This article is written as part of my contribution towards setting a tone of unity during the occasion of the forthcoming first ever Udu Leadership Summit aptly Themed: “Building Synergy Towards Udu Development.” Happy reading.
The Urhobos have a general term used in greeting their traditional rulers, especially when they are in a gathering or visiting outside their palaces. It is “Ajuwe” for singular or “Ijuwe” for plural. If you are meeting an Urhobo king for the first time and you do not know his special greeting, it is allowed for you to greet him with the term “Ajuwe” and no offence will be taken. However, it is important to note that some kingdoms in Urhobo land have special greetings for their kings. For the Okpes and Uvwies, it is “Umogun”, for the Ughievwens it is “Odjaberen, for the Agbons it is “Ogun Rime, Rime” etc, etc. Before approaching an Urhobo traditional ruler in his Palace, it is advised that you learn the way he is greeted by his people. This is so because his special greeting holds deep cultural and spiritual significance to him, his people and kingdom. When these greetings are chanted, the king is energised and the ancestors are gladdened.
For the Udu people, the special greeting for their king is Udu-ovo! When you appear before the Udu King, His Royal Majesty Ohworhu I, you stand before the king, place your outstretched left hand under the right one and with every movement of the right hand upwards, you utter the greeting “UDU-ovo! UDU-ovo!! UDU-ovo!!!” three times, to which His Royal Majesty anwer on each occasion, “Erhuvwu.” Thereafter, your discretion might follow. The word “Udu” in that greeting refers to the name of the kingdom and it’s people, while the word “ovo” in Udu means “one” or “oneness.” The greeting therefore signifies the indivisible oneness of the Udu people and the recipient of the greeting as the embodiment of that oneness. No other person in Udu nay the whole wide world is entitled to that greeting.
The word “Erhuvwu” which is the response the king gives each time the courtesy is chanted in obsescience to him means in generic terms, “good”, “goodness” “progress” “wellbeing” etc, etc… The special greeting for the Udu King and the response therefore, signifies unity, oneness and progress for the Udu people. Each time the greeting “UDU-ovo” and the response “Erhuvwu” is chanted, it is a reaffirmation that Udu’s strength and progress is in it’s unity and oneness.
Historically, and like in many history of migrations amongst peoples, kingdoms and even communities, the land of Udu as it is today, was peopled by different groups of people who migrated to and within the present area called Udu land, arriving at different times and dates at their present places of abode. Different strands of history of how the present Udu and it’s constituent towns and villages come to be, exists but the most commonly accepted is that Udu land was founded by a Bini Prince Onirhe and his Ijaw wife called Udu or Penari. They were said to have been assisted in founding the land by a relation of Onirhe, the dreaded giant and war lord called Ovo. Their first place of abode was Otor-Udu which is regarded as the acentral home of the Udu people. They were joined there by others as the community became the rallying point for the early setlers. They lived communally there in peace until population growth, need for expansion and other factors took their descendants to other parts of Udu to form towns and villages in the land mass today called Udu kingdom.
Udu was a republican society. It had no history of kingship or of a single person, to whom everyone defers or who gives out chieftaincy titles called “Udu traditional tittles” to deserving indigenes as we have it today. There however, existed traditional chieftaincy institutions whose roles in the traditional administrative systems in Udu land, including those of adjudication were generally accepted. These chieftaincy institutions included the Igbu, Ade and Ebo. The emergence of a King in 1996 and the creation of a different chieftaincy system has largely wittled down the pervasive influence of these groups in traditional administration but they still exist side by side with the kingship system of Chieftaincy and are accorded vital roles in the Edict creating the Udu Kingship Stool. The 1979 Edict that created the Udu Kingship Stool for example states in Section 5 inter alia:
There shall be Udu Council of Chiefs Comprising:
(a) four elected Chiefs from each
* (b) the Odede Ade and his Otota
* (c) the Odede Igbu and his Otota
(d) the Otota of Udu.
The law went further to provide in Section 6 that:
“…After the election and approval, the
Odede Ade installs (crowns) the
candidate as Ovie…”
Our present father and most respected Monarch HRM, Owhorhu I was crowned by the then Odede Ade Late Chief Philip Arigbe. Chief Philip Arigbe was by the way from the Owhrode Ruling House. Aside from the roles assigned them in the law, these institutions continues to play other important roles in Udu cultural and traditional practices such as festivals and traditional religious worships.
As has already been mentioned, Udu has no history of kingship and as such there is no right of “born to rule” confered on anyone or group by history, traditional practice or law. The unity and oneness of Udu people is exemplified by the way they have lived and conducted their affairs centrally from time immemorial, especially in the area of shared culture, religious and traditional practices such as the annual festival of epha or emete eyavwon, other festivals and the do’s and don’ts that were centrally observed and enforced.
