Once my people are educated, we will be liberated — Oliola of Uzanu Uneme

Uzanu (Uneme Clan) in Etsako East Local Government Area of Edo State is the official headquarters of Uneme people. The clan is made up of several towns and villages. Uneme also has sub-villages, whose population is made up of mixed tribes.

The Uneme people used to be mainly blacksmiths, and are also into large scale farming of yam, cassava and trading.Palace Watch recently had a chat with 47-year-old Oliola of Uzanu in Southeast Uneme, His Royal Majesty, Benjamin Ikani on a wide range of issues.

How has the journey been so far on the throne?
IF I must confess, it has not been easy, especially when one was not prepared to ascend the throne of his ancestors. I was still serving government at the National Assembly as Chief Legislative Officer on Grade Level 14, in the Senate Committee on Petroleum Upstream, when I was called upon to come and assume this position. And that was how I found myself here.

When I agreed to ascend this throne, I still had 14 years service ahead of me. That was how my service was cut short. But here we are today; I give God the glory for all that has happened. I don’t regret coming home to serve my people.It is not at all easy being a king or traditional ruler in this part of the country. We have been grappling with a lot of problems here. If we can handle these problems locally, we try to settle them as fairly and transparently as possible. But if they involve herdsmen and their cattle destroying farm produce, we took such cases to the police to handle, as this is the only way the farmers can get adequate compensation for their destroyed crops. These are regular occurrences here in my domain.

Presently, there is no potable water here. We fetch drinking water from the stream, and have appealed severally to Edo State government for assistance in this regard. Government is yet to respond to our request. So, what I am doing is to appeal to all prominent sons and daughters from my communities to kindly assist in providing some of these basic things of life that are lacking here. So far so good. They have been trying to do their very best.

Hon. Clement Agba, former Commissioner for Environment in Edo State, is in the vanguard of those doing their best to improve our communities. We can’t leave everything about the development of our place to government alone.

How did you come about the status of Majesty? Before now, Uzanu was only a village…
Uzanu became a clan after a lot of effort and struggle. It was not at all easy. I was installed on November 9, 2015. The coronation held on February 7, 2016. Then, I was a mere village head, but later, former Governor Adams Oshiomole graciously recognised the petition and application I wrote to him to upgrade me to the status of a clan head, on November 16, 2016. He approved my upgrade to the status of Royal Majesty.

Ten months after my clan was created, the Okumagbe of Uwanu sued Edo State government, my clan and me. Part of the reasons for his action was that part of his communities was annexed to Uzanu to form my clan, but these allegations were not correct. The villages he mentioned in his petition were never Weppa-Uwanu communities, but the court finally ruled that the villages in dispute were Uneme communities. It was at this time we were planning to apply to Edo State government for staff of office. The battle was really fierce. Thank God we invariably survived the challenges.

There are lots of challenges in being a king. We have a lot of sycophants to deal with. Unfortunately, some people are in the habit of planning evil against a king from time to time, for no justifiable reason(s). These are the types of challenges I was not prepared for.

But the public service from where you came is not spared from such acts…
You are right. But the perfidy in the traditional set up is more pronounced than that of Public Service. The peculiar nature of the throne is that it is the people you dine and wine with on daily basis are the ones plotting all manner of evils against the king. That is why I’m particularly alarmed at what is happening on the throne. Well, I have decided to remain on my ancestors’ throne no matter what. I am a Christian and have resolved to hold on tenaciously to God, so that I will not go astray, no matter the situation confronting me.

What other things are you doing to help bring development to Uneme?
Presently, I am making frantic efforts to revive some of our cultures that are almost forgotten. I am also doing all I can to sensitise my people on the need for us to promote these cultural practices to make my domain one of the tourist centres in Edo State. The cultural festivals I am trying to revive are known as Ese and Ukpe.

The Ukpe Festival will come up on October 30, 2018. Expectedly, all my prominent sons and daughters within Nigeria and in the Diaspora are expected to attend. They are to come with their friends. It is usually a festival to behold and a tourist attraction.We also have the age grade festival that comes up every three years. As we speak, I am personally screening those to be admitted into that grade. I am doing this because the process had previously been abused. The rule says those to be admitted into the manhood grade must be between 17 and 18 years, because this is a group of persons that will be able to carry out communal labour whenever the need arises. Not only that, it is this group that will be able to do battle and defend the communities, whenever the need arises. But sadly, what I met on ground was that little children as young as seven or eight years, once their parents have the means to support them are admitted into the age grade.

When I ascended the throne, I told them that would no longer happen. If a child must belong to an age grade, he must be able to do all that is required by the community to be so admitted. That is why I am personally screening the prospective persons celebrating this year’s manhood festival. Before now, you would see a seven or eight-year-old rubbing shoulders with a 17 or 18-year-olds.

Another abnormality I met on ground was that women’s cooking grades were always going to the highest bidder, which was never our culture or tradition. The position is given to the oldest one in the community at any given time. It was never decided by monetary factor. I also had to correct this. It was sad and shameful for a very young woman, just because she has money, to be leading women old enough to be her mothers. I told them it couldn’t continue. It is good to have money, but money can never take the place of experience, especially in cultural matters. Now, the oldest woman will take her normal place in the community. These are some of the things I have brought to bear.
There were other cultural practices I left out because the have become archaic.

When we were growing up, Uneme people were regarded as outcast. Why is this, and what have you done to ensure Uneme people are admitted into the large community without this stigmatisation?
It is true. We had that stigmatisation, but all that is gone now. At that time, people were brainwashed and their mind poisoned against Uneme people for no justifiable reasons. That happened because Uneme people were predominantly blacksmiths, known for making cutlasses, knives and other weapons of war in the olden days. Not only that, but Uneme people also manufactured weapons for those that invaded the areas in old Kukuruku Division, now known as Etsako land. The situation got so bad that people in communities around the area upon seeing Uneme people, would say “oh, these are the people manufacturing weapons of war for those invading and killing our people. Let’s keep them at arm’s length.”

That was how they began to ostracise Uneme people in every community they found themselves. Since blacksmithing is no longer in vogue, that orientation began to die gradually. Today, it is only a few people that are still holding on to this erroneous and misplaced value. I know with time, they will also get over it like all other tribes.

Today all over Etsako, nobody forbids an Uneme person again and Uneme people do not forbid anybody, either. We must not forget to point out that Uneme people of old were very skeptical about marrying outside their tribe. The reason for this was that, if their daughter gave birth to a baby boy outside their clans, the son would invariably leak the secret of blacksmithing to the tribe he was born.

The Uneme people were not at all ready to let go of that secret. But today, all that discrimination has faded away. There are lots of inter-marriages between other tribes in Etsako and Edo State. And Uneme people are daily bringing home non-Uneme as wives and husbands.

What are you working towards, that you would want to be remembered for?
Education, education and more education. I desperately want my people to be educated. Once majority of my people are sufficiently educated, we will all be liberated, and become focused and functional. I would want this achieved during my reign. I have just summoned a meeting with all my village heads to come to my palace to see how we can resuscitate what was then known as Uzanu Secondary School, built in 1979 and closed down in 1987. This is the starting point of what I want to achieve in the area of education.

In this article:
Benjamin Ikani
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