Igala land: past, present and future
Text of my speech at the meeting of the Igala Cultural and Development Association, Portharcourt, River State On Saturday 26th November, 2022.
By Festus Oguche
It was with utmost pleasure that I accepted the invitation from Pastor Ekele Morgan to make this speech before this August body. The topic above captured my curiosity when I sought to enquire on Gaabaidu Idakwo’s declining to honour an invitation to meet with the then Prince Charles, now King Charles of England who came visiting Nigeria sometime in 2018. Photographs were taken, but Gaabaidu was conspicuously absent. His Majesty roared at me, that my question tells him that I m totally oblivious of what himself and I were doing at the Federal High Court, Lokoja. His Majesty now sat me down and took me on a journey of the serious travails Igala people suffered in the hands of the British through about several centuries till date.
This ignited some interests in me on the issue, then I embarked on a full scale research and what I discovered jolted me to reality. Igalaland suffered untold hardships and decimation between the periods spanning the 17th, 18th and 20th centuries which scars remain till this day.
Igalaland was a colonising pre-colonial force
During the early years of expeditions and voyages by European powers, Igalaland was at the peak of it’s existence and prowess as a strong virile sovereign power under international law. The traditional boundary of the Attah Igala cut across almost about 16 of the current states of the federation through several tribes in Nigeria in both the southern and northern frontiers, across tribes, tongues and peoples. Igalaland was a colonising pre-colonial force. Idah was a frequent mention in ancient records in Timbuktu and the memoirs of Ibn Batuta, Leo Africanus and Sundiata. The Attah’s reign resounded across the length and breath of distant territories such that Captain Trotter the leader of the 1841 expedition to Idah in his official memo to the British Queen Victoria described the venture as an opportunity to meet with the King of Africa (Attah Igala ).
The Attah does not sign agreements with mortals
It was upon the unraveling of the ‘mystic’ River Niger by Mungo Park in terms of its source, flow and direction, that Attah’s palace turned to become the focus of Europe. This also ignited all the troubles Igala land ever suffered. This was particularly so at the point of the stoppage of slave trade when abolitionism became the sing song of the British. The territory surrounding the point of convergence between the two rivers -R. Ohimmini and Kworra (Niger and Benue) became hot cake. All the European powers wanted a piece of the territory by all means and the British were more exertive. The British had tinkered and hatched a long term plan at colonisation of the continent and needed immediate proof of possession.
Series of fact finding expeditions were made to Idah in the 1820s culminating to that of the Lander brothers in 1831 and later the Trotter expedition of 1841. The initial proposal was that the queen wanted some property around the confluence for purposes of commerce which story was changed in the later expedition that the territory was for the establishment of a modern farm. The no nonsense Attah Ekeleaga (Om’ogala) outrightly turned down the offer and literally threw the Queen’s agents out of the palace on the 4th day of August 1831. He considered the proposal as bizarre. They stood at the Alu-akwu Attah (frontage of attah’s palace) for several hours hoping that His Majesty would change his mind to no avail and they quietly went away totally frustrated. They were later to plan for the brutal murder of the Attah using the Achadu oko and the palace eunuchs as fronts.
He was only disposed to a lease rather than an outright sale
The Trotter team heavily equipped with three ship’s arrived Idah ten years later almost at the same time of the earlier visit and were at the palace on the 2nd day of August 1841 after departing Aboh an Igala territory a place located in present delta state headed by Obi Ossai who was Ochai Attah then. They met with the more amenable but intelligent Attah Ameh Ocheje (Om’ Itodo) who became attah after attah ekeleaga, very reluctantly acceded to the request. He was only disposed to a lease rather than an outright sale. This time they said it was for a modern farm. It was agreed for the sum of 700 thousand bags of cowries and an initial payment of 150 thousand bags was made as consideration. A Deed of Cession was executed on the 14th day of September, 1841 which was endorsed by the Chief judge of Idah on the ground that the Attah does not sign agreements with mortals. Another agreement was entered into on the Attah’s instructions with the Anaja Gbobe who Attah appointed as Governor of the confluence territory (Lokoja/ajaokuta) including the choice Ega Anaja which the British wanted for other reasons towards the actualisation of their ultimate goal.
