114 years after, Ikharos seek court validation for rotation of Auchi stool

Otaru of Auchi, Aliru Momoh Ikelebe III

Before modern day monarchical system was introduced in Auchi, the five villages that make up present day Auchi Township — Usogun, Akpekpe, Aibotse, Igbei and Iyekhei, operated gerontocracy, a political system whereby the eldest man heading the council of elders is elected ruler.

Historical altercation was, however, said to be responsible for the dethronement of gerontocracy, when the Nupe and Hausa/Fulani influences permeated Auchi through slave trade, which culminated in the introduction of monarchy, with the 1860 installation of Ikelebe the first as monarch of Auchi town.

Ikelebe, literally meaning I don’t want enemies, ruled Auchi from 1860 to 1870 and was succeeded by his brother, Imoudu, who was succeeded by Ikelebe’s son, Idaho, who ruled from 1875 to 1905. Odifili succeeded Idaho, and ruled for only six months before his brother, Ikharo ascended the throne from 1905 and reigned till 1919.

He picked his nephew, Momoh Idaho and made him the Dania of Auchi Kingdom. As the Dania, Momoh acted on behalf of Ikharo, who was too old and weak to carry out his monarchical activities, especially as British colonialists’ presence in Auchi had increased such roles.

So, Momoh Idaho statutorily became the ‘de facto’ Auchi ruler from 1919 to 1944 as Momoh the First. And ever since, his sons have ruled. Since Momoh the First’s passage, there have been four Otarus of Auchi Kingdom: Otaru Momoh Jimoh (M.J.) who ruled from 1945 to 1955, followed by Otaru Abubakar Momoh, aka, Abu Keremi from 1955 to 1970. Otaru Ahmed Guruza Momoh ruled from 1973 to 1996 before the current Otaru of Auchi, Alhaji Aliru Highbred Momoh, who ascended the throne from 1996 till date.

Exactly 100 years after Ikharo’s demise and the kingship moved to Momoh Idaho lineage, the Ikharos are making frantic efforts to retrieve the Otaru stool. They want the stool rotated between their House and that of Momoh ruling House.

The Ikharos’ first attempt at reclaiming the stool was made in 1970, immediately after Otaru Abubakar Momoh’s death. The protracted crisis that ensued led to the then Bendel State Government setting up the Justice Ojugo’s Commission of Inquiry to look into the matter. This resulted in a three-year interregnum, when Auchi had no king, before the installation of the immediate past Otaru, Ahmed Guruza Momoh, in 1973.

However, 49 years after the first attempt, the Ikharos are up in arms again. This time, they have filed a suit at the Edo State High Court, demanding among other things, that part of the Justice Ojugo’s
Commission of Inquiry, which recommended that the stool of Otaruship be rotated among all the ruling houses in Auchi, be implemented forthwith.

A senior member of the Ikharo’s larger family, who pleaded anonymity said: “This particular suit before the Benin High Court is not directed at the person of the reigning Otaru, Aliru Highbred Momoh, or any other sons in the larger Momoh Idaho ruling House. It was specifically filed to correct the long-standing wrongs and injustice done by the Idaho Momoh’s larger family to the other ruling families in Auchi Kingdom.

“It is sad to note that members of the other ruling families in the larger Ikelebe’s families have become so timid to ask for implementation of their rights to Auchi throne, which they are legitimately entitled to, because of the overbearing influence of Momoh Idaho’s children and grandchildren.”

He stressed that the demand was, however, not enough to breed bad blood or any form acrimony, “as we are all children and descendants of Ikelebe the first. We are only asking that part of the recommendation contained in the Justice Ojugo’s Commission of Inquiry of 1970, which specifically stated that the Otaruship be rotated among the ruling houses, be implemented after the current Otaru, Aliru Highbred Momoh, would have reigned peacefully for as long as Allah wants him to remain on that throne.

“But once he is called home, we the Ikharo’s should at least be allowed to produce the next Otaru. This is the long and short story of our collective demands. If the other Ikelebe ruling houses prefer to skip their birth rights, the Ikharos are not ready to do so.”

