The greatest need of Idoma nation today is the repositioning of the chieftaincy institution in order to strengthen it in the face of daunting challenges posed by contemporary social realities.

To address this salient issue for the progress of the Idoma nation and the future of his children, it is pertinent to recall the report of the committee of Idoma Area Traditional Council that was appointed to fine tune its position on the implementation of the 2016 Benue State Chieftaincy Law in Idoma land.

The report, signed by Joseph O. Ada, Secretary to the Council, and two others, posited that from the early days of his nationhood, Idoma political history is replete with Chieftaincy law conflicts. It added further that Idoma and Igala separated from their Jukun brothers at Wukari because they were marginalised from the Chieftaincy stool. Idoma, too, accordingly, later left Igala at Idah on the same account.

In modern days, by 1978, all the 22 old districts in Idoma land had major Chieftaincy disputes. In 2013, out of the 73 Chieftaincy related litigations in Benue State, the nine Idoma-speaking local government areas, of the 23, accounted for 65. Within the first three years of his reign, His Royal Magesty, Agabaidu Elias Ikoyi Obekpa, Och’Idoma IV, (may his hunting expedition be peaceful), recorded 200 Chieftaincy disputes. The figure is increasing with most of them degenerating into major crises.

All the communities in Idoma land are sharply divided along perceived cleavages because some people within the entity erroneously arrogate to themselves the right, to the exclusion of others, to rule.

Every form of inter-personal relationship, including largely partisan political groupings, and even marriages, had been along this artificial barrier. That mutual mistrust is the basis of disunity amongst the people, which had been the bane of internal security and meaningful development in area.

Various governments had identified the debilitating consequences of Chieftaincy disputes in the state and made concerted efforts to resolve it but to no avail.

It is also important to  recalled that in 1978 when Idoma land was embroiled in Chieftaincy disputes, the Military government of Colonel Abdulahi Shelleng, set up a Six-man panel on Idoma Area Chieftaincy Disputes, headed by Hon. Justice Sylvester Onu of the State High Court. Among other terms of reference, the panel was mandated to codify the method of selecting traditional title holders in Idoma land of the State, with the view to ensuring lasting peace among the communities.

Members of the panel, among others, from Idoma land who were in the position to benefit from the obnoxious system, their fathers being Chiefs, were Dr. Edwin Ogbu, Chief JC Obande and Chief Augustine Alechenu, but it did what was most appropriate by recommending that all kindreds in Idoma land be entitled to the district headship. Government accepted the recommendation and issued a White Paper on it. Peace was restored to the area.

Unfortunately, the government succumbed to pressure from few individuals at the corridors of power at the time, to set up another committee headed by Hon. Justice Katsina-Alu, Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, to review the White Paper. That committee recommended that the district headship should exclude some kindred’s. Government accepted it and issued another White Paper, thereby throwing the area into deeper Chieftaincy crises.
That crises persisted untill the government of His Excellency, Governor Samuel Ortom, came to power.

It was with the view to addressing all acrimonies associated with traditional ruler ship in the state that shorty on assumption of office, he submitted an executive bill on Benue State Chieftaincy law to the House of Assembly.

The House subjected the bill to Public Hearing where all interest groups made their contributions. It was the collective desire of the people that the House passed as a bill, which the Governor signed into law.

The law provides for two Area Traditional Councils, each to be headed by a Paramount Ruler and ten Intermediate Area Traditional Councils, each to be headed by a First Class Chief. Every Local Government Area has a Second Class Chief and two Third Class Chiefs, while each district/ward has a District/Ward Head and five Clan or Kindred Heads. Contest for respective positions, which is to rotate among all constituent parts, is open to all male adults with requisite qualifications.
With this law in place, the Chieftaincy institution in Idoma land had been strengthened and properly repositioned to accommodate the challenges of the time and future. All related misgivings are put to rest.

By the enactment of this law, as well as the that of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment, His Excellency, Governor Samuel Ortom, identified the challenges of his people and addressed them timely for the benefit of all. He must be appreciated and applauded because it takes a man of courage, zeal and vision take such a bold steps and stand by it in the face of insults, blackmail and intimidations.

An interesting aspect of the law is that as a bill, it was before the State House of Assembly when the Rt. Hon. Dr. Stephen Onmeje, an interested party, was the Deputy Speaker.