All other claims from the other powers were withdrawn and that was how Britain got the land that is today’s Nigeria
The British had gotten what they wanted and the idea of the modern farm was all a ruse to get hold of the territory and procure evidence of possession. Those two documents were to show up later at the Berlin Conference organised by Germany’s Otto Von Bismarck 50 years later. At the pre-conference hearing all the European powers tabled their claims for the entire territory – France was in the west, Portugal was in control of the entire Bini empire and the South South, Germany was in the north extending to parts of Northern Cameroon, and the British had an insignificant presence in Ibo territory through the activities of Dr. Baikie ( nwa bekee). The British did not hesitate in tendering the documents as evidence of possession and administrative control over the territory having taken charge at the central point of the joinder of the two rivers. All other claims from the other powers were withdrawn and that was how Britain got the land that is today’s Nigeria.
Trouble started for Igala people
when the British came to take over the land. The current attah then Attah Ameaga, (Om’ Ekeleaga) questioned the rationale for the British claims on the territory and reminding the colonial officers of the subsistence of the earlier treaty entered years ago. The British officer Briscove told him that they have the royal mandate of the Queen to take over all the territories of hundreds of miles beyond where they were including all the territories of the Attah. Attah Gaabaidu resisted and challenged the Queen’s authority to do so while the agreement was still subsisting and of which she was in breach.
What the Attah recieved was untold hardship and humiliation. The British bombarded Idah for three days and three nights from a Canon placed on a small ship stationed on the Niger. The palace was specifically targeted. Idah was completely devastated and deserted as the population escaped to distant lands for safety. Three days later, the British people came ashore to inspect the extent of the damage and were satisfied.
What the Attah recieved was untold hardship and humiliation
They went to the palace and expected to see rubbles and dead bodies, but met His Majesty sitting comfortably alone in the courtyard unhurt. The whole place was intact and they confirmed that it must be a mystery. What they did next was close to madness. They moved into the palace and carted away every ancient royal artefact and ornamental they could lay their hands on – from musical instruments including the two wooden royal wooden equipment, and a bigger one of such make, used to announce wars and emergency situations, the two royal gongs, the royal robes, a tall headgear a full length wooden carving that was somewhat a sentry kept permanently at the entrance to the palace, royal bangles, ornamentals and so many others. All these royal artefacts today adorn several museums across England, Scotland and Wales. Our Professor Gabriel Oyibo bumped into the sculptured royal bust of Attah Ameaga in London some years ago and demanded a return. Meanwhile, the Binis are getting all of theirs stolen by the British back.
They moved into the palace and carted away every ancient royal artefact and ornamental they could lay their hands on
Attah Ocheje Onokpa, (Om’Ame Ocheje) ascended the throne he posed a formidable blockade to the actualisation of British rule and foiled several attempts to take over or retake the territories along the rivers using his Agaidoko royal naval force and power that attacked British interests all the way to the sea. He was accused and sent on exile in Asaba where he remained until he passed on in 1903. Attah Oboni Akwu (Om’ Odoba) took over and openly confronted the British on the deceits and misrepresentations surrounding the Treaty. He was better avoided because of his mystical ways that amazed the British. He could simply disappear into thin air and could multiply himself into several self identities. Just like Ekeleaga, he was suspected to have poisoned some British officials and was too dangerous to be tampered with.
The British moved against him
The reserved but fearless Attah Oguche Akpa, (Om’ Okoliko) came on board in 1911 and was the Attah when Lugard did the amalgamation of the protectorates into what we have now as Nigeria. He told Lugard straightforwardly that it was sheer roguery to contemplate such move! The British moved against him. They tore his kingdom into shreds. Idah was later to be placed under Onitsha province, the Attah was reduced to a mere district head, while other parts were lumped into the Kabba and Munshi provinces. It did not take long before the king went on a hunting spree in 1919.
Then came the very intelligent, sophisticated and calculative Attah Atabo Ijomi. (Om’aga). The fragmentation of the kingdom by the British continued under his reign and he never minced words in expressing his displeasure. Colonial officials did not know what to do with him particularly at a time when complaints from foreign territories were rife and the colonial office in London had demanded for a more civil approach from officials. Atabo was strong in his demands for the restoration of the empire. The kingdom was restored from the provinces but mostly major cities great chunky parts were deliberately yanked off parts like Nsukka, Idoma land, Onitsha north, Egbira land,..