Palace Watch reached out to another senior member of Ikharo’s larger family, Prince Karim Ikharo, for further comments, but saw his wife, Mrs. Habibat Ikharo, who promised her husband would get back to Palace Watch immediately he returned from travel. But that never produced any result, despite several SMS sent to her.

Palace Watch also reached out to the present Otaru of Auchi, who said: “My emergence as the Otaru of Auchi was the very first time we followed the 1979 edict of the then Bendel State Government in the matter concerning the Otaru of Auchi. This particular edict was enacted during the reign of the immediate past Otaru of Auchi, Alhaji Ahmed Guruza Momoh. This law came about when the same Ikharo family came out to say that the late A.G. Momoh should not be made the Otaru then.

“The panel set up by the then Bendel State Government made recommendations, which the state government accepted. But after that, A.G. Momoh still became the Otaru of Auchi and during his ascension, no vote was cast. After Otaru A.G. Momoh’s transition, we had in place the chairman of Etsako West Local Government Area Council and the chairman of the then Edo State Council of traditional rulers, who was the Onojie of Ujagbe Kingdom. They were the people that officiated the process that brought about my election as the Otaru, in accordance with the 1979 edicts.

“At that time before the voting process began, the then Chairman of Etsako West Local Government Area Council, I can’t remember his name now, took his time to explain all the issues contained in the edict to all the ruling families in Auchi, alongside all the participating representatives of Auchi communities at the event. He told everybody present what was going to happen.

“At that meeting, he told everybody that the representatives of Auchi communities present at the occasion had only four votes, while each of the branches of Ikelebe ruling house had two votes each. The four branches of the Ikelebe ruling families were represented by the two most elderly of those houses or branches.

“This was how that election was organised. For emphasis sake, only the Ikharo ruling house and Idaho ruling house were represented at the meeting. The Momoh Idaho ruling house is made up of Momoh, Aliu, Kadiri Chief and Abuda. The Ikharo is one ruling house, just like the Ogiechi Omonokhua and Abikhere ruling houses. They all had two votes each like us. These other ruling houses were very small units, compared to our own.

“On the eve of that election, which was on a Thursday, because my election as the Otaru of Auchi was done on a Friday at the Etsako West Local Government Area Council office, somebody raised an alarm, that someone from Ikharo ruling house was busy sharing money to people, who are expected to come and vote at the council office for the new Otaru of Auchi.

“Then we discovered that the Ikharo, the Ogiekhume, which is the Ogiechi Omonokhua and Abikhere ruling houses had signed a pact, that immediately A.G. Momoh transited as the Otaru, they will team up to produce his successor by jointly presenting one candidate for the throne, and they would then make all effort to get the votes of all the people that would be representing Auchi communities in the election.

“Two of my brothers were with me that evening when this matter was reported to me, the late Gas Momoh and Prince Tony Momoh, who intervened and said: “If that is what they are doing, we the Idaho Momoh descendants can counter their moves.” I told Prince Tony Momoh I was not going to give anybody money to vote for me as the next Otaru. I told Tony he should allow the people sharing money to go ahead and do what pleased them.

“As I was confident that I would win the election and become the next Otaru, I told Tony and Gas Momoh I would concede only two votes to my opponent from Ikharo family as the other members of that family were not with my opponent. And that was what happened.

“My opponent in that election got two votes. Tony and Gas Momoh were surprised when the result was announced. The Ikharo would have had one vote. What happened was that the Umoru section of that family, which was one of the seniors in the Ikharo family, said he, Umoru was no longer the senior as the most senior brother was blind.

“They stripped him of his seniority in Ikharo’s family. Umoru was angry. He told me he was going to court to ensure he was restored as the senior. I told him not to bother going to court, since he was already a chief in the Otaru’s Palace. That was how the Ikharos got two votes in the election where I was voted the Otaru of Auchi Kingdom with 10 votes.

“The whole exercise was conducted in public, nothing was hidden. In life, no matter how religiously or transparently an exercise is conducted, some people will still harbour some agenda that will be unknown to others. Auchi people and I were not unaware of the Ikharos’ mischiefs. We were, however, surprised to discover that the same Ikharo family had written a petition to Edo State government again in 2014, which was 18 years after my election as Otaru, saying “my election as the Otaru in 1996 was not supposed to have taken place, because it was their turn to produce the Otaru based on the recommendation contained in Ojugo’s Commission report, contained in the 1979 edict.