It was in attempt to further cement this oneness and to provide a totem and or symbol of unity, that modern Udu founding fathers requested for a king and facilitated the enactment of the Declaration made under Section 8 of the Traditional Rulers and Chiefs Edict of 1979 of Bendel State of Nigeria applicable to Delta State, Regulating Succession to the throne of the Ovie of Udu Kingdom. Apart from transiting Udu from being a clan to the status of a kingdom, Section 1 of the law created seven (7) Ruling Houses for Udu:
while Section 2 clearly stipulates the rotational order of their accession to the throne to wit;
“Succession to the title rotates
around the the seven Ruling Houses in
the order of seniority as indicated in
paragraph (Section) 1 above”
It was through meticulous obedience and adherence to the dictates of this Law that the first King of Udu Kingdom, our highly Revered Father, His Royal Majesty Ohworhu 1 the Ovie of Udu was selected and crowned on the 12th day May, 1994 by the then Odede Ade, Late Chief Philip Arigbe and presented to members of the public as the first King of the Ancient Onirhe and Ovo “empire.” This was to be followed up in 1996 by the formal presentation of staff of Office by the then Military Administrator of Delta State Commandoor Walter Feghabor.
It is therefore clear from the foregoing that the Udu kingship is not just a creation of history and law but is also deeply rooted in the tradition and culture of the people. That is why it is rotational and not hereditary. Recently, there were some rumblings regarding the status of some communities in Udu. We thank God that those issues have been resolved in the interest of unity. Udu has too many external threats that require collective efforts of its leadership than to waste energy on needless internal squabbles. In any case, it will amount to self imolution for an institution built on a law to turn around to challenge the legitimacy of the law upon which it was built. Such an institution unwittingly invites the toga of illegitimacy on itself.
Udu is presently faced with a mairaid of external and internal issues that demands our attention. Amongst the external, are the issues of possible lost of the name of Udu with regards to government institutions cited within Udu land. Today we have Burutu Area Command at Ovwian and Itakpe – Warri Railway line that terminates at Ujewvwu – a railine that passes nowhere near Warri after which it has been named.
These are deliberate and provocative aberrations that Udu leadership should spare no efforts in correcting to reflect the name of Udu or the host communities of these establishments. We certainly don’t want Udu name subsumed under the names of other Kingdoms or places less Udu is faced with another Warri – Wado struggle tommorow.
In conclusion, let me use the opportunity of the occasion of the first ever Udu Leadership Summit with the apt Theme “Building Synergy Towards Udu Development” to offer some suggestions for discussion at this summit.
Firstly, I want to invite attention of all Udus to a lacuna in the 1979 edict, which even though may appear innocuous has the potential for crises tomorrow. Section 1 of the law lists the Ruling Houses in Udu and their order of seniority and acesion to the throne without listing the communities comprising each Ruling. I wish to suggest that an amendment be sort to include the list of communities that make up each Ruling House to remove any ambiguity and future crises. Those familiar with the recent history of Udu will know why this amendment is imperative and there is no better time to do this than when we have a sitting King in place.
Secondly, it is not provided in the law what will happen if a nominating Ruling House fails to agree on a choice of a unanimous candidate or even fails due to other reasons to nominate a candidate all. I understand there is an unwritten agreement and or understanding amongst the Council of Chiefs on how such situations are to be handled, but such vital possible eventualities and how to resolve them ought to be written into the law as is done in other kingdoms. This is to guard against possible future manipulation of the process by any powerful group to suit their whims and caprices. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Thirdly is the issue of the composition of the Udu Council of Chiefs or Traditional Committee. By the provisions of Section 5 the Law, each Ruling House is to elect from amongst itself four Chiefs to represent it at the Council of Chiefs. This is plus the Odede Ade and Igbu and their Ototas making a full complement of 32 Chiefs and the King as their Chairman. Our current situation is such that the composition of the Council has been severely depleted over time by death with no corresponding efforts to fill the vacancies created in line with the law setting up the Council. The question that begs for answers therefore is why the Ruling Houses whose duty it is to elect Chiefs to fill the vacancies created by death have dithered in doing so. Considering the vital role of the Council in the event of the demise of a King (May our King live long) and the emergence of a new one, the imperative of always having a full complement of the Traditional Committee cannot be over emphasised. We have heard of other Kingdoms who failed to do the needful in this regard and the avoidable crises that has risen therefrom. We must therefore avoid such eventuality in our kingdom in the spirit of Uduovo.
Finally, it is my hope that our leaders will put Udu first and consider these issues important enough to be included in discussions during this Summit and to frankly discuss and resolve all internal and external threats in Udu towards building the desired unity for progress.
Wishing Udu a successful Summit in the spirit of Udo-Ovo.