What the British did to Igala people is the classic definition of fraud!
All along the southern protectorate border, from Ojigono towards Ilushi, Ebu, parts of Ibaji, Ogurugu,, Iga, Abi,, Ojoo, Ukpabi, awka, aguleri, enugu_ezike, aboh etc. core Igala communities with royal heritage were all taken away and the situation remains so till today. A mischievous forestry guard one Obaseki was unilaterally determining the boundary and demanded monies from locals threatening to carve their lands out of the kingdom unless they pay up.. Attah Ameh Obonl was later to have him captured and almost emasculated him if not for the intervention of the colonial officer at Kabba. But Gaabaidu Ijomi paid very dearly for it as the stool itself was further fragmented and the Igala Tara kindreds were removed from the structure.
Some of these incidents subsumed into Attah Obaje’s reign and the dynamics somewhat changed when Attah Ameh Oboni emerged as monarch. Great man with immense human and spiritual endowments. He was ahead of the British and he got them confused and mesmerised. He took the battle for the injustice meted to Igala land to the hieghts. We all know his story in the pains and humiliation he suffered in the hands of the British and it’s no point recounting the sordid details here. He paid the supreme price on what the British termed as ‘gross indiscretions’. We all know how he died..
The British monarch bluntly refused to see him each time
Attah Aliyu Obaje travelled thrice to London to meet the Queen. (or was it twice? somebody confirm from his son Adejo on this). The British monarch bluntly refused to see him each time. He was rather referred to the British High Commission who again would refer him to the Nigerian government. This ding dong affair continued until Abacha took one look at a strongly worded letter he wrote and invited him. He attended the meeting with Abacha alongside his son Adejo. He did not hesitate to articulate his demands to the military ruler for a reinstatement of his original sovereignty over all his territories in the south south, south east and north in accordance with his legal status under international law prior to the British deceit. Short, straightforward and blunt. The military ruler was to seek expert advice on the matter and told His Majesty that he would reach him. Discussions were ongoing on the matter when Abacha died few weeks later.
Indeed, it is the biggest unprecedented fraud ever in the history of mankind
Now, back to the Treaty between Attah and the Queen and it’s implications. It is a live Treaty that carries with it, all the ingredients of legal validity. What the British did was akin to an individual taking tenancy of a one room apartment in a boy’s quarters upon payment of a small fraction of rent, keeps his servants in the room, with a firm promise of his return, only for him to go discussing with his brothers On his return he comes taking over the entire 4 room boy’s quarters including the main house and all the lands adjoining the buildings on the ground that his brothers dashed him the property. Yes, it’s as bizarre as it sounds, but that’s the reality!
No entity in this country has a superior claim to sovereignty than the Igalas
What the British did to Igala people is the classic definition of fraud! It also attaches to it the criminal ingredients of deceit, falsehood misrepresentation and obtaining by false pretence. I stand here to state unequivocally that the entirety of the transaction entered into by the British with the Attah are all grounded in fraud on the part of the British. Indeed, it is the biggest unprecedented fraud ever in the history of mankind. The implication is that all the incidents that flow from it from colonisation, amalgamation, independence and the Constitution of Nigeria are all a nullity. This may sound fantastic, but it’s correct, as fraud vitiates everything that attaches to it and remains a fraud even it survives several millenia. The territory called Nigeria therefore does not have its boundaries cast in iron and nobody will be said to have committed treasonable felony if he declares himself not disposed to remaining in the union.
So, when you see the Igbos and Yorubas jumping up and down demanding for Biafra and Oduduwa, tell them you have a higher and better claim to their individual claims put together. No entity in this country has a superior claim to sovereignty than the Igalas. None!! If the Igala nation gathers itself and sneezes, the entire contraption defined and established by fraud called Nigeria, must necessarily catch cold! But ironically, Igalas remain the bride to be courted rather than the groom that should navigate the course! But then,the reality stares us in the face as we discover, (much to our dismay), that the Igalas are yet to have a blueprint or agenda for their own future!!!