked closely politically with the likes of Chief Nwajei and Chief (Mrs) Adaora Theodora Giwa-Amu. I could remember when Senator Peter Nwoboshi who was then the Director of Chief Godwill Obielum Governorship Campaign Organization consistently blocked me from meeting Chief Godwill Obielum who needed my presence in his campaign train seriously.

When Adaora, one of the most energetic political lionesses Anioma has ever produced, heard that I had not been able to meet Chief Obielum she instructed me to meet Chief Nwajei to take me to see him. When I met Chief Nwajei at Grand Hotel he quietly informed me that he was not willing to offend Senator Peter Nwoboshi since Peter Nwoboshi was not willing to take me there. On returning to Adaora, she quickly told me “Oya let us go there. Enter my car and let me see what Peter Nwoboshi will do.” On approaching Chief Obielum’s residence which was next to the Police State Headquarters, we saw Senator Peter Nwoboshi driving out of the building with his blue Toyota Prado Jeep, and I quickly pleaded with Adaora to stop and she queried why, and I told her if Peter Nwoboshi knows about our mission he might turn back and we might not be free to discuss privately with Chief Obielum. She agreed with me and we waited until Senator Peter Nwoboshi negotiated the one-way into the return lane and we entered his gate. As soon as we entered Obielum’s house she introduced me to him saying: “Your Excellency, this is the sman you have been looking for”, and quickly left me with Chief Obielum. I could remember that I went back home that day with the sum of One hundred and fifty thousand naira as Kola-nut from Chief Obielum.

When the present impostor of the Ikwelle title with the support of those opposed to my title as Odogwu of Ibusa used all resources at their disposals through the Nigeria Police to force me unsuccessfully and other elders of the Ikwelle Royal Family to release the Ikenga-Oha to them and I consequently found myself in Oko Prisons Benin City for two months and a half awaiting trial, it was the Asaba-born legal luminary Chief Onyemenam SAN who used his legal instruments to free me off the hook at a very minimal cost of which I was not a contributory part. As a member of World Igbo Summit Group (WISG) I have equally had the opportunity to have close interactions with Prof Epiphany Azinge (SAN) a perfect gentleman of distinct debonair character, characteristically unassuming with a high sense Anioma brotherhood, and a symbol of excellence in youthfulness.

On the other hand, coming to Ibusa, you will find an average under-educated Ibusa man although habitually proud, yet friendly and accommodating to foreigners. This dominant culture of accommodation is the reason why most foreigners who resided in Ibusa often adapt to the traditional setting of the town as well as finding themselves easily assimilated as part of Ibusa native citizenry. We have had instances where non-Ibusa natives whose parents lived in Ibusa preferred to attend Ibusa town meetings in Lagos and Abuja instead of their native town meetings. Some even died and preferred by instruction to be buried in Ibusa because to them they might not be recognized by their ancestors.

The Ibusa man at this level is also culture conscious and takes the matter of his customs and tradition with unequal pride and patriotism. Such a man living in Lagos or Benin is willing to borrow money just for transportation to attend the burial or marriage ceremony of a family member. At home such a man will fight his brother in defence of a stranger once it is discovered that his brother is on the wrong path. He is a promoter of his customs and tradition, and does not pretend to be holier than the Pope. He is often contented with the little he has with unmarked pride constructed on the popular saying: “Ka ma nga elisi dachie uzo, ka mbulu onu naba mmo”—instead for me eat dishonorably and fall across the road, let me go empty-stomach to the land of the spirits.

Contrarily, the educated Ibusa man including the one who found himself in accidental possession of surplus money beyond his expectation in life presents himself with a sumptuous carriage of arrogance, a genre of social classism that often trails the nouveau riche, and an abuser of his customs and tradition. He feels too high in status to stain his clean clothes through community meetings both home and abroad, because to him attending such meetings will mean subjecting himself to the authority of the lower class of people, who by the tradition of seniority in age must be his superiors in those meetings. Such people prefer instead to send their annual dues with the excuse that their jobs would not permit them to attend such meetings. Thus among Ibusa people the more one becomes richer the more he dissociates himself from his people. And as he dissociates himself from his people, he dissociates himself from his customs and traditions. But among the people of Asaba the more you become rich the more you move closer to your people, in Ibusa the reverse is the case.

Dissociating oneself from his customs and tradition means disregarding all forms of respect and obedience to the laid down principles of that tradition which constitutes outright abuse and desecration, and by extension translates to an act reserved only for those with questionable ancestries and so are not answerable to the ancestors of Ibusa. The average educated and nouveau riche Ibusa man is therefore a culture destroyer, while his Asaba counterpart is a protector and promoter of his culture, as the succeeding parts will show.

Nwankwo Tony Nwaezeigwe, PhD, DD
Odogwu of Ibusa Clan & Nwadaisi-Ani of Ikwelle Royal Family
odogwuibusa@gmail.com & nwaezeigwe.genocideafrica.com

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