“That recommendation specifically says: “The Otaruship should be rotational, and that the government did not take that particular clause into account, when making its decisions for the installation of A.G. Momoh and later myself as the Otaru of Auchi in 1996.

“But the truth of the matter is that government does not need to take all the recommendations contained in the commission it set up hook line and sinker, judicial or otherwise. Government is at liberty to take the recommendations they wanted and disregard the ones they think will not promote peace and harmony in a particular environment such as Auchi. This is what they are hinging all their arguments on, “that the commission recommended rotational Otaruship and why should government not take that into cognisance?”

“If I may ask, why should government take rotational issue seriously in this matter, if it thinks it will not promote peace and harmony in Auchi Kingdom?”

But what is the reaction of Auchi people to the suit filed by the Ikharos in the Benin High Court?
“Auchi people are very clear headed about what they want. They want to be joined as co-defendants in the suit. They have made it clear that nobody can change their votes on this matter. They said they have the power to make a decision as it affects the Otaruship. And in this particular matter, their rights can’t be taken away from them through the back door.

“The Auchi people are also saying other members of the larger Ikelebe families — the Omonokhua and Abikhere have not been contesting this throne with Idaho Momoh’s children. So, why are the Ikharos so particular about the occupation of the throne of Otaruship of Auchi?
“The Ikharos went a step further to say in their suit that the Auchi people who have four votes and the rest members of the ruling families should be cut off, that the contest for the Otaruship should only be between them and the Momoh Idaho ruling house. I don’t think Auchi people will ever allow a thing like that to stand. Auchi people are saying they must have a say in the Otaru issue, because whosoever will emerge as the Otaru will govern them.”

Some prominent Auchi sons and daughters, who pleaded anonymity, bared their mind to Palace Watch on the issue.

The first person said: “It is only just that the Momoh Idaho children and grandchildren should allow the Ikharos and other members of Auchi ruling houses to have a taste of the Otaruship after monopolising the stool for as long as 100 years. If the other people that occupied that position were as selfish as the present Momoh Idaho and his children, the stool would not have got to their father.

“For you to see how liberal and broadminded the people that occupied that position before Momoh Idaho were, King Ikharo, knowing that he was very old and could hardly move around, made Momoh Idaho, his nephew, not only the Dania of Auchi Kingdom, he also gave him the liberty to do all the things he would have done himself as the sitting king.

“The only gain King Ikharo got from Momoh Idaho was to cut off his own lineage and other ruling houses completely from the Otaru of Auchi system. That is not good enough. If this matter is not resolved now, no matter how long it takes, the children and grandchildren of the people from the other ruling houses will one day come to their senses and take over the Auchi stool, if not peacefully but by force. I just hope government would not fold its hands and allow things to get to that ugly end.”

Another Auchi sons queried, “Why are the Ikharos so particular about the Otaruship, 100 years after they lost the position to Momoh Idaho and his children? As far as I am concerned, they have slept too long a time over their rights, for them to now turn around and begin to claim the Otaruship. I honestly don’t see them regaining that position. Moreover, the Momoh Idaho children that have been Otarus have done very well. As the saying goes, why change a winning horse? The Ikharos now agitating for the position should look for something else to do.”

The Edo State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy
Affairs, Jimoh Ijegbai, explained: “Let me put things straight for the records. The Edo State government is not involved in this matter in any way. The Auchi Otaruship is a long-standing one. I have never heard of any chieftaincy dispute before now, until the recent one that was filed by the Ikharos. The parties in this particular case are in court, and when a matter is in court, it is subjudiced. We have to await the court’s ruling on it.

“The Edo State Government is a nominal party in the suit. The matter can be settled one way or the other by the court between the parties, because as far as we are concerned, the Auchi Chieftaincy has never been in any dispute. The Edo State Ministry of Justice handles this type of matter for Edo State government.

“Mr. Governor’s position on matters like this is that when a matter is before a court of competent jurisdiction, we have to await the ruling before taking the next line of action.”

In this article:
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