Similarly, His Royal Highness, Chief John Eyimonye, Och’Otukpo Odu, contested the position of the First Class Chief of Otukpo/Ohimini Intermediate Area Traditional Council and lost to the incumbent, His Royal Highness, Emmanuel Okochi, under the law. Chief Eyimonye, did not see anything wrong with the law at the time of his ambition. If he had won what would have been his position today? What he said about the law is his personal opinion and he is completely entitled to it. He has my utmost respect.

Long before Governor Ortom made the time-honored move to enact the Benue State Chieftaincy law, the Supreme Court of Nigeria, in the case of J. Omerigwe Attah V. Elders of the Ruling House of Osiroko and Efofu, Suit No. SC. 158//1975, dated 2nd July, 1976, had ruled that:

“(1)(a) A Local Authority may, with the approval of the Minister, divide the area under his jurisdiction or any part of that area into districts, village areas, wards, or such other administrative sub-areas as it may consider expedient;
“and”(b) Appoint a person to be head of any district, village area, ward or other administrative sub area.

‘”A person appointed as a district head by a Local Authority is a servant of the Local Authority whose office is held at the pleasure his employer.

“If he has any traditional duties such as performing rites under native law and custom, they are subsidiary to his statutory duties.”

The rule of law is sacrosanct, and it is not possible to make two laws for one administrative unit. Such a law would be discriminatory and traditional practices cannot override the extant law as they would be against the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.

The system of traditional rulership in Idoma land before the enactment of the Chieftaincy law was the factual aberration so long as it was discriminatory. Uptill now no one has come out to explain why some people cannot be rulers in their own respective communities. No human being has the right to govern another person without that person’s consent. The concept of exclusive royalty was not just a hoax, made infamous by media manipulation, but as well complete inverted facts of history.

No any Idoma is more Idoma than the other. The elites of Idoma nation in various callings and positions of responsibilities should be up to lead the people away from the quagmire out of which the law has pulled them, for collective and meaningful development. Idoma has to embrace the Chieftaincy law. You cannot be doing the same thing always and expect a different result. Culture and tradition are built to serve the interest of the people and not to destroy them or retard their progress. The only thing that is constant in nature is change. Anyone who does not change with time, time will change without that person.

The future generations of Idoma must be free of some of these self imposed blockages.

The people are angling for a state of their own or Governor of Benue State from the area, yet there are palpable threats to the inalienable rights of some of those who may play active roles in actualizing those dreams. Idoma must not be his own enemy. He needs to grow.

The basis of Idoma world view is the worship of ancestral spirits through the Arekwu cult and Ajeh, the Earth Deity.

In Agila of Ado Local Government Area where I come from, and I believe that applies to other parts of Idoma, Arekwu is the reincarnation of the ancestral spirits of a particular family. Individual Arekwu represents a member of the tree and the genealogy can be traced to the last remembered generation.

Every clan has its own Inu-ekwu, the abode of the guardian ancestral spirits, according to their belief system.
Although His Royal Magesty, Agabaidu Engr. George Aboh Edeh, Acting Och’Idoma, does not indulge in the Arekwu affairs, due to his parental Christian background, he hails from Akpoge clan in Agila district, where the culture is prevalent.
Agila has Ajeh, the central Earth Deity, which shrine is situated at Ikpaje-Agila sub-clan. In Akpoge.

Sacrifice for the Ajeh, Earth Deity, is performed by three members of Agila Traditional Council, Itsogwa, made up of Chiefs representing each clan and various offices.

The three members are: Otsoba, whose salutation is, Olaje, meaning “Owner of the land.” Others are Oraja and Ogene. Each of them performs specific role. Otsoba provides the items for the sacrifice, Oraja keeps the gate to the shrine – only him can open it, while Ogene performs the actual ritual of the sacrifice.

This elaborate explanation is pertinent because of the misinformation in some quarters that His Royal Highness, Agabaidu, Engr. George Aboh Edeh, Acting Och’Idoma, Chairman of Idoma Area Traditional Council and Paramount Ruler of Idoma Kingdom, cannot enter the Idoma Earth Shrine. In his Agila home town, he hails from the original clan that is the custodian of both Arekwu and Earth deity. He has uninhibited traditional right to both places and anywhere else if he chooses.

My fervent appeal to Idoma nation is that they should allow ourselves to grow. The 2016 Benue State Chieftaincy law is a saving grace from our debilitating problems.
God bless us all.

By Otse Otokpa

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